2010 CBB Season Preview: Big 12

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The Big 12 belonged to the Texas Longhorns in 2009. After capturing both the regular season and conference tournament titles, the Longhorns slugged their way to the championship series in Omaha against eventual champion LSU. 2009 also saw the emergence of Kansas and Kansas State as contenders, while Oklahoma State and Nebraska fell from contenders to the cellar. Texas Tech returned to the conference tournament while Texas A&M began the year in the driver’s seat. Oklahoma made a push at Texas, but their future outlook was shattered by nine players moving on to the next level. Missouri stumbled at the beginning of the year as their offense went into hibernation, only to wake up in time to keep them above the Cowboys and Cornhuskers. Like Oklahoma, Baylor lost most of their draft eligible starters after a down year for their pitching staff. Unfortunately, 2010 looks like it will be a cakewalk for the Longhorns, while the rest of the conference battles to see who can join Texas in the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor 30-26 (10-16)

Key Returning Players – 2B Joey Hainsfurther, So., RHP Logan Verrett, So., 3B Raynor Campbell, Sr.

Key Losses – 1B Dustin Dickerson, OF/LHP Aaron Miller, INF Shaver Hansen

Key Newcomers – DH Max Muncy, Fr., LHP Josh Turley, Fr., INF Logan Vick, Fr.

The Bears enter 2010 with a lot of holes to fill. Gone are their top three hitters in Dickerson, Hansen and Ben Booker, as well as starting pitcher Kendall Volz and utility man Aaron Miller. Baylor returns five of their top ten starters, including sophomore Joey Hainsfurther (.322, 8 2B, 28 RBI) and senior Raynor Campbell (.243, 8 HR, 31 RBI). The offense should feature as many as five new starters, while the pitching staff returns all but three of their top ten hurlers. Sophomore RHP Logan Verrett will look to work off of his stellar freshman campaign where he went 7-1 with a 5.13 ERA and a team-high three saves. Senior RHP Willie Kempf is expected to contribute as a weekend starter after his 5-5 campaign with a 5.22 ERA in 2009, as well as junior RHP Shawn Tolleson.

Kansas 39-24 (15-12)

Key Returning Players – 3B Tony Thompson, Jr., OF Brian Heere, Jr., RHP T.J. Walz, Jr.

Key Losses – LHP Shaeffer Hall, SS David Narodowski, C Buck Afenir

Key Newcomers – SS Brandon Macias, Jr., RHP Tanner Poppe, Fr., C Alex De Leon, Fr.

Tony Thompson. That’s all that needs to be said about the Jayhawks’ in 2010. Thompson, the reigning Big 12 Triple Crown winner and most decorated preseason player in the conference returns for what will be his final year in Lawrence. Ranked as the 10th best player by this blog, Thompson hit .389 with 21 HR and 82 RBI, and committed only 10 errors from third base. Of course, the Jayhawks have more than him. Junior OF Brian Heere hit .364 with 4 3B and 40 RBI, while senior 2B Robby Price, the coach’s son, finished fifth with a .296 average, 5 HR and 29 RBI. Sophomore OF Jason Brunansky, son of former major leaguer Tom Brunansky, finished his freshman campaign with a .280 average after starting 40 games for Kansas. The losses of SS David Narodowski and C Buck Afenir will hurt, but incoming SS Brandon Macias and freshman C Alex De Leon could soften the blow. Kansas only lost three pitchers from last year. LHP Shaeffer Hall and RHP Paul Smyth, the team’s closer, are the biggest departures, but the return of RHPs T.J. Walz and Lee Ridenhour should give Kansas a strong weekend rotation. Walz was 8-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 15 games, 14 starts, while Ridenhour finished his freshman season at 6-3 with a 4.65 ERA. LHP Travis Blankenship appeared in 39 games last season, going 3-2 with a 5.80 ERA, while RHPs Brett Bochy and Colton Murray each logged over 30 games a piece from the bullpen.

Kansas State 43-18-1 (14-11-1)

Key Returning Players –SS Carter Jurica, Jr., OF Nick Martini, So., LHP Thomas Rooke, Jr.

Key Losses – RHP A.J. Morris, 1B Justin Bloxom, SS Drew Biery

Key Newcomers – 1B David Allday, Jr., RHP Brandon Faulkner, Jr., RHP Jake Doller, Fr.

Unlike their Sunflower State counterparts, Kansas State’s top player from 2009 is not back. Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, RHP A.J. Morris, signed with the Washington Nationals after being drafted in the 4th round. Lance Hoge and Todd Vogel, Kansas State’s other starting pitchers, also left, leaving the Wildcats without many proven starters. Senior RHP Ryan Daniel and sophomore RHP Kayvon Bahramzadeh combined for 15 starts last season, and should be weekend starters. Junior RHP Brandon Faulkner, a transfer from Allen County CC, could also help pick up the slack. Sophomore RHP James Allen, the team-leader in saves with five, returns to the pen, along with junior LHP Thomas Rooke, the team’s leader in appearances last season. On the field, the Wildcats still have the services of 2009 2nd Team All-Big 12 infielder Carter Jurica and junior 3B Jason King. Jurica finished 2009 with a .353 average with 4 HR and 46 RBI. Sophomore OF Nick Martini, .336 with 4 HR and 50 RBI, and senior DH/OF Adam Muenster, .292 with 2 HR and 18 RBI, round out the list of returning players who saw significant action last year. Junior 1B David Allday, a 2nd Team NJCAA All-American last season at Texarkana JC, should help fill a hole in the Wildcat lineup in 2010.

Missouri 35-27 (16-11)

Key Returning Players – OF Aaron Senne, Sr., RHP Nick Tepesch, Jr., RHP Brad Buehler, Jr.

Key Losses – RHP Kyle Gibson, OF Ryan Lollis, OF Greg Folgia

Key Newcomers – C Brett Nicholas, Jr., LHP Jeff Scardino, Jr., RHP Eric Anderson, Fr.

The Missouri Tigers well start 2010 with only one of their top four starting pitchers from a year ago. RHP Kyle Gibson was a first round pick after winning 11 games in 2009, while Ian Berger and Scooter Hicks exhausted their eligibility. Picking up the slack is heir to the Missouri ace pitcher dynasty, junior RHP Nick Tepesch. Tepesch finished last season with a 6-5 record and 6.27 ERA in 18 games, 14 of them as the starter. He must try and ascend to the top of the ranks after Gibson and fellow former first round picks Aaron Crow and Max Scherzer. Junior RHP Brad Buehler, Missouri’s closer, returns after picking up eight saves a year ago. Sophomore RHP Jeff Emens had a great summer in the Texas Collegiate League, pitching in a relief role and playing short stop when needed. LHP Jeff Scardino, a JUCO transfer, and freshman RHP Eric Anderson are candidates for starting roles on the weekend and weekdays. On the field, Missouri lost five of their top contributors. OF Greg Folgia and 3B Kyle Mach were the biggest losses, but OF Ryan Lollis and C Trevor Coleman will be equally missed at Simmons Field. Senior OF/1B Aaron Senne decided to return, and looks to improve on his .305 average, 6 HR and 43 RBI from his junior year. Sophomore INF Conner Mach will be looked upon to play a large role, as will C/DH Ryan Ampleman, who displayed great promise while Coleman was out with an injury. Junior C Brett Nicholas, a transfer from Scottsdale CC, should challenge Ampleman behind the plate, or even push him into the DH role. Nicholas was named to the All-TCL team during his summer with the East Texas Pump Jacks. Freshman OF Brannon Champagne is another newcomer that could push for a role in 2010.

Nebraska 25-28-1 (8-19)

Key Returning Players –1B Tyler Farst, Sr., OF Adam Bailey, Sr., RHP Mike Nesseth, Jr.

Key Losses – INF Jeff Tezak, RHP Erik Bird, INF Jake Mort

Key Newcomers – RHP Thomas Lemke, Fr., RHP Kyle Giller, Fr., RHP Kyle Hander, Fr.

For only the fourth time since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, 2009 saw Nebraska finish the season with a losing conference record. The problem for the Huskers wasn’t the hitting or the pitching, but rather both. Both units finished in ninth place out of the ten teams in the conference, with a 6.22 ERA and a .282 batting average. Nebraska’s pitching staff returns most of their starters, but then again, only one player started more than 50% of the games they appeared in during the year. RHP Mike Nesseth opted to return after leading Nebraska in wins and ERA (among qualified players). Nesseth finished the year with a 5-4 record and 5.01 ERA in 20 games with eight starts. Sophomore RHPs Casey Hauptman and Sean Yost join Nesseth and junior LHP Jordan Roualdes as the probable starters on the weekend. Sophomore RHP Michael Mariot is the only other returning pitcher with significant playing time. The Huskers will rely heavily on a new crop of pitchers brought in by head coach Mike Anderson. Prospects at the plate appear to be better than what will be on the mound. 1B Tyler Farst, Nebraska’s leading hitter in 2009, returns after hitting .333 with 3 HR and 36 RBI, along with senior OF Adam Bailey who hit .325 with 12 HR and 50 RBI. Seniors Kyle Bubak and D.J. Belfonte, and sophomores Boomer Collins, Khiry Cooper and Cody Asche, should all continue to factor into the offense for the Huskers in 2010.

Oklahoma 43-20 (17-10)

Key Returning Players – 3B Garrett Buechele, So., RHP Ryan Duke, Jr., OF Chris Ellison, So.

Key Losses – C J.T. Wise, RHP Andrew Doyle, OF Jamie Johnston

Key Newcomers – SS Chad Kettler, Fr., RHP Zach Neal, Jr.

If any team was hit hard by attrition in the Big 12, it was Oklahoma. At least 10 major contributors on the field and the mound were lost through the MLB draft, graduation, or other reasons. The 2010 team will look to continue on the progress made by Sunny Golloway’s team that finished second in the Big 12 last season before being knocked out of the NCAA playoffs by Arkansas. Gone is Big 12 Player of the Year, J.T. Wise, and five of the seven pitchers with a start from last season, including top pitchers, Andrew Doyle and Garrett Richards. Michael Rocha, who finished with a 5-3 record and 4.84 ERA over 20 games and nine starts, and J.R. Robinson, 3-1 with a 6.49 ERA in 23 games, with 7 starts, have any experience starting. Newcomer Zach Neal, who helped lead Howard College to a 64-1 record last season in the NJCAA, should add some much needed help on the front end. Luckily, All-Big 12 Second Teamer, Ryan Duke, returns after picking up 16 saves and going 3-1 in 26 games. Big 12 Freshman of the Year, 3B Garrett Buechele, returns after hitting .353 with 4 HRs and 40 RBI, alongside fellow sophomores  OF Chris Ellison (.316, 3 HR, 22 RBI) and INF Cameron Seitzer (.307, 4 HR, 27 RBI). OF Casey Johnson, a .307 hitter in 2009, is also back, giving Oklahoma some more D-1 experience.

Oklahoma State 34-24 (9-16)

Key Returning Players – RHP Randy McCurry, So., LHP Tyler Lyons, Sr., 2B Tom Belza, Jr.

Key Losses – INF Tyrone Hambly, RHP Tyler Blandford, OF Neil Medchill

Key Newcomers – LHP Andrew Heaney, Fr., C Dane Phillips, Fr., 1B/OF Devin Shines, Jr.

After finishing 2008 in second place in the Big 12, Oklahoma State took a few steps back in 2009, failing to qualify for the Big 12 Tournament with a 9-16 conference record. Frank Anderson’s seat will continue to grow hotter unless he can turn things around in Stillwater. Returning for the Cowboys is 2B Tom Belza, who hit .346 with 12 2B, 6 HR and 52 RBI last season, along with C Kevin David, an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 player who hit .311 in 2009 with six HR and 47 RBI. The losses of Michael Dabbs, Tyrone Hambly, and Neil Medchill will make Anderson’s job very difficult in the new year. Luckily, he still has the services of sophomore RHP Randy McCurry, who finished third in the Big 12 with 10 saves. McCurry also accumulated a 4-1 record with a 2.16 ERA in 28 appearances. McCurry will team with LHP Tyler Lyons, who finished with a 7-6 record and 4.07 ERA in 15 starts and a relief appearance. LHP Thomas Keeling, who was 5-1 with a 4.41 ERA over 16 games and six starts, should be a weekend starter for the Cowboys.

Texas 50-16-1 (17-9-1)

Key Returning Players – RHP Chance Ruffin, Jr., RHP Cole Green, Jr., RHP Taylor Jungmann, So.

Key Losses – 1B Brandon Belt, RHP Austin Wood, IF Travis Tucker

Key Newcomers – RHP Keifer Nuncio, Fr., OF Cohl Walla, Fr., C Jonathan Walsh, Fr.

Texas enters 2010 with only one goal, “Do better than 2009.” An easy goal for some teams, but it only means one thing for Texas, and that’s to bring another trophy back to UFCU Disch-Falk Field. After winning the Big 12 Regular Season Title, Big 12 Tournament, and storming through the postseason in memorable fashion (walk-off grand slam, 25-inning game, and the Omaha power surge), the Longhorns came up one win short of their seventh NCAA Championship. The personnel losses were not big in number, but rather big in experience. 1B Brandon Belt, INF Michael Torres, C/OF Preston Clark and INF Travis Tucker had a wealth of years under their belts, as did CL Austin Wood, the only significant loss in the bullpen. OF Kevin Keyes, the only returning player to hit over .300 in 2009, transitions to Belt’s spot at first, while C Cameron Rupp (.292, 11 HR, 46 RBI), SS Brandon Loy (.288, 30 RBI, .964 FLD%) and CF Conner Rowe (.277, 8 HR, 45 RBI) return to help the ‘Horns get back to Omaha. Of course, all the talk in Austin is about the pitching staff. Augie Garrido welcomes back four players with over 10 starts, and four others with double digit appearances. Sophomore RHP Taylor Jungmann (11-3, 2.00, 101 K in 94.2 IP) and junior RHP Cole Green (5-3, 3.34 ERA in 20 starts) will be weekend starters, while sophomore RHP Austin Dicharry (8-2, 2.28 ERA in 26 games) and junior RHP Brandon Workman (3-5, 3.48 ERA, no-hitter against Penn State) will battle for the final spot. Preseason All-American junior RHP Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.32 ERA, 115 K) is rumored to be taking over for Austin Wood as the team’s closer. Ruffin appeared in seven games as a reliever in 2009, picking up a pair of saves in the process. Yet another solid recruiting class moved to Austin for the new season. Freshmen Cohl Walla (Lake Travis HS, Austin, TX) and Jonathan Walsh (Coppell HS, Coppell, TX) should see early playing time, as well as a few of the pitchers.

Texas A&M 37-24 (14-13)

Key Returning Players – INF/OF Brodie Greene, Sr., 3B Caleb Shofner, Jr., LHP Ross Hales, So.

Key Losses – LHP/OF Brooks Raley, 1B Luke Anders, OF Kyle Colligan

Key Newcomers – INF Matt Juengel, So., RHP John Stilson, So., OF Tyler Naquin, Fr.

The Aggies kicked off 2009 with a #1 preseason ranking, but couldn’t string together the big wins necessary to stay atop the polls. Once conference play rolled around, Texas A&M wasn’t able to muster a respectable road record, losing a Big 12-high 11 conference road games and a sixth place finish. After a disappointing showing in the Fort Worth Regional, A&M’s woes continued in the form of sophomore LHP/OF Brooks Raley opting to sign an MLB contract after hitting .304 with 19 2B and stealing 25 of 29 bases, and leading the Aggies with a 7-3 record and 3.76 ERA in 15 starts. The loss of Raley, LHP Alex Wilson, and RHP Kyle Thebeau would sting if the Aggies didn’t have eight pitchers with double digits appearances returning to the mound. Sophomore LHP Ross Hales returns after going 6-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 19 games, 10 starts, including a complete game shutout against Texas in Austin. Junior RHP Nick Fleece was the team leader in saves last season with five, and garnered a spot on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List for 2010. Offensively, the Aggies will miss the bats and defense that 1B Luke Anders and CF Kyle Colligan provided for four years. 2B/OF Brodie Greene, a 37th round pick in 2009, returns for his senior season after hitting .344 with 11 HR and 35 RBI, along with junior 3B Caleb Shofner, a .348 hitter who collected 7 HR and 42 RBI after an incredible start in 2009. Sophomore SS Adam Smith showed great promise last season, along with junior C Kevin Gonzalez. Senior 1B Joe Patterson’s 12 HRs is tops amongst returning Aggies.

Texas Tech 25-32 (12-15)

Key Returning Players – RHP Chad Bettis, Jr., SS Joey Kenworthy, Sr., CF Taylor Ashby, Sr.

Key Losses – 1B Chris Richburg, 2B Willie Rueda, RHP A.J. Ramos

Key Newcomers – 1B Stephen Hagen, Jr., LHP Jay Johnson, So., RHP Brett Breuning, Jr.

Texas Tech showed a good bit of improvement in Dan Spencer’s first year at the helm, increasing their Big 12 win total by three games. His second year is off to a promising start with a solid corps of returning players, and a decent haul on the recruiting side. Junior RHP Chad Bettis returns to the Red Raiders after a summer spent with Team USA. The junior was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 after going 6-1 with a 3.59 ERA and seven saves in a season that saw him shift from the starting role to a closer. With junior LHP Robert Kilcrease out for 2010 due to injury, the Raiders will have to rely on the newcomers to fill up the rotation. Junior College transfers John Neely and Bobby Doran will be called upon often, along with sophomore Louis Head. With Bettis shifting back to the rotation, junior LHP Jay Johnson, a transfer from Canada, will be the early favorite to close out games. On the field, Texas Tech must find ways to replace the bats and defense from 1B Chris Richburg and 2B Willie Rueda. Senior shortstop Joey Kenworthy (.335, 14 SH, 45 R), senior CF Taylor Ashby (.330, 17 2B, 47 RBI), and sophomore DH Scott LeJeune (.327, 14 2B, 47 RBI) are the top returning hitters for the Red Raiders. Tech only has two spots on the field not spoken for, RF and 1B. Senior transfer Bonham Hough made a bid for the outfield spot in the fall, while junior transfer Stephen Hagen hopes to bring his NJCAA-leading 29 home runs into the lineup at 1B.

CBB Predicted Finish:

1. Texas

2. Texas A&M

3. Kansas

4. Oklahoma State

5. Oklahoma

6. Kansas State

7. Baylor

8. Texas Tech

9. Missouri

10. Nebraska

Texas is just too talented not to put as the favorite. There is also a reason only one team (Texas) is ranked in the preseason. Texas A&M has the most talent out of the remaining teams, but Kansas has the best hitter and the second best pitching staff. On paper, Oklahoma State shouldn’t repeat last season, but last season should’ve seen the Cowboys in the conference tournament. Oklahoma has a solid, but young, group of players coming back. They might jump their in-state rivals if the sophomore trio can improve on last season’s numbers. After that, the last half of the conference looks very week. Kansas State lost the pitching staff that propelled them into the NCAA Tournament, and Baylor lost a good group of upperclassmen to the draft. Texas Tech is the real wildcard. Dan Spencer is knows how to build a pitching staff, and it appears he is starting to do just that. Missouri lost the best hitters from the Big 12’s worst hitting team, and Nebraska returned the bulk of a team that finished last in the Big 12 in 2009. This conference is wide open below Texas.

CBB Preseason All-Big 12:

C: Cameron Rupp, Jr., TEXAS

1B: Joe Patterson, Sr., TEXAS A&M

2B: Tom Belza, Jr., OKLAHOMA STATE

3B: Tony Thompson, Jr., KANSAS

SS: Brandon Loy, So., TEXAS

OF: Brian Heere, Jr., KANSAS

OF: Adam Bailey, Jr., NEBRASKA

OF: Brodie Greene, Sr., TEXAS A&M

DH: Scott LeJeune, So., TEXAS TECH

SP: Taylor Jungmann, So., TEXAS

SP: Chad Bettis, Jr., TEXAS TECH

SP: Logan Verrett, So., BAYLOR

RP: Chance Ruffin, Jr., TEXAS

RP: Ryan Duke, Jr., OKLAHOMA

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tony Thompson, Jr., KANSAS

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Jungmann, So., TEXAS

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Stephen Hagen, Jr., TEXAS TECH

Honorable Mention: C Kevin David, Jr., OKLAHOMA STATE, 1B Tyler Farst, Sr., NEBRASKA, 2B Carter Jurica, Jr., KANSAS STATE, 3B Garrett Buechele, So., OKLAHOMA, SS Joey Hainsfurther, So., BAYLOR, SS Joey Kenworthy, Sr., TEXAS TECH, OF Nick Martini, So., KANSAS STATE, OF Casey Johnson, Jr., OKLAHOMA, OF Conner Rowe, Jr., TEXAS, OF Taylor Ashby, Sr., TEXAS TECH, DH Russell Moldenhauer, Sr., TEXAS, SP Cole Green, Jr., TEXAS, SP Nick Tepesch, Jr., MISSOURI, SP Tyler Lyons, Sr., OKLAHOMA STATE, SP Ross Hales, So., TEXAS A&M, RP Randy McCurry, So., OKLAHOMA STATE, RP Thomas Rooke, Jr., KANSAS STATE, RP Brad Buehler, Jr., MISSOURI.