2020 Big 12 Conference Baseball Stock Watch
Five years is a good time window through which to examine how specific programs are performing. It’s enough time to see how long the effects of a particularly strong recruiting class or collection of players last, and enough time to catch programs on the rise and on the decline.
So that’s precisely what we’re going to do this offseason with a series of conference snapshots. Going conference by conference, and excluding abbreviated 2020 results, we’ll look back at where each conference has been in the last five years and project forward to where the conference will be in the next five years.
First up is the Big 12 conference, which entered this five-year window still settling into life as a re-configured league after the departures of Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M and subsequent additions of Texas Christian and West Virginia.
That shifting created some questions about the league’s long-term quality and ability to keep up with the SEC and ACC, which both continue to grow in terms of talent and influence in the sport. While early returns suggested that the Big 12 might have something to worry about in that regard, more recent results seem to have reversed that trend.
Winning a national title is the next frontier for the league. Believe it or not, the Big 12 hasn’t held the trophy since Texas won it in 2005, and no team not named Texas has won a national title as a member of the league. You may recall Oklahoma winning a title in 1994, but that was as a member of the Big Eight Conference, three seasons before the Big 12 existed.
Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State have all been one win away from the CWS finals within this five-year period, so the league hasn’t been far off. On the other hand, no Big 12 team has played for a national title since 2009, when Texas lost to Louisiana State, and the Longhorns are the only team to ever represent the conference in the CWS finals. Getting Texas, Oklahoma or perhaps even Baylor back into the mix along with the three programs that have been on the cusp seems like a recipe for the Big 12 making a long-awaited addition to the trophy case.
Five Year Standings
* 2020 records not included
|Team||Big 12 Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
Given their consistency, it’s no surprise to see the Red Raiders top the standings both in overall winning percentage and conference winning percentage over the last five years, but on the strength of three consecutive seasons of 49 or more wins at the beginning of this five-year span, TCU isn’t far behind. When you consider that it made a College World Series appearance in 2018, Texas sitting at seventh in the overall standings and sixth in the conference standings looks out of place, but the Longhorns finished over .500 just once in league play in the last five full seasons, including two seasons of missed regionals in the bunch and one 30-27 season when they snuck into the Field of 64 by winning the Big 12 Tournament. The overall standings and league standings look pretty similar, save for one team, West Virginia. The Mountaineers are tied for fourth in the overall standings, but fall to seventh in the conference play standings, which serves both as a reminder of how successful WVU has been under Randy Mazey and that geography dictates that it can’t play as daunting a non-conference schedule as many others in the Big 12, particularly in the midweek.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each Big 12 program performed over the last five full seasons. The arrow designation of up, down and to the side represent the results of the last five seasons, not a projection of the years to come.
Texas Tech, which is currently on a run that rivals the one TCU put together at the start of this five-year stretch, has clearly established itself as the team to beat in the league. In the last five full seasons, the Red Raiders have been to Omaha three times. From a player standpoint, Tim Tadlock and his staff have done an excellent job of creating diverse rosters that mix blue-chip prospect types like Josh Jung with four-year players who develop over time, like Brian Klein. Looking ahead, the program shows little sign of slowing down. Despite annually losing key pieces to the draft, both among players on the roster and recruits, Texas Tech reloads each and every time.
The last couple of seasons have not gone as well for TCU, as they missed regionals in 2018 and just snuck into the field in 2019, but there’s little denying that the last five years have been a success for the program. The 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons were part of a four-year run of consecutive Omaha trips, with the Frogs winning 49 or more games from 2015-2017. Looking ahead, the future is bright, thanks in large part to a top-five recruiting class that arrived before the 2020 season.
Oklahoma State’s last five years have been a big success. It is the only team in the league to have been to a regional all five years, and in fact, its seven-year regional streak is by far the best in the conference. It reached the CWS in 2016 and came up one game short of doing so again in 2019. Now, the question is how much better the Cowboys can get from here. Josh Holliday and his staff continue to recruit and develop well, and brand new O’Brate Stadium can only help. But with the conference as a whole much more competitive from top to bottom now than it was five years ago, improvement from really good to great in the Big 12 is tough.
In the previous five-year window, 2010-2014, the Sooners went to four regionals, two super regionals and one College World Series. By comparison, this last five-year window wasn’t as successful, bringing just two regional appearances. However, Oklahoma very well could be the next program in the league to break out. The Sooners were actually well on their way in 2020 before things shut down, and with a veteran team returning for 2021, they should be good in the immediate term. Oklahoma is recruiting very well, and the program's ceiling is much higher than what we’ve seen from the Sooners in the last five years.
Baylor came into the five-year window really struggling, bottoming out with an eighth-place finish in the Big 12 in 2015, but since then, Steve Rodriguez has done nothing but move the program forward. The Bears were back in regionals in 2017, won 37 games and the Big 12 Tournament in 2018 and then came in second in the conference in 2019, their best finish since winning the league in 2012. The next step is Baylor winning a regional and pushing to get back to Omaha, and with the way things have gone the last five years, that just seems like a matter of time.
The Longhorns’ last five years looked quite a bit like the five years before that, which is to say inconsistent, and if anything, Texas has been more inconsistent of late. There have been peaks, such as a Big 12 title and a College World Series appearance in 2018, but there have been even more valleys, like a 25-32 season in 2016 and a last-place Big 12 finish in 2019. With the assembled talent, the potential for any given Texas team is Omaha, but going into the next five years, the challenge will be to tap into that potential more often.
No team in the Big 12 has adjusted its outlook more in the span of five years than West Virginia. During that time, it went from a program without any recent success to one that broke a 21-year regional drought in 2017 and then hosted in 2019. Geography suggests that WVU is always going to face challenges other programs in the league simply don’t face, and that will likely keep the Mountaineers from being as consistent as the top teams in the Big 12. If the last five years have taught us anything, however, it’s that this is a program capable of recruiting and developing the type of talent that can help contend for championships.
Kansas is almost always very competitive within the Big 12, and in 2017 and 2019, it was probably just a handful of wins away from being in a regional. Also, it should be noted that this five-year period is the first five-year period without any regional appearances for the Jayhawks under coach Ritch Price, but getting to the postseason is the goal, and over the last five full seasons, KU just hasn’t done it.
Kansas State deserves an arrow up for where it started during the 2020 season and where it is going now, as there are at least preliminary signs of coach Pete Hughes engineering a rebuild similar to the one he pulled off at a previous stop at Virginia Tech. A newly renovated Tointon Family Stadium should be a big help in that effort. With that said, the last five years were really tough for the Wildcats, with just one .500 or better season overall and none in conference play. They finished last in the composite five-year standings, both overall and in Big 12 competition.
College Baseball Takeaways: Three Top-Five Teams Fall At Home
Top-five teams Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Arkansas were all upended at home Friday, with Texas Tech, Louisville and Vanderbilt all notching important wins.
Regional and College World Series Appearances by Year
|Year||Regional Teams||CWS Teams|
Three Big 12 teams getting into regionals in 2015 and 2016 tied the record for fewest postseason teams in a single year going back to 1997, the first baseball season after the league was founded. In 2016, however, it wasn’t all bad news, as all three of those teams—TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State—got to Omaha. Perhaps that success was a sign of things to come, as it was immediately followed by a 2017 season that saw seven teams get into the Field of 64, the most since the league put eight teams into the field in 2009. In the last two years, that number has steadied at five, reflecting a league that has found some consistency. Oklahoma State is the only team to earn a regional trip in all five of those seasons. Kansas and Kansas State didn’t make any regional appearances in these five years. Every other program made at least two.
Top Draft Selections
|Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU||2019||7th overall|
|Kyler Murray, OF, Oklahoma||2018||9th overall|
|Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech||2019||8th overall|
|Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor||2019||9th overall|
|Alek Manoah, RHP, West Virginia||2019||11th overall|
Prior to Murray being selected in the first round in 2018, the three-year drought for first-round picks from 2015 to 2017 was the longest the league had ever endured. Things rebounded quickly, however, and the 2019 draft was a clear highlight for the Big 12. Not only was Nick Lodolo the highest-drafted player from the league since Oklahoma’s Jon Gray went third overall in 2013, but the four picks inside the top 30 in Lodolo, Jung, Langeliers and Manoah were the most the league has ever had, and all of those players were selected within the first 11 picks. The 48 total players taken was also the most the league has had since 2011, when 56 were selected. The talent drain caused by that crop of 2019 draftees might have suggested 2020 would be a fallow year for prospects in the league, but even in a shortened season, several players stepped to the forefront.
Oklahoma righthander Cade Cavalli pitched his way into being talked about as someone who could be taken in the top half of the first round. Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin held his ground as a potential first-round selection. Texas Tech righthander Clayton Beeter and Texas righthander Bryce Elder are also Top 100 prospects, and Oklahoma righty Dane Acker flew up draft boards as quickly as anyone this spring with what he did in four weeks of play.
|2018||Kansas State||Brad Hill||Pete Hughes|
|2017||Oklahoma||Pete Hughes||Skip Johnson|
|2016||Texas||Augie Garrido||David Pierce|
|2015||Baylor||Steve Smith||Steve Rodriguez|
The last five years have been relatively quiet in terms of total coaching changes in the league, with no more than one change taking place each offseason, and there were none after the 2019 season. The two biggest brand names in the league, Texas and Oklahoma, were among those that did make changes, however. The Longhorns are still looking for consistency, but in the three other cases, things are very much looking up for the programs.