By Garrett Martin
Well baseball and Bobcat fans alike, the 2019 season of Texas State baseball is upon us. The new squad looks healthy and geared up for a quality season in the maroon and gold. This campaign is a special one, because Head Coach Ty Harrington will be coaching in his 20th season at Texas State. Harrington has won 29 games and posted a winning record in conference play in 17 of his 19 years at Texas State, while also achieving conference championships in three straight seasons while the Bobcats were in the Southland Conference (2009, 2010, 2011). In addition, Harrington has coached 49 of his former players to the next level of competitive baseball: the MLB draft. Fans should be very optimistic that Harrington will continue his high level of success in 2019.
Last season told many tales as the Bobcats finished 16-14 in conference play and 30-28-1 overall during regular season play. The Bobcats had an exciting run in the Sun-Belt Conference Tournament, where they fought their way to the semi-final game only to lose to the Sun-Belt Conference runner-up, Troy Trojans. With that aside, the Bobcats look forward to cementing themselves as one of the tougher teams to face in the conference this baseball season. The Bobcats lost three key players to the 2018 MLB draft, shortstop Luke Sherley (14th round, Detroit Tigers), 2nd baseman Jonathan Ortega (19th round, Boston Red Sox), and star pitcher Cam Baird (20th round, Miami Marlins). Overall, the program lost just under half their roster from the 2018 campaign, but the coaches and recruiters were well prepared and filled all the necessary holes they knew they would be losing. Now, the roster is back to full capacity and chock-full of talented, experienced athletes ready to compete and make Harrington’s 20th season with the Bobcats a memorable one.
Second year pitching coach Chad Massengale has the easier job of the two assistant coaches, considering that the Bobcats have retained 70% of the innings pitched last season. Credit to Massengale, the Bobcats saw a significant improvement from the pitching staff last year and dropped the team ERA more than a run from 5.59 to a demonstrably better 4.32. Combine that with the experienced pitchers the Bobcats retained, Texas State will carry a significant advantage to the mound this season.
All three weekend starters are returning to pitch this year for Texas State, including juniors Nicholas Fraze, Zachary Leigh and senior Connor Reich. The trio shared 38 starts during the course of the season and each had at least 61 innings pitched. They will indeed carry a stout, experienced group of starting pitchers into the spring. Also, keep on the lookout for spot starters Anthony Pagano and Brandon Lewis to grab some starts when they’re needed.
The bullpen is another strength of the Bobcats this year, led by Kyle Bradford who led the team in appearances last season and Brayden Theriot who appeared in almost half their games. As well, Massengale told me to keep on the lookout for Hunter McMahon this year. “He turned a lot of heads in the fall, he’s a junior college transfer from Coffeeville, Kansas, but he’ll be two years removed off of tommy john [surgery] in March…he got a lot of attention from the scouts, so we’re looking for some big things from that guy.” If Texas State can get quality starts out of the starting pitchers and keep the team ERA below 4 runs, fans may see one of the most successful pitching staffs that the program has produced in several years.
On the other side of the team, Coach Steve Trout has his hands full with a high turnover rate on offense. The Bobcats will see only 30 percent of their previous season’s at-bats returning to swing this spring. While this appears like a weakness the coaches need to address, don’t fret because they have. They’ve groomed and recruited some quality players at each position to take starts and fill some gaps left behind by star position players like Jonathan Ortega, Luke Sherley and Dylan Paul. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the familiar and fresh faces in the batting order this season.
The corners of the infield will be covered with experienced seniors in their last season at Texas State. Defensive hound, Jaylen Hubbard will continue to lock down third-base and should keep getting at-bats at the top of the batting order considering his speed and ability on the basepaths. At the other corner, Ryan Newman will man first-base and contribute his left-handed bat to the re-organized lineup. In the outfield, Jacob Almendarez will certainly commandeer the most starts and possibly the leadership position, considering he started all the games he played in last year. Almendarez is known more for his glove than his bat, so he might continue to see at-bats at the bottom of the batting order. However, if he can catch a hot start with his bat like he did early last spring, he may see more opportunities at prime spots in the order.
Coach Trout believes the holes left by the experienced bats that left the program will be filled by the athletes they’ve recruited and trained. Trout said, “one thing about these guys, is that they’re very athletic…when you put athletes on the field, you have a chance to make up some ground.” Trout has confidence in their recruits because they’ve been with the program or played junior college baseball, and trusting them is the first step in maintaining a high performing offense.
Fans should expect a rotational basis in the outfield at the beginning of the season because they’ve got many different athletes to choose from. Guys like UTSA transfer Skyler Valentine and Tyler Junior College transfer Chase Evans will be some of the new faces to get chances to start in the outfield, but they’re experienced players that have competitive at-bats under their belts already. Fifth year senior Travon Benton and sophomore John Wuthrich should be other names to throw into the mix, considering both were on the 40 man roster last year. They didn’t get much opportunity to showcase their talents because there were more experienced guys taking starts, but holes in the outfield leave open the opportunity for anybody to step up. Also, keep an eye on redshirt junior, Will Hollis, a junior college transfer from Cisco college. Hollis had a team high batting average of .447 at Cisco College last year, and could be the powerful, left-handed bat they need to balance out the middle of the order.
The middle infield will be a trickiest spot to replace this season. Ortega and Sherley made up a dangerous, defensive duo that led the Sun Belt in double plays turned last season and were also key offensive pieces that combined for 79 runs. They were extremely significant players for the Bobcats over the course of their careers. The coaches may be in the process of converting some former third baseman on the team to shortstop and second-baseman, but junior Jaxon Williams out of Howard Junior College looks like a prime candidate to get some of the first chances at shortstop. Ultimately, this feels like a wait-and-see type of situation.
This Bobcat team looks ready to face some challenges and adversity. They had some valuable players move on from Texas State over the offseason, but nothing major has proved worrisome for this veteran coaching staff. Harrington trusts upperclassmen, and there is no shortage of juniors, seniors and fifth year athletes that are ready to step into starting and leadership roles. However, if there’s a young that shines in the right moment and proves that he can contribute toward the goals of the team, they’ll be given more opportunities.
The 2019 Bobcats were selected to finish second in the west division of the Sun Belt according to the preseason rankings. Experts around the conference consider our pitching to be our strength this year and so should our fans as well. If the pitching improves upon last year and the offense finds its groove early in the season and early in conference play, Texas State fans can expect another 30 win season and to be highly competitive in the Sun Belt Conference. The Bobcats will kick off the season with a weekend tournament in San Marcos hosting Utah, Nevada, and #24 Missouri State. The tournament begins on Friday, February 15th, and Texas State will play their first game at 6 p.m. against Utah.
All Texas State games will broadcasted on KTSW 89.9.
Featured Image by Garrett Martin.