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Texas A&M Baseball

Fall Practice Update, Part 1: Lineup should be A&M's strength in 2023

October 12, 2022

It’s hard to set the bar much higher than Jim Schlossnagle did in his first season in College Station.

An SEC West title, a national seed and a run to the Final Four in Omaha.

It was the best season in Aggie baseball history.

He bypassed the typically necessary steps in a rebuild by doing a couple of things:

1) Overhauling the roster on short notice via the transfer portal, and 2) Getting incredible buy-in during fall practice from the veteran returners, which helped immensely to establish a new culture around the program.

So, the question has changed over the course of 365 days.

It went from “How are you going to do it?” to “How are you going to do it again?”

There’s no easy answer to that, but I’d bet Schlossnagle and his staff would tell you that they’d begin by taking the next steps toward it in fall practice.

That’s exactly what this version of the Texas A&M did in late September.

I think it’s fair to say that this roster is better from an overall baseball talent standpoint.

They’re bigger. They’re stronger. They’re much more athletic. The coaching staff has unquestionably increased the profile of this team on the physical side. In fact, they’re going to look like one of the more imposing Aggie baseball rosters of the last decade.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
This summer, Texas A&M advanced to the Men’s College World Series for the seventh time in program history, going 2-2 in Omaha.

However, as every A&M baseball fan will tell you, the challenge with taking the next step from last year wasn’t going to be in replacing the talent. It’s replacing the synergy, toughness and grit the 2022 team had that endeared them to the 12th Man like few other teams in any sport ever have. Finding guys to take the mantle in terms of experience and leadership from the likes of Troy Claunch, Dylan Rock and Jacob Palisch is likely the most paramount priority for the staff.

Lucky for them: There are plenty of candidates.

Trevor Werner, Austin Bost and Brett Minnich were all thought to have played their last game in the Maroon & White in Omaha. After lengthy negotiations for all three with Major League Baseball, they’re all back in Aggieland.

While Minnich has been slowly working his way back after an offseason surgery (Minnich looks fantastic physically, by the way — clearly adding weight to his 6-foot-5 frame), Werner and Bost have been sensational this fall.

We all know about Werner’s physical tools as he really started to come on late last season as he got healthier, but team sources have been raving about his production. Jim Schlossnagle and Nolan Cain have not been shy when talking about Werner to national media members. They both believe he’s an “SEC Player of the Year” type of talent.

One of the main reasons Austin Bost came back to school was to refine his game on defense. We all know he’s going to hit and will likely go down as one of the best overall hitters in A&M baseball history if his final season at Blue Bell Park looks anything like the last two have. Bost has put in a ton of work with Schlossnagle and Director of Video and Analytics Will Fox, and the PNG product has made enormous strides at second base — so much so that a few sources think he will play significant innings there, which would allow the staff to better use the versatile talents of Ryan Targac at mulitple spots.

Speaking of Targac, “The Hallettsville Hammer” has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff at each practice I’ve seen. He has played second base, third base, first base and dabbled in the outfield some. He’s the top returning RBI man for the offense, but people forget he was second in stolen bases last season. He’s got a pretty slept-on skill set for a guy that hit 15 homers a year ago. I’m expecting big things from Targac this campaign.

With Jack Moss and his 103 hits returning at first base (more on him in a moment), the only real question on the infield is what happens at shortstop.

Kole Kaler stepped into that role last year out of necessity, and while this current roster returned some top-flight talent, what it didn’t have was a true shortstop. So, Schlossnagle did what he does and brought in former freshman All-American Hunter Haas via the transfer portal. Haas comes from Arizona State after missing a large portion of his sophomore campaign due to injury. He’ll obviously have a ton of familiarity with Michael Earley, but Haas is exceptionally slick with the glove and hit over .300 in that aforementioned freshman campaign in Tempe. He’s the odds-on favorite to win out at short, but he’s going to play at a high level to keep a crop of talented newcomers off the field.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Moss started all 64 games last spring for the Aggies, hitting a team-high .380 with 103 hits, six home runs and 49 RBIs.

Back to Moss for a quick second: Like Bost, we know he’s going to hit. I think Jack set out this offseason to accomplish a couple of things: Get stronger and improve his defense. In my time watching practice this fall, he’s throwing the ball much better. Any improvement on that front would put him amongst the top first basemen in all of college baseball if he wasn’t there already.

Minnich being injured means the outfield will only have one familiar face out there this fall, and that’s last year’s postseason hero Jordan Thompson. While JT won’t look like the guys around him from a physical standpoint, he certainly played like a giant down the stretch in 2022. I think he has taken that confidence and ridden into this fall. He’s moving around with a bigger sense of swagger than I’ve seen in his time in College Station and has really taken on a leadership role within the position group. His presence is highly valuable for the coaching staff.

Even with all this returning talent and experience, there are a handful of newcomers that are going to make huge impacts on this lineup and likely this upcoming season.

There is zero doubt that the biggest question surrounding this A&M team from a baseball perspective is at catcher. As I said earlier, replacing Claunch as a team leader is going to be a monumental task, but replacing him as a player may prove even tougher.

The candidates right now are a pair of junior college transfers who have both spent time at Power 5 schools out of high school. Hank Bard comes from a baseball family. He grew up in Colorado and signed with Kentucky out of high school before transferring to junior college power McLennan as a sophomore. He was a late addition to the Aggie roster after Joe Powell — who had committed to A&M via the portal and the University of Cincinnati — decided to retire from baseball just two weeks before classes began. Bard has some work to do behind the dish in terms of catching, throwing and managing the baseball/pitching staff, but he’s a sturdy presence in the batter’s box that has flashed some real pull-side juice.

JD Gregson came to College Station from Grayson College in Denison. He’s originally out of Frisco Wakeland and signed with Baylor out of high school. Physically, Gregson has all the tools to be a front-line catcher in the SEC. He’s a quality receiver with a Major League-caliber arm. While he was a productive hitter in junior college, he has been working hard with Earley to clean up some stuff in the batter’s box to give himself a much better chance to replicate that success in America’s toughest baseball conference.

They’re bigger. They’re stronger. They’re much more athletic. The coaching staff has unquestionably increased the profile of this team on the physical side. In fact, they’re going to look like one of the more imposing Aggie baseball rosters of the last decade.

If I had to say today, I’d give Gregson the edge on the starting role at catcher, but there’s still an ongoing battle here.

Staying with the junior college newcomers, Stanley Tucker and Travis Chestnut both have a real chance to help A&M win games. Both can play at either middle infield position as well as help out in the outfield. Tucker is a rapidly improving defender who can run and has some serious sock in the box for a smaller guy. His numbers at New Mexico JC last season were pretty staggering, even with that hitter-friendly altitude. Elevation aside, he has already run some balls out of the yard in scrimmage action this fall. He has also been one of the team favorites since arriving.

Chestnut can absolutely fly. I’ve had multiple team sources call him the “fastest guy I’ve ever played with/coached.” It’s game-changing speed, and those wheels will likely carve him out a role on this team at the very least. I was told that he walked in a recent scrimmage and was on third base in three pitches. The catchers don’t have much of a chance when he goes, and I’d bet on Schlossnagle utilizing that weapon next spring.

By now, many of you are familiar with the name Jace LaViolette.

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound freshman outfielder from Katy Tompkins has been super impressive. There are going to be some growing pains as he adjusts to this level of baseball, but the talent is there in spades. A team source told me last week that not only is LaViolette one of the strongest guys in the program, but he’s also the third-fastest runner on the team. LaViolette has a chance to be special. He’s the odds-on starter in left field in the middle of fall practice.

While LaViolette looks like the only freshman position player that’s pushed himself to the front of the line in terms of playing time, Kaeden Kent is not very far behind.

The coaching staff loves Kent. The son of long-time Major Leaguer Jeff Kent, Kaeden has been described to me by multiple people as “a kid you win games with.” He’s super-advanced on the mental side of the game and is an outstanding defender with one of the more accurate infield arms I’ve ever seen from such a young kid. In the box, he utilizes an opposite-field approach similar to Moss. He has really been coming on since the start of fall practice, and he’s going to push those older guys in the infield for innings if he keeps going at this pace.

The final freshman that I could see making an impact in the lineup is first baseman Blake Hansen out of Cinco Ranch. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Hansen carries plenty of sock in the bat to make him a viable option off the bench as a hitter. He has also been steady and solid defensively behind Moss. He’s an easy mover for such a big kid that has showcased soft hands and an advanced feel around the bag.

Lastly, it still remains to be seen what Conner Weigman will do come springtime. Last I heard, he was still planning on playing. If he does, there’s a chance he would slide in as a freshman contributor due to his overall talent.

We’ll shift our focus to pitching in Part 2 tomorrow.

Discussion from...

Fall Practice Update, Part 1: Lineup should be A&M's strength in 2023

5,561 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 5 mo ago by Allen76
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Likely the most informative and well written article I have ever read on texags!
Fun read too. Can't wait for the next one on pitching!
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what happended to Chanden Scamardo is ahe an option at catcher
Ag in ATL
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Great write-up as noted above but I have to ask,,, were you hungry when you wrote this? "sock in the box" LOL
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