Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles previewing the 2014 Big 12 baseball season and examining the season outlook for each of the nine conference teams that participate in the spring sport of baseball. A reminder: The teams are being previewed in ascending order, based on the the place in the final standings they are projected to finish.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
2013 season record: 43-21 overall; 13-11 in the Big 12, tied for 3rd
The Oklahoma Sooners have 22 conference championships in baseball all-time. But none of those titles have come in the Big 12. The Sooners were the preseason pick of the conference coaches to win a conference crown in 2011 and 2012, but finished third both seasons. OU did win the Big 12 postseason championship last season.
Oklahoma has the biggest rebuilding task in the conference this season because of departed starters. OU must replace five members of last season’s starting lineup, including the team’s top two hitters and five position players who accounted for 24 of the Sooners team total of 35 balls that left the park.
OU also is without the services of their top two starters a year ago (right-hander Jonathan Gray and left-hander Dillon Overton), who together accounted for 19 Sooner wins last year. In all, the Sooners lost five pitchers to the 2013 MLB Draft and nearly 60 percent of the staff’s innings pitched last season.
The Sooners also have a new head coach this season. Veteran college coach Pete Hughes has replaced Sunny Golloway, who left after nine seasons in Norman to take the head coaching position at Auburn.
Key returning players for Oklahoma are outfielder Craig Aikin (.286 batting average and 23 RBI), catch Anthony Hermelyn (.275, 26 RBI) and second baseman Hector Lorenzana (.274, 42 RBI). The Sooners have a solid group of returning pitchers, headed by relief specialist Jacob Evans, who posted a 7-2 record and nine saves in 30 appearances and 52 innings of work.
The loss of ace weekend starters Gray and Overton will be difficult shoes for the Sooners to fill, however. OU has a good influx of talent joining the roster in 2014 with a top-20 recruiting class.
Oklahona has started the 2014 season going 5-1 through the first six games.
Next up: No. 4 Texas