Sherman Corbett enters his 12th season believing the 2012 Roadrunners will feature a balanced lineup complemented by an injection of youth. The squad is composed of 18 returning lettermen, a total that includes six starting positional players and seven pitchers that logged innings last spring, to go along with 13 newcomers.
"The overall depth and competitiveness of the team has improved," Corbett said. "The younger players have come in and already improved from the fall and pushed some of the older players at their position."
Junior third baseman Ryan Dalton and sophomore outfielder Riley Good are among the top returners that bolstered UTSA's lineup a year ago.
Both were selected to the preseason All-Southland Team with Dalton earning first-team honors and Good landing on the second squad.
A Sugar Land native, Dalton earned third-team all-league accolades last season after hitting .280 in addition to his team-leading 10 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Meanwhile, Good garnered freshman All-America honors after hitting .337 with 15 doubles, three triples, two homers and 32 RBIs. The Godley native also set program freshman records with 86 hits (t-3rd among all NCAA freshmen in 2011) and 16 stolen bases.
UTSA also benefits from the return of senior utilityman Casey Selsor, who also earned preseason second-team mention.
Selsor, a local product out of Reagan High School, was named to the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award Watch List last season. The left-hander anchored the Birds' pitching staff with a 5-5 record and 2.90 ERA in addition to batting at a .293 clip with 12 doubles, a triple, two round-trippers and 17 RBIs.
Other Roadrunners returning that made significant contributions last season include junior outfielder Daniel Rockett, senior infielder Matthew James and sophomore infielder RJ Perucki. On the mound, UTSA also welcomes back sophomore southpaw Michael Kraft, sophomore right-hander Blake Denman, senior righty Cody Scott, sophomore right-hander Matt Sims, sophomore lefty Matt Locus and senior righty Jordan Langley.
The veterans will be joined by 13 newcomers, including four junior college transfers.
Sophomore outfielder John Welborn, junior right-hander Clint Sharp, freshman infielder Horacio Correa III and freshman utilityman Justin Anderson are four newcomers who Corbett expects to make an immediate impact.
The potential influx of newcomers to the lineup could give the Roadrunners improved team speed.
"This team still has the potential to be a power-hitting club with Dalton and Rockett, but we have much better team speed than we have had in the past," Corbett said. "We have more balance and hope that we are capable of stealing more bases and hitting more doubles. We can be a better offensive team this year because of our balance."
UTSA's lineup will have multiple hurdles with a challenging 55-game schedule that includes 34 contests in the Alamo City.
The Roadrunners will play six games at Wolff Stadium, which is home to the San Antonio Missions, the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Among those contests, include the four-team UTSA Classic (March 2-4), which will see the Birds match up against Gonzaga, Kansas and Louisiana-Lafayette.
UTSA also will host Baylor, TCU and Notre Dame at Wolff.
Road trips to Dallas Baptist, Houston, Rice and Texas A&M highlight the mid-week slate.
The Roadrunners' final go-round in the Southland begins with a road series at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and ends May 17-19 against Lamar at the Bird Bath. UTSA will renew the I-35 Rivalry with defending conference champion Texas State in a split series from May 11-13.
Corbett expects his club, which was picked to finish fourth in both preseason polls, to compete for its first title in four years.
"This team has the makings of a championship club, similar to our teams that won the back-to-back Southland titles in '07 and '08," Corbett said. "We have experienced guys who have figured out what it takes to be successful. I'm really pleased with our newcomers, and if they can play to their abilities, we could be a very salty ball club."
Corbett again will hand the ball to Selsor to anchor the Roadrunners rotation.
"Casey has taken a step forward every season," he said. "He has shown he is one of the top pitchers in the league."
In 2011, Selsor excelled in Southland Conference play by posting a 5-3 mark with a 2.63 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 75.1 innings of work.
Kraft, a local product out of Churchill High School, has earned a spot in the weekend rotation after making strides during and after his freshman campaign.
"Michael has improved since last year," Corbett said. "His velocity is up and he's stronger. He had a very successful fall."
The final spot in the rotation will be decided between a pair of right-handers in Denman and Sharp.
Denman spent the majority of his freshman season as one of the top options out of the bullpen. The Bellaire native, who made four starts (two in league play), compiled a 3-2 record with a 3.45 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 47 innings.
Sharp, who is the hardest-throwing pitcher on the staff, also could be an option at the end of the game for UTSA.
Corbett expects Anderson to receive some spot starts, along with his contributions in the outfield.
The closer role could be handed over to Sims, who made 12 appearances as a freshman, including nine out of the bullpen.
Scott, who had a team-high four saves last season, will also contend for that role.
Expect to see several players work on the hill this season, including freshmen right-handers Jordan Pacheco, Logan Onda and Drew Dyer.
Locus, who made 15 appearances out of the bullpen last year, also is expected to contribute.
Corbett calls the starting catcher role the toughest to fill after the departure of Tyler Carpenter, who hit .306 with 11 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 36 RBIs as a senior last year.
However, he expects senior Colby Braddock to start behind the plate when he fills out his first lineup card of 2012.
The Cleburne native started eight games, including the first three weekend series before Carpenter transitioned back behind the dish from the outfield last spring.
Corbett expects senior P.D. McIntyre to see action at the position, while freshman John Bormann will provide depth.
Selsor will make the move back to first base after spending last year in right field. However, when Selsor is on the mound, Corbett will turn to sophomore Mike Warren and junior Jake Wood.
After a breakout season, James returns to make up half of the Roadrunners' double-play tandem.
As a junior, the New Braunfels native batted .291 with a team-best 16 doubles, three triples, five homers and 32 RBIs.
Freshman Carter Mangum also could see action if James is needed at first base during the year.
Perucki returns after making 56 starts at shortstop a year ago in which he hit .279 with 11 doubles, two triples, a homer and 24 RBIs.
Correa III will push for time at the position after having an impressive fall camp.
Dalton had another exceptional season producing runs in the middle of the UTSA lineup last season.
He'll continue to man the hot corner this season, while Warren could slide over from first to provide Dalton a day off.
The return of Good (left) and Rockett (center) and the addition of Welborn (right) has Corbett believing this could be the fastest outfield he has coached.
Good led the team with 10 outfield assists, while Rockett has exceptional range and tracking ability.
Welborn's speed not only will be seen in the field, but it also will be evident on the base paths, as the Sherman native stole 36 bases en route to all-region honors at Paris Junior College last year.
Anderson and senior Jason Mohn also will see time.
The depth of the Roadrunners bench will provide Corbett with several options at the designated hitter spot in the lineup. He expects Mohn to handle a bulk of the duties, but Wood, Anderson, Warren and freshman Grant Gibbs all are capable replacements.