Texas' Taylor Jungmann Is Quite Comfortable At Home

AUSTIN—At first, Jacob Felts was admittedly a bit intimidated. Sweaty palms and all that.

Who'd blame the Texas freshman? After all, he would hardly be the first to be victimized by Taylor Jungmann's superior stuff, including rare command of the strike zone and a fastball that reaches 95 mph.

Except that Felts wasn't batting against the Longhorns ace. He was catching him.

"At first, it was a little overwhelming," the rookie catcher said. "I wasn't used to catching somebody like that."

Felts has grown accustomed to handling the junior right-hander. Actual batters, not so much. You can imagine how they must feel.

They've been hitting—or mostly flailing—against Jungmann for most of the year. Batters have managed a meek .160 average against him in what to date has been a perfect 11-0 season that is tied for most Division I-A wins.

At home, Jungmann's been even better. He's never lost. He carries a perfect 17-0 record at Texas' UFCU Disch-Falk Field, a mark he modestly considers "a little flawed" because the Longhorns offense—highly suspect, though it is, at .267—has bailed him out on those precious few occasions he's needed bailing out.

Not that he's found much difficulty winning on the road either. His career record of 30-6 would be impressive enough for the pitcher who spent part of his freshman year in the bullpen but finished it on the College World Series all-tournament team. His is likely to be one of the first 10 names called in June's draft. During his three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns have won 35 of the games he's started and lost just three.

This year alone, he's trailed in only three games.

What separates this 6-foot-6, 212-pound righthander is an unflappable focus, great command of four pitches and an unquenchable hunger to win. Jungmann doesn't like to talk about himself or even watch himself on video for more than a couple of clips to correct any small flaw. He rarely relies on scouting reports, preferring to pitch to Texas A&M the same way he would to Prairie View A&M.

His roommate, outfielder Cohl Walla, can tell you how much Jungmann hates cheese—he just throws it—detests country-western music and watches very little major league baseball, although he wears an Angels cap that was more a souvenir from the Area Code Games than a reminder of the team that drafted him in the 24th round out of high school.

He's off-the-charts confident but pretty much arrived at Texas that way.

"That was the plan," said the former Texas player of the year from Georgetown, who was confident enough to set a goal of winning every game he pitched this season.

"He knows what he's here to do, and that mindset hasn't changed," said Texas righty Cole Green, who returned to school after being drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round last year. "He sees himself in the ninth inning of the national championship game and being as strong as he is in the first inning. He knows what he can control down to the smallest level on every pitch."

He doesn't figure to stay at Texas past this season but added, "Who knows? I might be here another year."

Longhorn fans would love to see him for another season, but Jungmann's too seasoned, too overloaded with potential to come back. Ever since he shut down Louisiana State in a complete-game win at the College World Series as a freshman and gave up only a single earned run in 17 innings in Omaha, he's been on a fast track toward the top of this year's draft.

"He's special," Longhorn pitching coach Skip Johnson said. "He's a pitcher, and he's got power stuff. He's able to locate his fastball and stay in the moment. He really thrives on that."

Johnson knows that only too well. Jungmann is so adept at blocking out all distractions—hecklers in the stands, jeering opponents in the other dugout, hordes of scouts with radar guns behind home plate—that Johnson must schedule a visit on the mound to have a conversation. Nor does the pitcher notice or hear his parents even though Leland and Sharon Jungmann have never missed one of his appearances.

"I don't hear anything on the mound," Jungmann said. "Skip can yell as loud as he can, and I won't hear him. He knows that."

Not that Johnson has made all that many trips when Jungmann's pitching. When he does, it's usually just to remind him to step off the rubber and take a breath.

Yes, he's got that distracting head jerk to the left before his release that worries some and a whip-like throwing motion, but he subscribes to the theory of leaving alone mechanics that aren't really broken.

"Seems like Tommy Hanson has the same head jerk," Jungmann said of the Atlanta Braves starter. "His is pretty bad. But he gets the job done."

So does Jungmann, with both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a decent changeup that he has rarely needed and both a lethal curve he used earlier in the season and a slider he's relied on more of late. He's leading more with his front elbow to put him on a more downward plane.

He almost always hits his spots and pitches more to contact with a more economical style. His strikeouts are down slightly as a result—but still 90 in 97-plus innings—but he goes deeper in games.

"He's a special guy," Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said after getting four-hit in a complete-game shutout by Jungmann in late April. "He makes you lose confidence as a hitter."

That's understandable because Jungmann has allowed either one or no runs in eight of his 12 starts this year. His earned-run average has never risen above 1.11 all season (it's 0.92 after 12 starts). His 4.92 hits allowed per nine innings ranks third nationally. He leads the Longhorns with three shutouts and combined with teammates on four others.

All meaningless stats to him.

He's just not that into numbers except for one—his goal to be part of the No. 1 team in the nation in June.

Kirk Bohls writes for the Austin American-Statesman.