Opening day is just three days away for the Longhorns, and the players are eager to put last year’s disappointment behind them. While head coach Augie Garrido is yet to officially announce his regular starting lineup, a combination of key returning veterans and promising young players are expected to take the field for Texas this Friday.
Jacob Felts enters his junior season as one of the team leaders after starting every game behind the plate for the Longhorns last year. The backstop often batted cleanup last season, hitting .282 with eight doubles and 21 RBIs, and should claim a spot in the middle of the Texas batting order. He is also one of the Longhorns’ most reliable defenders, as he threw out 39.5 percent of potential base stealers and committed just six errors in 438 attempts as a sophomore.
Alex Silver is expected to start the season at first base after batting .267 and driving in 19 runners in 45 games last season. Silver is dependable with the glove at first base, as he posted an impressive .993 fielding percentage a year ago. He is also one of the better on-base players, as he posted an on-base percentage of .342 last year, and he is someone capable of contributing in the middle or bottom half of the batting order.
Brooks Marlow returns to the Texas lineup after starting in all but one of the Longhorns’ games last year. The sophomore offered some production from the bottom of the order last season, hitting .214 with two home runs, two triples and driving in 29 RBIs. Marlow led the team with 13 sacrifice hits last season and was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
CJ Hinojosa will make his highly anticipated Texas debut on Friday after being ranked the No. 3 shortstop recruit in the nation by Perfect Game. The freshman is expected to make an impact right away, as he boasts a rare combination of power, speed and on-base skills. He demonstrated his potential in 2011 as a junior at Klein Collins High School when he posted a .405 average with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs to go along with 12 stolen bases.
Erich Weiss is expected to be a cog in the middle of the Texas order after being one of the Longhorns’ most productive hitters last year. The third baseman started every game for Texas in 2012, leading the team with a .350 batting average and 38 RBIs to go along with five home runs and 10 stolen bases. It remains to be seen if he will start the whole year at third base or if he will see time at second, but the Longhorns will do whatever it takes to keep his bat in the lineup.
Taylor Stell impressed in 25 games as a freshman, and he should see an increase in playing time this season. The speedy outfielder hit .333 in 60 at-bats last season and converted on all six of his stolen base attempts, and he also scored 14 runs. The sophomore has the chance to make a major impact as an outfielder and could see time at the top of the order thanks to his speed and ability to get on base.
Weston Hall is among the top candidates to start the year in center field after transferring to Texas from Navarro College. The junior possesses notable speed and athleticism and could fill the role of second leadoff hitter from the bottom of the order. He walked on to the Navarro College baseball field as a freshman.
Mark Payton was one of Texas’ top players last season, starting every game for the Longhorns without making an error in the outfield. The junior was second on the team with a .322 batting average, to go along with five home runs, four triples, 29 RBIs and eight stolen bases. He was Texas’ primary leadoff hitter a year ago and should resume his role at the top of the order this season.
Parker French has been named the starter for Friday’s season opener after winning six games and posting 2.84 ERA in 66.2 innings as a freshman. The right-hander made nine starts last season but is expected to be a full time starter this season. Last year, he struck out 30 batters and limited opponents to a .231 batting average en route to being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
Following French in the rotation will be right-hander Nathan Thornhill, who went 4-5 with a 3.87 ERA last year. Sunday’s starter is yet to be announced, but lefty Dillon Peters could get the nod after going 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA last year.