Coming off a season in which they missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years, the Longhorns are hopeful that an offensive resurgence will lead them back to prominence in 2013.
As a team, Texas hit .263 and scored 250 runs in 2012, good for seventh and eighth among Big 12 teams, respectively. They were among the worst marks the Longhorns have posted since Tommy Harmon was hired as hitting coach in 1989. Harmon was replaced by Tommy Nicholson, a former Texas second baseman who played under Garrido, during the offseason.
The Longhorns have the potential to improve at the plate this season, as several promising new players are expected to join returning key veterans in the everyday lineup.
One of the players that will be counted on most heavily is catcher Jacob Felts. The junior is poised for a big season after starting every game behind the plate for last season, when he often batted in the cleanup slot and recorded a .282 batting average with eight doubles and 21 RBIs.
Another key player for the Longhorns will be freshman shortstop CJ Hinojosa, who could start immediately after being ranked as the nation’s No. 32 prospect by Perfect Game. Despite high expectations to produce early on, Hinojosa is confident that he will be up for the task.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Hinojosa said. “It’s the same game that I have played since I was 3-and-a-half years old. So I’m just coming out here and having fun with it. You know, this has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid to come and play at the University of Texas and now I get the chance. I’m going to take every advantage I get.”
Joining Hinojosa in the infield will be a number of holdovers from last year’s squad. Junior Erich Weiss, who will play third base, was the team’s leading hitter last season with a .350 batting average, and he recorded five home runs and 38 RBIs.
Also returning are sophomore second baseman Brooks Marlow, who hit a pair of home runs and drove in 29 base runners last season, and junior first baseman Alex Silver, who batted .267 with 19 RBIs in 2012. Converted shortstop Codey McElroy could also see time at first base in 2013.
Leadoff hitter Mark Payton will lead the outfield this season after a productive campaign last year. The junior was second among regulars with a .322 batting average, and he hit five home runs to go along with eight stolen bases.
Sophomore Taylor Stell could see a spike in playing time after batting .333 with six stolen bases in 25 games in 2012. Also expected to make an impact in the outfield will be junior Cohl Walla, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Walla will look to return to the level of production of his freshman year, when he hit .316 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs en route to earning Baseball America Freshman All-American second team honors.
While many of the Longhorns remember last season’s disappointments, the players are happy to turn the page and begin a new season.
“It’s always in the back of your mind how last year ended, and the bad taste in your mouth that you want to get rid of as soon as that first game starts,” Silver said. “I feel for the most of us, it’s in the back of our minds, but it’s not something that we dwell on or think about a lot. It’s a new season. It’s a new opportunity and we want to take advantage of it.”
The Longhorns are eager to show they have improved since last season’s shortcomings and a productive season from the batting order will go a long way in proving this.