Shortstops usually are the best defenders on any baseball team. They must be agile, quick to react, and deliver strikes across the diamond after creating a web gem highlight.
Trey Faltine's glove has been his strength all season. Now, it's the bat that fans can't stop raging over as Texas (47-15) prepares for its first game of the College World Series.
"Offensively, I just think that he's getting some pitches and is kind of in a good spot to go to contact, so hopefully that continues," Texas coach David Pierce told reporters via Zoom Friday in the team's introductory press conference.
"We have to maintain patience, we have to be willing to allow the bat to come to us without forcing that. I have noticed that with Trey."
Faltine's highlights come defensively every game. Last week against South Florida, his agility was put on blast in the fourth inning when a grounder from Matt Ruiz nearly snuck out of the infield.
Most shortstops will eat a play like that before causing further damage. Not Faltine. Instead, he channeled his inner Ozzie Smith to get the lead runner out for Tristan Stevens at third.
It would hold the lead at 6-2, eventually securing the Austin Super Regionals in a 12-4 finish.
Pierce has prided the Longhorns for their ability to play defensively, but Faltine's presence eases the tension.
"Whenever Trey takes the field I think every pitcher on our staff is comfortable with him behind them," Texas first baseman Zach Zubia said. "He makes all the routine plays and makes all the difficult plays look routine as well."
The bat though — that's the storyline as the No. 2 seeded Longhorns look to claim the national title for the first time since 2005.
Faltine's swing was an asset instead of a crutch since the start of the NCAA Tournament. In five total games, the redshirt freshman went 8-for-19 (.421) with three doubles, six runs, and six RBIs. He also showed great plate discipline, reaching first on a walk and two hit-by-pitches.
"We all knew Trey could swing the bat," Zubia said. "He struggled early, but he's got pop in the bat and you know, he's just been barrelling a lot of balls and a lot of balls haven't been falling so the numbers don't tell how well he's been playing."
Zubia gave credit to infielder coach Troy Tulowitzki and his success with all infielders. For Faltine, one couldn't ask for a better teacher.
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Tulo spent 13 seasons in the big leagues and was a five-time All-Star during his time with the Rockies and Blue Jays. He also owns a pair of Gold Gloves, giving out to the league's best defensive player at the respective position.
And one wonders why Faltine is so good with the glove.
Following his retirement in 2019, Tulo joined Texas' staff. With the pandemic canceling most of the season, Faltine and his coach spoke daily. Prior to the season, the plan was to improve his bat while enhancing his stops at short.
For now, both areas of concern can be crossed off entering the weekend.
The Longhorns will play the final game of the opening series on Sunday night. Their opponent, No. 7 Mississippi State (45-16), won't be ready to lie down and let the Longhorns' pitching staff walk away with a victory in Omaha, Neb.
It's Faltine's bat that could be the difference-maker. Pierce usually has him batting seventh with power-hitting Eric Kennedy hitting ninth. Giving speed such as the Richmond native's on the base path is an added bonus for any hitter — especially those looking to drive in runs.
"He's just seeing the ball well," Peirce said. "Hopefully he can continue that."
Like many Longhorns, this will be Faltine's first trip to TD Ameritrade Park. Like most of the young guns, the stage is bigger, but not big enough for errors.
Faltine's recorded 32 double-play balls in 2021, including an inning-ending one last Saturday in the eighth. The bat might be strong, but expect his glove to be a key factor in Texas' chances of returning to Austin as champions.
"I'm just excited to see how he performs on this big stage," Zubia said. "He's ready for it."
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