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
Jr Connor Mayes (Drafted in the 24th round by the Kansas City Royals)
2017 Stats: 1-2, 27 IP, 6.00 ERA, 22 SO
Sr Jon Malmin (Drafted in the 31st round by the Los Angeles Angels)
2017 Stats: 1-0, 14 ⅔ IP, 4.30 ERA, 13 SO
R-So Tyler Schimpf (Drafted in the 13th round by the San Francisco Giants)
2017 Stats: 0-0, 17 ⅓ IP, 1.56 ERA, 13 SO
The Longhorns are not losing much in terms of innings from last years group of relievers, but the transition of Chase Shugart from the bullpen to the starting rotation leaves a big hole that will need to be filled.
Closer Beau Ridgeway returns and will provide stability in the back end of the bullpen. Ridgeway took over the closer’s role about halfway through the 2017 season and ended the year with a 1.89 ERA and 12 saves. While he may not possess an overpowering fastball, the junior has perhaps the best command out of any pitcher on the Texas roster. His low 90’s fastball and effective changeup make him very tough to square up.
One of the leading candidates to take over the set-up role left by Shugart is junior left hander Josh Sawyer. Sawyer battled injuries the past two seasons, but is fully healthy heading into 2018. When he last saw the mound in 2016 in a relief role, he displayed a power fastball that touched 96. David Pierce spoke highly of Sawyer during his first media availability of the season and said he expects the left hander to play a key role in the bullpen.
Pierce and pitching coach Phil Haig will also have 3 pitchers with sidearm deliveries at their disposal. Senior super utility men Jake Mackenzie and Andy McGuire can play all over the diamond, but both will see time on the mound as well in 2018. Mackenzie had a 3.24 ERA in 16 ⅔ innings in 2017. McGuire is back with the baseball program for the first time since 2015, where he posted a 5.25 ERA in 12 innings. Both players threw scoreless innings in the Alumni game this past weekend. Redshirt junior Parker Joe Robinson dropped his arm slot down prior to last season, and the results were promising. Robinson had a 1.93 ERA in 9 ⅓ innings before going on to throw 17 scoreless innings for the Orange County Riptide of the California Collegiate Summer League.
Entering the fall, JUCO transfer Donny Diaz and his wipeout slider figured to slide into a key role in the bullpen after an outstanding career at San Jacinto Junior College. Unfortunately, the right hander was diagnosed with a torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery, which will force him to miss all of 2018.
Despite the loss of Diaz, the Longhorns will still get a big boost from several other junior college transfers. RHP Bryce Verplank did not appear in the Alumni game, but created a lot of buzz coming out of the fall and was singled out by Pierce as someone who will factor into the back end of the bullpen. Verplank redshirted his freshman season at Oklahoma State before transferring to Cuesta College last year, where he displayed a fastball in the low 90’s and a good curveball. Italian native Matteo Bocchi spent the last two season at Odessa Junior College, where he finished 2017 with a 4.23 ERA in 62 ⅓ innings. Bocchi could be utilized as a starter during weeks with multiple midweek games, but his impact may be most felt coming out of the bullpen. Navarro Junior College transfer Brandon Ivey will join Sawyer as a left handed option coming out of the bullpen. Ivey has a fastball that sits around 90 with good movement.
Freshman Bryce Elder and Kamron Fields are the two most intriguing freshman bullpen options. Elder threw 2 scoreless innings during the Alumni game, showing good fastball command with a good slider. Fields is another guy who will play both ways, but may be able to carve out a role in the bullpen quicker than the outfield. The football star who spurned multiple D1 offers on the gridiron has a fastball that can get up to 93.
The bullpen may be the biggest question mark heading into the 2018 season. Aside from Ridgeway, almost every member will be a new guy or someone who is taking on a bigger role from last season. Ridgeway has the ability to go multiple innings, but the Longhorns need to be able to get the ball to him with a lead. If Sawyer is able to return to form and be the the primary set up man, it would allow everyone else to slide into more low-pressure roles. The most important thing will be getting roles established as early as possible, especially with a tough schedule to open the season.
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