Houston Cougars Recap the 2020 TCL

Texas Collegeiate League TCL logo - Cougars Beat

The Texas Collegiate League (TCL) season came to an end on Saturday night in Bryan. The one-game championship proved to be an anti-climactic 13-2 affair, and was not typical of most of the month-long season which saw plenty of low scoring and quality baseball.

The Houston Cougars were represented on two of the ten TCL teams throughout the season. And one of them was on the winning side of that championship win.

The TCL is a wooden bat league, common for college play during the summer in the various leagues across the country that offer athletes the opportunity to play baseball when school is not in session. Five active Cougars and one incoming junior college transfer made up part of the roster for the Round Rock Hairy Men, which played their home games at Dell Diamond, the home of the AAA Round Rock Express. One other incoming junior college transfer found a spot of the Brazos Valley Bombers which played their home games at Travis Park in Bryan, just north of College Station.

Round Rock saw their season come to end with two regular season games remaining, and with a playoff spot almost certainly assured. Their final weekend series was a three game set with San Antonio, two of the games were to be played in Round Rock, with the middle game to be played in San Antonio. Rain forced the cancellation of Friday night’s game.

Then on Saturday came the announcement out of Round Rock that the Hairy Men would not be traveling to San Antonio and that in fact, the season was being put on ice amid Covid-19 concerns in the organization. In a statement released just six hours before the scheduled first pitch in San Antonio, Round Rock General Manager, Tim Jackson stated, “With just two games remaining in the season, out of an abundance of caution, we felt it was in the best interest of our players and staff to end the season now.”

Teams across the TCL had taken numerous player, personnel, and facility precautions in this shortened 2020 season, but the Round Rock team found itself erring on the side of caution and deciding to end the season with a couple of games left to go. As a result, the Hairy Men forfeited their final two games and declared they would not be taking part in a playoff series set to begin the following Tuesday, should their team have made it.

For the Houston Cougars on the Round Rock team, the cancellation of the season came at a time when they were playing some of their best baseball, including having just completed a three-game sweep of the eventual TCL champions, the Brazos Valley Bombers, at Dell Diamond.

From day one of the formation of the team, the Round Rock players and organization talked about the importance of baseball during the summer after the abrupt end of the college baseball season back in March.

The day before the season opened, the Cougars players voiced their thoughts about playing again, and to a man, they talked about improving their individual games and how much they really wanted to play again. They also noted the importance of having so many teammates with them in Round Rock.

Ryan Hernandez had one of the great seasons in the entire league. Just prior to the season, Ryan appeared dialed-in as he spoke about working each day with purpose and vision. He only lost the batting title on the last day of the season when the eventual leader went 4-for-4 lifting his average to .367 over Ryan’s .364. Hernandez also had multiple-hits in ten of his twenty-three games played, along with six home runs.

Reflecting on the season upon its conclusion, Hernandez echoed those pre-season sentiments again, “I saw this summer as an opportunity to work on stuff that I felt needed some fixing. My approach was the most important part of my game this summer and it’s going to continue to be that way. After refining my approach and honestly hunting pitches that I like, it got much easier to hit.”

Cougars freshmen Rey Mendoza and Luke Almendarez each found full-time roles with the Hairy Men, Mendoza in the outfield and Almendarez at second and shortstop.

On the challenge that the league presented to him, Mendoza offered this, “What surprised me about the TCL season is the amount of talent and competitiveness there was throughout the league. The pitching was definitely challenging in this league, and it was fun being able to face some great arms this summer.” 

Rey was no newcomer to the use of a wooden bat, but he explained that it had been a few years since the last time he played with one, “I hadn’t really used a wooden bat in a game since my junior year summer with my travel ball team. I tried to just stick with the same approach I have with a metal bat which is to hit a fastball up the middle or opposite field.” Rey hit in sixteen of his twenty-seven games played, a stat that is slightly misleading in that Rey had four games where he only had one at-bat as a late-inning defensive replacement or as a pinch hitter. Rey also was a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts.

Almendarez also took positives from the TCL experience, “I loved hitting with the wood bat this summer. Finding that one perfect wood bat is a great feeling. I learned a lot about my approach that will definitely transition to college.” Luke raised his batting average by forty-one points in his last nine games played. Luke’s summer play has him ready to return to campus to get back to the grind, “What I’m focused on most is staying healthy and working on my game as much as I can. I’m excited to get back to Houston and to get to work. I’m pumped to see all the guys again, hopefully very soon.“

Kyle Lovelace was a late season addition to the Round Rock team, and then platooned with the other catchers, including Cougars teammate Dylan Post. Kyle joined the team after the season got underway as the Round Rock organization went in search of a catcher after an injury sidelined their game one catcher in his first at-bat of the season.

Kyle enjoyed his time in the league and offered his thoughts as a catcher, “The quality of pitching this summer was phenomenal. The diversity of arms we had was incredible. Guys were able to command the zone well and throw multiple pitches for strikes. We had guys that were power arms and guys that could come in and mix-and-match. I really enjoyed being able to get back there and catch these guys.”

Kyle Lovelace takes the game seriously when he is behind the plate, whether in a college season or as a part-time player in a college summer league. Kyle’s defensive style only shocks those who have never seen him play. Opposing radio announcers seemed shocked at the number of times Kyle went hunting for base runners, with throws behind them or throws when the runners looked disinterested. Anyone who has watched Houston Cougars baseball in recent years is not surprised to see Kyle constantly checking on runners, and often clearing them off the base paths.

Most, if not all, catchers in the TCL called their own pitches, rather than looking to the dugout for each pitch. Asked how a veteran catcher prepares for calling a game in a wood bat league, Lovelace says, “The only thing that changed really was that we were a little more aggressive in because guys are holding sticks in their hands, maybe more aggressive with the fastball.“

“I know all of these guys well and have phenomenal relationships with them already,” Lovelace said of teaming-up with so many of his Cougars teammates this summer. As a team leader, Kyle is setting the standard, “All of the Coogs had a great summer, but it’s expected.”

Freshman Dylan Post was one of several platoon catchers for the Hairy Men and he had a great all-around season, both defensively and offensively. Runners attempting to steal did not find much success against Dylan. With the wooden bat, he hit .306 and hit two home runs in nineteen games.  In those nineteen games, Dylan had base hits in thirteen of them.

Incoming transfer Cole Turney, who last played college baseball this year at San Jacinto College, hit six doubles and three home runs in twenty-two games played while playing the outfield. Cole had at least one RBI in eight different games for Round Rock.

Jaycob Deese is another junior college transfer like Turney, though Deese is coming from Galveston College. Deese managed a 3.86 ERA with nine strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings pitched over four starts. Jaycob’s final outing was abbreviated after just one inning pitched by the right-hander.

Deese had a different journey into the TCL than the other Cougars. Jaycob was pitching in Bryan, at Travis Park, while playing in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational (CSBI) in June. He was hitting 96mph during a bullpen session when a Brazos Valley coach approached him about playing for the Bombers in the TCL. Deese was on the team Saturday night when they picked up the championship over the Tulsa Drillers.

Once there, Deese enjoyed his time in the TCL, “It was a great experience. I had never played in front of that many fans. Galveston College was a really small school and playing in front of that many fans was cool,” he explained. Talking specifically about pitching, and pitching hard, in a wood bat league, Deese noted, “You can miss a spot and still miss a barrel and they can break a bat. Going inside is better too with the velo I had, it was easier.”

Ryan Hernandez was proud of his Cougars teammates when the season concluded, “It almost seems like everyday another Cougar was highlighted for their good work. I am really looking forward to this upcoming season since the Coogs are hot.”

Having so many Cougars on one summer league team was beneficial beyond measure in at least one respect. As Luke Almendarez put it, “Having Ryan Hernandez and Kyle Lovelace there was awesome. Those guys are leaders for us younger guys. You watch them play and they play the game the right way and they play hard.”

Talking with Ryan Hernandez, it is easy to see that he liked the discipline of the league, and perhaps that mentality paid dividends for the other Cougars, “We had some practices before every game to work on different skills everyday. I found it to be super beneficial to me and my teammates that we weren’t only just playing for fun but also still having some order and skill development too.” That is the type of “summer camp” that Almendarez and the “younger guys” got to be a part of this year.

As for the immediate future, these players have seen two baseball seasons ended early in the last five months because of Covid-19 concerns. There are no guarantees about the next season, or even the next academic year, but these ball players are hungry and they are ready to get back to work just over a week after their last season ended.

“I’m just eager to get back on campus and work out with my teammates,” said Rey Mendoza. Kyle Lovelace voiced similar sentiments about his fellow Cougars, “I’m really proud of them and looking forward to rolling that into a great season this spring.”

And Ryan Hernandez, ever the focused worker, is ready for what is next, “Now that the season is over I am going to start working on getting stronger and getting as fit as possible. Since we do have strength and conditioning workouts I look forward to getting my body right for the upcoming season. I am also planning on consistently talking with the other Coogs about approach and finding their moneymaker pitch so that we can be ready to roll once again.”

When it was over, the player excitement and optimism expressed prior to the season was still there. Rather than being disappointed the season ended earlier than planned and a playoff spot was forfeited, the Cougars looked back on the games they did get to play; at how they grew, not only as players, but as teammates.

The fall of 2020 awaits with no answers and no guarantees, and hope springs eternal that these young men take the field as a team in scarlet and white in February 2021. –

Houston Cougars Halfway Through the 2020 TCL Season

Texas Collegeiate League TCL logo - Cougars Beat

ROUND ROCK – Thursday night marked the halfway point in the Texas Collegiate League (TCL) season, which lasts for thirty games and a playoff. The Houston Cougars are well represented in this summers TCL, with a total of seven players now filling roster spots on two different teams.

The TCL is a wooden bat league, giving spectators a chance to view hitters without the added pop of the aluminum bats, and giving pitchers a chance to experiment and challenge hitters without worrying that each and every mistake is going to leave the ballpark. Several host teams play their home games in minor league ballparks, including Tulsa, Round Rock, San Antonio, Frisco, and Amarillo.

Ryan Hernandez is leaving his mark on the TCL this summer. Just a few days ago Hernandez was named TCL Player of the Week for the week of July 7-13. Ryan hit .474 on the week three doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and six runs scored. At the halfway point, he is batting .365 overall with five home runs and twelve RBI. Ryan has played in thirteen of the teams fifteen games so far, and he has only been held hitless in two of those games.

Ryan had been at home in Boston since the Cougars season ended and arrived back in Texas just a few days before the TCL season got underway. Asked at Hairy Men media day about being in Round Rock for real baseball now, Ryan replied quickly, “This is amazing.” Hernandez was also hoping to “get some reps at third base” to keep his versatility, but so far his time has been spent playing first base. “Whatever they want me to do, they can count on me.”

One of the Hernandez home runs occurred at Dell Diamond in Round Rock on July 8. The blast was so pure it cleared the Home Run Porch, well beyond the left-field wall. Andrew Felts, the director of PR and Communications for the Round Rock Express and the Hairy Men said after the blast, “In my four years with the Round Rock Express, I’ve seen four players send a ball over the Home Run Porch at Dell Diamond: Jorge Bonifacio, Joey Gallo, Yordan Alvarez…and Ryan Hernandez.”

Besides clearing the Home Run Porch, another thing those home runs all had in common: All were done with wooden bats.

Cole Turney has two home runs for Round Rock while playing the outfield. The incoming SanJac transfer has twelve hits overall, including hits in nine of his fourteen games played, and a 3-for-4 game. Turney bats left and has spent a sizable portion of his time batting in the third spot, just in front of Ryan Hernandez. When asked the day before the season started about being in the TCL this summer, he said he was excited for the season, “being out here feels like being back at home.” And asked about his expected playing time in a possibly crowded outfield, Turney said, “just as long as I’m out here and I get my work in every day, I’m not worried about that.”

Rey Mendoza is hitting .279 this summer having collected twelve base hits over eight games. Rey has four multi-hit games to his credit. The left-handed-hitting Mendoza was having a nice freshman season for the Cougars before the season ended and there may have been no one more anxious than he was to get on the field and play again. At media day for the Hairy Men, Mendoza commented, “Just to be in this atmosphere of baseball again is amazing.”

Dylan Post has been platooning at catcher with two other catchers, he does have a home run in his limited time behind the plate. As the season was about to get underway, Post said, “I just want to get back to actually playing.” Not knowing a season-ending injury was about to sideline one of the other catchers on the team the next day, Dylan has caught the most innings of the group to this point, and defensively Post has played well. Dylan is batting .364 to this point and has had a base hit in six of his eight games played (Worth noting, in one of those eight games played, Post was only a pinch-hitter with one at-bat).

Luke Almendarez is playing some tremendous defense at both shortstop and second base. His batting average has inched up in recent games, along with key RBI production. Luke has two multi-hit games and has a base bit in seven of his games played and three stolen bases. For Luke, the opportunity to play in Round Rock is a return home for the first-year Cougar.

Veteran Cougars catcher Kyle Lovelace joined the Round Rock team late. A season-ending injury to the opening day catcher in the team’s first game of the season created a very quick opening on the roster for a backstop. Kyle has only played in four games at the halfway point. He caught all of Round Rock’s combined no-hitter on Thursday night, when three pitchers closed out the first half of their season by no-hitting the Acadiana Cane Cutters.

The only player in the Texas Collegiate League not playing for the Round Rock Hairy Men is right-hander Jaycob Deese who pitches for the Brazos Valley Bombers. The incoming transfer from Galveston College has made three starts at the halfway point of the season. In his most recent start, Deese tossed three scoreless innings, striking out four. It was his second consecutive three-inning start after having gone 2 1/3 innings in his first start. So far Deese has allowed three earned runs for a 3.24 ERA combined with eight strikeouts.

With half of the season left to play, there is a lot to look forward to. The Cougars players are getting valuable playing time in the TCL facing good opposition in one form or another on every team they play. For fans wanting to catch games, opportunities are few in number, but every ballpark is reachable the rest of the way, tickets are affordable, and all ballparks are taking plenty of precautions with regard to spectator safety.

The Hairy Men begin the second half of their season Friday night when they host the Amarillo Sod Dogs for a three-game weekend series. –

Future Cougar: Adam Becker

Houston Cougars signee Adam Becker bats for Grayson Junior College in 2020.
Adam Becker at-bat for Grayson Junior College

Adam Becker recalls his favorite baseball memory. It was when his parents made sure the Yankees were going to be in Arlington to face the Rangers, young Adam got a chance to go see his favorite player at the time: Derek Jeter. Adam does point out that he was not a Yankees fan, just a Jeter fan.

Houston Cougars signee Adam Becker was born in Odessa. Adam started playing the game at four years of age, as he pointed out, “that’s pretty much the earliest you can play.”

Adam and his family moved to Midland when he was in the second grade. Becker would eventually attend Midland Lee High School. As a sophomore in 2016, Becker played for a great Lee team, which had seven guys go to “upper level” D1 baseball programs, and that team was also one win away from a chance to play for a state championship in Round Rock.

“That was the best team I’ve ever played on,” Adam says. “We were an old team, a lot of older guys who all led.” People in the Midland area still talk about that team, that was the only baseball team from the area to ever make it that far.

“Adam was gangly pup that resembled more of a baby giraffe than a baseball player when he was a freshman in high school,” says Adam’s head coach at Lee, Brian Roper. “It was in the summer of 2015 when I noticed that he was the one that spent the most time in the cage up at our facility. The kid had great work habits! He made himself into a better defensive player as well. Those work habits payed off as Adam was a huge part of leading our school to the regional finals as a sophomore 3rd basemen. In the playoffs…he arrived!”

In subsequent seasons at Lee, Becker hit .429 and .394 and the college offers began appearing. Adam chose Oklahoma State and in his freshman year he was on a team that was stacked and he saw action in only a few games. That Cowboys team made it to a Super Regional against Texas Tech in Lubbock, and they pushed the Red Raiders to a deciding third game before their season ended a win away from going to Omaha. Becker then decided to attend a junior college (Juco) and he began looking for the right fit.

Adam sought help and advice from a friend and former Odessa College baseball coach. His friend advised him to consider Grayson Junior College in Denison. Becker says of the advice, “When I made it public I wanted to go to a Juco, he said that (Grayson) would be the best opportunity for me, the best place for me.”

Becker did choose Grayson Junior College. He got playing time immediately and in nineteen games he saw seventy at-bats and collected twenty base hits. Adam admits that the first couple of weeks of the season were somewhat about knocking the rust off after having not seen too much playing time for Oklahoma State. But he compares baseball to learning to ride a bike, the more you practice the more comfortable you get. “The more I played, the more I left like I got back into it,” Becker said. “I did feel like it hurt me not having a ton of playing time my freshman year. But, the more playing time I had against college players this past year the more I fell back into it, into the swing of things.”

Becker recalls mid-March this season when baseball got put on hold across the country. On the Friday of that final week, “we had team lift in the morning and at that point the domino effect kind of already started, there were D1s shutting down. So we had an idea of what might happen.” But Adam and his Vikings teammates continued to put in work until their coach brought them together for a team meeting where he said, “there’s no word yet, but we won’t practice this weekend, we can’t, so if you want to go home, go ahead.” Becker says, “I decided I was going to come home for the weekend so I packed up some stuff and came home.”

A week passed.

“On that Saturday night he (his head coach) texted us again and said, ‘stay home another week because we can’t practice for a week’ and the timeline just kept getting longer and longer and eventually we got a text that the season was going to be over.”

Houston Cougars signee Adam Becker takes batting practice for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Adam Becker takes BP at Oklahoma State

So, already at home, Adam continued to lift weights at home with the local gyms closed, and working out with his younger brother who will be a senior in high school next year, “so it’s been good, I’ve been using him as a workout partner,” Becker said.

Now, Adam Becker, a 6-5 infielder, will be headed to Houston next month to continue his baseball and academic journey. Brian Roper, head coach at Midland Lee, believes in big things for Adam, “Today Adam is so projectable for pro ball. Great size and great power.”

On what to expect when he arrives in Houston, Becker says, “I know this is a big class.” But, he is ready to work, and ready to compete.

“I know what I have to do and I know that regardless of what I’ve been told I have to come in and compete and actually fight for that spot that I want and that’s the beauty of it all is that competition makes the best out of people. So I’m looking forward to the competition.” –

Future Cougar: Dalton Roblin

Houston Cougars signee Dalton Roblin pitching for the Angelina College Roadrunners.
Lefty Dalton Roblin pitched for Angelina College

For many of the incoming baseball players to the University of Houston this fall, the path has deviated very little. All have been playing baseball for a very long time now. Some had their baseball season start later than normal because they had to fulfill their obligations to other teams at the school, the basketball team for instance. Some played football in the fall of their senior year, for some of those athletes it was the continuation of playing football every year in high school, for another though, playing football in the fall was something “fun” he decided to do for the season.

Then there is Dalton Roblin, the junior college transfer from Angelina College who will be stepping on to the University campus next month as a member of the Houston Cougars baseball team. Dalton took a different route on his way to this point in his life: He quit the game.

“After my senior year I quit baseball, because I didn’t think I wanted to play it anymore,” says Roblin. Later in the summer though, thanks to boredom and baseball highlights on YouTube, he started seeking out opportunities to catch-on at various junior colleges. Angelina College offered him a timetable and an opportunity, both of which worked for him.

Fast forward to today and the left-hander has two years of junior college baseball behind him, though the second year was limited due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic, and he is currently a Cougars signee and in a little over a month he will be in Houston getting down to business.

Dalton Roblin was born and raised in Beaumont. When he started playing t-ball at five or six, he was, like many others that age, playing with both boys and girls and those were kids he would end up being around the rest of his days until he went away to Angelina. During that time he also made his first all-star game at age eight, the first of five straight all-star years. The last all-star season landed him and his team in the state final. Dalton then moved on to junior league and high school baseball at West Brook High School in Beaumont.

After being told he could try out for Angelina, he started losing some weight as he was getting back into some sort of game shape. He says he initially “lost four or five pounds” but once he actually started playing and practicing, he lost over sixty pounds. That matters, Roblin says because it “helped me get noticed, and it made me throw harder.”

In a small sample size, for someone who is not primarily an infielder or batter, Roblin improved his batting average from his freshman to sophomore season by nearly one-hundred points. He gives some credit to maturity, and some credit to a new hitting coach, Michael Barash, who Dalton says, “tweaked some things. He helped me see the ball better and I could find more barrel, more often.”

Coach Barash says, “Dalton is a strong, physical kid who can really drive the baseball. He has a pure left-handed swing with some serious leverage. When I first got to Angelina College, his raw power and strength really stood out. He really bought into our approach as hitters and the results speak for itself.”

On the pitching front, Roblin had a nice freshman year by most any standard. Working predominantly out of the bullpen in relief, Dalton notched a 3.55 ERA and in 33 innings pitched he struck out 48 batters, for a 13.09 strikeout per nine innings average. After the season, Dalton went to work and interestingly, he focused on the head game as much as on the physical game, “The main thing I worked on in the offseason was coming into the game with the mentality that I don’t care what the score is, what the situation is, but I have to get every batter out; nobody gets on, nobody scores.” His coaches wanted him to “have the mentality to come in and shut the door.”

Roblin got noticed by the University of Houston coaching staff at a junior league all-star game in Abilene, where Dalton says he pitched well in limited action. In October of 2019, Roblin committed to the Houston Cougars.

Before the Roadrunners 2020 season was ended prematurely, Dalton had a 3.38 ERA in 5 ⅓ innings pitched, and he had struck out nine. The strikeout per nine innings average increased to 15.19. Dalton and his teammates were hearing about closing and cancellations as the world adapted to what was happening. They were all together when their coaches told them they were finished, at least for the moment. “Everybody’s head just dropped when they told us,” Roblin says. “Our team, we struggled at first, but we had finally put all the pieces together and we were starting to pick up momentum, and then that happened.”

Cougars signee Dalton Roblin pitching for the Angelina College Roadrunners.
Cougars signee Dalton Roblin

After the season concluded and everyone was back home, Roblin kept working. He would hit a local gym late at night when he had the place to himself. He has an old friend who is a catcher at an NAIA school, and Dalton would throw a bullpen with him to keep the arm active. “I was still doing pretty much everything that I usually do.”

“He grew very quickly within our program and it’s because of his internal drive for greatness that propelled him to the University of Houston,” says Coach Barash. “He will bring energy to the ballpark daily that his teammates will feed off of and it’s a relentless energy people enjoy being around. Take his energy and combine it with his talent and the Cougars got a really good one coming to them.”

Dalton Roblin’s next stop is the University of Houston next month, assuming everything goes according to the plan of the moment. 2020 offers a mixed bag right now when pondering young men like Roblin and their shortened pitching season. They could have benefited from the entire season, gained some strength, maybe even developed new or better pitches. On the other hand, they are reporting to campus fresh and ready to get to work in this, their next chapter. –

Future Cougar: Cole Turney

Houston Cougars signee Cole Turney bats for the SanJac Gators
Cole Turney bats for the SanJac Gators
(Photo by Brenda McMillan Photography)

For outfielder Cole Turney, the 2020 baseball season was supposed to be an attempt at a full year of baseball as a healthy player. Instead, the Houston Cougars signee saw a promising season, and a healthy one to that point, end prematurely as a worldwide pandemic put everything on hold for everyone.

Cole Turney was in his second season as a SanJac Gator, he spent his freshman year at the University of Arkansas. Cole had one season end because of a left shoulder injury. He had another season end with a right shoulder injury. Turney decided to return to SanJac for one more season where he would most certainly get some playing time, something much needed for a ballplayer coming back from injury.

His SanJac Gators were rolling this season. Until the second week of March. They were on their way to Galveston for their next, and possibly final game of the season. “We were all thinking, there’s a good chance this is our last game,” because during the hour long ride to Galveston social media was going crazy with one cancellation after another. Reflecting on it now, Turney says, “It was tough for our season to end because we were so good. We were really good and we all knew it.” Then he admits, when the news came that they were all expecting, “that was a depressing call.”

Asked if he was happy with where his game was before the season ended, Turney does not mince words, “absolutely.”

Despite playing well, and staying healthy, Turney, like all other college and high school baseball players, suddenly had to go to a backup plan. With the usual tough stay-in-place orders everywhere else, the backup plan started at home. “I have a gym in my garage at my house,” said Cole. He was working out at home for the first several weeks until recently when things began to re-open. “I go workout up in North Houston at a facility where I can hit and workout,” says Turney.

Turney is chomping at the bit to get back to real action, that includes playing summer ball, as soon as summer ball starts playing again. Turney says, “I’m just kind of waiting on that call, waiting on things to unfold.” That call cannot come soon enough for him.

When the time is right, Cole is ready and anxious to get on campus “as soon as I can.” One thing he immediately wants to happen, is “hopefully we’ll be able to lift with a strength coach.”

When Cole was nine years of age, his little league had a select team for nine year olds. “We were nine years old but we were so elite, we took it so seriously early on, we were the number one team in the nation as nine year olds,” says Turney. That year during their tournament, rain forced the shutdown of all of the rest of the tournament games except for the game his team was playing in. As the only action in the complex, “everyone gravitated to our field” says Turney, recounting the story. At least a thousand people watched the nine year olds play.

Houston Cougars signee Cole Turney connects for the SanJac Gators
Cole Turney Connects
(Photo by Brenda McMillan Photography)

Turney is a baseball guy from beginning to end. He laid out the positives of playing at a school like SanJac and he describes the value of the instruction and the competition to the development of young players. It is the kind of thing that a great baseball mind thinks and speaks.

SanJac assistant coach Kory Koehler offered his thoughts on Turney, “When I think about a player and what I hope to get out of him, it’s a player who is like a sponge. A player who is willing to listen to instruction and implement what he can envision being beneficial without second guessing the instructor. A player whose willingness to put in the work far exceeds expectations and a player who’s respect for the game is on a whole other level. When I think of a player to offer an opportunity to and what characteristics that player must have both on and off the field, I envision the next Cole Turney. He is 100% a coach’s dream.” Coach Koehler, a University of Houston alum himself, concluded “I’ve had two wonderful years with Cole and I can’t wait to see him continue his playing career at my alma mater.”

As for his upcoming journey to the campus at the University of Houston, as with everyone waiting for the call to confirm the times and dates that things get going again, Turney is ready, “I want to do some big things in Houston.” –

Photos in this post were provided by Brenda Millan Photography.

Future Cougar: Leyton Pinckney

Houston Cougars signee Leyton Pinckney bats for Northwest Florida State.
Leyton Pinckney bats for Northwest Florida State

In a way, Leyton Pinckney has already lived the dream of every kid who has ever played Little League baseball.

“We made it to the Southeast Regional Championship, so I got to play two games on ESPN as a 12-year-old kid,” says Pinckney, a Houston Cougars signee headed to Houston this fall. “We were one game short of going to the Little League World Series, we lost 1-0 in the championship game, so I missed out on the World Series. But that summer was one of the greatest baseball summers of my life because I was just hanging out with all those guys for the entire summer, getting to miss school for a couple weeks, just getting to get to play baseball as a 12-year-old kid just loving the game and nothing else mattered except just enjoying playing baseball.”

Leyton grew up in Kathleen, Georgia, and started playing baseball when he was six years old. He attended Veterans High School in Kathleen and under head baseball coach David Coffey, Pinckney lettered in baseball for four years. In his senior year, he earned 5A All-State First Team honors for his play with the Warhawks. Almost as an afterthought, Pinckney was a three-year letter winner, at quarterback.

After high school, Leyton chose to stay in his home state and attend Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, a highly respected Division I baseball program. Pinckney played in 37 games during his freshman season, serving as the team’s backup catcher while compiling a .979 fielding percentage.

But Leyton knew he wanted to play at a bigger program, so he transferred to Northwest Florida State in Niceville, Florida with the hopes of being seen and recruited by a bigger program. The Raiders of Northwest Florida State entered the 2020 season ranked eighth nationally among junior college teams. In 14 games at backstop, Pinckney amassed a 1.000 fielding percentage and also batted .310 along the way, including three multi-hit games in his final six games of the season. The Raiders did a lot of winning and were ranked as high as number two and three in the final season rankings when the dust settled on the abbreviated 2020 season.

But Pinckney’s decision to transfer from Mercer in anticipation of going to a bigger program paid off. Leyton was talking with many Power 5 Conference schools and the University of Houston was always in the mix because of the recruiting channel with the Cougars coaching staff and the culture they have created at UH.

Pinckney sees great things happening at Houston and wanted to be a part of it. He sees potential and opportunity, but he brings a winning, competitive attitude to the table as well. He says Houston told him, “the opportunity to play is there.” Leyton says, “but that’s up to me, how I play, how I can perform. I just want to go in there and compete and try to win a job.”

Houston Cougars signee Leyton Pinckney at catcher for Northwest Florida State.
Cartcher Leyton Pinckney

Leyton started catching at 14, but it was not until a full-time position for him until he was about 15 in the 9th grade. He still remembers the first time his coach asked, “who wants to catch?” Pinckney replied, “I’ll try it.” And life has not been the same since. “I’m involved in every single pitch,” he says. “As a catcher, you’re involved in every single pitch and every single play and it really makes the game a lot more fun and interesting.”

Back home in Georgia, Leyton just finished his spring semester via online classes and completed his Associate of Arts degree at the same time. His baseball routine is pretty steady right now, there is a local baseball facility where he’s able to meet up almost every morning with a coach and former Florida State baseball player who throws to him and runs him through some catching drills. Pinckney admits it is nowhere near as good as live-action, but it is good for right now.

Pinckney is planning to play in the Florida Gulf Coast League this summer, which should start around June 15. The Florida League is made up exclusively of college players. Leyton hopes to get in a month of action before heading to Houston for the fall. He is not alone in wanting to arrive on campus in the fall without having played any real baseball for several months. That is the plan for now, but as we all know, things can change and nothing is written in stone. “Houston is getting a team leader,” says Northwest Florida State head coach Doug Martin. “The pitching staff at Houston will really enjoy throwing to Leyton.”

Leyton is looking forward to getting to Houston while keeping an attentive eye on his daily work and preparation, and hopefully the Florida Gulf Coast League in June and July, “I can’t wait to get in there and get to work. I’m excited to go in there and compete and try to make the team better.” –

 

Future Cougar: Rome Shubert

Houston Cougars signee Rome Shubert pitches for the Santa Fe Indians.
Rome Shubert pitches for the Santa Fe Indians

Rome Shubert and his Santa Fe Indians teammates were leading 6-0 in the 4th inning of a game against the Channelview Falcons when a coach ran onto the field and told everyone to go home, the rest of their tournament was cancelled.

Shubert, a Houston Cougars signee, describes that moment as “shocking” for a variety of reasons. No one was fully understanding what was happening all around them at the time, but the more fundamental question occurs, why not just let these kids play the final three innings before calling things off?

“We were rolling,” Shubert says with pride about his team. On a personal level, the young man who has pitching stats anyone would admire, was even beginning to heat up at the plate as his senior year was unfolding. In their last full game before the game shutdown in the 4th inning, Santa Fe had topped La Porte 9-2. In that game, Shubert was 3-for-4 at the plate with 2 RBI, only a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. On the mound he tossed 5 scoreless innings of one-hit ball, struck out four, and picked up the win to move to 3-0 on the season, while only facing one over the minimum.

As a junior in 2019, Shubert led Santa Fe deep into the state high school playoffs. He compiled an 11-1 record while recording a .86 ERA and striking out 84 batters in 73 ⅓ innings.

So, how do you improve on a season like that? Summer ball followed the high school playoffs, and when he was not playing, Rome spent time working out, eventually adding fifteen pounds of muscle to his frame. “I definitely improved with consistent velo,” says Shubert. “The velo was higher consistently for a longer period. I was still sitting in the upper 80s in the 6th inning.” He points out that at the same time in the previous season, where he might be sitting 84-85mph into the fifth and sixth innings, this season he was sitting 86-88mph into the sixth inning.

In January of his sophomore year, before the baseball season even got underway, Shubert attended a Houston Cougars baseball camp. At that camp, with coaches watching, Shubert struck out 7 of 10 batters he faced, these were kids his own age up to junior college sophomores. Houston coaches were aware of Rome from the summer before when his summer team had a private workout with the coaching staff.

Before January ended, Rome Shubert was a University of Houston commit.

Houston Cougars signee Rome Shubert pitches for the Santa Fe Indians.
Rome Shubert of the Santa Fe Indians.

Having made his decision before his actual sophomore season began, Shubert only had to focus on his own game. That season he posted a .84 ERA going 75 ⅓ innings and striking out 84 batters.

After the 2020 season was paused and before it was eventually cancelled altogether, Rome and his teammates have been staying active and in shape. At the home of a teammate who has an outdoor shop with workout equipment, they all arrange a schedule and go two at a time so there are not too many people at once, and thus violating any local rules, “at any given time there are two of us,” Shubert says. They throw, or workout, or they do both. “I’ve been doing that six days a week, every day but Sunday.”

With his official high school career behind him after the UIL ended the season just this past week, Rome Shubert leaves Santa Fe having won 26 games in four years as a varsity pitcher. His ERA is a miniscule 1.21. He struck out 208 batters in 213 ⅔ innings pitched. And of the 30 games that he started, he pitched 16 complete games, including two of his three starts in a shortened 2020 season. “Rome has started for us since his freshman year,” said Santa Fe head coach Ronnie Wulf. “I have had the pleasure of watching him grow and mature over the past four years, especially in a leadership role. He has become one of the best pitchers in the state.”

With what looked to be a great season ahead cut short significantly, Rome is now focused on his summer workout routine, which might involve summer league tournament action, but if that does not work out, then the routine will certainly involve throwing bullpens and live at-bats to friends and teammates. Coach Wulf stated, “Rome is a great kid, very competitive, and always looking for ways to be a better player and works hard to achieve his goals.”

Shubert is ready to compete, and he brings a winning attitude to the University of Houston. “An opportunity is an opportunity,” he says. “Whatever opportunity I’m given, I’m definitely going to take and run with it.”

When he was five, his parents put him in t-ball. When he was seven, he made the all-star team in his little league. Seven-year-old Rome Shubert had no idea what an all-star team was, his parents had to try to explain it. So he showed up to the first practice and all his friends were there. And he made even more friends during that time with the all-star team. Their team played a while together and they kept winning, eventually finishing as runner-up in their area. Shubert says, “that all-star experience when I was seven years old, was the moment when I thought, “ok, I think I’m going to do this for a long time”.”

That seven-year-old is about to step onto a university campus in a few months with a spot on the team roster firmly within reach, and the ability before long to legitimately compete for the Friday spot in the rotation. –

Future Cougar: Samuel Tormos

Houston Cougars signee Samuel Tormos at-bat for the Van Alstyne Panthers.
Samuel Tormos at-bat for the Van Alstyne Panthers.

Houston Cougars signee Samuel Tormos had every reason in the world to want a full 2020 baseball season. In his junior season, after having already committed to the University of Houston, Tormos led the Van Alstyne Panthers to the state 3A semifinals in Round Rock with a 29-6 record. Tormos did so by hitting .482 with 32 RBI, 2 homeruns, 18 stolen bases, and a .604 on-base percentage. Numbers good enough to earn Tormos the District 10-3A Offensive MVP.

Tormos also aided the Panthers on the mound by going 6-2 with a 1.67 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 46 innings.

Tormos is a three-sport standout, also playing on the school’s basketball team and running for the track team. “I played basketball and ran track because they were fun,” says Tormos. “It keeps you in shape, it works out different areas of your body.” The basketball team made a deep run in the playoffs, and that run overlapped with the start of the baseball season, so Tormos was late getting on the diamond this year. But already, he was hitting .625 with a .769 on-base percentage.

Then the now infamous second week of March started to play out. Tormos and his Panthers teammates were playing a tournament. With a division-leading record of 9-3, having won the night before, Van Alstyne was scheduled to play an early morning game. There was rain, which was possibly going to cause problems, but Tormos points out that they were playing the tournament on a turf field, so there was a good chance the rain was not going to cause cancellation.

But then, a text message. 

“Ok guys, everything is now cancelled,” read the text from head Coach Jimmy Haynes. “Tourney is canceled due to CoronaVirus.” The young players began to process all of this, and Tormos and his teammates were learning more about what was happening, “we started getting more information from the UIL tweeting out stuff and the district tweeting out as well,” he said.

Asked about how his numbers in his senior season were better from his junior season, Tormos pointed to some very specific improvements, “I got a lot stronger. Spraying the ball all over the field and I got better using a big part of the field a lot.” Work on these things began last summer after the state playoff run came to an end when he played travel baseball.

Now, with the pause in the season, Tormos is not alone in having to find ways to be ready, for either the resumption of the high school season, potential summer ball, or reporting to the University of Houston for the late summer and fall. “I’m working out a lot, getting stronger,” Tormos says. “I’m still long tossing, throwing. Hitting in the cage pretty much every day. Just trying to stay on top of the baseball skills.”

Houston Cougars signee Samuel Tormos at short for the Panthers in Round Rock.
Samuel Tormos at shortstop at Dell Diamond.

Samuel knows how to improve his game during summer ball, he knows how to utilize the time well. He does not know if there will be a summer ball league this year. If the summer league does happen, Tormos will be there, “you know, just to get some reps, live ABs.”

During the summer between Samuel’s sophomore and junior years, he was playing in a Perfect Game tournament in Georgia, and that is where the Houston Cougars reached out to him. Tormos says, “It seemed like an automatic fit, really.” He committed to the Cougars on September 11, 2018.

The kid who started playing coach-pitch baseball at the age of seven will soon go from being a Panther in Van Alstyne to a Cougar in Houston. “I’ve had the privilege to coach Samuel since he was a freshman. His natural ability was evident from the first time I saw him on a baseball field,” says his head coach Jimmy Haynes. “You could tell he was going to be a special baseball player. As he grew, his baseball ability grew as well. Samuel was constantly working to improve his baseball skills. I would see him working extra after practice each day whether it was fielding or hitting.”

This writer witnessed and wrote about Samuel Tormos and his Panther team during their playoff run last summer. I wrote then about Tormos’s fluid, easy movement around the baseball field, especially at the shortstop position. Being out there appears natural for him. He seems at home there. He admits to being relaxed on the baseball field and credits part of that to not over-thinking things, he lets the game happen.

What about his upside?

Coach Haynes notes, “As you know, Samuel has been dividing his efforts between basketball, track and baseball. Now that he’s going to be able to concentrate solely on baseball, it will allow him to really excel at baseball. Being able to concentrate on nutrition, strength building and baseball will only un-tap his potential. I believe, because of this untapped potential, you might see him have a chance to play at the professional level. Nothing Samuel achieves will be a surprise to me.”

Samuel Tormos indicates that he was recruited as an infielder, but can play anywhere on the diamond, and will even pitch if need be. The three-sport star can do three things well between the lines on a baseball field. The future Cougar who saw Houston as the “automatic fit” will soon find out where he fits with the baseball program as he focuses and devotes his time solely to the game of baseball. It is easy to expect big things from Tormos. Writers can see it. Coaches can see it. As important, Samuel Tormos sees it. –

Future Cougar: Patrick Dunn

 

Patrick Dunn pitches for Flower Mound High School (Photo by John Knope)
Patrick Dunn of Flower Mound High School
(Photo by John Knope)

The Flower Mound Jaguars experienced the full range of emotions in the 24 hours that began on Thursday, March 12. The Jaguars defeated Southlake Carroll 8-6 on Southlake’s own field, giving them just their second loss of the season as they are ranked the top 6A team in the state.

As news and rumors about the immediate future of high school baseball began to enter the minds of the young athletes, some, including Houston Cougars signee Patrick Dunn, actually pondered about the next game that Thursday, “This could be our last game in high school baseball.”

Flower Mound lost 3-2 on a walk-off to McKinney Boyd, ranked fifth in the state, one spot ahead of the Jaguars, both with the same record of 10-3-1.

Reflecting on the day, and especially on the loss to McKinney Boyd, Dunn said of his team, “We weren’t really too worried about that, we just worried if that was our last game or not.” He continued that he, “wanted to go out there with the team one more time.”

Then came Friday the 13th.

“That Friday, we go into the team room and we find out that our season is postponed until the beginning of April or so,” Patrick said. It is the same story that paused and potentially ended every high school baseball season in the state and most of the country.

Patrick Dunn is a senior at Flower Mound. The right-handed pitcher stands 6-foot-6 and is lean with room to grow as he gets ready to join the Houston Cougars. Before his senior year was halted, Dunn had pitched 15 innings in five games with 19 strikeouts.

Dunn discussed his 2020 effort thus far, “I was really happy with the season, I had progressed a lot not just on the physical side but on the mental side too, I had a lot of confidence out there and I just had a better mindset, thinking I was the best player to be out there at that time.” It is one thing to be six and a half feet tall and to be able to throw a baseball with some speed and movement. It is another thing to be out there and be confident in your ability against some of the toughest competition in 6A Texas baseball.

With competitive activity on hold, Dunn, like most players, is having to find ways to stay active and stay sharp, pretty much on their own time and in their own way. Dunn’s routine is full, “I’m doing bodyweight exercises to maintain where I’m at strength wise, and then I do some heavy ball work,” against what he calls the “perfect brick wall” at his home. A hitter can swing a bat almost anywhere with a certain radius clear, but a pitcher might have to improvise, and Patrick has done that, “I have a net in the garage that I can throw into.”

Flower Mound head coach Danny Wallace is extremely complimentary of Dunn’s intangibles, “He is a great leader on and off the field. His work ethic is outstanding and he has a passion to be great.”

Patrick is big on “team” and it is obvious in talking with him that he values the guys in the dugout. Discussing the 2020 Jaguars Dunn said, “We were a lot hungrier than last year because we made it so far and didn’t end up getting to the state tournament, but we all knew we could have done it, so this year we were really trying to prove a point and show that we were definitely one of the best teams, if not the best team in the state.” It is obvious that Dunn wants the 2020 season to resume at some point so he can “go out there with the team one more time.”

If the high school season never gets started again, Patrick, in accordance with the rules of the day, will hopefully get some games in with the summer team he plays on. If that does not happen, he plans to keep working until he reports to the University of Houston in either mid to late summer. His plan, he says, includes wanting to “pitch live at-bats to people I know so that I can just keep getting my work in.” Any takers?

Last summer, Patrick’s summer team played in one of the nation’s biggest baseball tournaments in Atlanta, Georgia. His team made it to the last day of action, and it so happened that Houston coaches were on hand to see “one of the best games I ever pitched,” according to Dunn. He had spoken to Houston coaches weeks before and with his outstanding performance in an unlikely game in front of the Houston coaches, he concluded, “Honestly, I feel like it was kind of meant to be.” He committed to the University of Houston before he left Atlanta.

Houston Cougars signee Patrick Dunn of Flower Mound (Photo by John Knope)
Houston Cougars signee Patrick Dunn
(Photo by John Knope)

“He has worked very hard to get to where he is and his better days are all ahead of him – he has a lot of upside,” Coach Wallace said of Dunn. “He throws a really heavy downhill fastball and the breaking ball is improving and will be a plus pitch as he gets comfortable with it. The velocity has continued to climb and he will be consistently in the 90s at UH.”

As a kid, attending Texas Rangers games, Patrick was impressed with how big the ballplayers were, how hard they threw the ball, and how far they hit the ball. Beyond those impressions though, baseball was a “bond” with his best friends, they all played together from first grade into high school, they all love the game. Patrick Dunn will have the chance to play at the next level now, and he will be in the mix for time on the mound when the 2021 Houston Cougars take the field. – 

Future Cougar: Skyler Trevino

Skyler Trevino bats for the Whitehouse Wildcats
Skyler Trevino bats for the Whitehouse Wildcats

Like many other high school and college programs around the country, the second week of March 2020 proved to be interesting, and eventually disappointing, with a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions in between.

That was the case for Houston Cougars signee Skyler Trevino and his Whitehouse Wildcats baseball team.

The Wildcats were out of town for a three-day tournament when after the opening day action of the tournament on Thursday, schools started to pull away for the sake of caution and they returned home. Whitehouse was mere days away from their district action beginning on the following Tuesday, and they wanted to stay sharp. 

Coaches and schools started emailing around to find willing opponents. West Rusk, a 3A school from New London, Texas, about a 30-minute drive directly east from Whitehouse, was willing to travel to take on their 5A neighbor.

On Friday, March 13, Whitehouse blanked the West Rusk Raiders 5-0 in a 7pm game. There was momentary joy for the Wildcats. “After that game was when we got the news,” Skyler said. “It was only supposed to be for two weeks.” Three weeks and counting now, Trevino and his Wildcats teammates are still waiting. For Skyler on a personal level, the pause in the season happened at a bad time as he was just heating up having hit a homeurn in each of the final three games

For the time being, Trevino has a full gym at home and he is working out every day. He joins some buddies every few days at the little league park where they throw and hit in the cages. It is the best they can do right now, given the circumstances.

Skyler Trevino has played football for as long as he has played baseball. For the last two seasons, he played free safety for the Wildcats football team. Over those two seasons in 22 games he made 44 solo tackles and took part in another 10. As if that was not enough, Skyler also took the field as a wide receiver for his senior season. In 12 games he caught 35 passes for 704 yards and 7 touchdowns. Trevino handled some kick-off and punt returns for good measure as well.

But the dream, is baseball. It has been that way since he began going to Texas Rangers games in Arlington as a kid. Recollecting going to games at The Ballpark in Arlington, Skyler said, “Just watching the games and being in that ballpark and that atmosphere, baseball has always been something I wanted to do since then. I’ve always had a strong love for the game and just always enjoyed playing it a lot.” He continued, “I’ve always dreamed of going to play baseball somewhere.”

That somewhere will be the University of Houston starting this summer, or maybe the fall. No one has all the answers right now, and everyone is having to wait and see, ready and willing to adapt, but staying prepared for the time being. Baseball will happen again.

Houston was not Skyler’s first baseball offer, but it was the first and only offer he accepted. He made an official visit to the campus and the baseball facilities in his junior year. He watched a game at Schroeder Park and saw the new baseball facility still under construction at the time. He was beyond impressed with the coaches and committed to the Cougars shortly after the visit. “It felt right,” he says without hesitation. “I felt Houston was a good place for me to be.”

Greg Branch, the head baseball coach at Whitehouse, speaking of his star senior said, “Skyler is a leader and all of his teammates look up to him. He was a standout football player as well as one of the best left-handed bats I’ve ever coached.  He was the perfect example of what we want our program to look like and he will do great things at the University of Houston.”

Skyler Trevino plays infield for Whitehouse
Skyler Trevino plays infield for Whitehouse

When baseball happens again, Skyler Trevino will be one of the new faces of the program on campus. He will keep working toward that dream of playing baseball in his own way until he reports to the University of Houston, at which point the dream continues to unfold.

Coach Branch added about Skyler, “I asked him recently what do you think you will play at the University of Houston and he said, ‘Coach I’ll play whatever they want me to play.’ That’s the kind of kid you are getting.” –