Five fall keys: Texas has few big holes to fill

Kendall Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

With six national titles and a cornucopia of College World Series appearances, the bar always is set high at Texas.

That's why the Longhorns enter fall workouts motivated more than ever after falling short of a return trip with a super regional series loss to TCU last season.

The Longhorns have the personnel to get back to Omaha.

Though replacing power producers Cameron Rupp and Kevin Keyes and closer Chance Ruffin will be difficult, they welcome back plenty talented hitters and pitchers that can rise to the occasion next season.

Offensively, the Longhorns likely won't have as much power next season. Therefore, they must establish more consistency at the plate after finishing last season with a .286 batting average. They had just five hitters with batting averages .300 or better last season.

On the mound, the Longhorns must find a third weekend starter after losing Brandon Workman to the draft this past summer. Candidates to replace Workman include Sam Stafford, Hoby Milner and Austin Dicharry. They also must find an adequate replacement for Ruffin.

This is one of the more intriguing falls UT has had in years.

Replace closer Chance Ruffin

The Longhorns were disappointed in August when the talented right-handed pitcher signed with the Tigers at the deadline. Besides being a mental warrior for the Longhorns, Ruffin was one of the nation's elite closers last season. He recorded 14 saves in 37 appearances and had a 1.11 ERA in 64 2/3 innings. He also struck out 97 and walked 19 and limited teams to a .180 clip. It's an understatement to say he'll be tough to replace, but the Longhorns have some options. Returnees in the mix include Hoby Milner, Andrew McKirahan and Stayton Thomas. Freshman righty Corey Knebel also could be in the mix after getting off to a hot start this fall. The 'Horns must find a way to adequately replace Ruffin between now and the spring.

Replace catcher Cameron Rupp

The Longhorns also will have a tough time replacing Rupp. Besides being one of the team's most vocal leaders last season, Rupp also was solid at and behind the plate. Offensively, he batted .304 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs last season. The Longhorns have some options at catcher and they include Jonathan Walsh, freshman Jacob Felts and JUCO transfer Lucas Kephart. Walsh could end up in the outfield after hitting .273 in 77 at bats last season, Felts is a highly touted recruit who has impressed so far this fall and Kephart is a JUCO transfer that is running behind Walsh and Felts. Chances are good Felts starts in 2011.

Figure out the No. 3 starter

Texas received a huge boost this past summer when veteran right-hander Cole Green decided to return for his senior season. With Green and junior righty Taylor Jungmann, the Longhorns have one of the nation's top one-two punches. However, the Longhorns have a hole in the No. 3 spot in the rotation with the departure of Brandon Workman. Candidates to replace Workman include left-handers Hoby Milner and Sam Stafford and righty Austin Dicharry. Milner is the frontrunner after going 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings last season and Stafford had a 2.61 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. Dicharry must step up this fall after making just seven appearances last season. The 'Horns are in business on the mound if the No. 3 spot is solidified.

Shore up the offense

The Longhorns have won big the past few seasons primarily because of their pitching staff, but the offense must rise to the occasion next season to get back to the CWS. The 'Horns finished last season with 81 homers, but only ended the campaign with a .286 batting average. The 'Horns must replace three of five hitters that finished the campaign with batting averages over .300, including Cameron Rupp, Kevin Keyes and Russell Moldenhauer. They received a boost when Tant Shepherd, who batted .337 with eight homers last season, decided to return this fall. They also welcome back Cohl Walla and Kevin Lusson, who are primed to take huge steps forward. UT definitely has offensive potential.

Find more sources of power

Anyone that has followed the Longhorns during the Augie Garrido era knows they have prided themselves in playing small ball. However, the Longhorns had solid power last season with 81 homers and three hitters with double-digit home run totals. The new bats may keep this from being an issue in the spring, but the Longhorns must find additional sources of power after losing Kevin Keyes and Cameron Rupp to the draft. Keyes and Rupp combined for 34 of the team's 81 homers. Shepherd, Walla, Lusson and Etier will lead the Longhorns in the power department.

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