2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 23 Oklahoma

Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam)

Last season: 14-4
Final ranking: No. 9
Coach (record at school): Skip Johnson (85-52, 3 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: LHP Dalton Fowler (No. 193)

The good news: Most of the key pieces return from a lineup that showed a lot of improvement in 2020. That includes second-year freshman third baseman Peyton Graham, a Big 12 player of the year contender, fourth-year junior first baseman Tyler Hardman, a leading power bat for two straight seasons, and fourth-year junior center fielder Tanner Tredaway, who was the most improved Sooners’ hitter last season. It’s also a huge deal to have back fifth-year senior shortstop Brandon Zaragoza, one of the best defensive infielders in the country. With an all-new starting rotation, it will be key that Oklahoma doesn’t give away extra outs, and Zaragoza will help in that regard. Add to that solid position player group some dynamic newcomers who could force their way into playing time right away, led by local product Cade Horton, a two-way player who will be in the competition at second base.

The bad news: Oklahoma lost all three members of an excellent 2020 rotation, Cade Cavalli, Levi Prater and Dane Acker, to the draft. In their place, the Sooners will look to pitchers either new to a weekend starter role or new to Big 12 baseball altogether. Third-year sophomore righthander Wyatt Olds is the favorite to start on Fridays after pitching exclusively in relief in 2019 and serving as a swingman last year. Behind him are junior college transfer lefthander Dalton Fowler, Incarnate Word graduate transfer righthander Luke Taggart and second-year freshman lefthander Jake Bennett, who started three games in 2020. There are reasons for optimism about all four of those guys, but they have big shoes to fill and how well they do so is a big key for Oklahoma in 2021. 

Player to know: Peyton Graham, 3B.

For the offense to be better in 2020 than it was in 2019, Oklahoma needed some new faces to step into big roles immediately, and Graham answered that call in a big way. He hit .358/.457/.612 in his debut season with the Sooners, including leading the team in doubles with eight and tying for the team lead in home runs with three. He also showed precocious plate discipline, as he had as many walks (12) as strikeouts, not something you necessarily expect from a freshman. Not only is he arguably the favorite to be the Big 12’s player of the year, but led by Graham, the Oklahoma lineup is also likely its strong suit going into 2021. 

Path to Omaha: Before it thinks about Omaha, Oklahoma will first have to survive what should be a deep, talented Big 12, especially on the mound. The Sooners have the offense to compete with the best in the league, but can the pitching rise to the occasion? For Oklahoma to make a run at getting back to the College World Series, the offense will have to hit the way it did in 2020 and prove that level of production wasn’t an anomaly. More importantly, the new members of the weekend rotation will have to get up to speed quickly, with one or more emerging as workhorses.

2021 Lineup
C Justin Mitchell, R-Jr. .310 .392 .548 42 2 8
1B Tyler Hardman, R-Jr. .270 .333 .459 74 3 12
2B Cade Horton, Fr. HS — Norman, Okla.
3B Peyton Graham, R-Fr. .358 .457 .612 67 3 10
SS Brandon Zaragoza, R-Sr. .250 .313 .304 56 0 9
LF Kendall Pettis, R-Fr. .276 .364 .448 29 1 4
CF Tanner Tredaway, R-Jr. .378 .392 .689 74 3 14
RF Brady Harlan, R-Sr. .243 .417 .324 37 0 2
DH Diego Muniz, R-So. .207 .314 .345 29 1 5
RHP Wyatt Olds, R-So. 4 0 1.89 19 29 0
LHP Dalton Fowler, R-So. Transfer — Northwest Mississippi JC
RHP Luke Taggart, R-Sr. Transfer — Incarnate Word
RP Jason Ruffcorn, R-Sr. 1 0 0.00 8 12 5
RP Ledgend Smith, R-Jr. 0 0 0.00 6 4 0

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