Special for The JB Replay
College baseball season has arrived, with UTSA coach Pat Hallmark and a few players expected to address the media later today to talk about their hopes and dreams.
Topics of discussion are expected to include heightened expectations in the wake of back-to-back, 38-win seasons and what’s expected in the way of a lineup for the opener Friday at home against UT-Arlington.
In addition, we will surely hear questions asked about the renovations at Roadrunner Field and the transition from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
The playing surface at Roadrunner Field has been fixed after it unexpectedly sustained damage during construction last month. As a precaution, the Roadrunners spent at least the first weekend of official practices in late January at off-campus locations.
“The team has been practicing and playing intrasquad games at Roadrunner Field for the past two weeks,” a school spokeswoman said in a text last Friday.
Despite the issues related to their field, the baseball program is on solid footing. A winning culture has been established. Last year’s team played much of the second half of the season ranked in the Top 25.
I had a chance to visit with Coach Hallmark a few weeks ago. In that interview we talked about the expectations this season — UTSA is picked third in the AAC — and how the personnel might be utilized.
Some of the information I have had in my notebook may be a little outdated by now in the wake of recent practices and evaluations, but I wanted to share it with you, anyway.
Given all that, here is a look at the Roadrunners, position by position:
Catcher — JUCO transfers Andrew Stucky, Broc Parmer and Lorenzo Moressi are expected to split duties through the early portion of the season, with freshman Whitt Joyce from Medina Valley waiting in the wings. The three from JUCO all enjoyed productive seasons at the plate last year. “They all look good,” Hallmark said. “They’re all fighting for the No. 1 spot.”
First base — Senior transfer Alex Olivo, a senior transfer from Texas Southern, and returning player James Taussig both hit with home run power. Also, JUCO transfer Mark Henning is in the mix. All three bat from the left side. Hallmark says first base is “fairly open” at this point. “We have multiple guys that can hit. We’re looking for that combination of hitter-best defender, and one of those guys could end up at DH,” the coach said.
Second base — Isaiah Walker, a .273 hitter a year ago who sat out down the stretch with a hamstring injury. “Isaiah,” Hallmark said, “is a guy we wish we had nine of him, because he can play anywhere on the field. Good defense everywhere.” Also, either of three newcomers, Hector Rodriguez, Zane Spinn or Diego Diaz.
Shortstop — Rodriguez and Spinn. Also, Diaz. Rodriguez played in high school at Houston Westside and at Galveston College. Spinn, from Holland, Tex., also has played at Temple JC. He was at Sam Houston State last year but did not play for the Bearkats, who won a mid-week game off UTSA at Roadrunner Field. Spinn, at 6-4 and 218 pounds, has the potential to hit home runs. Diaz is from the Rio Grande Valley, from Pharr and Sharyland High School.
Third base — Matt King is UTSA’s most accomplished returning player. Over the past two seasons, he has played in 108 games and started 99. He hit for a .318 average last year, slugged six home runs and produced 58 RBIs. “Matt had a good year last year,” the coach said. “We’re looking for him to do that again.” In case of injury, the coach said any of the players at second or third could move over.
Outfielders — Look for returning players Caleb Hill, Isaiah Walker, Tye Odom, James Taussig and Dalton Porter, plus newcomer Mason Lytle, a transfer from Oregon, to play. Hill, who hit .318 with seven homers and 41 RBIs last year, is solid in left field. “Lytle, Odom and Walker, all of ’em are terrific defenders,” Hallmark said. “Any of ’em could be in center. Any of ’em could be in right.”
Pitching — Ulises Quiroga, Ruger Riojas, Daniel Garza, Drake Smith and Ryan Beaird, in that order, logged the most innings pitched for the Roadrunners last year. Coaches are counting on those five along with Ryan Ward to step up their productivity. Also, Braylon Owens looked sharp in early workouts. Braden Smith, a standout from two years ago, is healthy again after missing all of last year.
An intriguing story is Idaho native Robert Orloski, a 6-foot-3 righthander who signed with UTSA and then was drafted in the 20th round of the major league draft by the Boston Red Sox. On Tuesday afternoon, Hallmark named Orloski as his opening-day starter, with Riojas second in the rotation.