Baseball America’s 2014 preseason top 25 includes three teams from the Big 12. That national publication tabs Virginia as the preseason No. 1 team in college baseball this season, and lists Texas (18), TCU (19) and defending Big 12 champion Kansas State (22) among the top 25. For Kansas State, it is the highest preseason baseball ranking in the school’s history.
Texas, the Big 12’s top-ranked team in the Baseball America preseason top 25 poll, will need to pull off a worst-to-first season turnaround from itssurprising last-place finish in the Big 12 a year ago in order to fulfull the lofty preseason expectations afforded the Longhorns. But with seven position starters and eight pitchers returning in 2014, Texas has the roster depth and experience to execute such a turnaround.
Among the key returning starters for the Longhorns this season are senior outfielder Mark Payton, who led the Big 12 in hitting in 2013 with a .383 batting average. The pitching staff will be anchored by right-handers Dillon Peters and Nathan Thornhill, both of whom logged over 80 innings of work last season. Texas also was ranked No. 2 by Baseball America for its 2014 recruiting class.
TCU completed its first season in the Big 12 in 2013, finishing with an overall record of 29-28 and 12-12 in conference action. The Horned Frogs also return seven position players, plus starting pitchers Preston Morrison and Brandon Finnegan. Morrison, a junior right-hander, was 7-3 last season with a 1.51 earned-run average in 107 innings. Finnegan throws from the left side and pitched 79 innings a year ago with a 3.18 ERA in 15 starts. Among the returning starters for TCU is outfielder Boomer White, who batted .314 last season as a freshman.
Big 12 champion Kansas State has 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivett back. Kivett, a second baseman, hit .360 in 2013, fifth best in the Big 12. The Wildcats’ .322 team batting average a year ago was the second best in the country. The Wildcats had eight players finish in the top 15 in the Big 12 in battting average in 2013. Six of the eight return for 2014. K-State also has right-handed pitcher Jake Matthys, Big 12 Freshman or the Year last season, back for another go this season. A year ago, Matthys appeared in 18 conference games, posting a 5-0 rec0ord and recorded nine saves in all games.
The top five teams in the Baseball America preseason poll are, in order, Virginia, Oregon State, Indiana, Cal State Fullerton and North Carolina State.
The 2014 Big 12 baseball season gets under way Friday, Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day for all you baseball lovers).