Sophomore Michael Cantu is ready to take the reins at catcher.
But he won’t be alone.
At least, that’s the strategy the Longhorns will employ in 2016, utilizing both Cantu and junior Tres Barerra behind the plate. The two grew up playing against one another prior to attending Texas and plan to act in tandem regardless of who is behind the plate.
“In any given game, nobody is going to miss a beat,” Barrera said. “We both bring a lot to the table and it helps us work hitters differently and work well with our pitchers.”
However, Cantu will likely be the primary catcher for the Longhorns throughout the season. Barrera will see plenty of time at first base and designated hitter in addition to catcher.
Cantu started in 52 games for Texas last year, hitting .249 while drawing 33 walks in 185 at bats. He proved solid as a hitter, but made his true impact defensively, gunning down would-be base stealers with ease. Cantu threw out eight of 18 prospective base stealers, while recording a .997 fielding percentage.
“It’s pretty fun to pitch to, I’ll tell you that much,” junior pitcher Kacy Clemens said. “We had a ‘strike him out, throw him out’ last year against Oklahoma. He
back-picked a slider from his knees and threw the guy out at second. He’s pretty special.”
The highlight against the Sooners earned Cantu a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays and recognition throughout the country. But Cantu said the highlight-reel plays aren’t what define him as a player.
“One thing I pride myself on is my defense,” Cantu said. “I have a pretty strong arm, but I’m always working on protecting my body and calling better pitches.”
A catcher’s ability to manage the pitching staff is vital, and a strong rapport between the two is key to a team’s success. Associate head coach Skip Johnson said the bond between Texas’ pitchers and catchers is now as strong
“That’s the very first intangible you have as a catcher,” Johnson said. “Not if you can catch, not if you can throw. It’s about the relationship and knowing that your catcher can protect you. Cantu and
Barrera have developed that kind of relationship.”
Head coach Augie Garrido praised Cantu, speaking to his maturity as a freshman and his development in the fall.
“He’s really learned a lot,” Garrido said. “He has a great command of what he needs to do back there, which is impressive for someone so young.”
While he displayed patience at the plate and a mature demeanor that belied his age, Cantu’s freshman season was undoubtedly marked by his rocket arm. But in 2016, Cantu said he isn’t looking to impress with his arm — rather, he wants to impress with his mind.
“I felt like I had a solid year last year, but it was far from perfect” Cantu said. “I want to be a better all-around catcher, more of a leader behind the plate.”