But the 2008 season wasn't quite the same. The ‘Horns failed to reach the 40-win plateau and did not host an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2001. Despite an excellent offense [Texas' 7.7 runs per game were by far the most of the Garrido era], last season's club had Texas' lowest fielding percentage [.965] since 2003 and the highest ERA [4.48] since 1999.
In an effort to return the pitching and defense to championship form, Garrido, recruiting coordinator Tommy Harmon, and pitching coach Skip Johnson have assembled a recruiting class chock full of high-potential arms and excellent defensive players.
Those around the program believe this could be Texas' most talented class on the mound in years. It's a group that figures to contribute from day one, starting with right-hander Taylor Jungmann.
A Central Texas product, Jungmann is expected to be in the weekend rotation when the Longhorns open the season against Illinois-Chicago on February 20. The 6-foot-6, 195-pound hurler spent three years at Rogers High School before transferring to Georgetown for his senior season. Although most projected Jungmann to be selected in the second-to-fourth rounds of the 2008 MLB Draft, Jungmann wound up falling to the Angels in the 24th round, as his commitment to Texas made it unlikely that he would sign for anything less than first-round money.
Since arriving on campus, Jungmann has done nothing but impress his coaches and teammates. The freshman was impressive in the fall [including a six-strikeout performance in three scoreless innings against Baylor]. His fastball, which was 88-92 mph in high school, has been sitting between 92-93 with the ‘Horns and most scouts believe he'll eventually be able to dial it up into the mid-90s on occasion. While many tall pitchers have a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone, perhaps the most impressive facet of Jungmann's game thus far has been his ability to pound the lower half of the strike zone with his entire repertoire.
There's no doubting that Jungmann is one of Texas' most talented pitchers of the Garrido era, but many of those who saw or played against Austin Dicharry at Klein Collins High School believe he could be even better.
Like Jungmann, Dicharry was projected as a second-to-fourth round pick in last summer's draft, but he's still a mystery at this point. A heavy workload in high school caused Dicharry to miss part of his senior season with shoulder tendonitis. Though he technically hasn't been hurt since coming to Austin, the ‘Horns chose to err on the side of caution by putting him on a rehab program during the fall. As a result, Dicharry didn't throw in any games, but he built up his arm strength again.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Dicharry has been impressive in his limited action thus far, flashing a 91-92 mph fastball, a potentially plus curveball, and an extremely advanced changeup for his age. The pitcher also gets deception from an odd – but mechanically sound – over-the-top delivery. Because he missed the entire fall, Dicharry may not be a huge factor early in the season [likely bullpen or midweek starter], but he could fill an important role as early as conference play.
Dicharry's high school teammate, Sam Stafford, may have more upside than Jungmann and Dicharry, but he's also the rawest of the bunch. The 6-foot-4 left-hander's draft stock took a hit last season, as his velocity dropped into the mid-to-high-80s while returning from elbow tendonitis. Now back at full strength, Stafford's fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s and both his curveball and changeup are promising. However, Stafford had control issues in the fall that may relegate him to the bullpen in the early going. If he progresses during the year, Stafford could be a key weapon down the stretch.
Andrew McKirahan won't light up the radar gun and he probably won't get the same attention from scouts that Jungmann, Dicharry and Stafford will, but he figures to be an effective pitcher at the collegiate level. The Texas coaching staff believes that down the line, McKirahan will add some velocity to his 84-86 mph fastball. The southpaw's strong mound presence and ability to command all of his pitches should make him successful from the start. With Brandon Belt becoming a full-time first baseman, the Georgetown native has an opportunity to become the bullpen's primary left-handed middle reliever.
The 2009 recruiting class is unique in that there are no JUCO transfers, but it does have one player with previous Division I baseball experience. Right-hander Kendal Carrillo is technically a walk-on to the baseball program, but he will see action on the mound. Carrillo played his freshman season at UT-Arlington, where he posted a 4.81 ERA in 33.2 innings as a reliever and midweek starter. He then transferred to Texas – to walk on to the 2007 football team as a running back. After one season of football, Carrillo is back to playing baseball. The hurler, who works in the 86-88 mph range with an above-average slider, should log some innings out of the bullpen this season.
For the Longhorns, any recruiting class that loses just one player to the MLB Draft must be considered a success. This past summer, that one player was outfielder Robbie Grossman. The former Cy-Fair standout was expected to attend Texas after slipping to the sixth round on draft day, but – after failing to sign second round selection Tanner Scheppers – the Pittsburgh Pirates made use of their extra money by giving Grossman a $1 million signing bonus.
Although Grossman likely would have cracked Texas' opening day lineup, he wasn't the only impact freshman position player in the class. The versatile Brandon Loy has looked impressive since the fall and Garrido believes he will open the season in the starting lineup.
Loy is currently slated to begin the season as the team's starting third baseman, but he could also play shortstop and centerfield. A natural shortstop, Loy's athleticism, plus arm [he has been clocked at 88 mph from the infield], and soft hands combine to make him an excellent defender at a number of positions. At the plate, Loy is regarded a contact hitter and an on-base machine with great baserunning instincts.
Infielder Jordan Etier and outfielder Tim Maitland will also be in the mix for playing time, as both players figure to help off the bench. Both players have above-average speed and advanced defensive skills. Etier is often compared to current second baseman Travis Tucker because he is a hard worker who consistently gets the most out of his talent level. Maitland will compete for time in centerfield. Baseball America has likened the Colleyville native to Lenny Dykstra because he is a "high-energy, maximum-effort centerfielder".
With Preston Clark and Cameron Rupp already in the mix behind the plate, freshman catcher J.T. Files probably won't see much of the field – if at all – this season. The 6-foot-0, 195-pound native of Mesquite is currently best known for his grand slam that helped Poteet win the 4A state semifinal game in his junior season.
Central Texas high school football fans will recognize Kevin Lusson and Morgan Mickan, a pair of former standout quarterbacks. Lusson, from McCallum High School, is a switch-hitting infielder with excellent raw power. Mickan, an outfielder from Georgetown High, is an athletic left-handed hitter. The coaching staff is excited about both players, but this is the first time either one has played baseball full time. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Lusson and Mickan both take redshirts in 2009.