In 2012, the Big 12 will be without a former power, while saying farewell to a pair of teams and preparing to welcome another. With Nebraska officially gone to the Big Ten, the conference will take on a new shape with only nine members. Conference favorite, Texas A&M, is preparing to compete in their final Big 12 season before jumping ship to the powerful SEC with Missouri in tow. With all the departures, the conference decided to extend an invitation to recent powerhouse TCU, increasing the competition level.Last season ended with a pair of teams in Omaha, Texas A&M and Texas, washing out without a single victory. Despite their season ending troubles, the Aggies and Longhorns are both in good spots atop the preseason standings. Oklahoma suffered a large loss of experienced personnel, including the defection of assistant coach Tim Tadlock to his alma mater in Lubbock, but managed to bring in enough talent to fill the gaps. Baylor’s squad outperformed critics’ opinions last season, and should get more respect this season with a veteran lineup.With the addition of the aforementioned Tadlock to the dugout, Texas Tech is looking to continue their climb out of the cellar with a strong cast of hitters and pitchers. Kansas State, perhaps the most underrated team every season, doesn’t have the best bullpen in the league anymore, but won’t keep a bare cupboard either. Oklahoma State had a few holes punched in their rotation and lineup, and will fill them with unknown talents, making them a true wildcard in the conference.
Rounding out the standings, Kansas and Missouri are perched on the bottom, but are not to be overlooked. The Tigers enter their final Big 12 season with a young, talented rotation, and a batting order that will steal a few wins from unsuspecting opponents. Ritch Price’s club in Lawrence has some solid performers, and a few other waiting to make a splash. Just like always, there aren’t any teams in this league that can be overlooked for an easy series victory, and the Big 12 should remain in the top tier of baseball conferences in 2012.
BAYLOR 31-28 (13-14)
Key Returning Players: 1B Max Muncy, SS Jake Miller, RP Max Garner
Key Losses: CF/SP Brooks Pinckard, SP Logan Verrett,
Gone is all-everything player Brooks Pinckard, and stalwart pitcher Logan Verrett, but the Bears have plenty of veterans to lead the 2012 campaign. 1B Max Muncy, holds one of the most respected bats in the conference with a .310 average and 20 homers in his two year career. SS Jake Miller makes the shift from third base after an outstanding sophomore season that saw him become a reliable batter in the lineup. CF Logan Vick had a sophomore slump, but is still a viable weapon for head coach Steve Smith. The biggest question for Baylor is who will man the outfield corners. Currently, it appears that two of three freshman (Adam Toth, Michael Howard, and Logan Brown) will win the jobs.
On the mound, the Bears have plenty of arms to make them contenders. Josh Turley is the closest thing to an ace the Bears have, but Max Garner will be looking to move from the pen into the starting rotation after saving eight games in 2011. Brad Kuntz and Tyler Bremer are the other front runners for the starting spots in Waco. In the pen, Miles Landry, Dillon Newman, and Kolt Browder will serve large roles, while former utility player Joey Hainsfurther will take on a larger pitching role.
For more on Baylor, see Austin Staton’s feature on Baylor.
KANSAS 26-30 (9-18)
Key Returning Players: C Alex DeLeon, 1B Zac Elgie, DH James Stanfield
Key Losses: SP T.J. Walz, CF Jimmy WatersKansas had a rough year in conference play, but their overall record was not paltry. The Jayhawks kicked off the year with an extra-innings win at then-top ranked TCU, but lost 11 of their final 12 conference games. The excellent outfield combination of Jimmy Waters and Casey Lytle is gone, but there are still a couple proven bats in Lawrence. Zac Elgie will make the move from 1B to 3B after hitting .297 with seven home runs last season. DH James Stanfield was second on the club with a .320 batting average, behind returning SS Kevin Kuntz’s .350. Both players are back, and will look to help Kansas improve in the win column. C. Alex DeLeon was the most-improved player for the club last season, and continued his impressive play during the summer in the California Collegiate League. OF Connor McKay is a player to keep an eye on. The freshman missed most of his senior year, but was the top player to come out of Colorado.
The Jayhawks rotation is undergoing a massive overhaul. T.J. Walz and Alex Cox are both gone, while the third starter, Tanner Poppe, is looking to take an active role in the bullpen. Former bullpen pitchers Taylor Thomas and Frank Duncan should join freshman Wes Benjamin as the top three starters when the season begins. Poppe’s presence in the bullpen will be looked upon for leadership, after the graduation of former stalwart Colton Murray. Pepperdine transfer Jordan Luvisi will be eligible in 2012, and should be a welcome addition, along with freshmen Robert Kahana and Colin Toalson.
KANSAS STATE 36-25 (12-14)
Key Returning Players: CF Jared King, SP Matt Applegate, SP Shane Conlon
Key Losses: LF Nick Martini, RP James Allen, RP Evan Marshall
The Nick Martini era is over in Manhattan now that he is in the Cardinals organization, but the Jared King era could just be getting started. As a freshman, King hit .302 with eight home runs and 40 RBI, earning Freshman All-American honors and an invite to the Cape Cod League. He is not alone, though. Kansas State returns almost all their top hitters, except Martini and King’s older brother, Jason. 2B Ross Kivett and SS Jake Brown will both be back in the middle of the infield, while 1B Wade Hinkle and 3B Matt Giller are expected to retain their starting positions. C Blair DeBord is back after missing last season to injury, but hit .340 as a freshman and won’t be overlooked by opposing teams.
The Wildcats had the league’s top bullpen tandem last season with James Allen and Evan Marshall frustrating opponents in the late innings. Now the task falls on Kayvon Bahramzadeh, Jake Doller, and Johnny Fasola to keep leads and eat up innings after the starters depart. Returning starter Matt Applegate will be joined by Shane Conlon and Gerardo Esquivel in the rotation, but Bahramzadeh has a chance to move up after starting 22 games over his first three seasons.
MISSOURI 27-32 (11-15)
Key Returning Players: CF Blake Brown, SP Eric Anderson, SP Rob Zastryzny
Key Losses: RP Phil McCormick, DH Jonah Schmidt
Tim Jamieson is tied with Baylor’s Steve Smith as the longest tenured coach in the Big 12, but this is his final season before the team moves to the SEC with Texas A&M. Jamieson had a talented ball club last season, but started with a 2-9 record in conference play. After finishing eighth in the conference, the Tigers surprised nearly everyone in the Big 12 Tournament, falling to Texas A&M in the conference finals. Missouri only lost one major player with the graduation of DH Jonah Schmidt, but struggled with both offense and defense. RF Blake Brown and 2B Eric Garcia are the batter to watch, while 3B Conner Mach is an experienced player with a good pedigree. CF Brannon Champagne knows how to get on base, but made a few too many miscues in the field.
The pitching staff has plenty of talented arms, but like the other facets of the team, struggled in 2011 with a 4.56 ERA. RHP Eric Anderson and LHP Rob Zastryzny don’t match up to the rotations from a few years ago, but both proved they can keep the Tigers in games. Coffeyville CC transfer Blake Holovach has a good chance to lock down the third spot in the rotation, giving Missouri a solid weekend lineup. The bullpen is without Kelly Fick, Phil McCormick, and Brad Beuhler, leaving the keys to Jeff Emens and Dusty Ross. After that, the Tigers need strong seasons from newcomers like Brett Graves, Brett Thomas, and Brandon Graves. Missouri isn’t near the level of the top teams, but last year showed they shouldn’t be overlooked.
OKLAHOMA 41-19 (14-11)
Key Returning Players: SS Caleb Bushyhead, SP Dillon Overton, 1B Max White
Key Losses: 3B Garrett Beuchele, 1B Cameron Seitzer, SP Michael Rocha
Last season saw the promise of a hot start fade as the postseason neared. After a 16-0 start, the Sooners stumbled late and were quickly eliminated in the Fort Worth regional by Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts. Garrett Beuchele, Cameron Seitzer and Michael Rocha are gone, along with a bevy of experienced players, but Oklahoma still held on to a few talented youngsters. SS Caleb Bushyhead and 1B Max White are the top two hitters coming into the season. White, a former Freshman All-American has displayed solid power in his career, while Bushyhead will need to shine in a leadership role for the Sooners to keep up with their preseason billings. C Hunter Lockwood is only a freshman, but smacked 19 home runs in his senior season at L. D. Bell High School near the Fort Worth area.
Dillion Overton and Jordan John will carry the majority of the load for the pitching staff and losing stalwarts Rocha, Bobby Shore, and Burch Smith. Howard College transfer Damien Magnifico has the potential to be a shutdown closer after reportedly hitting triple digits in the fall. Magnifico was a 5th round pick out of high school, but had elbow problems while at Howard. Jonathan Gray is another stud Sunny Golloway brought to Norman. Gray is a big righty who had no problem at Eastern Oklahoma before transferring to OU. From looking at the stat sheets, Oklahoma lost a lot of key players, but the roster may prove otherwise in 2012.
OKLAHOMA STATE 35-25 (14-12)
Key Returning Players: SP Andrew Heaney, RP Blake Barnes, 3B Mark Ginther
Key Losses: C/DH Dane Phillips, 1B Zach Johnson
The losses of 1B Zach Johnson to the MLB and C/DH Dane Phillips to transfer were devastating to the Cowboys’ offense. The good news was the decision by 14th round pick Mark Ginther to return for his senior year after hitting .292 with 10 home runs in 2011. SS Hunter Bailey was one of the better defensive players in the league last season, and looks to improve on his .265 average at the plate. C/OF Jared Womack and OF Gabe Weidenaar are only other seasoned veterans Oklahoma State has in the lineup. The Cowboys will need to rely on transfers like OF Aaron Cornell and C Victor Romero, and a few freshman like OF Zach Fish to round out the roster.
The pitching staff is a different story in Stillwater. SP Andrew Heaney will be the face of the pitchers, while Blake Barnes was a solid bullpen member last year and is a likely candidate to start. SP Jason Hursh underwent offseason Tommy John surgery, so his return for 2012 is doubtful, but his void will be filled by Arizona State transfer Kyle Ottoson, a four-time MLB draftee, and Seminole State transfer Chase Stevens. RP Randy McCurry showed off his talent as a freshman, but was set back by an unfortunate injury before the first game of 2010, and has yet to return to the same form.
TEXAS 49-19 (19-8)
Key Returning Players: 3B Erich Weiss, RP Corey Knebel, SP Sam Stafford
Key Losses: SP Taylor Jungmann, SS Brandon Loy, 1B Tant Shepherd
Another year, another trip to Omaha. It seems like Texas always ends their season in Omaha because it happens almost every year. Head coach Augie Garrido continues to restock talent and coach his team until the bitter end. Last year’s troubling area for Texas was all on offense. The Longhorns struggled to produce runs off good pitchers, and only hit .269 as a team, but they held their opponents to a nation low.198 batting average. SS Brandon Loy and 1B Tant Shepherd were the biggest losses, but 2011 Big 12 Freshman of the Year Erich Weiss returns, along with his .348 average and .483 OBP. CH Cohl Walla and RF Mark Payton should start almost every game in the outfield, while the spot in left field is up for grabs between Jonathan Walsh and freshmen Taylor Stell and Colin Shaw. Texas must find out if SS Christian Summers and 2B Brooks Marlow or 2B Jordan Etier can man the middle of the infield, while deciding who will play LF, 1B, and DH. 2011 Big 12 All-Freshmen honoree Jacob Felts will continue has work behind the plate as the primary catcher while the team looks for a back up.
Taylor Jungmann has moved on after an incredible career, leaving the reins to senior Sam Stafford. Stafford spurned the 2nd round offer from the Yankees to become the ace on the Texas staff after a 6-2 season with a 1.77 ERA. Also returning is NCBWA Stopper of the Year Corey Knebel. Knebel dominated opponents as a freshman, picking up 19 saves and 61 strikeouts in only 38 relief appearances. Hoby Milner and Nathan Thornhill can both work as starters, or perform setup duties for Knebel. Ricky Jacquez is a wildcard that could be a solid starter, or a great middle reliever. The true freshman was the most impressive newcomer in the fall, and caused a lot of buzz about where he will be used. The rest of the holes should be filled by some of the other talented freshmen Augie brought to Austin.
TEXAS A&M 47-22 (19-8)
Key Returning Players: RF Tyler Naquin, SP Michael Wacha, SP Ross Stripling
Key Losses: SP John Stilson, RP Nick FleeceTexas A&M’s baseball team is the preseason favorite to win the conference before moving on to the SEC. Last season ended with a pair of losses in Omaha, but a lot of talk about 2012. The Aggies lost a lot of role players, but managed to keep most of their top tier players in place. RF Tyler Naquin was the best player in the conference last year, and should be the top player again this season. His bat is incredible, but his arm in right field is his most impressive weapon. Opposing runners won’t take third on anything to right field without taking a huge risk. CF Krey Bratsen is one of the fastest players in the league, stealing 31 bases as a freshman. INF Matt Juengel is in his final season, and always seems to be overlooked, but make no mistake because he is a talented hitter with a lot of pop. With the losses of SS Kenny Jackson and C Kevin Gonzalez, the Aggies need to find their replacements from a bevy of transfers and freshmen.
Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling are a pair of talents that are usually reserved for a program like Texas. Wacha started off extremely hot in 2011, but cooled down toward the end of the year. Still, a 9-4 record with a 2.29 ERA earned him well-deserved All-American honors. Stripling tied for the national lead with 14 wins, and managed to keep opponents off the bases more than any other pitcher on the staff. Outside of the dynamic duo, the coaches will need to find a new closer and figure out what roles everyone else will play during the year. If there is a weakness for this team, it is the late-inning pitching duties. Childress will have plenty of newcomers to work with when building his pitching staff, as well as veterans Derrick Hadley, Estevan Uriegas, and Ross Hales.
TEXAS TECH 33-25 (12-15)
Key Returning Players: CF Barrett Barnes, 2B Jamodrick McGruder, RP John Neely
Key Losses: SS Kelby Tomlinson, UT Nick Popescu
Texas Tech’s team has seen improvement each year under head coach Dan Spencer. This season is looking like another jump in the win column, especially with the addition of a few arms and a highly touted assistant coach from Oklahoma. Offensively, CF Barrett Barnes and 2B Jamodrick McGruder pose the most dangerous threat to opposing teams. McGruder has a knack for getting on base, while Barnes has slugged 24 home runs in his career, and knows how to get McGruder around the bases. 3B Reid Redman and C Bo Altobelli are more than capable bats. Altobelli beat out senior Kevin Whitehead for the starting spot behind the plate. After missing all but one game in 2011, DH Scott LeJeune is back, and hoping to get back to his 2010 form. Newcomers Brennan Moore and Zach Reding will see plenty of action on either side of Barnes in the outfield. The largest personnel discussion for the coaches is at shortstop, with a freshmen trio (Bryant Burleson, Matt Eureste, and Tim Proudfoot) vying for the starting spot, while incumbent Stephen Hagen will have to hold off David Paiz at first base.
One the mound, Tech returns SP Daniel Coulombe from injury, as well as the sophomore trio of Trey Masek, Duke Von Schamann, and Paiz. Joining the fray will be JUCO transfer Shane Broyles and Washington State transfer Rusty Shellhorn, giving Tech six potential starters. In relief, John Neely returns for his senior year after a seven save, nine win season, looking to continue his role of closer. Aaron Corwin, Jerad McCrummen, Jamen Parten, and Ben Flora give Spencer plenty of options for situational pitching, while Masek and Paiz could be converted to relievers if the rotation gets too full. With plenty of talent and an upgraded stadium, Texas Tech is looking to get back to the winning ways from a decade ago.
Tommorrow we will unveil our 2012 Preseason All-Big 12 Teams, and well as our Top Hitters, Pitchers, and Newcomers.