Lack of upperclassmen thrusts sophomores into leadership roles

Chris Hummer

At the University of Texas, in any sport, it’s usually hard for freshmen to see the field.

But in the Longhorns’ run to Omaha last season, the team carried 11 freshmen on the roster and five of those players saw significant playing time, including 2012 preseason All-American closer Corey Knebel and third baseman Erich Weiss.

As sophomores, they will be expected to play an even bigger role this season. There are only two projected upperclassmen in the lineup after losing starting center fielder Cohl Walla and pitcher Sam Stafford to season-ending injuries.

All of the second-year players need to step up and fill the holes in the lineup made by injuries, graduation and the MLB draft. Contributions from Knebel and Weiss are expected, but the thing that will truly determine how successful the season will become is the performance of the other members of the 2010 class.

Starting catcher Jacob Felts, a Big 12 All-Freshman team performer last year, is a player who is expected to make great strides. Last season he was a steady presence behind the plate and handled one of the best pitching staffs in the country like a veteran.

“Felts is a great leader, he’s the catcher and kind of the quarterback of the team. He is always going to get on somebody if he needs to,” said sophomore starting pitcher Nathan Thornhill.

However, he struggled to catch up to the college game from the other side of the box. Felts hit only .215 last season and often served as the last hitter listed on the lineup card. In order for Felts’ game to continue to grow, he needs to make great strides at the plate. If he can manage to up his production there, it would be a huge step in improving what was one of the Big 12’s worst offenses last season.

Fellow Big 12 All-Freshman team member Mark Payton will also play a big part in determining the team’s potential this year. He had an excellent freshman year in right field and hit a steady .263 from the plate.

Like Felts, though, that number will need to improve if the lineup is to succeed, especially because the starting nine will be without three of its top four hitters from last year.

While contributions from these players are important, it will be the performances of some sophomores who are new to the lineup that will determine just how successful it can be.

Brandon Loy has been a staple at shortstop on the 40 Acres the last three years but he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers this past season. So it will be up to Christian Summers to take his place.

Summers played sparingly his freshman season, pinch-hitting and running on occasion. In 2012, he will be playing one of the key defensive positions on the field and certainly has big shoes to fill after the departure of Loy.

Alex Silver is another sophomore that needs to step up. He played in only 12 games last year, splitting between designated hitter and first base. Now, he will be expected to be a starter on a day-to-day basis at first.

These sophomores need to take on bigger roles not only on the field but off of it as well. They will be forced to take on leadership roles early in their collegiate careers. The juniors and seniors paved the way for this class to be successful in 2011 and now it’s time for them to do the same for this year’s freshmen.

“We need to all step up as sophomores and get the freshmen ready,” Weiss said. “We played a lot last year and I think getting the freshmen ready will help them when their time comes.”

Aiding the freshmen in maturing quickly will benefit the team, but if the class of 2011 wants to get back to Omaha once again, it will be up to their class to propel them there.