With the college baseball season right around the corner, we start previewing every team in the Big 12. Here’s a closer look at the Oklahoma Sooners
2017 Record: 35-24 (12-11 Big 12 play), 0-2 in Big 12 Tournament
Head Coach: Skip Johnson, 1st season
Last NCAA Regional appearance: 2017
Big 12 Coaches Prediction: 4th place (40 points)
In The Box
The Sooners are in good shape here with a couple of studs leading the way as returning starters in the lineup. Steele Walker finished 6th in the Big 12 in batting average (.333), top 10 in runs scored, doubles, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage. He was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection and had a good summer, being named MVP of Team USA Collegiate National Team’s series wins over Chinese Taipei and Cuba. Other pieces return to help out Walker, including junior IF Brylie Ware, who was the First-Team All-Big 12 DH and the first OU player since 2004 voted Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Ware batted .298 with 5 HR, 31 RBI and a .383 OBP. And don’t forget about Kyle Mendenhall, who maybe didn’t have the accolades of Walker and Ware, but is a senior leader who started all 51 games he appeared in at second base and has played in 140 games over his career at OU.
Unfortunately, after a fantastic senior season, Renae Martinez (.323, 7 HR, 37 RBI) is gone, graduating and drafted in the 33rd round by the Diamondbacks, as well as senior Austin O’Brien (tied for team lead with 8 home runs), and senior and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention Ben Hollas (.289, 3 HR, 20 RBI). But there is enough coming back to feel good enough about the lineup.
On the Rubber
While OU loses some key pieces in the line up, the team is returning 59 starts on the mound and 80% of its innings pitched. The top of the rotation should be dominated by junior Jake Irvin and senior Devon Perez. Irvin was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last year with a 6-3 record and 3.53 ERA. According to D1Baseball.com, Irvin is a top 100 college draft prospect. Perez was also an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2017 and led the team with 81 strikeouts, finishing 6-2 with a 3.50 ERA. Others who will compete for starts include Dylan Grove, Austin Hansen and Kyle Tyler.
In the bullpen, OU loses its closer JB Olson, who had a 1.99 ERA in 45 IP, with just 13 walks. But expect junior Connor Berry to slide right in after going 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA and .134 opponent batting average in 22 appearances in 2017.
There’s no chance for first-year head coach Skip Johnson to ease into the job. OU begins its schedule this weekend in the Bash at the Beach hosted by 2016 College World Series Champion Coastal Carolina. Three of the Sooners’ four opponents this weekend finished with top-60 RPIs in 2017. OU also has four games against Dallas Baptist (mid-week and a weekend series), along with a highly-anticipated weekend series against Alabama (March 2-4). The good news is OU plays 25 of 27 games at home starting with their home opener on February 21st against Abilene Christian. The bad news is that the schedule is tough. Even the week that conference play starts, the Sooners are at Oral Roberts April 3rd and then hit the road for TCU. Overall, OU will play 32 of 56 games against 13 teams that reached the 2017 NCAA Tournament.