baseball-season-preview:-predictions,-projections-and-much-more

BASEBALL SEASON PREVIEW: Predictions, projections and much more

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{{ timeAgo(‘2021-02-19 11:38:09 -0600’) }} baseball Edit

Following one of the most unusual and challenging weeks the city of Austin and the state of Texas has seen in a very long time, college baseball season has arrived. Ready or not. It’s here. Considering many of us are dodging ice falling from the house, getting used to power – and if we’re luckier, water that needs to be boiled – again and dealing with snowmageddon fatigue, it doesn’t exactly feel like college baseball season. But the show must go on. I think.

The No. 9 Longhorns are set to begin the season this Saturday against No. 7 Mississippi State (11 a.m.) to open the State Farm Showdown at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Sunday, the Longhorns play No. 8 Arkansas (7:00 p.m.) and on Monday they’ll face No. 6 Ole Miss (2:30 p.m.). You can watch all the games, for a price, at FloSports.com. Quite a way to start the season, especially for a team that hasn’t practiced since last Saturday because of weather and a university being closed. Here’s a look at the projected rotations for the weekend:

SATURDAY–RHP Ty Madden (3-0, 1.80) vs. Miss State LHP Christian MacLeod (4-0, 0.86)

SUNDAY–RHP Tristan Stevens (2-0, 1.50) vs. Arkansas RHP Peyton Pallette (0-0, 1.59)

MONDAY–RHP Kolby Kubichek (2-1, 2.79) vs. Ole Miss RHP Derek Diamond (2-0, 3.48)

Remember, earlier this week David Pierce said Hansen might not pitch this weekend. He missed a couple weeks of preseason time because of COVID-19 protocols. Before we get to some more season preview discussion, some links if you’ve missed our coverage leading into the season:

PITCHING PREVIEW

INFIELD PREVIEW

OUTFIELD PREVIEW

NOTES FROM DAVID PIERCE ON THE BIG 12 TELECONFERENCE

NOTES FROM DAVID PIERCE ON DAY ONE OF PRESEASON PRACTICE

COLUMN ON THE FIRST DAY OF GROUP WORKOUTS

Like everything in college athletics currently this is a very unusual time for myself. It’s the first time in over a decade I haven’t seen a Texas scrimmage in the fall or preseason heading into the season. So, especially with my scouting background, I feel like I felt when I was 12-years-old trying to hit a baseball before realizing I needed contacts. I’m not going at this completely blind, but I’m definitely working with less than 100% vision. Let’s get to some predictions anyway:

TOP HITTER

Mike Antico – Outfielder – Redshirt senior


He’s a career .332/.451/.519 hitter with plus-plus speed and St. John’s faces better pitching than you might think. If the offseason and preseason are true indicators, Antico is going to be the best hitter on the team.



Next on the list:
Austin Todd (redshirt senior – outfielder)

TOP POWER HITTER

Zach Zubia – First baseman – Redshirt junior


Melendez might have more raw power, but Zubia showed noticeable adjustments in the batter’s box last season; a more athletic stance allowed him to tap into his raw power more, and I think that trend will continue this season.



Next on the list:
Ivan Melendez (redshirt sophomore – infielder)

STOLEN BASE LEADER

Eric Kennedy – Outfielder – Redshirt sophomore


He can absolutely fly and was 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts during 17 games last season. With a career .381 on-base percentage, Kennedy will get on base more than enough to swipe more than 20 bags this season.



Next on the list:
Antico

BREAKOUT HITTER

Antico/Melendez


Antico was the Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and Melendez, according to David Pierce, was right up there during the fall as the team’s best all-around hitter. I’m always a little skeptical of JUCO transfers making the jump at a place like Texas, but the reviews of Melendez’s bat have all been glowing.



Next on the list:
Trey Faltine (redshirt freshman – shortstop)

MOST VALUABLE POSITION PLAYER

Trey Faltine – Shortstop – Redshirt freshman


Think back to all the dazzling – and more importantly, routine – plays Faltine made defensively at shortstop last season and how he handled himself in the batter’s box. Now, tell yourself he admittedly wasn’t fully comfortable as a true freshman handling all the weight of being the starting shortstop at the University of Texas. Yeah, the sky’s the limit. He might not register the gaudy offensive stats of some teammates, but his all-around game, defensive value at a premium spot and leadership make him most likely to be most valuable.



Next on the list:
Antico

I don’t know if he’ll get the opportunities, but I want to see more of…

Peyton Powell – Redshirt freshman – Catcher/utility

Depth is going to be tested more this season than any season before. While Powell doesn’t have a path to playing time currently, one will probably open at some point. From the left side, he has a pretty swing with some noticeable pop. Texas shouldn’t have hitting issues this season, but if Melendez wins the third base job, it could use a quality left-handed bat at the designated hitter spot.

Freshmen to follow…

Dylan Campbell and Mitchell Daly


I think under normal circumstances Campbell would be the favorite to start the season at second base, but preseason practice has been anything but normal. He needs to make major strides defensively to stay in the infield, but he already made some noticeable improvement in the fall thanks in large part to Troy Tulowitzki. As a hitter, Campbell’s strong, quick hands show the ball jumps with uniquely impressive velocity off his bat. He should emerge as an impact hitter at some point in his Texas career and perhaps sooner than later.

As for Daly, a 6-1 infielder who hits from the right side, he’s equally big on talent. He’s probably ahead of Campbell with the glove, but behind with the bat. Regardless, he possesses the type of tools that resulted in scouts checking around on him to see if he’d sign for cheap during the last round of the most recent MLB Draft.

BEST STARTING PITCHER

Ty Madden – RHP – Redshirt sophomore


Preseason Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, Golden Spikes Award watch list, preseason All-American… not sure much else needs to be said. Madden will rely on a fastball that could touch 100 MPH during some point this season, and a swing-and-miss slider. He’s worked on mixing in his changeup and occasional curve more often, but the fastball-slider combo is what’ll be featured.



Next on the list:
Kolby Kubichek

TOP RELIEVER

Dawson Merryman – RHP – Redshirt sophomore


Team-leading .091 batting average against last season and strike-thrower from a very unusual angle. He has the mental makeup to handle some closing-type opportunities, but Texas would benefit from using him during the most important situations regardless of inning.



Next on the list:
Tristan Stevens

BREAKOUT PITCHER

Kolby Kubichek – RHP – Redshirt sophomore


Was poised for a breakout last year following an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League and was just beginning to show it as the season ended. Good athlete on the mound who now understands the value of staying within himself and letting the sinker dance at 88-92 MPH instead of overthrowing it. Strong fall and preseason.



Next on the list:
Lucas Gordon

BOOM-OR-BUST ARM TEXAS NEEDS TO GO BOOM

Cole Quintanilla – RHP – Redshirt sophomore


He’s the most important bullpen piece. If he’s good, it totally changes the outlook for the bullpen.

NON-FRESHMAN NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Drew Shifflet – RHP – Redshirt sophomore


Has impressed Texas in the offseason and preseason with ability to throw quality strikes. In college baseball, coaches find a role for strike-throwers and guys who consistently fill the zone with even average stuff can get outs.

MOST EXCITING NEW PITCHER TO FOLLOW

Tanner Witt – RHP – Freshman


Pierce revealed recently Witt was focusing more on pitching than being a position player, and was really pushing hard for one of the rotation spots. The big righty’s curve profiles as a future plus-plus pitch and he’s a good athlete on the mound capable of eventually repeating his delivery and controlling the strike zone. When he’s on the mound, it’ll be bumpy initially. But there will be some jaw-dropping moments as well.

He could be the next Andre Duplantier…

Aaron Nixon – RHP – Freshman


Has the makeup and strike-throwing ability to emerge as a critical piece to close out games. Pierce has mentioned him often in press conferences.

He could be the next Pete Hansen…

Lucas Gordon – LHP – Freshman


Gordon might not have the stuff Hansen had as an impact freshman and eventual weekend starter last season, but he has the pitchability, competitiveness, and command of his arsenal to pitch his way into a weekend spot sooner than later.

BIG 12 PREDICTIONS

Texas Tech

Texas

TCU

Oklahoma State

West Virginia

Oklahoma

Kansas State

Baylor

Kansas



This is the strangest, on paper, the league has been in quite some time. For example, West Virginia feels like it has one of the most talented teams it’s ever had and it still might not crack being in the top three of the league. You could make a good case the top six on my list are top 25 good and Kansas State could have a first-round pick starting on Fridays. I foresee at least two teams hosting from the Big 12 and four isn’t unreasonable.

PROJECTED LINEUP

CF – Mike Antico

LF – Eric Kennedy

RF – Austin Todd

1B – Zach Zubia

3B – Ivan Melendez/TBD

DH – DJ Petrinksy/TBD

SS – Trey Faltine

2B – Cam Williams/TBD

C – Silas Ardoin

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve detailed the unique challenges teams across the country enter the season with, and specifically for Texas, it’s going to take a long, long time for pitchers to build up to typical workloads and ability. It might not be until the middle or late March before we see the Texas pitching staff begin to finalize roles and fire on all cylinders.

And considering Texas is going to go play three-straight top 10 opponents without a practice since Saturday, results and performances could look very ugly this weekend. This group will require patience as it heads into the season following anything but a normal preseason. That said, I really do like the potential of this team at season’s end, and the position group in particular is among the strongest Texas has had in a long time. The lineup features everything a team needs – speed, power, ability to get on base, ability to put the ball in play, left and right versatility and depth. It might not have the bright star some other lineups have, but top-to-bottom there isn’t a clear weakness, which couldn’t be said about UT lineups of the past.

David Pierce is set to embark on the challenge of his career. The Texas coaching staff will be tested unlike any season before as it handles all the unusual challenges that will come UT’s way. That said, only once in Pierce’s career has he coached a team that wasn’t better at the end than it was at the beginning. And this roster has Omaha potential, and a true Omaha ceiling. Because of the way Hansen is entering the season and the question marks in the bullpen, I think Texas reaches a Super Regional but doesn’t reach Omaha. But, if Hansen was his 2020 self and Texas wasn’t entering the season following basically just one week of preseason, I’d probably project this team in Omaha. Basically, we won’t really know what this Texas team could truly look like until at least a month into the season.