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Big 12 Conference Preview

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Luken Baker (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

 
Baseball Members (First Year): Baylor (1997), Kansas (1997), Kansas State (1997), Oklahoma (1997), Oklahoma State (1997), Texas (1997), Texas Christian (2013), Texas Tech (1997), West Virginia (2013).

Checking out: None.

Team to Beat: Texas Christian The Horned Frogs are national title favorites thanks to their deep and talented lineup and pitching staff.

Player of the Year: Luken Baker, 1b, Texas Christian No longer pitching, Baker remains the anchor of TCU’s lineup thanks to his advanced feel for hitting to go with his light-tower power.

Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Buffett rhp, Oklahoma State Buffett starred in OSU’s run to Omaha last year and should move to the front of the rotation full-time as a senior this spring.

Freshman of the Year: Nick Lodolo lhp, Texas Christian The big-armed freshman has a chance to be TCU’s next pitching star and ought to make an immediate impact on the Frogs’ title chances.

Top 25 Teams: Texas Christian (1), Oklahoma State (18), Texas Tech (25)

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter: Luken Baker, TCU
Best Raw Power: Luken Baker, TCU
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Luken Baker, TCU
Best Athlete: Darius Hill, West Virginia
Fastest Baserunner: Nolan Brown, TCU
Best Baserunner: Garrett McCain, Oklahoma State
Best Defensive Catcher: Evan Skoug, TCU
Catcher/Best Arm: Michael Cantu, Texas
Best Defensive 1B: Dustin Williams, Oklahoma State
Best Defensive 2B: Michael Davis, Texas Tech
Best Defensive 3B: Elliott Barzilli, TCU
Best Defensive SS: Orlando Garcia, Texas Tech
Infield/Best Arm: Ryan Merrill, TCU
Best Defensive Outfielder: Nolan Brown, TCU
Best Outfield Arm: Patrick Mathis, Texas
Best Fastball: Durbin Feltman, TCU
Best Breaking Ball: Morgan Cooper, Texas
Best Changeup: Jensen Elliott, Oklahoma State
Best Control: Tyler Buffett, Oklahoma State

Other Projected Regional Teams

Texas: A new era is underway in Austin, as former Tulane coach and Texas native David Pierce takes over the program after 20 years under Augie Garrido, college baseball’s all-time winningest coach. Pierce inherits a team that went 25-32 last season but should have the talent to compete in the postseason in 2017. The rotation will be the biggest strength, with a trio of prospects in Jr. RHPs Morgan Cooper, Kyle Johnston and Connor Mayes.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers played as well as any team in the conference down the stretch last season and came tantalizingly close to ending a 20-year NCAA tournament drought, losing in the Big 12 tournament title game and then being one of the last teams passed over for an at-large berth. Fifth-year head coach Randy Mazey has steadily built up the program, and his crew will look to take that next step this season.

Notable Storylines: If it’s possible for a conference to collectively have a chip on its shoulder, the Big 12 does after getting just three teams into last year’s NCAA tournament and then having all three reach Omaha. The league has considered increasing the number of conference games each team plays, which would necessitate some teams playing each other twice, in an effort to reduce the number of potentially RPI damaging non-conference games, but it will continue with its current 24-game league schedule in 2017. Coaches around the conference also acknowledge that, as is the case across most Big 12 sports, the league’s perception suffers when Oklahoma and Texas struggle as they have the last couple of seasons . . . Speaking of Oklahoma, the Sooners will look to rebound after floundering to a fifth-place finish in 2016, a season they entered as a Top 25 team. With their two biggest stars of the last three years, shortstop/righthander Sheldon Neuse and righthander Alec Hansen, off to pro ball, the Sooners will count on a core of sophomores—a group that was the 13th ranked recruiting class nationally going into their freshman seasons—like catcher Domenic DeRenzo and outfielder Steele Walker to anchor the lineup, while righthanders Jake Irvin and Dylan Grove need to turn their impressive stuff into results in the rotation . . . Baylor was frisky at times last year in coach Steve Rodriguez’s first season, including its taking a series from TCU. If the Bears are going to take another step in 2017, they’ll need power hitting catcher Shea Langeliers, an unsigned 34th-round pick in last year’s draft, to give a boost to what was the Big 12’s lowest scoring offense last season. Junior college transfer righthander Montana Parsons, an unsigned 30th-round pick himself, will try to do the same in the rotation, along with freshman righthander Jimmy Winston.

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Bret Boswell Packs A Punch

The lefthanded-hitting Boswell launched 27 home runs at two Class A stops last season while playing two positions.

2017 Top 20 Prospects2018 Top 10 ProspectsTop 10 Newcomers
1. Evan Skoug c, Texas Christian1. Luken Baker 1b, Texas Christian1. Nick Lodolo, lhp, Texas Christian
2. Morgan Cooper rhp, Texas2. Davis Martin rhp, Texas Tech2. Charles King, rhp, Texas Christian
3. Kyle Johnston rhp, Texas3. Jensen Elliott rhp, Oklahoma State3. David Hamilton, ss, Texas
4. Patrick Mathis of, Texas4. Josh Watson of, Texas Christian4. John McMillon, rhp/of, Texas Tech
5. Tyler Buffett rhp, Oklahoma State5. Jonathan Heasley rhp, Oklahoma State5. Jonathan Heasley, rhp, Oklahoma State
6. Tanner Gardner of, Texas Tech6. Durbin Feltman rhp, Texas Christian6. Trey Morris, rhp, Texas Christian
7. Bret Boswell 3b, Texas7. Domenic DeRenzo c, Oklahoma7. Alek Manoah, rhp, West Virginia
8. Trey Cobb rhp, Oklahoma State8. Jake Irvin rhp, Oklahoma8. Cade Cabbiness, of, Oklahoma State
9. Elliott Barzilli 3b, Texas Christian9. Jacob Chappell ss, Oklahoma State9. Blair Henley, rhp, Texas
10. Montana Parsons rhp, Baylor10. Darius Hill of, West Virginia10. Michael Neustifter, c, Oklahoma State
11. Mitchell Traver rhp, Texas Christian
12. B.J. Myers rhp, West Virginia
13. Brian Howard rhp, Texas Christian
14. Sean Rackoski rhp, Kansas
15. Jon Littell of, Oklahoma State
16. Austen Wade of, Texas Christian
17. Matt McLaughlin ss, Kansas
18. Kameron Ethay of, Baylor
19. Jackson Cramer 1b, West Virginia
20. Garrett Benge 3b, Oklahoma State

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