The Texas baseball program is set to begin their second season under the direction of David Pierce. The 2017 season ended with the Longhorns falling one win short of a berth in the Super Regionals. Expectations remain high as the team prepares for the season opener on February 16th against Louisiana Lafayette.
What the Longhorns lost
R-Jr Morgan Cooper (2nd round pick of the LA Dodgers)
2017 Stats: 6-3, 89 ⅓ IP, 2.32 ERA, 110 SO
Jr Kyle Johnston (6th round pick of the Washington Nationals)
2017 Stats: 3-2, 73 ⅓ IP, 3.56 ERA, 52 SO
R-So Nick Kennedy (5th round pick of the Colorado Rockies)
2017 Stats: 8-2, 53 ⅔ IP, 3.02 ERA, 59 SO
Despite the loss of 3 starting pitchers to the MLB draft, David Pierce and pitching coach Phil Haig still have the luxury of returning 2 starting pitchers with a year of experience under their belt, led by junior Nolan Kingham.
After flashing potential as a freshman, Kingham broke onto the scene last season and established himself as one of the top pitchers in the conference. The right hander led Texas in wins (10), innings (92) and complete games (2). The Las Vegas native possesses a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s with good sinking action, and compliments it with a good slider. He is the heavy favorite to be the Friday night starter and staff ace. Kingham was recently selected as preseason Third Team All-American by Perfect Game/Rawlings.
Blair Henley came to Texas as one of the most polished pitchers in the 2016 recruiting class. Henley received 10 starts as a true freshman, posting a 4-5 record with a 4.23 ERA in 61 ⅔ innings. His fastball sits 92-93 and he has an excellent changeup. He will have to cut down on the number of walks he issues (25 in 2017), but he has the tools to be a good #2 starter for the Longhorns.
One of the most interesting storylines heading into the 2018 season is the transition of Chase Shugart from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Shugart has spent his first two years at Texas in the back end of the bullpen, collecting 8 saves through 2 seasons. He began his transition to the starting rotation by getting multiple starts during the summer in the Cape Cod league, widely considered the top collegiate summer league in the country. Shugart had mixed results, finishing with a 4.18 ERA in 23 ⅔ innings. The transition continued into the fall, and the junior is now set to occupy a spot in the weekend rotation. If Shugart continues to shows the improved command of his pitches, he should have no problems making the transition and being a reliable starter for the Longhorns.
In his first media availability of the season, David Pierce said the leader to be the midweek starter is 6’3 freshman Nico O’Donnell. O’Donnell played his high school play for San Antonio Churchill, where he finished his senior year with a 9-1 record. He was originally committed to Midland Junior College and was a late addition to the 2017 signing class. His stock exploded after he gained close to 10 MPH on his fastball from his junior to his senior year. He has fastball that sits in the low 90’s with good movement. During the Fall World Series, the right hander got the start for the Orange team in game 3 and tossed 6 innings, allowing 3 hits and 1 run while striking out 6.
If Shugart is able to perform in the rotation like he did in the bullpen, Texas will have one of the best rotations in the Big 12 along with Texas Tech and TCU. All 3 starters have pitched in big games and performed well. O’Donnell intrigues a lot of people around the program because the upward trajectory he has been on since the beginning of his senior year of high school. He should serve as a reliable midweek starter with the ability to throw an inning or 2 out of the bullpen on the weekends. Despite losing 3 starting pitchers off of last years squad, the rotation figures to be one of the biggest strengths for the Longhorns as they prepare to begin the 2018 season.