How will the Horns change that this year? With a mix of old and new, beginning today at 2:30 with the season opener at Disch-Falk Field vs. Virginia Commonwealth.
The team's strength, both literally and figuratively, will come from the outfield and behind the plate. Home run kind Kyle Russell and Jordan Danks return for a third year of patrolling the outfield on defense and knocking balls over the outfield fence on offense, while Preston Clark will be the Horns' on-the-field coach and another power source at the plate after turning down major league baseball for one more run at a title in the burnt orange. Also returning is 3B Travis Tucker, DH/OF Russell Moldenhaur and OR Kyle Lusson.
Pitching coach Skip Johnson welcomes back Kenn Kasparek and Riley Boening, two pitchers whose absence due to injury last year drained the team's mound depth, as well as Austin Wood, a proven performer over the last two seasons who will get the start in today's opener. He'll also have previous contributors Keith Shinaberry, a closer candidate, Juston Street and Kyle Walker to call on out of the ‘pen.
That's the nucleus. But a return trip to Omaha may depend on guys making their first appearance today at the Disch, guys like true freshman Cole Green, Saturday's scheduled starter, and a whole host of new infielders, including opening day starters 1B Brandon Belt (a sophomore transfer from San Jac), 2B Michael Torres (a junior transfer from USC) and SS David Hernanadez (a sophomore transfer from Fresno State). True Freshman Kevin Keyes will join Danks and Russell in the outfield on opening day.
The candidates for mid-week starting roles and middle relief include newcomers Brandon Workman, a he 6-foot-5 righthander from Bowie, and Lake Travis' Chance Ruffin (son of former Longhorn and major leaguer Bruce Ruffin), although the list is long, and with the condensed season, the number of pitchers Garrido and Johnson use on a consistent basis this year could top 10.
And in the infield, the starters could be pushed by true freshman Bobby Buckner (son of former major leaguer Bill Buckner) and Tant Shepherd, and junior Marcus Tackett (a transfer from Oral Roberts).
"The 22 (new) guys, they've really shown that they deserve to come to UT. I'm confident that with the team we have now, we're going to put up some wins in the spring," said Russell. "I think we're gonna make it back this year."
The journey back begins in earnest today.