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February 11, 2013

Projecting and breaking down the UT baseball depth chart

Despite being together for official practice for a little over two weeks, the Longhorns will begin playing the games that count at the end of this week. Although that doesn't mean that Texas head coach Augie Garrido has to have his lineup picked out that he's going to use for the entire season, the legendary coach does have to have one ready to go for Friday's season-opener at home against Sacramento State. So, what will that lineup look like? Orangebloods.com takes a look with a projected depth chart.

FIRST BASE
Candidates - Alex Silver (junior), Codey McElroy (junior), Landon Steinhagen (senior)
Projected Depth Chart - McElroy, Silver

thoughts - Garrido seems to really like the idea of having a 6-7 player that's very athletic with good hands. Before arriving at Texas, McElroy played shortstop. However, it sounds like the junior has made a smooth transition to first base so far. With Silver, the Longhorns have an experienced player that can immediately step in if McElroy, who is a bit raw offensively, is injured or slumps.

SECOND BASE
Candidates - Erich Weiss (junior), Madison Carter (junior), Brooks Marlow (sophomore)
Projected Depth Chart - Weiss, Carter, Marlow

thoughts - The idea of moving Weiss to second base, where he played in high school, has always been floating around the Texas clubhouse. However, Garrido finally got the convincing he needed - it might have been how much better Carter looks at third base compared to second - and Weiss began working at second base a ton last week. During the team's Friday scrimmage, Weiss played all five innings at second base with infield defensive guru Tommy Nicholson shadowing him to offer instruction. It might take Weiss a little while to settle in, but he has the tools to play second base at an average to above average level. Plus, if I'm the junior, I'm thanking Garrido every chance I get. Weiss potentially proving his glove can stick at second could mean a huge pay increase come draft time.

Now, this move isn't set in stone as Garrido has been known to quickly change his mind about position changes before. However, if the season started today, the odds would heavily be in favor of Weiss jogging out to second base.

Texas has great depth at the position. Marlow started 51 games as a freshman last season, and Carter has shown that while he's better defensively at third base, he can handle second if Texas needs him to.

SHORTSTOP
Candidates - C.J Hinojosa (freshman), Ty Marlow (junior), McElroy (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Hinojosa, Marlow

thoughts - This is Hinojosa's job at the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year, at the end of the year, and probably for the next few years if he reaches his potential. A 5-11 right-hander from Klein Collins, Hinojosa has the ability to do everything you want a shortstop to do.

THIRD BASE
Candidates - Carter (junior), Weiss (junior), Silver (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Carter, Weiss, Silver

thoughts - With Weiss as the odds-on-favorite to begin the season at second base, that slides the speedy Carter over to the hot corner. In limited reps at both spots at Texas, the junior college transfer has looked more impressive defensively at third than at second. What's become pretty clear is that Texas wants Carter's bat at the lineup, and it wants it at the top of the lineup because of his excellent speed and ability to consistently make hard contact with his aggressive approach against pitches in the strike zone.

What's also becoming a theme here is that Texas has great depth and versatility around the infield. Silver was a third baseman in high school, and his bat is good enough that he could compete for the designated hitter spot.

CATCHER
Candidates - Jacob Felts (junior), Jeremy Montalbano (freshman)
Projected Depth Chart - Felts, Montalbano

thoughts - Felts is coming off a sophomore season when he hit .282/.343/.324, which was a big improvement from his .215/.293/.247 line as a freshman. However, Garrido will be perfectly okay with a .250 average at the plate as long as the defense is excellent, and Felts has shown that it can be.

Montalbano gives Texas a legitimate option behind the plate to give Felts, who has started 111 of the possible 120 games, a breather when he needs it.

LEFT FIELD
Candidates - Carter, Taylor Stell (sophomore), Ben Johnson (freshman)
Projected Depth Chart - Johnson, Stell, Carter

thoughts - It looks like there is a legit battle going on at this position, and that Johnson may have the upper hand right now. Stell is a very fast player that hit .333/.461/.400 in just 65 at bats last year. However, Johnson is more skilled, is actually a little faster, and is the better athlete. Plus, he has the stronger arm on defense. This one might not shake out for a little while, and Stell still has a good shot at being the opening day guy. Both players are very good options.

CENTER FIELD
Candidates - Weston Hall (junior), Stell, Cohl Walla (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Hall, Stell, Walla

thoughts - Hall, a junior college transfer, has emerged as a player the Longhorns really like. In addition to being the fastest player on the team with true plus-plus speed, the junior plays a premium position defensively with strong instincts. As a hitter, Hall is a threat to steal over 30 bases this season with his great jumps and feel for baserunning. It remains to be seen how much and how well he'll hit, but he's a very strong player with impressive bat speed. All he needs to do is get on base at about a .340 clip, run like crazy when he's on base, and play great defense. He can do all of those things.

RIGHT FIELD
Candidates - Mark Payton (junior), Collin Shaw (sophomore), Matt Moynihan (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Payton, Shaw

As long as Payton is healthy, he's in the lineup as your starting right fielder. The junior hit .322/.418/.495 last season with more walks (32) than strikeouts (27).

This is another spot where the Horns have very good depth.

DESIGNATED HITTER
Candidates - Brooks Marlow (sophomore), Matt Moyniahan (junior), Johnson (freshman), Stell (sophomore), Landon Steinhagen (junior), Silver (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Moynihan, Marlow, Stell, Silver

thoughts - Based on the alumni game and recent scrimmages, Moynihan is the favorite to begin the season as the designated hitter. In fact, he's been hitting cleanup a lot recently. After sitting out last year, the junior appears to have put himself in a position to really make an impact early. Marlow is another player to keep an eye on because he's a much better hitter than he showed as a freshman last season, and he's been swinging the bat very well in preseason camp. Silver gives Texas a right-handed option to compliment lefties Moynihan and Marlow, and Stell could also gain at bats here if he's not getting them regularly as an outfielder.

HOW THE OFFENSE FITS INTO A LINEUP
3B - Carter
RF - Payton
2B - Weiss
DH - Moynihan
LF - Johnson
SS - Hinojosa
C - Felts
1B - McElroy
CF - Hall

STARTING PITCHERS
Candidates - Parker French (sophomore), Cameron Cox (sophomore), Dillon Peters (sophomore), Chad Hollingsworth (freshman), Josh Urban (junior), Nathan Thornhill (junior)
Projected Depth Chart French, Thornhill, Peters, Urban (midweek)

thoughts - What we know for sure is that French is going to be the Friday guy, and the right-hander has been completely healthy for a while now. From there, it remains to be seen who is not only going to open up the season in the rotation, but also who is going to stay there. If you recall, Thornhill began last season as the Friday starter before bouncing around between the rotation and bullpen. Peters was someone that gained weekend starts as well, and Urban has apparently put together a great preseason camp thus far.

Texas has a lot of options here, and Garrido has said repeatedly all he's looking for out of his starters are five or six strong innings. There are a lot of arms that can do just that.

BULLPEN
Candidates - Cox (sophomore), Hollingsworth (freshman), Toller Boardman (freshman), Ty Culbreth (freshman), Travis Duke (freshman), Holden Helmink (freshman), Ty Marlow (junior), Justin Peters (junior)
Projected Depth Chart right-handers: Cox, Hollingsworth, Helmink; left-handers: Boardman, Duke, Culbreth

thoughts - It looked like in the fall that Hollingsworth was going to be a weekend starter based on how well he was throwing, but it feels like other options have moved ahead of him. As for Cox, he's a sinkerballer that pounds the zone with strikes and displays strong command. Garrido loves guys that throw strikes, and the sophomore can eat innings. If Urban and Thornhill aren't starters, they will be the first guys out of the bullpen.

As for the left-handers, Boardman probably has an edge on the two freshmen because of his ability to command, but no one has that job nailed down yet. Garrido wants two lefties to use, but the trio he has to choose from hasn't provided a single great option yet.

CLOSER
Candidates - Corey Knebel (junior)
Projected Depth Chart - Knebel

thoughts - He might be the best closer and reliever in the country, and Knebel will be shutting the door again for the Longhorns after flirting briefly with the idea of being a starting pitcher. The scary thing for the rest of the Big 12 is that Knebel's hook is flashing as a borderline plus pitch more often, and he's starting to mix in a quality changeup even more often.


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