College baseball is back.
Well, kind of.
Just months after making a trip to the College World Series, the Longhorns have begun fall practice. And already, head coach Augie Garrido said he has a good feeling about his team.
“I think we have the makings of a championship team,” he said. “There are an awful lot of things that have to come together, of course. And you can’t predict it on potential. You have to see it kind of come together.”
The Longhorns are buoyed by the return of Sam Stafford, who was drafted in the second round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. Stafford and New York were unable to come to terms, so now the left-handed pitcher finds himself as Texas’ ace.
“At first there were mixed emotions about coming back,” he said. “I thought I was about to start my professional career, but it’s a business. I keep saying everything happens for a reason though, and I’m excited to begin this year.”
Following Stafford in the weekend pitching rotation could be another lefty, sophomore Hoby Milner, and sophomore right-hander Nathan Thornhill. Both worked out of the bullpen mostly last season but each has the arm stamina and enough variety of pitches to take the field as full-term starters.
“We’re looking at pitchers that pitched in setup roles,” Garrido said. “We’ve got Milner and Thornhill. We like both of those pitchers a lot and have a lot of confidence in them. Are they going to move into starting positions? We’ll have to see.”
With sophomore Corey Knebel ready to repeat his historic freshman year, where he tied a school record for saves in a single season, it looks like Texas has a pitching squad that could win some games by itself.
“But we have to hit better,” Garrido said. “Coach [Tommy] Harmon has been working hard with the hitters, trying to work on helping them take the outside half of the plate away and getting them to jump on some fastballs.”
Texas certainly struggled to hit last season — the team’s cumulative batting average was .269 — but the team hopes to improve those numbers come springtime. The man responsible for keeping the Longhorns’ average at a respectable clip last year, third baseman Erich Weiss, enters his sophomore season with expectations to carry the Longhorns offensively and in the infield.
“He looks stronger and quicker and more confident defensively. And his arm looks stronger,” Garrido said. “He’s an improved ‘Erich Weiss’ defensively.”
Weiss, who finished the year hitting .348 and was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, was an unknown on the squad last fall. This gives Garrido hope he can uncover some more diamonds in the rough.
“We have a level playing field,” he said. “I think there’s going to be some surprise starters.”
Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Stafford returns to anchor group of talented pitchers