Texas Baseball did not make it back to the College World Series this season, but the Longhorns have a bright future in 2018.
New manager David Pierce will have a full offseason to carry out his brand of Texas Baseball, working with a lot of young players on the roster.
But, the Longhorns lose senior leadership from Kacy Clemens and Zane Gurwitz. Plus, junior ace Morgan Cooper will likely be heading to the major leagues.
It remains to be seen if other juniors like Kyle Johnston join Cooper at the next level after finding out where they are selected in the 2017 MLB Draft. Or, if a Draft-eligible sophomore like Kody Clemens heads to the majors with brother Kacy.
There are plenty of young stars on the Texas Baseball roster who can lead the way in 2018 and beyond. Here are five players who need to step up and be huge next season for the Longhorns.
1. Nolan Kingham
The sophomore from Las Vegas will presumably take the role of Texas ace next season. Kingham and Morgan Cooper were a dynamic Friday-Saturday combination in 2017.
Kingham hit a rough patch at the end of the 2017 regular season. But, he rebounded with a huge complete game against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament and a big victory over UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, Kingham will be the clear staff ace in 2018 to set the tone for the weekend. [ Full 2017 Season Stats ]
2. Beau Ridgeway
The sophomore closer needs to become a shutdown closer in 2018.
Ridgeway was dynamic and dependable for the majority of his run in 2017. But, there were times when he let leads slip away, like two games against TCU in the regular season.
Ridgeway has the pitching ability to be the next great Texas closer, like a Huston Street, he just needs that consistency in all situations. We expect Ridgeway to be a dominant force out of the bullpen to seal games and get Texas back to the College World Series next season.
3. David Hamilton
The dependable, electrifying freshman shortstop already looks like a major leaguer in the field.
The next step for David Hamilton is his bat. Hamilton has some pop in his bat from the left side of the plate, but he did not have enough in 2017 to hit his first career home run.
If Hamilton can add some power, he will become even more dangerous for Texas Baseball.
The other element that Hamilton could bring to the Longhorns is a consistent leadoff presence. Hamilton makes great contact, has speed to leg out infield hits and bunts, can steal bases, and can score from second base. He has everything you want in a leadoff hitter except for the consistent at-bats.
Depending on how Hamilton progresses in the offseason, Hamilton might not be ready for the leadoff role as a sophomore. But, he should be ready to take that role by his junior season.
The importance of a dependable leadoff hitter was clear in the Long Beach Regional against Long Beach State.
The Dirtbags’ leadoff hitter Jarren Duran was the difference in the three-game series. Duran got on base, drove in runs, and created havoc. Texas needs that type of player in 2018. David Hamilton could be that player in 2018, but we’re eyeing 2019 as his breakout season with the bat.
4. Austin Todd
The freshman outfielder from Round Rock has the physical tools to be an elite run-producer for Texas Baseball. Austin Todd just needs to work on a consistent approach to the plate.
Todd tweaked his batting stance throughout the season, trying to find the best way to attack pitchers. Now, he can work with Coach Pierce and the Longhorns staff throughout the offseason to find his best stance.
Todd bounced around the lineup in 2017 as the Horns tried to find the best place to use him. If he turns into a consistent hitter, he can settle into the middle of the lineup to drive in runs. Texas needs him to take a big leap this offseason.
5. Blair Henley and Nick Kennedy
We expect Blair Henley and Nick Kennedy to be the Saturday and Sunday starters behind Nolan Kingham in 2017. Things could change, like Kyle Johnston returning to Texas for his senior season.
But, the freshman Henley and sophomore Kennedy showed flashes of greatness throughout the 2017 season. Unfortunately for Kennedy, the lefty from Tampa struggled in his last start of the season in the deciding game against Long Beach in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Henley had an inconsistent freshman year. Henley was brilliant for eight innings on the road against Stanford, but he also gave up five runs in less than two innings against Louisiana-Lafayette. But, he rebounded to win Texas’ Big 12 conference tournament game against TCU.
Henley has the tools to become another great Texas pitcher. And, he should find it in his sophomore season to develop a great weekend trip with Kennedy and Nolan Kingham.
Other Players to Note
We should also mention Ryan Reynolds, the son of former Houston Astros ace pitcher Shane Reynolds. Ryan showed flashes of power in 2017 during his freshman season. And, he already established himself as one-half of a great left side of the infield with fellow freshman David Hamilton.
Now, we just need to see Reynolds develop a consistent power approach from both sides of the plate to take advantage of the more hitter-friendly dimensions at Disch-Falk Field in Austin.
Overall, the Texas Baseball roster may or may not experience a lot of turn over. It depends on who leaves early for the Draft.
We know that Kacy Clemens and Zane Gurwitz are gone. That’s only two players. Then, you’re looking at anywhere from one to eight Draft-eligible juniors and underclassmen who could be heading to the bigs.
That’s why we left off players like Travis Jones, Bret Boswell, Patrick Mathis, and Michael Cantu. If these juniors return to Texas for their senior years, they will need to be huge in 2018 to lead the Longhorns.
Until we see who stays and who leaves Texas Baseball, we’re sticking with the freshmen and sophomores who need to become dynamic leaders for the Longhorns in 2018.