2019 Big 12 Conference College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Shea Langeliers (Photo by John Williamson)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

  1. Texas Tech (45-20, 15-9)
  2. Baylor (37-21, 13-11)
  3. Texas (42-23, 17-7)
  4. TCU (33-23, 10-13)
  5. West Virginia (29-27, 9-15)
  6. Oklahoma State (31-26-1, 16-8)
  7. Oklahoma (38-25, 14-10)
  8. Kansas (27-30, 8-15)
  9. Kansas State (23-31, 5-19)

Team to Beat: Texas Tech

The Red Raiders got to the College World Series in 2018 for the third time in program history thanks to their ability to mix and match a whole host of power arms on the pitching staff, impressive power in the middle of the lineup, and by putting premium athletes all over the field. They will look to use a similar formula in 2019. Third baseman Josh Jung (.392/.491/.639), a College Player of the Year candidate, is the centerpiece of the offense as one of the very best pure hitters in college baseball.

Also returning in the lineup is power hitting first baseman Cameron Warren (.326/.444/.549), electric outfielder Gabe Holt (.348/.440/.485) and steady second baseman Brian Klein (.317/.422/.480), all of whom played big roles last season. They’ll be joined by outfielder Cody Masters (.258/.414/.364), who looks poised for a breakout season, and an exciting group of newcomers led by freshman outfielder Max Marusak and junior college transfer shortstop Dylan Neuse. On the mound, they will have to figure out how the pieces fit, but like last year, you have to like their chances to find enough pitching when they’ll be dealing with big arms like Caleb Killian (9-3, 3.24), John McMillon (5-3, 4.02), Caleb Freeman (1-0, 5.18), Kurt Wilson (1-0, 8.10) and freshman Mason Montgomery.

Player of the Year: Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech

In a lineup full of dynamic athletes, Jung stands out. At a solid 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he cuts an imposing figure in the batter’s box, and his numbers back up his stature. After a quality freshman campaign in 2017, he really exploded as a superstar in 2018, hitting .392/.491/.639 with 17 doubles, six triples, 12 homers, 80 RBIs and 39 walks compared to just 32 strikeouts. He’s also a good athlete who can more than handle his business at third base. He spent his summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, which can only serve to help propel him toward another outstanding season in Lubbock and a place as a first-round pick in June.

Pitcher of the Year: Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU

Lodolo, a heralded recruit in TCU’s 2016 recruiting class, has been solid in his two seasons in Fort Worth. He’s been durable, he’s maintained ERAs in the 4.00s, and he’s struck out 165 hitters in 155.2 innings. But going into the 2019 season as the Horned Frogs’ Friday night starter, he’ll look to take the step into superstardom. A 6-foot-6 lefty with the capability to throw in the mid-90s, Lodolo has the goods to be among the first names called in the 2019 draft, and putting together a monster season as a junior, as we anticipate, would only help his stock soar.

Freshman of the Year: Max Marusak, OF, Texas Tech

Marusak, as Texas Tech’s projected opening day center fielder, is going to get thrown right into the deep end as a first-year player, but with his tools, he looks more than capable of handling it. Marusak’s speed grades out as elite, which will allow the Amarillo, Texas, native to run down just about everything in the outfield and to be a real chaos creator at the plate and on the bases for a Red Raiders offense that should put up runs in bunches again.

Top 25 Teams: Texas Tech (8), Baylor (16) and Texas (19).

Other Projected Regional Teams:

Texas Christian: The Horned Frogs (33-23) had an uncharacteristically difficult 2018 season, as they missed out on the postseason, ending their incredible run of four consecutive College World Series appearances. They will certainly have the pitching to bounce back and find their way to the postseason again in 2019 with a rotation featuring Lodolo (7-4, 4.32), veteran Jared Janczak (1-1, 3.00), now healthy after missing time last season due to injury, and junior college transfer Brandon Williamson, who has the raw stuff to be a factor right away. The offense will need to show improvement after TCU hit just .261 as a team last season. Another big season from Josh Watson (.305/.437/.495) will go a long way toward improving production, but more important than that is getting instant contributions from a group of junior college transfers, including Jake Guenther, Austin Henry, Hunter Wolfe and Andrew Keefer, who will be a big part of TCU’s plans from Opening Day on.

West Virginia: WVU might have gone just 29-27 last season, but this is still a team loaded with talented players held over from a 2017 regional appearance. The offense will be led by a group of seniors in outfielder Darius Hill (.329/.362/.479), outfielder Braden Zarbnisky (.259/.403/.314) and catcher Ivan Gonzalez (.255/.320/.325), along with redshirt junior first baseman Marques Inman (.319/.387/.529) and junior outfielder Brandon White (.289/.392/.358). Zarbnisky will also hold down an important role in the bullpen after putting up a 4.62 ERA in 37 innings of relief last season, but the biggest wildcard on the mound for the Mountaineers is Friday night starter Alek Manoah (3-5, 4.00). If he puts it all together as a junior in 2019, he has the ability to be the pitcher of the year in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State (31-26-1) will get some reinforcements on the mound after they sported a 5.53 team ERA a year ago. None of the three projected weekend starters were active for the Cowboys last season. Righthander Jensen Elliott, who was excellent as a freshman on Oklahoma State’s 2016 CWS team before missing the better part of two seasons with injury, is healthy and ready to go as the team’s Friday starter. Junior college transfer Logan Gragg, a towering righthander with an impressive changeup, will slot in behind Elliott. Speaking of towering pitchers, 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Mitchell Stone, now fully healthy after an ankle injury cost him all of 2018, will hold down the Sunday spot in the rotation. Offensively, Oklahoma State will be a power-oriented attack once again, led by veterans Colin Simpson (.280/.382/.578), Trevor Boone (.270/.301/.500), Carson McCusker (.271/.347/.535) and Christian Funk (.245/.366/.413)—a quartet that combined for 43 long balls last season.

Notable Storylines

Oklahoma (38-25) will be relying on some unproven players in 2019, perhaps most notably in the rotation. Nathan Wiles (7-3, 3.54) gives the Sooners a steady hand on Friday nights, but behind him, they will lean on a pair of sophomores new to the weekend rotation in righthander Cade Cavalli (3-2, 6.75) and lefthander Levi Prater (3-4, 4.09). Both are short on experience in that role, but long on raw talent, as they’re both top prospects for the 2020 draft. Offensively, their biggest question marks are in the outfield, where OU is replacing all three starters—Steele WalkerKyler Murray and Cade Harris. Two freshmen, Diego Muniz and Milan Walla, will be part of the group with the unenviable task of following that productive trio.

Kansas (27-30) has the talent in place to be more than just a spoiler team if things come together. Preseason All-American righthander Ryan Zeferjahn (8-5, 4.48), one of the Big 12’s best prospects for the 2019 draft, will certainly give the Jayhawks a shot to win on Friday nights every single week, no matter the opponent. He’ll be supported in the rotation by Ryan Cyr (4-3, 4.29), who was a key piece in the KU bullpen a year ago. Offensively, they’ll be led by junior catcher Jaxx Groshans (.313/.355/.464) and junior second baseman James Cosentino (.269/.387/.452), whose offensive exploits, combined with his excellent defensive skill and plus speed have made him a quality draft prospect.

Kansas’ in-state rival Kansas State (23-31) has a new head coach, former Oklahoma and Virginia Tech skipper Pete Hughes. In the long term, Hughes will look to accomplish something similar to what he accomplished at Virginia Tech, where he took a program with some disadvantages compared to their conference brethren and not only led them to the postseason, but led them to a spot as a regional host in 2013. In the immediate term, the Wildcats likely won’t be a team competing at the top of the league, but they will boast a two-way player that could be among the nation’s best in junior Will Brennan (.359/.454/.427; 2-1, 3.86). Already an accomplished hitter with two seasons of a .350 or better batting average under his belt, Brennan will look to take on more as a pitcher this season with his move into the weekend rotation, where he will file in behind fellow veterans Tyler Eckberg (3-2, 5.28) and Kasey Ford (5-2, 4.67).

Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects

  1. Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor
  2. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech
  3. Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU
  4. Alek Manoah, RHP, West Virginia
  5. Ryan Zeferjahn, RHP, Kansas
  6. Gabe Holt, OF, Texas Tech
  7. Cody Bradford, LHP, Baylor
  8. David Hamilton, SS, Texas
  9. Caleb Freeman, RHP, Texas Tech
  10. Caleb Killian, RHP, Texas Tech
  11. John McMillon, RHP, Texas Tech
  12. Davis Wendzel, 3B, Baylor
  13. Mitchell Stone, LHP, Oklahoma State
  14. Blair Henley, RHP, Texas
  15. Jensen Elliott, RHP, Oklahoma State
  16. Logan Gragg, RHP, Oklahoma State
  17. Will Brennan, OF, Kansas State
  18. Kade Strowd, RHP, West Virginia
  19. Colin Simpson, C/OF, Oklahoma State
  20. Trevor Boone, OF, Oklahoma State

Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects

  1. Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma
  2. Nick Loftin, SS, Baylor
  3. Caleb Sloan, RHP, TCU
  4. Levi Prater, LHP, Oklahoma
  5. Coy Cobb, RHP, Texas
  6. Adam Oviedo, SS, TCU
  7. Cole Quintanilla, RHP, Texas
  8. Tyler Thomas, LHP, Baylor
  9. Kameron Fields, RHP/OF, Texas
  10. Zack Matthews, RHP, Oklahoma

Top 10 Newcomers

  1. Max Marusak, OF, Texas Tech
  2. Brandon Williamson, LHP, TCU
  3. Logan Gragg, RHP, Oklahoma State
  4. Dylan Neuse, SS, Texas Tech
  5. Coy Cobb, RHP, Texas
  6. Mason Montgomery, LHP, Texas Tech
  7. Bryce Reagan, INF, Texas
  8. Huey Morrill, SS, Oklahoma State
  9. Marcelo Perez, RHP, TCU
  10. Tevin Tucker, SS, West Virginia

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Josh Jung, Texas Tech
Best Power Hitter: Colin Simpson, Oklahoma State
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Will Brennan, Kansas State
Best Athlete: Gabe Holt, Texas Tech
Fastest Runner: Max Marusak, Texas Tech
Best Baserunner: Gabe Holt, Texas Tech
Best Defensive Catcher: Shea Langeliers, Baylor
Best Defensive Infielder: Brandon Zaragoza, Oklahoma
Best Infield Arm: Davis Wendzel, Baylor
Best Defensive Outfielder: Brandon White, West Virginia
Best Outfield Arm: Brandon White, West Virginia
Best Fastball: John McMillon, Texas Tech
Best Breaking Ball: Nick Lodolo, TCU
Best Changeup: Cody Bradford, Baylor
Best Control: Cody Bradford, Baylor

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