Texas baseball is unranked for good reason, but don’t count it out

Jordan Mitchell, Associate Sports Editor

Despite Texas baseball spending back-to-back summers in Omaha in 2021 and 2022 for the College World Series, the Longhorns find themselves left out of D1 Baseball’s preseason Top 25. 

While Kendall Rogers, D1 Baseball managing editor, may be the self-dubbed “hater of all teams,” his skepticism in David Pierce’s ballclub isn’t unfounded. In fact, other publications share the same doubt. Texas is unranked in every major poll, except the USA Today baseball coaches preseason poll, where it sneaks in at No. 24.

The head coach voting panel supplying Texas the benefit of the doubt is understandable, given that the program has made the trip to the College World Series more than any other team with 38 tickets punched to Omaha. But for the media, there is a thick mist surrounding the Longhorns, and uncertainty doesn’t grant votes.

“No one knows about our team,” junior pitcher Lucas Gordon said. “No one really knows who is gonna start in any position.”

Despite the ballclub tallying a mind-boggling 128 home runs last season, shattering the previous program record of 81, Texas lost 99 of those bombs to the MLB Draft alone. Among the eight Longhorns selected was first baseman Ivan Melendez, who swept the national awards after slashing .387 and blasted an NCAA-leading 32 home runs on his way to winning the Golden Spikes Award.

While junior right fielder Dylan Campbell is predicted to emerge as the star power hitter for Texas this season, he is one of three starters returning to the batting lineup alongside junior shortstop Mitch Daly and fifth-year senior outfielder Eric Kennedy. The latter two had underwhelming seasons after Daly hit a slump at the plate and Kennedy was plagued by a pesky hamstring injury in the thick of conference play.

With the rest of the batting lineup being predictably replaced by a mix of highly-touted freshmen and transfers, wannabe Texas baseball historians and longtime media alike suspect a movement away from power hitting and a return to “Augie Ball.”

Former Texas baseball head coach Augie Garrido spent his 20 seasons with the Longhorns playing small ball: getting runners on base and into scoring position by any means necessary. Garrido especially liked using sacrifice bunts to advance speedy baserunners and strategically bring runs home.

With six new batters in the lineup and the returning pieces arguably Texas’ worst batters last season, Pierce expects to play a different game this year.

“There’s a lot of transition right now,” Pierce said. “We’re just gonna have to learn how to win in multiple ways.”

Another key component of “Augie Ball” was the arms. It’s a lot easier to manufacture runs when pitchers aren’t letting opposing squads run up the score. With Pierce expecting less dependence on the long ball this season, pitching is going to be vital to Texas’ success. 

However, there are a lot of questions surrounding the pitching staff heading into the season. Southpaw Gordon is a lock for the weekend rotation after stepping in for Tanner Witt last season when he underwent Tommy John surgery. However, the rest of the weekend spots are up for grabs. Redshirt junior Zane Morehouse looked poised pitching against the alumni and is a favorite to step up this season, even after he recorded a 6.00 ERA last season. 

Redshirt sophomore LeBarron Johnson also looks to sneak his way into the weekend rotation. Johnson can get his slider to sweep five inches and hits a 99 mph fastball on a perfect day; however, he struggled to pound the zone and get ahead in the count last year.

A bright spot for the Longhorns’ arms is new pitching coach Woody Williams, who was an MLB pitcher for 15 seasons. 

“The combination of (his) 15 years in the big leagues and his demeanor (with) the expertise of Chris Gordon coming from Duke with such an analytic background (has) been awesome,” Pierce said.

Despite the doubt surrounding the program, Campbell believes that being unranked on opening day just gives the team more motivation, especially after its round one exit in last season’s Series.

“It’s the University of Texas,” Campbell said. “I think we can go against anybody in the country.”