For several weeks, more than one person close to the Longhorns baseball program suggested that Nathan Thornhill seemed eager to sign a professional contract and get on with his life.
Augie Garrido, however, was not among those predicting Thornhill’s departure, saying that the right-handed pitcher was amenable to returning for his senior season. Had Thornhill been asked about his intentions since the Houston Astros drafted him in the 24th round in early June, his answer would have varied based on when the question was presented.
Indeed, asked on Wednesday if he had ever leaned toward leaving, Thornhill said, “Every other day. One day, ‘yep, I’m signing.’ Next day. ‘Nope. I’m coming back.’ I couldn’t find any clarity for the longest time, and then I finally did.”
Thornhill announced last weekend via Twitter that he would return. His decision bolsters a Texas pitching staff that is already strong.
The Longhorns finished last in the Big 12 and missed NCAA postseason play for the second straight season, but not because of faulty pitching. Their 2.63 ERA was lowest in the league and ranked seventh nationally.
Texas has all three weekend starters back: Parker French (4-5, 2.68 ERA); Dillon Peters (6-3, 1.97); and Thornhill (3-6, 2.21). Promising sophomore John Curtiss, who missed the season after undergoing elbow surgery, is expected back by February, Garrido said.
Joining them will be junior college All-American Lukas Schiraldi and freshmen Blake Goins, Kacy Clemens and Josh Sawyer. Schiraldi and Clemens, both drafted in the 35th round, have said they will attend college. Goins, drafted in the 12th round by the Angels, has yet to decide. Sawyer, a left-hander from San Angelo, announced he has committed to Texas this week.
Garrido has lost one recruit to the majors so far — pitcher Trey Ball, the seventh overall pick who signed with the Red Sox. Thornhill feels fairly confident everybody else will elect to play for the Longhorns by the July 12 MLB deadline, including a few guys who can help improve a poor hitting team.
“I’ve heard some question about Goins, but I’m pretty (sure) he’s gonna come to school,” Thornhill said Wednesday.
If that’s the case, Garrido could have enough pitching for two rotations, so Thornhill believes somebody from that group will replace the departed Corey Knebel (39th overall pick; signed with the Tigers) as bullpen closer.
Thornhill has been in touch with third baseman Erich Weiss and right-fielder Mark Payton, juniors who were drafted by the Pirates and Indians in the 11th and 16th rounds, respectively. He said neither has made a decision.
“They are not opposed to coming back,” Thornhill said.
Thornhill knows how difficult these decisions can be. He said financial concerns and a fear of falling lower in the next draft were dismissed as factors.
“The money was not enough to lose sleep over,” Thornhill said.
So Thornhill, who shut out TCU 3-0 without relief help in the final game of the season, will return, angling to refine his curveball, hoping to make the Longhorns a better team and himself a more attractive prospect.
“We are thrilled to have Nathan back,” pitching coach Skip Johnson said. “A huge boost to our pitching staff.”
UT’S WEEKEND ROTATION
Nathan Thornhill’s decision to return to Texas means the Longhorns will have their regular weekend rotation back next season. A look at their 2013 stats: