Entitlement, meet mediocrity. These unlikely bedfellows defined the Texas baseball program in 2013.
If you ask Longhorn fans about last year’s team, they will tell you it was as average as their 27-24 record would indicate. Ask head coach Augie Garrido, and you get a different answer.
“We spent all fall attacking what I think was our number one problem from last year, and that’s the word entitlement, “ Garrido said following the first day of practice this year. “I think we have taken real important steps forward in changing the attitude of being entitled and recognizing who we are and changing that to what are we going to do to help the team.”
The Texas baseball program has a rich postseason history. The Longhorns have made 55 regional and super regional appearances, 34 trips to the College World Series in Omaha, and have won six national titles. The last postseason appearance, however, was in 2011.
If you are looking for the culprit, look no further than an anemic Texas offense. The Longhorns ranked 275th in the nation in scoring last year. Conventional wisdom says you will not win many games ranked that low. The crux of the problem was clutch hitting.
Rather than focusing on hitting, Garrido took a different approach in the fall than in years’ past. “We didn’t spend as much time playing catch or taking batting practice as we did the mental parts of it all and getting them focused on how to serve the team, how to be a great teammate and what it takes to be mentally tough.”
There are pieces to build on. Texas brought in the nation’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class. It boasts a pitching staff that finished No. 7 in the nation in ERA, and returns all three weekend starters. The team’s best hitter returns for his senior year. Longhorn fans should have good reason for optimism this spring.
The strength of the team is pitching. Dillon Peters, Parker French and Nathan Thornhill were the workhorses on the mound. The trio kept Texas in most games while the offense struggled. Navarro Junior College transfer Lukas Schiraldi was named outstanding pitcher of the year in the Cape Cod League last summer. John Curtiss returns from Tommy John Surgery and looks to be a candidate to close games or start the mid-week games. Texas has an embarrassment of riches on the mound.
The incoming freshman class could very well become household names before conference play begins. Expect infielder Andy McGuire to step in immediately and provide some punch to the offense. Catcher/first baseman Tres Barrera should see significant playing time on the diamond. The only question is where he will play? Brett Boswell battled junior Brooks Marlow in the fall for the second base job. A fourth freshman, Zan Gurwitz, could be in the mix for an infield job. Texas could realistically start four freshman in the infield.
As bright as the incoming class is, Texas will need its returning players to step up. Mark Payton passed up the big leagues to return for his senior season. Payton hit .393 to lead the Longhorns. Shortstop CJ Hinojosa had a solid freshman year in 2013, batting .309. Hinojosa committed 11 errors in 2013, but just one in his last 18 games. Senior catcher Jacob Felts is one of only a handful of Longhorns to experience postseason play. He will be pressed by Barrera behind the plate and may end up at first base.
After Payton, the outfield is a mess. Ben Johnson led the team with three home runs, but hit just .220. Weston Hall (.226), Collin Shaw (.222) and Taylor Stell (.181) could not get going last season, either. Texas will need more production from this group if it is going to entertain postseason thoughts.
Texas did not win a single Big 12 series on their way to a last place finish in the conference. Perhaps some of those losses were a result of an entitled attitude. Maybe Garrido is right and some players were not good teammates or stewards of the Texas brand?
The reality is many of those defeats can be chalked up to a putrid offense lacking in clutch hitting. Time will tell if Garrido’s team-building approach in the offseason will pay off. All signs are pointing at 2014 as a make-or-break season for the Texas manager. There is no room for mediocrity on the Forty Acres, no matter how entitled you think you are.
What do you think, Longhorn fans? Will Texas make a return to the postseason in 2014? Leave your predictions in the comments below.