When Texas baseball opened its season in February, the roster had a new look to it. Such is life when the MLB draft scoops up 11 of your players.
Three months later, consider these the newer-look Longhorns.
Texas (37-18), which won the Big 12 regular-season championship, begins play in the conference tournament Wednesday against Kansas at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. The Longhorns’ first regular-season title since 2011 came courtesy of a home sweep of TCU and Texas Tech’s sweep of Oklahoma State in Stillwater on the final weekend. With the new faces, it’s been a season of many moving parts and redefined roles.
“Everybody’s doing their part and we’ve come together as a good team,” said junior Kody Clemens, who was named the Big 12’s player of the year on Tuesday.
The Big 12 tournament comes 96 days after Texas’ 3-0 season-opening win against Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Longhorns’ lineup card against the Jayhawks on Wednesday will look a lot different from that first one on Feb. 16; only two Longhorns — shortstop David Hamilton and catcher DJ Petrinsky — will be playing the same position.
Second baseman Masen Hibbeler? He’s in left field now, but also has logged starts at shortstop and first base. Taking his spot at second? Clemens, who was expected to be Texas’ third baseman this season.
Clemens moved to second after UT coach David Pierce decided he’d rather have Ryan Reynolds at third base instead of first base. Jake McKenzie, a senior who literally played all nine defensive positions in one mid-season game, has taken over Reynolds’ old gig at first.
In the outfield, former left fielder Tate Shaw and ex-center fielder Duke Ellis have moved one position to their left; Shaw now is in center, Ellis now is in right. After coming off the bench in the opener, Zach Zubia has become the full-time designated hitter.
“Everyone’s very comfortable with what they have to do,” said Kamron Fields, a freshman who began the year as a prospect looking for playing time in the outfield but now is pitching. He boasts a 1.93 ERA in 13 appearances. “There’s no sandbagging on the team. You’ve got to carry your own weight and everybody’s comfortable doing it.”
Texas, ranked 12th in D1Baseball’s national poll, is in line to host its first regional since 2011. The Longhorns have won seven of their last eight games. One of those victories was last Saturday’s 7-3 win over TCU, which secured the Big 12 title.
The Longhorns can continue to make their case for hosting duties at the conference tournament. Last year, Texas made it to the championship game before falling 6-5 to Oklahoma State.
“If we show up in the Big 12 tournament, I expect to host,” McKenzie said.
Despite all of the defensive changes, Texas is the Big 12’s best fielding team (.977 fielding percentage). Cincinnati is the only program in the nation with more double plays than Texas, which has turned two 63 times.
UT’s .275 batting average and 4.41 ERA do not stand out among its conference counterparts. Clemens, though, ranks among the league’s leaders with his 19 home runs, .344 batting average, 61 RBIs and 53 runs. No Big 12 baserunner has more steals than Hamilton’s 27.
On Tuesday, Clemens was honored alongside Ellis and Zubia on the first team of the league’s All-Big 12 team. Hamilton and pitchers Blair Henley and Andy McGuire were second-team picks. In his second year, Pierce was lauded as the coach of the year.
“We know we’re a good team,” Clemens said. “(We need to) just focus on what we need to do and play our game and maybe we’ll have a good tournament.”
Big 12 tournament
Wednesday-Sunday, Oklahoma City
Wednesday: (1) Oklahoma vs. Baylor, 9 a.m., FSSW; (2) Texas vs. Kansas, 12:30 p.m., FSSW, 104.9; (3) Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia, 4, Fox College Sports; (4), Texas Tech vs. TCU, 7:30, Fox College Sports
Thursday: (5) Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m., FSSW; (6) Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 12:30 p.m., FSSW; (7) Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4, Fox College Sports; (8) Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 7:30, Fox College Sports
Friday: (9) Game 7 loser vs. Game 5 winner, 3:15 p.m.; (1) Game 8 loser vs. Game 6 winner, 7
Saturday: (11) Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 9 a.m.; (12) Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 12:30 p.m.; (13) Game 11 winner vs. Game 11 loser, if needed, 4; (14) Game 12 winner vs. Game 12 loser, if needed, 7:30
Sunday: Championship game, 1 p.m.