Seven-of-nine Big 12 teams made the NCAA Tournament last year with Texas Tech and TCU hosting regionals. Only TCU advanced to the super regionals, and they also moved on to the College World Series where they lost to Florida in the semi-finals. This year there is a lot of great pitching in the league, and I expect a better showing in the postseason.
Baylor (2017 Record: 34-23, 12-12)
The Bears started the 2017 season on fire winning their first 10 games and 14 of their first 16 games, including wins over Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Houston. Ironically enough, their season ended in the Houston regional with losses to Texas A&M and Houston.
Shea Langeliers returns behind the plate after hitting .313 last year with 43 runs scored, 10 home runs and 38 RBI. Outfielder Richard Cunningham hit .306 last year with 30 runs scored, 5 home runs and 29 RBI. Infielder Davis Wendzel was right behind him at .301 with 34 runs scored, 8 home runs and 30 RBI. Infielders Josh Bissonette and Tucker Johnson are expected to have a bigger role in 2018, as well as catcher Andy Thomas. A couple of newcomers that head coach Steve Rodriguez said could have an immediate impact are OF Cole Haring, INF Nick Loftin and OF Davion Downey.
Cody Bradford returns with the most innings pitched from a year ago when he posted a 5.52 ERA in 73.1 innings with 43 strikeouts. Troy Montemayor was lights out as the team’s closer last year with 12 saves and a 2.10 ERA in 25.2 innings pitched with 29 strikeouts. Kyle Hill was second on the team with a 2.98 ERA in 42.1 innings pitched with 54 strikeouts. Hayden Kettler and Drew Robertson should add to a deep bullpen. A couple of newcomers who could have an immediate impact on the pitching staff are Jimmy Winston and Jacob Ashkinos.
“The biggest thing to improve on this season would be depth on the mound,” said Head Coach Steve Rodriguez.
I think there is a lot of depth in the bullpen on this team, but they’ll need a couple of those guys to step up and into the rotation in 2018.
Kansas (2017 Record: 30-28, 11-13)
It was a solid 2017 season for Kansas, winning 30 games, including a win over sixth ranked TCU to start the Big 12 Baseball Tournament. But they lost the next two games and saw their season come to an end.
Second baseman James Cosentino hit .271 as a freshman last year with 39 runs scored, a team-high 4 home runs, 31 RBI and a team-high 10 stolen bases. Rudy Karre should return in center field after leading the team with 45 runs scored to go along with a .253 average, 3 home runs, 26 RBI and 9 stolen bases. Coach Price noted that freshman Skyler Messinger “showed good approach and power this fall and is a good defender at third base.” He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 MLB Draft.
“Right-handed pitcher Jackson Goddard will be a high draft pick,” said Head Coach Ritch Price. “He has the ability to be one of the most dominant guys in the country. Left-handed pitcher Taylor Turski is a quality left-handed pitcher, with a 3 pitch mix, that pitched very well last year against the best teams we played. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Zepherjan had a good summer in the Cape and a very good fall. He has made great strides with his command and off speed pitches, (and has a) big arm. Left-handed pitcher Chase Kaplan was dominate over the summer with the Corvallis Knights, (fastball) sits 90-95. He really improved his slider late in the season last year and over the summer. Right-handed pitcher Zack LeBan, fastball 90-95, has improved his slider and is another legit pro prospect.”
Goddard had a 4.29 ERA last year in 79.2 innings pitched with 75 strikeouts, Turski had a 3.51 ERA in 74.1 innings with 68 strikeouts. Kaplan had a 3.22 ERA last year, while LeBan boasted a 3.57 ERA in 40.1 innings with 37 strikeouts.
Right-handed pitcher Ryan Cyr transferred from Mississippi State and could be either a starter or a closer for Kansas in 2018.
“We only lost our starting shortstop, Matt McLaughlin, who was drafted in the 12th round by Colorado. Hopefully the experience we gained the last two years playing so many young position players will pay off offensively. We also must improve defensively from a year ago. All three starting outfielders last season were infielders in high school and struggled making the transition to new positions. This could be our best team (with) our entire weekend rotation returning, and our bullpen depth has never been this good. It’s a young, exciting team to coach!” – Head Coach Ritch Price.
Kansas State (2017 Record: 29-26, 8-16)
The Wildcats started the season 11-2 with wins over Pittsburgh, Ohio State and South Carolina. But they really struggled in conference play and missed out on the Big 12 Tournament.
Outfielder Cameron Thompson is back after hitting .318 a year ago with 41 runs scored, 8 doubles, 4 triples, 2 home runs and 33 RBI. Another outfielder, Will Brennan, is back after leading the team with a .350 average to go along with 37 runs scored, 7 doubles, and 27 RBI. Other than those two, there isn’t much coming back in this lineup from last year.
Justin Heskett should lead the rotation after posting a 4.80 ERA in 75 innings pitched last year with 47 strikeouts. Kasey Ford had a 4.00 ERA in 44.2 innings pitched with 20 strikeouts. Tyler Eckberg was solid out of the bullpen with a 3.19 ERA in 31.1 innings pitched with 32 strikeouts.
This team loses a lot of key contributors from a roster that only won eight conference games. I really don’t see this team improving much in 2018.
Oklahoma (2017 Record: 35-24, 12-11)
It was an up-and-down season for Oklahoma as they went just 12-11 in Big 12 play and then went two-and-out in the Big 12 Tournament. They still managed to make the NCAA Tournament where they beat Xavier in their first game, but then were beat by Louisville 11-1 and Xavier in the rematch 11-0.
Outfielder Steele Walker is back after leading the team with a .333 average, 49 runs scored, 8 home runs and 51 RBI. Brylie Ware hit .298 last year with 34 runs scored, 10 doubles, 5 home runs and 31 RBI. Second baseman Kyle Mendenhall and infielder Brandon Zaragoza also return after solid 2017 seasons.
Devon Perez should lead the starting rotation after posting a 3.50 ERA in 64.1 innings pitched with 81 strikeouts. Jake Irvin will also be back in the starting rotation after posting a 3.53 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched with 75 strikeouts. Kyle Tyler made 10 starts last year and is back. Connor Berry was lights out from the bullpen last year with a team-best 1.93 ERA in 28 innings pitched with 39 strikeouts.
This pitching staff should be very solid in 2018 with a lot of key contributors coming back. The question will be how quickly the lineup comes together. If they can find some offense they could earn another at-large bid.
Oklahoma State (2017 Record: 30-27, 8-14)
It looked like 2017 was going to be a down year for Oklahoma State as they managed to win just eight conference games. But a magical run in the Big 12 Baseball Tournament saw them win the championship game over Texas. They ended up in the Fayetteville Regional, but went two-and-out.
Colin Simpson will be back at catcher after hitting .277 with 28 runs scored, 11 home runs and 40 RBI. Second baseman Ryan Cash hit .274 last year with 26 runs scored in just 135 at-bats. Cade Cabbiness should have a bigger role in the offense in 2018 after hitting .274 a year ago in 124 at-bats with 20 runs scored and a couple of home runs.
Jonathan Heasley posted a 3.55 ERA last year in 38 innings pitched with 31 strikeouts. Joe Lienhard had a 4.66 ERA in 65.2 innings pitched with 60 strikeouts, while Carson Teel had a 3.06 ERA in 64.2 innings with 77 strikeouts.
Some newcomers to keep an eye for Oklahoma State in 2018 will be: Matt Kroon, Mitchell Stone, Jake Taylor, Carson McCusker and Brett Standlee.
Head Coach Josh Holliday said he hopes they remain all-around healthy in 2018 as they face a very difficult schedule playing in one of the best conferences in the country.
TCU (2017 Record: 50-18, 16-8)
The Horned Frogs had another incredible season winning 50 games and getting to the College World Series yet again. However, they lost twice to the eventual champion Florida Gators and fell just short of the ultimate prize.
While the TCU lineup certainly losses a lot from last year’s team, they still return one of the best, and most exciting, players in the country in Luken Baker. He hit .317 last year with 39 runs scored, 8 home runs and 41 RBI before going down with an injury. Outfielder Josh Watson will be looking to improve upon is 2017 numbers when he hit .239 with 35 runs scored and 38 RBI. First baseman Connor Wanhanen and Zach Humphreys are expected to have a bigger role in the lineup this season.
Pitching should be the strength of this team in 2018 with Jared Janczak and Nick Lodolo returning to the rotation. Janczak had a 2.31 ERA last year in 93.1 innings pitched with 102 strikeouts, while Lodolo posted a 4.35 ERA in his freshman season with 72 strikeouts in 78.2 innings pitched. They also return their closer in Durbin Feltman who picked up 17 saves last year to go along with a 3.64 ERA in 29.2 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts. Sean Wymer is one of the best relief pitchers in college baseball.
Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle mentioned several newcomers who could have an impact on the upcoming season. That list includes: Adam Oviedo, Conner Shepherd, Johnny Rizer, AJ Balta, Russell Smith, Caleb Sloan and James Notary.
Coach Schlossnagle also said he’d like to see his team improve its bullpen depth and infield defense, while finding an identity as an offense.
Texas (2017 Record: 39-24, 11-12)
The Longhorns had a very strange 2017 season in which they won 39 games but only won 11 regular season conference games. They lost in the Big 12 Baseball Tournament championship game, but advanced to the NCAA Regionals. They ended up as the two-seed in the Long Beach regional, and after winning the first two games they were on the verge of advancing before losing back-to-back games to Long Beach State.
Infielder Kody Clemens is expected to have a bigger impact on the lineup after recovering from Tommy John surgery most of last year. Assistant Coach Sean Allen said he looked really good in the fall. David Hamilton should be back at shortstop after playing every game there as a freshman in 2017.Coach Allen noted that he’s a good defender and can run, and that his bat really came around in the fall. Ryan Reynolds also played a lot as a freshman, and could play first base in the spring. Coach Allen said he, “has pro type talent with the bat.” A couple of newcomers who could have an immediate impact on the lineup are Mason Hibbeler and Duke Ellis. Hibbeler will probably start the year at second base, and he led the team in hitting during the fall. Ellis is an athletic outfielder that can defend and run.
Nolan Kingham was the team’s Friday night starter last year with a 2.84 ERA in 92 innings pitched with 67 strikeouts. He should be a high draft pick in the summer. Chase Shugart had a 3.43 ERA in 42 innings pitched with 30 strikeouts and should get a shot to be a weekend starter. Blair Henley started 10 games last year and had a 4.23 ERA in 61.2 innings pitched with 47 strikeouts. Beau Ridgeway returns as the team’s closer after posting a 1.89 ERA in 52.1 innings pitched with 40 strikeouts and 12 saves. Coach Allen said Nico O’donnell could get some starts as a freshman. He is a “solid sinker/slider guy with a very good breaking ball as well. Will pitch into the low 90s with plus sink.”
The biggest area for us to improve upon is 1-run games. We lost 18 one-run games last year and won 11. So just really emphasizing details and that small things add up to big things. Being our second year, things should be better on that front. The lineup should be deeper 1-9, so run production should improve as well.” – Assistant Baseball Coach Sean Allen
Texas Tech (2017 Record: 45-17, 16-8)
The Red Raiders had an outstanding 2017 season and looked like a favorite to win the College World Series. However, they went 1-2 in the Big 12 Tournament and then were upset in the Lubbock Regional by Sam Houston State.
Outfielder Grant Little returns to the top of the lineup after hitting .335 as a freshman with 52 runs scored, 17 doubles, 2 home runs, 34 RBI and 6 stolen bases. Catcher Michael Berglund hit .307 last year with 23 runs scored, 2 home runs and 27 RBI. Third baseman Josh Jung hit .306 last year with 55 runs scored, 14 doubles, 6 home runs and 43 RBI. Michael Davis should take on a larger role in the lineup with several key contributors lost to the MLB Draft. They lose two of their top six hitters from last year.
Steven Gingery was one of the best starting pitchers in the country last year with a 1.58 ERA in 91.1 innings pitched with 107 strikeouts. Davis Martin should be back and healthy in this rotation as well. Ryan Shetter posted a 3.71 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched last year with 74 strikeouts. John McMillon should be the team’s closer after posting a 1.75 ERA a year ago in 25.2 innings pitched with 29 strikeouts and 5 saves.
Even though some key hitters are gone from last year’s team, almost everyone is back on the pitching staff. I expect another great season from Texas Tech and a deeper run in the postseason.
West Virginia (36-26, 12-12)
The Mountaineers had a very good season last year with a lot of quality wins. They went 2-2 in the Big 12 Baseball Tournament, but still managed to make the Wake Forest Regional where they went 2-2 as well, eventually getting eliminated by the Deacons.
Outfielder Darius Hill will be back after hitting .307 with 39 runs scored, 4 home runs, and 46 RBI. Infielder Kyle Gray hit .260 last year with 36 runs scored, 3 home run, 31 RBI and 9 stolen bases. Another infielder, Jimmy Galuksy, is back after hitting .244 with 31 runs scored, 4 home runs, 26 RBI and 8 stolen bases. Catcher and third baseman Ivan Gonzalez hit .317 a year ago with 35 runs scored, 5 home runs and 29 RBI. Tyler Doanes is a freshman infielder who could get some playing time right away. Outfielder Braden Zarbnisky led the team in hitting last year with a .336 average in 125 at-bats, while splitting time as a pitcher as well.
On the mound Zarbnisky had a 2.75 ERA in 39.1 innings pitched with 46 strikeouts. He may be leaned on more heavily in the pitching staff this year. BJ Myers led the team in innings pitched last year with 97.2 to go along with a 4.52 ERA and 73 strikeouts. Several newcomers could have an immediate impact on this pitching staff, including transfer Christian Young, as well as freshman Jackson Wolf and Tristen Hudson.
Assistant coach and recruiting coordinate Steve Sabins said the team hopes to improve their relief pitching, while rounding out their pitching staff in 2018.
2018 All-Big 12 Preseason Team
C: Shea Langeliers (Baylor)
1B: Luken Baker (TCU)
2B: James Cosentino (Kansas)
SS: David Hamilton (Texas)
3B: Josh Jung (Texas Tech)
OF: Darius Hill (West Virginia)
OF: Steele Walker (Oklahoma)
OF: Grant Little (Texas Tech)
DH: Colin Simpson (Oklahoma State)
SP: Steven Gingery (Texas Tech)
SP: Nick Lodolo (TCU)
SP: Jared Janczak (TCU)
SP: Nolan Kingham (Texas)
SP: Davis Martin (Texas Tech)
RP: Connor Berry (Oklahoma)
RP: John McMillon (Texas Tech)
RP: Sean Wymer (TCU)
OF: Cameron Thompson (Kansas State)
OF: Will Brennan (Kansas State)
RP: Ryan Shetter (Texas Tech)
SP: Jackson Goddard (Kansas)
SP: Taylor Turski (Kansas)
SP: Jake Irvin (Oklahoma)
SP: Devon Perez (Oklahoma)
SP: Carson Teel (Oklahoma State)
RP: Durbin Feltman (TCU)
RP: Tyler Eckberg (Kansas State)
RP: Braden Zarbnisky (West Virginia)
RP: Zack LeBan (Kansas)
RP: Beau Ridgeway (Texas)
RP: Troy Montemayor (Baylor)
Predicted Order to Finish:
- Texas Tech
- West Virginia
- Oklahoma State
- Kansas State