AUSTIN — Even after three conference series, Texas head coach David Pierce continues to tinker with the lineup, specifically the outfield. The infield is mostly set with Ryan Reynolds, David Hamilton (when healthy), and Kody Clemens locking down the third base, short stop, and second base spots.First base and the outfield have varied.
The variation at first base is with good reason. Pierce either has the option of placing one of the team’s best bats in Masen Hibbeler there, or a quality fielder in Jake McKenzie in that spot. If McKenzie makes first base “Area 51,” Hibbeler is bumped to left. Over two of the last three conference games and the last two games this week, Hibbeler has started in left.
The rest of the outfield has varied, more recently as a result of Austin Todd’s various bumps and bruises. Solidified in the lineup though not necessarily at a specific position is Tate Shaw, now second on the team in hitting at .298.
Texas needed someone to step up in Todd’s absence, and comeback story Andy McGuire has done just that. McGuire received his first start since 2014 in Game 2 against Kansas State and made the most of it with a dinger. In 16 ABs, McGuire has six hits and is slugging .688.
Pierce said Wednesday this team is built around pitching and defense but with the bullpen performing so poorly in 2018, offense needs to receive added focus as conference marches on.
As a result, here’s my pick for Texas’ best lineup heading into the meat of conference play.
C: DJ Petrinsky
Blair Henley said on Wednesday that Michael McCann is his personal catcher. That’s not anything out of the ordinary, and it allows for DJ Petrinsky to have a day off on the weekend. Neither of these two options are offensive difference makers, usually appearing at seven or lower in the lineup. Petrinsky simply has the better bat.
DH: Zach Zubia
Pierce has said in recent weeks he doubts Zubia will get time at first base during the season. That isn’t a bad thing for a redshirt freshman, but being able to put 1B by his name instead of DH in the coming seasons will allow Texas to put another bat in the lineup rather than have someone mostly known for their defense manning first base. Zubia remains the power option at DH.
1B: Masen Hibbeler
The JUCO transfer’s ability this year to play in several different spots have been one of the biggest contributors to Texas’ success this season. He’s seen time at second, short, and left, but when he’s at first it allows for Texas to put its best offensive order together. Jake McKenzie likely is a defensive upgrade, but Hibbeler’s 37 hits are second on the team and added offense is a must with how the rest of the team has performed. His spot here allows for Texas to put its best outfield in the order.
3B: Ryan Reynolds
SS: David Hamilton
2B: Kody Clemens
No brainers. All three of these guys are the best players at that position. Reynolds has shown growth in his sophomore year like additional power, and continues to shine with the glove at third. Hamilton’s elite speed, glove, and approach keep him at the top lineup, with health the only thing that has limited him this year. As has been repeated, OBP is his most important metric this year. He’s just behind Clemens with a great .424 mark. Clemens is the team MVP this year.
LF: Tate Shaw
Hibbeler has been in left for the past four games, but the best offensive and overall lineup has him at first. Shaw’s junior year has been one of his best at Texas, and his arm, glove, and footspeed are a plus in left.
CF: Duke Ellis
Another JUCO success story for David Pierce. The beginning of his season was abysmal, but Ellis turned in a great March which allowed for Pierce to move him up in the order as Texas’ speed option when David Hamilton went down. Ellis has come down to earth somewhat, but a respectable .377 OBP from the nine-spot in the order (where he usually is at) acts as a great table setter for when the lineup turns over. He’s also 8-of-9 stealing bases this year, good for second on the team. Ellis has struggled some against lefties, though.
RF: Andy McGuire
Ride the hot hand. McGuire has surged since getting an opportunity against Kansas State. With Todd dinged up, McGuire has made sure to make the most of his opportunity. He is a veteran with Omaha experience, and is a great comeback story after leaving the Longhorn program for a short time. He’ll have to hold off Todd when he gets healthy, but that has proven to be a chore for Todd. Hibbeler playing first is the linchpin for the outfield to look like this.
Against lefties, I would put McKenzie at first, Hibbeler in left, and Shaw in center due to Ellis’ struggles against southpaw pitching.