College Preview Capsules: No. 9 Oklahoma State

No. 9 Oklahoma Stateoklahomastate
2015 Record (Ranking): 38-20 (19). RPI: 16.
Coach (Record at school): Josh Holliday (127-57, 3 years).
Postseason History: 41 regionals (active streak: 3), 19 CWS trips (last in 1999), 1 national title (1959).

Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday doesn’t mince words when it comes to the value of shortstop Donnie Walton returning for his senior season.

“Him coming back changes the look of our team,” Holliday said.

2016 Lineup
C Collin Theroux, Jr. Tr.—San Joaquin Delta (Calif.) CC
1B Dustin Williams, Jr. .276 .396 .469 6 38 5
2B J.R. Davis, Jr. Tr.—Contra Costa (Calif.) CC
3B Garrett Benge, So. Tr.—Cowley County (Kan.) CC
SS Donnie Walton, Sr. .326 .410 .481 4 29 3
LF Garrett McCain, So. .319 .467 .389 0 13 7
CF Ryan Sluder, Jr. .309 .401 .506 6 22 5
RF Corey Hassel, Sr. .312 .352 .417 3 33 13
DH Jon Littell, So. .226 .286 .269 0 15 2
Pos. Name, Year W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Michael Mertz, Jr. 0 0 2.45 4 4 0
RHP Trey Cobb, Jr. 5 2 2.61 59 53 2
RHP Conor Costello, Sr. 2 0 1.67 32 18 1
RP Remey Reed, Jr. 3 2 1.57 46 30 0

A member of the Big 12’s all-conference team as a junior, Walton turned down the Brewers as a 23rd-round draft pick to come back for another year in Stillwater, where his steadying presence both at the plate and in the field is vital. Walton is coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was an all-star and helped Yarmouth-Dennis win the championship.

That Walton’s father, Rob, is the Cowboys’ pitching coach may have made it easier to come back to school. Even so, Walton felt coming back was the best thing for him, and Holliday was more than happy to get him back on board.

“He’s the biggest recruit we could’ve gotten, period,” Holliday said. “You get a player of that caliber who has played so much and played so well and decides to come back for their senior year, you couldn’t possibly hope to get an impact recruit like that.”

Walton’s credentials notwithstanding, Holliday has built the Cowboys into the kind of team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What they may lack in star power they make up for in depth and good college players. OSU was one of the nation’s more diverse offensive teams a year ago, leading the nation in sac bunts (81) while ranking second in the Big 12 in home runs (41). This year’s group should be similar.

Junior college transfers Garrett Benge, J.R. Davis and Collin Theroux all can drive the ball, with Benge coming off a national JC player of the year season. They they join a trio of returning athletic outfielders in Corey Hassell, Ryan Sluder and Garrett McCain.

“We are probably above-average at every spot (in the outfield), defensively, certainly with our ability to run and cover ground,” Holliday said. “I think we throw solid to above-average across the board out there as well. So that’s a chance on the defensive side of the ball to be a strength—and we have some depth out there.”

Theroux will be counted on as a stabilizing force from behind the plate, where he’s an intelligent defender and invests himself in working with the pitching staff. The Cowboys have to replace two weekend starters, most notably 2015 Big 12 pitcher of the year Michael Freeman.

Even without Freeman, the Cowboys have no shortage of arms to roll out on weekends. Michael Mertz spent most of last year recovering from labrum surgery but should be ready to move to the front of the rotation, showing command of a three-pitch mix. Trey Cobb has tightened his breaking ball as he prepares to move from the bullpen into a starting role, and the Cowboys have strong arms left in the pen as well in Remey Reed and Blake Battenfield. The staff gets even more imposing if the improved control Garrett Williams, the power-armed junior lefthander, showed in the fall carries over into the spring.

“Up and down our club, we’ve got a very good, cohesive group of kids that know how to play, and we think our strength is our team,” Holliday said. “Maybe not so much the one or two individuals but rather the entire group.”

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