If you’re gettng a little tired of college basketball – and this time of the year I can only see this happening if you’re not a fan – you might be happy to know that it’s time for baseball in the college ranks.
The Big 12 baseball season gets under way on Friday, with all nine Big 12 teams in action (Iowa State is the only team in the conference that does not participate in baseball).
Texas has won more games (663 all-time, 287 in the Big 12) and Big 12 conference crowns (7) than any team in the conference. Yet last season Longhorns found themselves in very unfamilar territory. Thge Longhorns won more games than they lost a year ago, but they were only 7-17 in the Big 12 and ended up looking up in the standings at the rest of the conference at season’s conclusion.
Longhorn fans are hoping that 2013 was just an anomaly, and that things will be much difference this season. Oklahoma State, which finished second in the Big 12 a year ago and was 41-19 overall, has another strong team in 2014. It will be the Cowboys’ second season under head coach Josh Holliday. Defending conference champion Kansas State is the preseason choice of the Big 12 coaches to defend their title. The Wildcats has the league’s best overall record last season (45-19).
Kansas State may not be as strong top to bottom in the lineup as last year’s championship team, but the Wildcats are still very good and won’t be easy to dethrone. Before winning its first Big 12 regular-season title last season, Kansas State had not won a conference championship in baseball for 80 years.
Another team expected to contend in the conference race this season is TCU. The Horned Frogs received a rather rude welcome to baseball in the Big 12 a year ago. Given the Horned Frogs’ recent run of success in winning nine straight conference titles in the Mountain West (7) and Conference USA (2), they experienced an off-season in 2013, finishing a game over .500 in all games and 12-12 in conference play.
Beginning today and coninuing through next week, I will preview all nine Big 12 conference teams and their outlook for the 2014 college baseball season. The teams will be previewed in ascending order, according to how I project they will finish in the final 2014 conference standings.
The first team up to bat is No. 9 Kansas.
9. Kansas Jayhawks
(2013 season record: 34-25 overall, 12-12 in the Big 12, tied for 6th place)
Kansas returns seven position starters from last season’s primary lineup. Among the departures, however, are three of the Jayhawks’ top five hitters. Gone is first baseman/catcher Alex DeLeon, who led the team with a .319 batting average and a team-best 10 home runs. Kansas also loses shortstop Kevin Kunz, the team’s second best hitter in 2013.
Outfielders Michael Sutter, Dakota Smith, along with infielder Justin Protacio and catcher Ka’iana Eldredge, return this season and bring with them almost 45 percent of the Jayhawks’ run production a year ago. Right-handed senior starter Frank Duncan (4-6, 4.20 ERA in 83.2 innings) and southpaw starter Wes Benjamin (4-6. 4.40 ERA in 15 starts and 88 innings) were two of KU’s top three pitchers in the rotation last season, and they are back to face Big 12 hitters in 2014.
The Jayhawks have one of the country’s top closers in right-handed relief specialist Jordan Piche. Piche, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2013, recorded 12 saves and posted an ERA of 1.68 in 32 appearances and 64 innings of work in 2013.
Kansas opens up its 2014 season this weekend with a three-game series with Brigham Young in Peoria, Ariz.
Next up: No. 8 Texas Tech