When you look at the roster for the Texas Longhorns heading into the 2018 season, the immediate concern is offense.
Last season, UT hit .252 as a team, and now they’re without some of the most productive hitters off of the 2017 team in Kacy Clemens, Bret Boswell, Zane Gurwitz, Travis Jones, and Michael Cantu. Certainly, the Longhorns will need a bevy of returnees to take a big step forward and some new faces to make an immediate impact if they’re going to be a better offense this season.
The pitching staff, and in particular, the starting rotation, isn’t nearly as big a concern, however, and that’s thanks in large part to the presence of Nolan Kingham. The Las Vegas native has had a really nice career to this point, and now looks poised to become one of the most dominant pitchers in college baseball.
Kingham came to Austin with much fanfare prior to the 2016 season, and while he suffered some of the typical ups and downs that all freshman do in their first taste of Division I college baseball, all in all, he had a solid first season. In 21 appearances, including four starts, he had a 3.79 ERA. Over 38 innings of work, he didn’t strike out all that many guys, as he had just 16 on the year, but he did limit his walks to 16, held opponents to a respectable .266 average, and saved two games for good measure. He didn’t take the world by storm, but there was enough there to see that he could be a big part of Texas’ plans for 2017.
And he absolutely was.
As largely a full-time starter, he appeared in 16 games, 13 of those coming in starts, with a 10-4 record and a 2.84 ERA. In 92 innings, he struck out 67, walked 24, and allowed opposing batters to hit just .240 against him. He shined in some big moments as well, most notably, in the Long Beach Regional against UCLA. Against the Bruins, he threw 7.2 innings, giving up six hits and one run with no walks and five strikeouts in a 3-2 Texas win. And after the season was up, he was named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
Now, he’ll be looked to as the unquestioned workhorse of the pitching staff, as the Longhorns will likely be breaking in a couple of new starters in Chase Shugart, who has primarily been a short reliever to this point of his career, and Blair Henley, who started ten games last year out of his 17 appearances as a freshman with a 4.23 ERA.
When David Pierce was the head coach at Tulane, his second season was the breakthrough season. If that’s going to be the case at Texas, and it certainly can’t be ruled out, they’ll simply need the offense to be a bit more productive than expected on paper, because with Kingham leading the way, you have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to get on the mound.