After 165 Big 12 games this season, a few freshmen have distanced themselves from the rest of the class of 2011. While each team has at least one player who has broken from the pack, some teams like Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Nebraska have been blessed with two such players.
Texas has the services of a pitcher and a hitter, both making cases for Big 12 Freshman of the Year, while Oklahoma and Nebraska each have a superior set of arms playing in their first season of college baseball. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has a pitcher as well as a utility player, each capable of relieving or starting with great effectiveness.
Most of these 16 players listed below are future all-conference caliber players, but a selected few have what it takes to be All-Americans at some point in their careers. Leading the charge in this group would be Corey Knebel, a freshman closer for the Longhorns that has drawn talks of Huston Street from the fans, but is most likely destined to finish his Texas career as a starting pitcher.
(In no particular order)
P Corey Knebel – Texas
1-1, 4 SV, 1.84 ERA, 14.2 IP, 19 K
Knebel has been a surprise in the Texas bullpen, picking up a win and four saves over seven appearances for the Longhorns. Hitting speeds of 95/96 MPH on his fastball, with a highly effective change and curve to compliment, Knebel may continue the strong tradition of closers Augie Garrido’s team has had in the past if he doesn’t soon move into a starter’s role. The freshman follows in Taylor Jungmann’s footsteps, pitching for Texas after spending his senior season at Georgetown High School north of Austin. Knebel has struck out 19 batters compared to only three walks in his seven appearances.
3B Erich Weiss – Texas
.407, 22 H, 2 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 16 RBI, .542 OBP
Weiss started the year off on a hot streak, but has since come back down to Earth. The lefty-hitting infielder has spent most of his time at third, but was an All-State second baseman at Brenham High School. So far in his short career, Weiss has picked up a Co-Newcomer of the Week award from the Big 12, but is destined for many more accolades. He has the highest batting average among the freshmen, and his four triples are tied for tops in the league.
OF/P David Paiz – Texas Tech
.324, 23 H, 7 2B, 1 HR, 14 RBI
3-0, 5.25 ERA, 12 IP, 11 K
Paiz has started in the outfield for Texas Tech since day one, and has picked up some of the production that was lost with Scott LeJeune. On the mound, Paiz has made three relief appearances, and started one contest. He is tied for the league lead in wins for freshmen, and holds the top spot for hits and doubles in the same category. Like many before him, Paiz is another player from Austin succeeding after being passed over by the Longhorns.
P Trey Masek – Texas Tech
1-1, 3.27 ERA, 19 IP, 15 K, .214 B/AVG.
Masek was a star in La Grange, Texas, outside of Austin, before heading north to Lubbock. His performance on the mound this year has given the fans of Texas Tech hope that he will continue to be a star on the South Plains. His one start against Iowa went 7.2 innings, the longest outing for any Red Raider pitcher this season. He has been the toughest of Dan Spencer’s pitchers to hit, and is fourth on the team in strikeouts.
P Trae Davis – Baylor
3-0, 5.25 ERA, 12 IP, 8 K, .150 B/AVG
Davis making this list should be no surprise to anyone. He was one of the top prospects in Texas, and was drafted in the 29th round by the Texas Rangers out of Mexia High School. Davis has been more than solid appearing between the starters and closer Brooks Pinckard as a middle reliever. Although Davis has walked eleven batters, he has only allowed six hits over 12 innings of work. As a reliever, Davis has held opposing batters to a .088 batting average, and allowing only three hits.
OF Krey Bratson – Texas A&M
.328, 20 H, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6-9 SB
The Aggies are pleased with their homegrown outfielder thus far. A 45th round pick by the Athletics, Bratsen has proved to be a spark plug at times for an A&M offense looking to find their stride. His stats aren’t eye popping, but his speed and solid defense has kept him in Rob Childress’s lineup all year long. He is currently second among qualified Aggie hitters with a .328 average.
P Jason Hursh – Oklahoma State
1-0, 1.54 ERA, 11.2 IP, 3 APP-2 ST
Hursh has yet to appear in many games for the Cowboys, but he has put up good numbers when he has taken the mound. Through 11.2 innings, the righty from Dallas, Texas has allowed only two runs. His strikeout numbers aren’t the greatest, but a 1.54 ERA makes up for that. Hursh was highly recruited out of high school, picking up offers from nearly every school in Texas before passing up the Pirates in the sixth round of the draft.
P Dillon Overton – Oklahoma
3-0, 1.08 ERA, 25 IP, 18 K, .225 B/AVG
Overton has already established himself as one of the Sooners’ top pitchers in a staff full of talent. While he has spent a few games as a starter, Overton has yet to yield a run in relief work, throwing 13 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts. His three wins are tied with Texas Tech’s David Paiz for most by a Big 12 freshman, while his 1.08 ERA qualifies as the best amongst freshmen.
P Jordan John – Oklahoma
2-0, 1.38 ERA, 13 IP, 13 K, 1 CG
Unlike the rest of the players on this list, John is a redshirt freshman. The native of Calallen, Texas has shared the bottom of the Sooners’ starting rotation with Dillon Overton, picking up a pair of wins in two starts with one relief appearance. His complete game came in his first start, a 12-1 run-rule affair against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
P Rob Zastryzny – Missouri
1-1, 3.47 ERA, 23.1 IP, 18 K, .239 B/AVG
While Zastryzny isn’t on any league leader lists, his is a name that most people should learn to pronounce (ZAZ-tris-knee). A former teammate of OU’s Jordan John at Calallen High School, the lefty has been a welcome sight for a program that has struggled since having one of the top rotations a few years ago. While he is battling with Zach Hardoin for the right to be the ace, Zastryzny leads the starting pitchers in both ERA and innings pitched.
OF Jared King – Kansas State
.306, 11 H, 2 2B, 3B, 8 RBI, 6-7 SB
Kansas State found success with Jason King in 2009, and now in 2011, his brother Jared has joined the Wildcats to give them a nice family of hitters. The youngest son of former Pittsburgh 3B Jeff King, Jared has seen action in most of the games this season, and supplanted himself as one of Coach Rich Hill’s top hitters. While King has missed some games, his 11 runs are tied for third most on the club.
P Alex Cox – Kansas
0-1, 4.32 ERA, 16.2 IP, 9 K, .246 B/AVG
The top freshman arm on the Jayhawks, Cox has made two appearances in relief, and three more as a starter. While he does not boast a winning record, his only loss has come in a start at #11 Arkansas. The 6-5 righty isn’t overpowering, throwing his fastball in the mid-90’s, but has the make up to be a good one for Kansas.
P Jon Keller – Nebraska
1-1, 3.00 ERA, 18 IP, 17 K, .203 B/AVG
With stud pitcher Logan Ehlers sidelined until April, Keller has stepped up in a big way to help the Cornhuskers after spurning the Mariners in the 11th round of the draft. Keller held his own against UCLA’s Gerrit Cole in a March matchup, allowing only one hit with eight strikeouts over six shutout innings, building on his growing reputation as a solid arm. His 3.00 ERA is second among starters for Nebraska, thanks in part to holding opposing hitters to a mere .203 average.
P Tyler King – Nebraska
0-0, 1.00 ERA, 9 IP, 5 K, .179 B/AVG
King has yet to put up any big numbers, but he has been highly effective out of the bullpen, not allowing a run in five of his six appearances. While King does not throw a blazing fastball or have the greatest control, he does what is necessary to get batters out, which is what has turned him into one of Nebraska’s top relievers in his first season.