Lets start at the Catcher position; Returning for his 4th year and starting for his third straight year at the catching position will be Preston Clark. Preston a red shirt junior brings a lot to the table that goes unnoticed. He will be able to keep these young pitchers on track and help them stay focus. When Preston went down to a sprain knee right before the Round Rock Regional those things that go unnoticed became very visible. His offense – .278 batting average 8 home runs and 46 runs batted – just his mere presence in the line up gives this team confidence. His defense – six errors in 56 games- makes the opposing team conscience of him behind the plate. Backing Preston up will be heir apparent Freshman Cameron Rupp. Cameron is a big young man that reminds me more of a Taylor Teagarden and Rupp will be able to continue this long line of outstanding catchers that eventually go on to the MLB.
At first base, Texas will be looking to fill a void that they have not had to worry about in 4 years. Trying to replace somebody like a Chance Wheeless is not an easy task. Texas was able to go out and re-recruit Brandon Belt. Brandon had signed his LOI in ’06 but opted instead to go and play for San Jacinto for his freshman year. While at San Jacinto he helped guide them to a 4th place finish at the Jr. College World Series. Not only can Brandon bat but also he is a descent pitcher. Just like Chance, Brandon stands at 6’5” and bats from the left side of the plate. Backing him up will be Jeff Bose.
Second base will be handle by one of those transfers namely Michael Torres. Michael comes in from USC where he appeared in 31 games and started 21 games for Chad Krueter and company. In those 31 games, he committed six errors and batted .253. Normally what you looked for in a transfer is how fast that they can be acclimated to the team. Michael had the privilege of playing with Bishop, Russell and Woods on their summer team the Santa Barbara Foresters. Backing Michael up will be Freshman Bobby Buckner. Bobby comes in from Idaho where he played his high school ball.
The shortstop position was a revolving door last year involving Chais Fuller, Pat McCrory, and Michael Demperio. This year another, transfer David Hernandez will replace the revolving door with more stability. While at Fresno State he played in 35 games and started 21. David batted .250 and only committed two errors. David also played with those same guys at Santa Barbara Foresters. By playing all summer together and then this fall, David and Michael will make this transition to Texas a smoother one. Bobby Buckner and Pat McCrory will spend time at this position over the season.
Replacing an All-American is no easy task but at third base, Travis Tucker has slide over to third from second to take over the position that has now been vacated by the Yankee signing of Bradley Suttle. Travis has the arm strength and the glove to settled in at third base this year. Batting in the leadoff spot for most of the year Travis batted .307 with 21 stolen bases and only committed 8 errors in 63 games. Backing Travis up at third will be another one of those highly touted Freshman Tant Shepherd. Tant comes in from Flower Mound High School with the high hopes of continuing this trend of successful third baseman at the University of Texas.
Taking over in left field will be Russell Moldenhauer. Russell spent most of his time his freshman year at the DH position. In 49 games played, he batted .278 and hit six homeruns while driving in 32. Russell will not be cheated on any of his at bats. He goes up there looking for the ball to drive. Watch for Kyle Lusson to get some playing time in left field as he played in 15 and started four. This is a position that could become very competitive over the course of the season.
Jordan Danks will take over in Center Field now that Nick Peoples aka dirt bags have graduated. Jordan looks bigger and quicker than last year if that is possible. Last year he was a perfect 20-20 on the base path, which makes him perfect for his UT career. Jordan batted .332, drove in 38 runs, and had 48 walks. Jordan will get on base and cause problems for opposing team pitchers. Jordan defense and his offense will be very critical this year for the success of this year’s team. Backing him up will be Freshman Connor Rowe from Georgetown High. Connor has all those tools that you want from an outfielder. Connor reminds more of a Nick Peoples than a Jordan Danks and that is not bad company.
Returning for his junior year is Mr. Home Run King Kyle Russell. He has those special tools that MLBers love to see, good size, speed, and power. Kyle was drafted in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals and had a very good offer on the table from the Cardinals but choose to come back to Texas for his junior year. Kyle broke the Home Run record at Texas last year by swatting 28 round trippers the previous mark was held By Jeff Ontiveros (2002) at 20. Baseball players hitting that many home runs in a pitchers park in no easy task especially since the ball does not travel well early in the season. Backing Kyle up in Right Field will be another one of those highly recruited freshman Kevin Keyes. Kevin is a big strong kid that can really drive the ball and throw runners out at home plate. Expect to see Kevin in the DH position getting those much-needed reps.
When you lose Adrian Alaniz, Joseph Krebs, James Russell, and Randy Boone you begin to think about where in the heck will the innings come from? Unlike last year, there is a plethora of pitchers to choose from for this year. The concern is which pitcher will demand to have that ball in his hand when it is his time to pitch. Austin Wood could very well end up being the Friday starter. Last year he stared out of the bullpen and ended up being a reliable starter. After the second Rice game of the season, he really settled down into the roll of a Sunday starter. His best outing of the year was the last Game of the regular season against the Aggies where he threw 8 innings. With Kenn Kasparek and Riley Boening healthy, where do they fit into the rotation? Riley is finally pitching off the mound and Kenn’s fastball is reaching 94 miles and hour on a consistent basis. He is also the only player on this roster that had a big role in getting Texas to Omaha in ’05. I hope that they will not push either of these players until conference games starts. Skip has enough arms to be able to get through the non-conference games. Look for some of the young guns to step up early in the season. Cole Green was the #1 prospect coming out of high school last year and he showed a lot of promise on the mound during the fall season. Another pitcher to watch for is Brandon Workman. Brandon was drafted by the Philadelphia Philly’s in the third round with the 107th pick overall. He can really bring the heat and showed great promise as well during the fall scrimmages.
Where does Florida State transfer Casey Whitmer fit into the pitching rotation? Casey played for former Horn Tim Harkrider at Kilgore High but choose to go to FSU for his freshman year. While at FSU he appeared in 12 contests and had 1-0 record. During the summer of ‘07, he played for the Brazos Valley Bomber of the Texas Collegiate League and earned TCL freshman of the year. While there, he compiled a record of 2-2 with an era 1.54 in 7 starts in which he earn the starting job for the All- Star game. Casey has the capability to start or to come out of the bullpen.
The middle relief pitching could come from junior Keith Shinaberry, junior Kyle Walker, freshman Hunter Hill, junior Garret Clyde (Cousin of David Clyde), freshman Chance Ruffin (Father is Bruce Ruffin). Look for Keith to come in for certain situations facing other teams left handed batters. Kyle Walker looks like that he has finally found the strike zone to be counted on a consistent basis. Chance Ruffin also has the opportunity to start as well but with all the other arms in front of him look for him to come out of the bullpen. Chance has the highest leg kick I have ever seen as his knee hits his chin every time he goes through his routine. Hunter Hill is an aggressive pitcher that will pound the zone and that is what Skip wants form his pitcher.
The closer role will be from one of two guys one is young man that has been around for a few years and it seems that he has his arm worked out. The other one is a freshman that will remind you of another freshman that helped guide the Horns to the ’02 championship. The first one is Drew Bishop and it looks like that his arm is healthy and ready to go. Drew had a great summer for the Santa Barbara Foresters and a very good Fall. The freshman is Stayton Thomas from Corsicana High. Stayton and Skip have a very long history together as they lived in same town while Skip coach at Navarro Junior College. Stayton has the same demeanor as Huston Street when on the mound. Stayton demands the ball in his hand and will attack the batters.
1). Travis Tucker 3rd base
2). Michael Torres 2nd Base
3). Jordan Danks CF
4). Kyle Russell RF
5). Russell Moldenhauer LF
6). Preston Clark C
7). Brandon Belt 1st base
8). Kevin Keyes/ Cameron Rupp DH
9). David Hernandez SS
Kenn Kasparek Friday
Austin Wood Saturday
Casey Whitmer Sunday
Mid Week Games
Brandon Workman/Chance Ruffin
Freshmen to keep an eye out for