Entering Year 2 under head coach Jose Cruz Jr the Rice baseball roster is starting to take shape. Here are a few names to know at the plate.
Rice baseball hit somewhat of a reset last season in the first year under Jose Cruz Jr that featured a significant amount of turnover in the lineup following the departure of several veteran players. With the exception of a few notable transfers and incoming freshmen, the 2023 roster should have more continuity than the previous year.
The presence of Austin Bulman will be missed this year. He was a keystone in the lineup and in the infield. Among the other notable departing names are outfielders Antonio Cruz and Justin Dunlap as well as infielders Hal Hughes and Drew Woodcox. Those losses aren’t insignificant, but it’s worth noting the Owls bring back a significantly larger portion of their production than they’re losing. That wasn’t the case last year.
Rice baseball is set to return seven of their top nine hitters from the 2022 season, led at the top of the lineup by outfielder Guy Garibay Jr. Nathan Becker, who led all everyday Rice players with a .310 batting average, is back as well as is standout freshman Aaron Smigelski.
Jack Riedel, Pierce Gallo and Connor Walsh, all of whom played important roles in last year’s squad, return as well. That’s a strong core for Rice to build around on offense.
Added to the Mix
Catcher Manny Garza isn’t a new face — he actually led the team with a staggering 1.023 OPS last season — but was limited to 22 appearances because of injuries. Adding his bat and defense to the lineup for the long haul will provide a boost.
As for newcomers to the squad, be on the lookout for big contributions from grad transfer Drew Holderbach, a DIII transfer who slashed .356 / .436 / .516 over four years at Mariette College, won two DIII gold gloves at first base and led his team to a DIII World Series appearance.
Max Johnson, who joins Rice from Indiana where he appeared in 11 games last year, has drawn some early positive reviews, too.
Rice also signed five freshman position players who are expected to be in action this season. Christian Salazar, Trey Duffield and Jacob Devenny could each contend for playing time in the outfield this season. Paul Smith is a catcher from just down the road at Episcopal. Ben Royo, who has impressed early, has a good shot to find some at bats.
** Photo Maria Lysakar **
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