Texas Baseball Set to Spring Back

With Texas baseball missing the NCAA Tournament, the first reaction is to take a look at what went wrong. And the second is to compare it to what went wrong across the board in other Texas sports as well.

At first glance, there were certainly similarities.

Football had a well-documented rash of injuries, losing arguably the Longhorns' top four offensive playmakers in Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Fozzy Whittaker and Jaxon Shipley for various time periods, while speed demon Demarco Cobbs and fourth receiver John Harris also sat out. Basketball only had one injury, but it was a big one, losing Alexis Wangmene when the Longhorns needed him for his toughness and defense down low.

Like football, baseball lost a bevy of players at one position. Though it wasn't a surprise, the team lost ace Taylor Jungmann to the draft, then pending ace Sam Stafford to injury. Ricky Jacquez was booted from the team, and Parker French, the Big 12's freshman of the year, was knocked out for the end of the season, when the Longhorns needed him most. Add that to the injury of star centerfielder Cohl Walla, and it's amazing the Longhorns were third in the Big 12 in the first place.

The second similarity is that all three teams had major youth issues. The Texas team was arguably the youngest football team in the league, with one of the team's starting quarterbacks (David Ash), top two running backs (Brown and Bergeron), top receiver (Shipley) and left tackle (Josh Cochran) all playing their true freshman seasons. Basketball played six true freshmen, but even beyond that, the Longhorns only played two seniors serious minutes — Wangmene and Clint Chapman — and didn't return any starters from the previous season. So it wasn't just youth, it was also inexperience, and more specifically, inexperience in the roles they were asked to play.

Baseball was also awfully young. The Longhorns had a league-high four players selected to the 14-player Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Only two other schools had multiple players on the team, and with one of those two teams headed to the SEC, Texas A&M, Texas appears uniquely poised to field a talented young lineup. Of course, Texas also had four players named the previous year. And the Longhorns' top two hitters in 2012 were Erich Weiss and Mark Payton, both sophomores.

And while the youth movements in both other sports have led to high expectations for the 2012-2013 seasons, so too should it for baseball. Like both football and basketball, the Longhorns have a top-10 recruiting class, one that is packed with the Longhorns' primary weakness: bats. Texas will have to wait to see which players decide to head to the 40 Acres after the MLB Draft, but at least a few could provide the hitting Texas has been needing.

The Longhorns were eighth out of the nine-team Big 12 in batting average, and with the injuries at pitcher turning a strength into an average Big 12 unit, Texas just didn't have the tools to put up runs to replace the losses defensively. That could change in 2013, with Texas adding back Walla, potentially returning Stafford, bringing back French and kicking in a few elite-level recruits, several of whom are known for the pop in their bats.

Just like that, Texas could be back at, or at least near, the top of the Big 12. And this year will simply remembered as a one-year hiccup where nothing went right.


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