Takeaways from 2020 Red vs. White Series

The Cougars concluded their fall exhibition schedule on Sunday evening with a decisive game three in the Red vs. White World Series . . . Team Red walked it off in the final frame to take the game 5-4 and the series.

Having seen the primary starting pitchers from this past springs roster depart, it is a fair question to wonder who was going to fill those voids going into 2021 . . . If this weekend was any indicator, there are, at least for now, several directions the coaching staff could choose to go with so many new arms in the mix, and some returning pitchers.

Returners include Robert Gasser, Derrick Cherry, Isaiah Blaylock, Tanner Green, and Cole Ferguson, all of whom saw action on the mound this weekend . . . With the exception of Gasser, who started Friday’s game, the other pitchers all worked in relief efforts, most of which with pre-determined by either innings or pitch counts.

Junior college and other transfers include Jaycob Deese, Ben Sears, Blake Schultz, Maddux Miller, Cameron Prayer, Andrew Belcik, and Matt Lazzaro . . . Freshman newcomers include Patrick Dunn, John Alvey, Colby Casey, and Dravin Barber . . . The arms offered a variety of techniques and even physical abilities, with Dunn standing at 6-6 and Sears and Blaylock both at 6-5 for instance . . . These tall throwers offer the Cougars the ability to change the eye level of hitters expecting pitchers closer to the 6-foot frame . . . The pitchers also combine to offer a diverse mix of styles, some guys are raw power, while others are finesse guys able to hit spots and keep their pitch counts low by keeping the ball in the yard.

And those are just the pitchers that saw action this weekend.

The offense for the Cougars had the misfortune of having to face the Cougars pitching depth, but some hitters did have notable performances . . . Steven Rivas hit two homeruns in the weekend series, one on Friday night and one on Sunday night . . . Neither Rivas homerun was in doubt, with the second homerun traveling 416 feet just over the right-field foul pole . . . Freshman Samuel Tormos hit the only other homerun of the weekend, a three-run line-drive over the left-field fence on Friday night.

Brad Burckel had himself a Sunday evening . . . He tripled once to right-center to set up his scoring on a passed ball to give Red a 3-2 lead . . . An inning later Burckel sent his Red teammates home a winner with a fly ball single to the right-field wall that plated the winning run.

The Cougars defense was solid throughout the weekend . . . Freshman Will Pendergrass made some amazing off-balance field-and-throws from third . . . Luke Almendarez made some wide-ranging plays, a couple of them in key situations . . . Skyler Trevino also made some tremendous defensive plays at second on Friday night.

All told Team Red scored nine runs on the weekend to the Team White’s six runs in taking this 2020 Red vs. White Series . . . The team breaks for the winter in the coming days and then returns in January to get ready for whatever 2021 season takes shape. –

National Signing Day 2020

Cougars Beat National Signing Day

Wednesday was National Signing Day across our great land, and the University of Houston baseball team inked numerous high school seniors to letters of intent. The names include: Brennan Frickel, Cody Morse, Malachi Lott, Luke Robertson, Tab Tracy, Brandon Burckel, Jason Burger, Josh Alexander, Cameron Nickens, Josh Coleman, Nick Solis, and Jake Miller. The Cougars also added three junior college transfers: Logan Clayton, Kyle Lacalameto, and Nathan Medrano.

Future Cougar: Jaycob Deese

Houston Cougars commit Jaycob Deese with the Brazos Valley Bombers
Jaycob Deese on the mound for the Brazos Valley Bombers

Jaycob Deese just picked up a league championship win, and his next stop is the University of Houston campus as he prepares for his first year with the Houston Cougars.

The Cougars baseball commit is an incoming transfer from Galveston College. That is not far from where baseball first began for Jaycob. He started playing organized baseball at the age of four, like most others in the college game now, he started with t-ball. For Deese, his game took shape on the little league fields of Channelview, as he worked his way from t-ball to pitching-machine to coach-pitch and eventually to the live-arm leagues.

As a youngster, Deese was always a pitcher, he also played shortstop often, but as he describes it, “I was a guy who could come in and just throw strikes, not very hard, but I could get outs.” And he likes to remind you, “I was always a hitter when I was younger.”

Deese attended North Shore High School in the Galena Park school district. As a member of the Mustangs, he was part of a trio of arms that led his squad deep into the 6-A playoffs in 2017.

Two weeks after the 6-A playoffs ended for North Shore his senior season, Lee Martinez, Deese’s head coach at North Shore, arranged for a tryout at Galveston College to let Jaycob show the staff what he could do. “I went out there and I threw a bullpen, I got up to 88-89 and they offered me a scholarship,” Deese said. So, off he went to Galveston College.

In Deese’s first season with the Galveston College Whitecaps he appeared in twenty-one games, starting four of those. He recorded a 3.17 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings pitched. Jaycob looked ready to improve on those numbers as the 2020 season loomed.

Prior to his sophomore year at Galveston College, he had heard from his “dream school,” the University of Houston. His older sister had gone there and he recalls his parents taking him to games on campus. Deese says, “I really didn’t want to go anywhere else.” So Deese took his Houston visit and reviewed his offer and as he tells it, “I committed that day.” Deese then signed his national letter of intent in November 2019.

2020 got underway and Deese looked strong right away. He picked up wins in his first two starts, going 10 2/3 innings combined, striking out eleven, allowing four hits and only one earned run. Deese got a no-decision in his third start, a game his team won. Before the Covid-19 interruption, Deese had a record of 3-1 and a 2.09 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched.

The season ended almost immediately after Deese’s final start of 2020. Before that March 12 start against the San Jacinto Gators, Deese was warming up in the bullpen before the game. A coach approached him and said, “Hey, enjoy your last start as a Whitecap.” Slightly confused, and focused on the game ahead, Deese asked for clarification. The coach replied, “This is going to be your last start, this is the last game of the season.”

Deese went out and faced San Jac and pitched what he called, “probably the best game of my life.” Jaycob held San Jac hitless through seven and eventually went 8 2/3 allowing only one run on two hits and striking out eleven. A nice way to go out. As we know, not every kid was so lucky as to know that their last at-bat or their last pitch, was indeed their last one of the season.

“I have enjoyed having him at the top of my rotation, and look forward to watching him perform next year,” said Galveston College head coach Kevin Lallmann. He says Deese is, “a three-pitch pitcher with tremendous command, he showcases a fastball that has touched 98 mph..” And Lallmann says Deese, “is able to locate a high spin rate curveball that gives him the ability to go through the lineup multiple times. In addition to the skill set Jaycob brings to the mound, he is a tremendous student, quality athlete, and a high-character guy.”

Deese stuck to his throwing and workout schedule after the season ended and as he prepared for whatever might come next. “I have a buddy down here who also plays D1 baseball, so we just kept throwing,” says Deese. “I would stay on my starting tasks, so the days I would start, I would throw a bullpen. I really never stopped throwing. I just kept doing the same workout, the same throwing, the same running, everything.”

Jaycob took part in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational (CSBI) in early June. The CSBI is a three-day tournament featuring players from over seventy Division I schools. Playing in the league is by invitation only.

While throwing a bullpen during the CSBI, he was hitting 96mph and that caught the eye of a coach from the Brazos Valley Bombers of the Texas Collegiate League (TCL), the team which plays its home games in that same ballpark, Travis Field, in Bryan. After a conversation and an invitation, Deese agreed to play for the Bombers in the 2020 TCL season which got underway on June 30.

Houston Cougars commit Jaycob Deese with the Brazos Valley Bombers
Jaycob Deese (center) with Bombers teammates

Deese’s Brazos Valley Bombers won the TCL championship on Saturday, August 8th, in a 13-2 victory over the Tulsa Drillers in Bryan. Deese had made four starts on the team loaded with pitching talent. In those starts Jaycob compiled a 3.86 ERA with nine strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings pitched.

Reflecting on his time in the TCL, Deese noted, “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.” Speaking specifically about pitching, and pitching hard, in a wood bat league as the TCL was, Deese observed, “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.”

Deese is not afforded much time from the end of the TCL season until the time fall workouts begin. He is adhering to the workout program that the Cougars are using this year, and he is ready to begin his throwing regimen in the next few weeks. The hard-throwing right-hander talked openly about how excited he is for what happens next. After a wild and weird last several months across all of college baseball, Deese could see very soon what happens next for he and his Houston Cougars teammates.

Coach Lallmann stated, “Jaycob has a chance to be an impact guy for Houston, and is on the right path to becoming a professional soon.” –

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. –