It’s time to head back to Reckling Park for the beginning of the 2020 Rice Baseball season. Here’s a preview of the potential starting lineup.
The 2020 Rice baseball season is fast approaching. This year’s squad is composed of an intriguing combination of familiar faces, potent junior college additions and a host of younger players hoping to make a name for themselves.
First, a projected Opening Day lineup when Rice hosts Texas on February 14 at 7:00 p.m.
- Braden Comeaux, 3B
- Bradley Gneiting, RF
- Trei Cruz, SS
- Austin Bulman, 1B
- Brayden Combs, DH
- Cade Edwards, 2B
- Justin Collins, C
- Tyler Larue, LF
- Aaron Beaulaurier, CF
Led by Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year Trei Cruz, the Owls have the makings of an explosive offense — at least on paper. Cruz was a late-round draft pick last year and should parlay himself into a much more lucrative selection at the end of this season. He slashed .305/.393/.519 in 2019 and was named a Cape Cod League All-Star during the summer. “It’s not normal and I mean that in a good way,” Coach Matt Bragga remarked of Cruz’s dedication to improvement. “It’s fun to watch. He’s going to have a great year.”
Joining Cruz in the field will be Braden Comeaux at third base and Cade Edwards at second base. They were two of the most reliable bats in the Rice lineup a year ago and should be fixtures in the starting nine this season. Both are .300 hitters with power to the gaps.
First base is a bit of a wildcard. JUCO transfer Austin Bulman is a third baseman by trade, but he’s been working hard to learn the other side of the diamond. The coaching staff is optimistic he’ll be ready to go by Opening Day. If he doesn’t start in the field, he’ll be the designated hitter. Bulman hit .381 with 16 doubles and 18 steals last season.
Designated Hitter and Catcher
Braden Combs will be the man platooning with him at first base, at least early on in the season. Another JUCO addition, Combs brings plenty of pop. He smashed 17 home runs and 17 doubles while batting .366 with 83 RBI last season. It’s hard to put one beyond the fence at Reckling Park, but if someone besides Cruz is going to threaten for 20+ dingers, it’s probably going to be Combs.
Catcher Justin Collins is another potential power bat. He hit seven home runs and 12 doubles last season. He led the team with 41 walks and scored 32 times, fifth-most on the team and the only hitter who spent most of his time outside the top four spots in the order to reach that high of a mark. Collins has plenty of upside.
While the infield (plus designated hitter) is more or less locked down, the outfield rotation is much less certain. The one certainty seems to be Bradley Gneiting. The senior filled in all over the diamond last year, seeing time at first and third base in addition to his usual spot in right field. He led the team in hits in 2019 and was one of two Owls (along with Edwards) to appear in all 59 games.
Beyond that, there are options, but few definitive answers. Aaron Beaulaurier and Dominic Cox are back. So are Antonio Cruz and Justin Dunlap. Those four known quantities will battle it out with newcomers Daniel Hernandez and Tyler Larue.
Hernandez has impressed with his versatility early on. He could play just about every infield spot minus first base and all three outfield slots. He has a good shot to see some of the field early.
Tyler Larue is the most likely freshman to start out of the gate. Coach Bragga called him “a special hitter”, speaking incredibly highly of his strength and ability to battle at the plate. He came into the program as a catcher, but the staff is going to make a concerted effort to get his bat into the lineup however they can.
That’s a lot of names for three spots. Assuming Gneiting is already on the top tier, that leaves six guys fighting for two spots. Ideally, a pair will rise up quickly. Bragga has indicated he’d love to keep the lineup card the same if the guys penciled in continue to play well.
More on the pitching staff next week…
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