2017 College Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 18 Oklahoma State

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

18. Oklahoma State

2016 Record (Ranking): 43-22 (4). RPI: 21.
Coach (Record at school): Josh Holliday (170-79, 4 years).
Postseason History: 42 regionals (active streak: 4), 20 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 1 national title (1959).

Oklahoma State broke a 17-year Omaha drought in 2016, a moment head coach Josh Holliday had been building the program towards since returning to his alma mater in 2012. Now comes the really hard part—sustaining that momentum.

“You do start over,” Holliday said, “but you bring with you the lessons learned and you apply them moving forward. I don’t think it’s an accident when you see programs or groups of players build on previous success by learning those lessons and then being more ready to handle it when it comes back their way.”

OSU’s pitching staff spearheaded that Omaha run, ranking second in the Big 12 Conference in ERA (3.21) and posting three shutouts among their seven postseason wins, and the good news for the 2017 Cowboys is the strength of the team’s returning players is on that side of the ball. They do lose reigning Big 12 pitcher of the year Thomas Hatch, but seasoned veterans Tyler Buffett and Trey Cobb are both back, as is sophomore Jensen Elliott. Holliday believes Elliott’s stuff has taken a step forward since last year, when he mostly thrived on pitchability, while freshman arms Parker Scott and Jonathan Heasley—No. 307 on last year’s BA500—could also make an impact.

Pitching coach Rob Walton’s decision to flip-flop Buffett and Cobb’s roles as starter and closer late last season helped spur OSU’s Omaha run. The Cowboys haven’t yet nailed down how they’ll proceed with the two of them in 2017, though Cobb does have more experience in the bullpen, having also relieved in 2014 and ’15.

“We’ve got some pretty accomplished kids coming back on the mound,” Holliday said. “Certainly, the game starts on the mound. Any time you have quality starting pitching and experienced pitching coming back, that’s a great place to begin to build your team. From there, we’ll have some new guys jumping into some critical roles.”

Offensively, the Cowboys will need someone to take up the slack after losing their top three hitters from a year ago, but they do have options. Returning corner bats Dustin Williams, who finished second in the Big 12 in home runs, and Garrett Benge will be heavily counted upon, and Holliday is excited about the athleticism players like Garrett McCain and Jacob Chappell add to the lineup after being reserves last year.

The Cowboys will also look for bounceback seasons from Ryan Sluder and Colin Simpson. Sluder was a second-team all-Big 12 performer in 2015 before a broken left thumb curtailed his production last year. A broken hamate likewise limited Simpson’s role as a freshman, but he should have some thump back in his bat now that he’s full strength again. He’ll share the catching load with freshman Michael Neustifter, an advanced hitter with some power himself.

“There are probably some clubs that are a little bit more clearly defined going in, but what I’m excited about is what we can become,” Holliday said. “I’m very excited about what this group has a chance to become. We have great opportunity to get some guys out there and realize their potential, so that’s exciting for me and exciting for the kids.”

C Colin Simpson, So. .212 .302 .341 2 9 0
1B Dustin Williams, Sr. .218 .320 .441 14 42 4
2B Andrew Rosa, Jr. .257 .388 .286 0 11 3
3B Garrett Benge, Jr. .292 .380 .433 4 40 7
SS Jacob Chappell, Jr. .190 .255 .190 0 4 2
LF Garrett McCain, Jr. .203 .385 .243 0 6 11
CF Ryan Sluder, Sr. .197 .278 .322 4 19 7
RF Jon Littell, Jr. .258 .332 .343 2 23 4
DH Michael Neustifter, Fr. HS—Carrollton, Texas
Pos. Name, Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Tyler Buffett, Sr. 9 3 2.81 83 76 9
RHP Jensen Elliott, So. 9 3 3.50 87 71 0
LHP Parker Scott, Fr. HS—Flower Mound, Texas
RP Trey Cobb, Sr. 4 7 3.09 82 100 6

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