Texas Baseball has started off the 2024 season on a great note. The Longhorns opened the season with San Diego and took two of three against the Toreros with the one loss coming in extra innings. Texas then dominated lesser competition in Houston Christian and Cal Poly over the next four games, winning by a combined score of 35-3. Those wins included the ‘Horns scoring 15 runs and allowing none. The Longhorns beat St. John’s 15-4 on Tuesday before a tough weekend tournament in Houston awaits.
San Diego is a better team than many realize and will likely be playing in a Regional. The Johnnies (St. John’s) beat a top 5 team in Florida to start the year as well, so they are a formidable team this season. Having said that, the competition will take a step up this weekend for the Longhorns. Texas heads to Minute Maid Park in Houston for the Astros Foundation Classic. In the round-robin tournament, the Longhorns will play LSU on Friday, Texas State on Saturday and Vanderbilt on Sunday. LSU and Vanderbilt are both Top-7 teams and Texas State is a consistent program that will have a solid team. This weekend will show if what Texas has done at Disch-Falk so far this season is fool’s gold or if this is a legit contender in Omaha. Let’s take a look at what the ‘Horns have shown on the field beyond an impressive 7-1 start this season.
Jalin Flores has clearly taken a step forward
Shortstop Jalin Flores was one of the big “X” factors for the 2024 team headed into the start of the season. The talent has been clear with Flores since he stepped on campus. Like many young players, he just needed to show more consistently in his game, especially from the plate. Flores has done that and more in the eight games so far. The impact of Troy Tulowitzki’s return to the staff has been huge for his development.
Flores is hitting .344 and has already matched his HR total from 2023 with four. That includes two grand slams. He has 12 RBI’s and in 45 games last year he had 23 RBI’s. If Flores keeps this up he will be an All-Conference if not All-American player. Texas fans should enjoy him in burnt-orange because as a draft-eligible sophomore, he is likely off to the draft following the season. That would mean Flores finished how he started, and for that Texas fans should be happy.
Lebarron Johnson Jr. is an elite Ace
There were questions coming into the season as to whether or not Lebarron Johnson could be a true #1 on a pitching staff. Johnson showed his potential last year, especially in the second half of the season. With the departure of Lucas Gordon, there was a big hole to fill this season and Johnson has done just that. Through two starts Johnson has a 1.38 ERA to go along with 14 strikeouts to just 4 walks.
Johnson has elite stuff with his fastball hitting the mid 90’s, complimenting his great off-speed pitches. He will have his first big test of 2024 on Friday when he takes the mound against LSU in Houston. The defending champions have a loaded lineup led by future first round pick Tommy White. Last year White hit 24 HR’s and had 105 RBI’s. This year White is hitting .343 with 1 HR and 10 RBI’s through 9 games. Not quite the numbers he put up last year, but White and company will still present a great challenge for Johnson.
Jared Thomas is special
Sophomore 1B/CF Jared Thomas showed his ability last year as a freshman, particularly after being moved to the leadoff spot halfway through the season. Since that move, Texas is 20-8 as a team. Thomas is hitting over .400 from the leadoff position in those 28 games as well (H/T Longhorn Network). Thomas is one of,if not the best, fielders the Longhorns have as well. It’s rare to find a player who can contribute like he does on offense and be great in the field as well.
Thomas has not slowed down this year and in fact is playing better now than he did a year ago. He is currently hitting a whopping .581 and that’s with one less at-bat than team leader Jalin Flores. Thomas currently has six walks to 5 strikeouts and is 6-6 stealing bases. He has been an absolute machine and if Thomas can keep up the production, Texas will be hard to beat. It will be worth watching how he and the rest of the lineup do this weekend with the step-up in pitching they will face.