#27 Houston Baseball 2016 Preview

Houston Cougars
Overall Rank: #27
Conference Rank: #1 American
Houston Logo
It was a season of firsts for Houston in 2015. They won their first conference title since 2002 by winning the American Athletic Conference title. They also broke through and earned the opportunity to host a regional for the first time since 2000 at Cougar Field. While the season did not end how the Cougars wanted, it laid the foundation for this program to host in the postseason on a more regular basis. This is a program that can take care of business and win the American Athletic Conference on a regular basis and take advantage of playing a great schedule every year.
2015: 43-20, 16-8
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Todd Whitting
Field Players:
The trio of Corey Julks, Josh Vidales and Jacob Campbell are going to be the core of the everyday lineup in 2016. Julks is a sophomore who will be looking to build upon a strong freshman season where he hit .302 and was able to provide some power with five homeruns. Julks is going to be counted on to elevate his homerun totals with the loss of Chris Iriart and his 15 homeruns from last season. Vidales is an excellent hitter and can provide some big time defense as Vidales only committed four errors last season and helped turn 42 double plays at second base. Campbell is going to be another critical senior leader behind the plate along with being a utility player that can hit. 300 and drive in runs at critical moments.
Left-hander Andrew Lantrip and Seth Romero will anchor what should be a very strong starting rotation for the Cougars in 2016. Lantrip is very tough to deal with as he has excellent control. Opposing hitters were only able to draw 23 walks off of Lantrip all season long. Another key element of Lantrip’s success is his ability to eat up innings. He threw 113.1 innings in 2015. Romero is your ultimate versatile pitcher that you need in order to get to the NCAA Tournament and make a run. He collected seven wins and seven saves in 2015 and was very dominant along the way, striking out 92 batters in 83.1 innings of work.
Who to Watch:
Sophomore pitcher Clay Casey is going to have the task of picking up the slack for Kyle Dowdy, who was an outstanding 9-2 with a 2.45 earned run average last season. Casey was one of the top junior college pitchers in the country in 2015 and is a highly regarded draft prospect as D1 Baseball has him rated at number 166 in their Top 300 Draft Prospects. Infielder Connor Wong is going to be another key player to watch. Wong showed some nice power with six homeruns in 2015, but will be expected to elevate his batting average from .248 to at least into the .260-.270 range this season.
Final Projection:
Houston will be able to gradually build up their resume for the NCAA Tournament as they play 21 of the first 25 games in the city limits of Houston. Early tests against Arkansas and TCU over at Minute Maid Park in the second weekend of the season will be a huge litmus test for this team to take on. There also will be heated battles against Texas and Texas A&M that will have an NCAA Tournament type of atmosphere for the Cougars. If the hitting can pick up from where it left off last season and come together quickly, then this Houston squad should win the American Athletic Conference and be in the mix to host once again during the postseason.
Projected Postseason:  NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Josh Vidales, IF, 243
Hits: Josh Vidales, IF, 73
Home Runs: Connor Wong, OF, 6
RBIs: Jacob Campbell, C/UTIL, 41
Runs: Josh Vidales, IF, 49
Stolen Bases: Zac Taylor, OF, 13
Wins: Andrew Lantrip, P, 9
Innings Pitched: Andrew Lantrip, P, 113.1
Strikeouts: Andrew Lantrip, P, 115
Saves: Seth Romero, P, 7
Madness 2016 Baseball Recruit Rankings:
#43 Joe Davis