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.
Position Preview: Infield
What the Longhorns lost
Sr 1B Kacy Clemens (8th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays)
2017 Stats: .305 AVG, 12 HR, 49 RBI
R-Jr 2B Brett Boswell (8th round pick of the Colorado Rockies)
2017 Stats: .273 AVG, 7 HR, 33 RBI
Jr C Michael Cantu (Undrafted free agent of the San Diego Padres)
2017 Stats: .222 AVG, 6 HR, 17 RBI
The biggest task for the lineup heading into the 2018 season will be replacing the production left behind by Kacy Clemens. The first team All-Big 12 member started 202 career game at Texas, and was the Longhorns biggest run producer in 2017. Sophomore Ryan Reynolds will get the first crack at replacing Clemens. Reynolds played primarily third base as a freshman, but will transition across the diamond. In 2017, the switch hitter started 57 games, batting .212 with 5 home runs and 25 RBI’s. During the fall, hitting coach Sean Allen experimented with Reynolds batting right handed only, and the results were very encouraging. During the fall world series, Reynolds had 6 extra base hits and added a home run during the Alumni Game on February 4th.
Kody Clemens was limited in the field during 2017 due to his recovery from Tommy John Surgery, but still managed to hit .241 while getting at bats as a DH. Now fully recovered, the junior will take over the vacancy at third base left from Reynolds move to first base. Clemens is solid defensively and has shown flashes in the past of having a good bat.
Sophomore David Hamilton will continue to hold down the shortstop position after starting 62 games as a freshman. The Spike Owen Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 will look to take a step forward offensively this season. This past summer, Hamilton hit .274 in the California Collegiate League and continued to shine in the field.
One player to keep an eye on as the season progresses is redshirt junior Joe Baker. Baker missed almost all of 2017 after having shoulder surgery. As a freshman in 2015, Baker was seen as one of the best pure hitters the Longhorns had, finishing the year with a .294 average and 16 RBI’s. Although he may not be an everyday starter to open the season, he has experience at third base, shortstop, second base and could factor into the discussion at DH.
Michael McCann was one of the surprise stories of 2017. The redshirt junior split catching duties with Michael Cantu and finished the year with .268 average in 32 starts. McCann showed huge improvements on defense, throwing out 21.4% of base stealers. Despite a good 2017, McCann will still face tough competition at catcher from junior college transfer D.J Petrinsky.
Catcher D.J Petrinsky has already begun to make a name for himself. The Hill Junior College transfer went deep in the Alumni Game and received the start at catcher. Petrinsky hit .353 with 12 home runs during his final season at the junior college ranks and is seen as a good defensive catcher. He also has the ability to play first base. Petrinsky and McCann figure to split time at catcher to open the season, with both possibly also seeing time at DH.
Junior College transfer Masen Hibbeler will take over for Brett Boswell at second base. Hibbeler made his way to Austin after spending 2 years at Odessa Junior College, where he hit .493 with 10 home runs last season. Those around the program are very high on Hibbeler not only for his bat, but his work in the field. He possesses the ability to play both second base and shortstop, and is seen as an elite fielder. The newcomer will factor into the middle of the order and have high expectations in his first season on the 40 acres.
First Baseman Zach Zubia was with the Longhorns a season ago, but was forced to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. Zubia then made headlines this summer by blasting a Northwood League record 22 home runs en route to being named league MVP. With Reynolds holding down first base, Zubia will have to hit his way into the lineup at DH.
The Longhorns infield is pretty set, minus the catcher and DH spot. McCann and Petrinsky will likely rotate until one separates himself from the other. One of the more interesting things I will be following is what David Pierce does at DH. In the Alumni game, Pierce opted to keep both catchers in the lineup by putting McCann at DH. Zubia’s power is undeniable, and if he is able to make consistent contact then he could force his way in the lineup.
Texas will be counting heavily on Ryan Reynolds and Masen Hibbeler to have big seasons. Both performed well throughout the fall and will be need to be middle-of-the-order run producers. If Texas is able to get improved offensive outputs from Hamilton and Clemens, it could go a long way in helping balance the lineup and make Texas a solid hitting club.
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