With the opening of the season just a week away, the Texas baseball team is beginning to take shape. On Saturday, the Longhorns will take on the former lettermen in the annual Texas alumni baseball game. There, fans will get their first taste of the 2019 season, as well as a first glimpse of the new bust of former coach Augie Garrido, which will be unveiled at 11:30 a.m. Though there are still some question marks, there was a bit more clarity on a few things that head coach David Pierce made the media aware of on Friday afternoon:
1. The middle infield appears to be set
Though senior shortstop Masen Hibbeler wouldn’t admit it, he knows who will be his double-play partner up the middle will be. Freshman Lance Ford drew rave reviews once again from not only Pierce, but also senior outfielder Austin Todd, who mentioned Ford as the new face that has really impressed him leading up to the season.
Maybe more telling was the fact Pierce made no mention of any other second baseman, except that freshman Bryce Reagan likely doesn’t have the experience or versatility to play second base at this point. When you look at Texas’ roster, there’s slim pickings at second base and even slimmer pickings on second base with any experience. In fact, only one player has shown the ability to do play the position collegiately, and that man is Hibbeler, who will likely spend most of his time at short.
Don’t be shocked to see Hibbeler at second base in spot starts this year, though. Pierce mentioned that Hibbeler has two talented players “battling him for the position,” in Reagan and redshirt sophomore Bryson Smith.
2. No decision made on first base
While I still believe Michael McCann will be the first player to trot out to first base to open the season, another interesting name has emerged as a serious contender. Earlier this offseason when I previewed the position, I briefly mentioned sophomore Sam Bertelson as player that I didn’t have a realistic expectation of to win the position. But when asked how things at the other hot corner were shaking out, Bertelson’s name was the first to come out of Pierce’s mouth. Color me surprised.
Shortly after, McCann was mentioned as not only being in competition for the position, but as a guy that has earned the right to be an everyday player. This still leads me to believe that he will be the starter at least to begin the season.
Zubia, who many hoped would take the next step to becoming an everyday first baseman feels like a player, who at this point, will see most of his time in the near future at DH. Pierce did say how he plans to use Zubia in the field in order to get another one of his outfield bats, most namely freshman Eric Kennedy, in the batting lineup.
3. Two weekend starting pitching jobs are up for grabs
After losing its Friday and Saturday starters to the MLB Draft, the Texas pitching staff will have some major decisions to make as Opening Day inches closer and closer. Junior Blair Henley, who will take over the job as Friday night starter is left as the lone weekend man looking around for the two other pieces to complete the trio.
Senior Matteo Bocchi, who made spot starts throughout the past season, including the game that sent Texas to the College World Series, is one of the more likely names to take a spot. From Parma, Italy, Bocchi played along Hibbeler at Odessa College before both made the decision to further their careers in Austin. Bocchi was as solid as a spot starter could be in 2018, compiling a 4-1 record to go along with a 3.05 ERA.
Two other names to keep an eye on are sophomores Tristan Stephens and Matt Whelan. Both started at least one game in 2018 and are players with reliable arms to go the distance. If Pierce wants to incorporate a freshman, though, he’ll have his pick of the litter with guys like Cole Quintanilla, Coy Cobb, Ty Madden and Jack Neely, who are seen as important pieces of the future on Texas’ pitching staff.
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