2020 Big 12 Conference College Baseball Preview
In 2019, the Big 12 enjoyed a highly-competitive regular season that ended with five teams earning bids to the NCAA tournament. Three of those teams, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, even earned host sites. By the time the College World Series rolled around, just Texas Tech was left standing, as the Red Raiders carried the flag for the Big 12 by making their fourth trip to Omaha in six seasons.
Going into the 2020 season, it appears the league could be extremely jumbled, with teams tightly packed in the standings.
Texas Tech is a clear favorite, but the team suffered significant personnel losses after last season, particularly on offense, and could take a step back. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are in our preseason Top 25, but there is not that much space between those two teams and Texas, Texas Christian and Baylor, three teams that were in consideration for the Top 25.
It seems a safe bet that this will be yet another season when the league goes into its conference tournament in Oklahoma City with a lot to be determined.
Player of the Year: Nick Loftin, SS, Baylor
The top-ranked draft prospect from the Big 12 will also go into the season as the favorite to win player of the year honors. The junior has been incredibly consistent at the plate in his first two seasons and has shown a bit more pop in his bat than you might expect from someone of his stature, hitting .313/.373/.470 for his career with 30 doubles, 12 home runs, 77 RBI and 38 walks compared to just 37 strikeouts. But as good as he has been offensively, he might provide more value on defense, where he handles the shortstop position extraordinarily well, thanks to very good footwork and a strong arm. He proved himself against elite competition again over the summer as a member of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, and will look to use that experience to help push the Bears into the postseason again this season.
Pitcher of the Year: Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma
At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds with a fastball that he can run into the high 90s, Cavalli looks the part of a workhorse Friday starter and potential first-round draft pick. As the No. 51 prospect for the 2020 draft and with a summer spent pitching for Team USA, he is clearly also respected around the sport. Now, all that’s left to do is prove it in the spring with his results. Last season, his first as a member of the weekend rotation, Cavalli went 5-3 with a 3.28 ERA and .238 opponent average in 60.1 innings of work. For Oklahoma to reach its potential as a contender at the top of the conference, Cavalli will need to take a step forward, and all sign points toward him doing so.
Freshman of the Year: Bryce Osmond, RHP, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State will lean on a lot of freshmen pitchers in 2020, none more so than the righthander Osmond, who is projected to slot in behind lefthander Parker Scott as the team’s Saturday starter. He was a Top-50 prospect heading into the 2019 draft, but in part due to a strong commitment to the Cowboys, he slipped to the 35th round and made the decision to come to school rather than begin his pro career. It’s asking a lot for any freshman to come in and prove effective in the Big 12, but Osmond’s pedigree suggests that he could pull it off
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Texas Tech (46-20, 16-8)
With Josh Jung, Gabe Holt and Cameron Warren gone from the lineup and Caleb Kilian gone from the rotation, Texas Tech loses quite a bit going into the 2020 season, but at this point, few programs deserve more of the benefit of the doubt that they will reload year after year. The Red Raiders lose talented players every year, but they’ve been to Omaha four times in the last six seasons, so it’s hard not to think that 2020 will be more of the same.
Offensively, unless one emerges as the season goes on, the lack of a power bat at the level of Jung or Warren could limit the ceiling of the Tech lineup, but the depth is impressive. Including senior second baseman Brian Klein (.315/.406/.440) and junior center fielder Dylan Neuse (.298/.408/.494), nine players who saw significant playing time last year are either penciled into starting spots or are battling for time heading into the spring. On the mound, Tech will once again run out a staff featuring big-time arm after big-time arm. Righthander Micah Dallas (7-2, 4.03) returns to lead the rotation after showing outstanding poise as a freshman last season. Hard-throwing righthander John McMillon (4-3, 3.40), who elected to come back for his senior season rather than begin his pro career, will be a key piece behind Dallas in the rotation, as will righthander Bryce Bonnin (7-1, 4.08), who will look to take a step forward after an up-and-down 2019. Even if it takes some shuffling along the way, Texas Tech always finds the right combination on the mound by season’s end, and it seems a safe assumption that they will do so again.
2. Oklahoma State (40-21, 14-9)
The Cowboys will look to open brand new O’Brate Stadium in style in 2020. The losses of Colin Simpson, Trevor Boone and Andrew Navigato are big, but Oklahoma State always finds a way to score runs. A senior core of first baseman Alix Garcia (.294/.388/.485) and outfielders Carson McCusker (.311/.383/.520) and Cade Cabbiness (.234/.307/.406) will be a good start to rebuilding the lineup; and the addition of junior college transfer Kaden Polcovich, who had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League, should provide an instant jolt of offense. Lefthander Parker Scott (3-1, 2.18) is back to front the rotation after serving in a starting role for the second half of last year, but the rest of the rotation is made up of freshmen, highlighted by righthander Bryce Osmond. If those first-year pitchers grow up quickly, the Cowboys’ ceiling is nothing short of getting to Omaha, and even if pitching coach Rob Walton has to do some shuffling as time goes on, confidence in the program’s ability to develop offense and belief in the raw talent on the pitching staff will keep the floor high for this team.
3. Oklahoma (33-23, 11-13)
The 2020 season is the most anticipated season for the Sooners in quite some time. A big reason for that level of optimism is a starting rotation led by righthander Cade Cavalli (5-3, 3.28) and lefthander Levi Prater (7-4, 3.26). Cavalli has the talent to be the best pitcher in the Big 12, while Prater was a workhorse right away last season after transitioning from the bullpen. Junior college transfer Dane Acker, an intriguing prospect for the 2020 draft, and righthander Ben Abram (6-4, 4.24), who excelled as the midweek starter a year ago, give Oklahoma a chance to have a rotation as good as any in the conference from one through four. Last year’s Sooners struggled at the plate to the tune of a .266 batting average, but all but one regular from that lineup returns, including top power hitter Tyler Hardman (.306/.394/.457). With its pitching staff being what it is, Oklahoma doesn’t necessarily need to have an elite offense, but with steps forward from enough of those players, it should be more than good enough.
4. Texas Christian (34-28, 11-13)
TCU fought through myriad injuries during the 2019 season and ended up sneaking into a regional as one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament. Finally healthy heading into the 2020 season and bolstered by the addition of a top-five recruiting class, the Horned Frogs have what it takes to improve upon last season’s result. Catcher Zach Humphreys (.277/.336/.431), first baseman Conner Shepherd (.297/.389/.465) and outfielder Hunter Wolfe (.301/.417/.516), will be the senior leaders key in making the offense go, as will outfielder Porter Brown (.279/.405/.328), who was on his way to an outstanding season last year as a freshman before going down due to injury. The starting pitching is unproven but talented. Junior college transfer Johnny Ray, who has been up to 97 mph with his fastball, will lead the rotation. Behind him, freshman Jacob Meador flashes a big arm for a pitcher who is a little bit undersized, and Marcelo Perez (3-2, 4.30) was effective last season, albeit in the closer’s role. Having veteran Charles King (6-3, 3.36) back in the bullpen should be a big help as well.
5. Texas (27-27, 7-16)
Just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for Texas last year, leading to a last-place finish in the league. It’s extremely difficult to imagine the Longhorns struggling to a similar extent in 2020. Outfield will be a unit of strength for Texas, what with the return of seniors Duke Ellis (.266/.411/.330) and Austin Todd (.256/.344/.374), plus sophomore Eric Kennedy (.310/.382/.418), who led the team in hitting last season. D.J. Petrinsky (.256/.310/.385) is back behind the plate after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, making that a position of strength also. First baseman Zach Zubia (.252/.385/.405) has big-time raw power and improvements athletically have allowed him to get onto the field and out of the designated hitter spot. Behind junior Bryce Elder (2-4, 2.93) in the rotation and Kamron Fields (4.26, 3 SV) at the back of the bullpen, Texas will be leaning on a number of relatively unproven pitchers, including sophomores Ty Madden (4-1, 3.40), Kolby Kubichek (0-1, 6.50) and Mason Bryant (1-1, 11.32), and freshman Pete Hansen. If some of those young pitchers become stars, the ceiling for this team is Omaha. If there are significant growing pains again, either from those pitchers or the freshmen position players, however, it might be a struggle to get back to the postseason.
6. Baylor (35-19, 14-8)
Baylor has a lot of momentum under coach Steve Rodriguez, having made three consecutive regional appearances. They will try to make it four straight in 2020 with a roster that is experienced in a lot of important places. Nick Loftin (.323/.380/.502) is entering his third season as the Bears’ starting shortstop and is the Big 12’s best prospect heading into the season. Catcher Andy Thomas (.335/.413/.519) has been a regular contributor throughout his career who might be the league’s best pure hitter, even though he was stuck behind Shea Langeliers, and therefore, hasn’t played the position much. Davion Downey (.243/.404/.400) will start in the outfield for a third straight season, and first baseman Chase Wehsener (.291/.370/.341) is back after proving himself a key piece of the lineup last year. Righthander Jimmy Winston (5-3, 4.30) and lefthander Paul Dickens (6-2, 4.41) give the Bears two returning weekend starters, and the return of Luke Boyd (3-0, 2.14) and Daniel Caruso (2-1, 1.67) means that two of the three best bullpen arms from last season are back. The return of those veterans gives Baylor a high floor for the upcoming season. How high their ceiling is depends a lot on how quickly the freshmen in big roles, including Will Rigney in the rotation, Tre Richardson at third base and Jared McKenzie in the outfield, get up to speed.
7. Kansas State (25-33, 8-16)
A newly-renovated Tointon Family Stadium opens in 2020, and don’t look now, but coach Pete Hughes has a K-State team that could compete to be in a regional this season. Much of that optimism stems from a weekend rotation featuring lefthander Jordan Wicks (6-3, 3.61), the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and righthanders Carson Seymour and Connor McCullough, who both showed a ton of promise on the Cape this past summer. Offensively, the Wildcats have the power in the lineup to at least hang around in just about every game. Their top six home run hitters from a year ago are back, led by catcher Chris Ceballos (.292/.333/.510) and outfielder Dylan Phillips (.238/.324/.430), who each had 10. Outfielder Zach Kokoska is also back after hitting .330/.408/.522 with eight home runs. Senior Caleb Littlejim (.249/.327/.428; 5-4, 5.26), who will look to start in center field this season, is quietly one of the most versatile players in the Big 12. In his time in Manhattan, he has started games at second base, third base and shortstop, and has served as both a starting pitcher and reliever.
8. Kansas (32-26, 12-12)
The Jayhawks return a lot of players from a team that nearly elbowed its way into at-large consideration late in the 2019 season. Much of that experience is concentrated on the mound, despite the loss of ace Ryan Zeferjahn, where KU brings back redshirt senior Ryan Cyr (4-7, 5.46) and redshirt sophomore Eli Davis (5-3, 5.02) in the rotation. Additionally, Kansas returns its three best relief arms from a season ago in Blake Goldsberry (3.50, 3 SV), Jonah Ulane (3.62, 9 SV) and Nathan Barry (5-1, 4.25). Offensively, four of the top five hitters are back from last year’s lineup, but the missing piece there is catcher Jaxx Groshans, who really made the Jayhawks go. Benjamin Sems might be the most accomplished returning shortstop not named Nick Loftin in the Big 12 after hitting .305/.414/.437 with 14 stolen bases last season. Getting leaps forward from some of the returning bats will be key if Kansas wants to compete for a postseason berth again.
9. West Virginia (38-22, 13-11)
After a breakthrough season in 2019, the reset button is being pressed in Morgantown, due to this being the youngest team coach Randy Mazey has inherited in his time at West Virginia. However, there are still some pieces on the roster that will help keep the Mountaineers competitive from week to week. Second baseman Tyler Doanes (.316/.398/.500) is a spark plug at the top of the order. Catcher Paul McIntosh (.277/.359/.497) slugged 10 home runs a season ago, and third baseman Kevin Brophy (.204/.267/.401) had nine. Shortstop Tevin Tucker (.199/.365/.282) gives WVU a quality glove at the position. Two-way star Braden Zarbnisky is back after missing all of last season with injury issues. On the mound, lefty Jackson Wolf (2-4, 5.17) is a nice starting point to build around in the rotation and righthander Ryan Bergert (2-0, 1.85) came on strong last season, throwing five shutout innings against Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament and three more against Texas A&M in the regional.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
- Nick Loftin, SS, Baylor
- Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma
- Kaden Polcovich, 2B, Oklahoma State
- Bryce Bonnin, RHP, Texas Tech
- Bryce Elder, RHP, Texas
- Levi Prater, LHP, Oklahoma
- Clayton Beeter, RHP, Texas Tech
- Carson Seymour, RHP, Kansas State
- Caleb Sloan, RHP, TCU
- Dane Acker, RHP, Oklahoma
- Parker Scott, LHP, Oklahoma State
- Zach Matthews, RHP, Oklahoma
- Tyler Hardman, 1B, Oklahoma
- Johnny Ray, RHP, TCU
- Dylan Neuse, OF, Texas Tech
- Cole Quintanilla, RHP, Texas
- Jakob Brustoski, LHP, Texas Tech
- Jackson Wolf, LHP, West Virginia
- Kameron Fields, RHP, Texas
- Brett Standlee, RHP, Oklahoma State
Top 2021 Draft Prospects
- Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
- Max Marusak, OF, Texas Tech
- Austin Becker, RHP, Texas Tech
- Riley Cornelio, RHP, TCU
- Kolby Kubichek, RHP, Texas
- Mason Montgomery, LHP, Texas Tech
- Eric Kennedy, OF, Texas
- Mason Bryant, RHP, Texas
- Micah Dallas, RHP, Texas Tech
- Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State
- Bryce Osmond, RHP, Oklahoma State
- Kaden Polcovich, 2B, Oklahoma State
- Trey Faltine, SS, Texas
- Riley Cornelio, RHP, TCU
- Will Rigney, RHP, Baylor
- Dane Acker, RHP, Oklahoma
- Johnny Ray, RHP, TCU
- Jacob Meador, RHP, TCU
- Andre Duplantier II, 3B, Texas
- Nate Rombach, C, Texas Tech
Best Pure Hitter: Brian Klein, Texas Tech
Best Power Hitter: Carson McCusker, Oklahoma State
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Brian Klein, Texas Tech
Best Athlete: Nick Loftin, Baylor
Fastest Runner: Max Marusak, Texas Tech
Best Baserunner: Tyler Doanes, West Virginia
Best Defensive Catcher: Braxton Fulford, Texas Tech
Best Defensive Infielder: Nick Loftin, Baylor
Best Infield Arm: Nick Loftin, Baylor
Best Defensive Outfielder: Dylan Neuse, Texas Tech
Best Outfield Arm: Dylan Neuse, Texas Tech
Best Fastball: Cade Cavalli, Oklahoma
Best Breaking Ball: Bryce Elder, Texas
Best Changeup: Jordan Wicks, Kansas State
Best Control: Bryce Elder, Texas