When Big 12 play rolls around, it generally feels like every series is pivotal, and this one is no different. The Oklahoma Sooners are your surprise leaders of the conference right now, and they’re well deserving of the honor. Meanwhile, your Red Raiders are finally picking up steam and have an opportunity to put a dent in the Sooners resume. There are plenty of questions I have for Tim Tadlock right now, like - who’s going to start Sunday (McMillon is doing his best Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn), and who is your stud out the bullpen? Instead, I get those insights on Oklahoma. I special thank you to Jack Shields from Crimson and Cream Machine. I think you’re going to see the Red Raiders win this series, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we dominate it.
Given all that, let’s dive into the Q/A.
1. Oklahoma has had an excellent year. Can you speak to the Skip Johnson as a coach and the difference he’s made as the head man?
With Johnson being a pitching guru of sorts (he instructs Clayton Kershaw during the offseason), I think that’s where he’s made his biggest mark early on. In his second season on campus and first as the head coach, you’re beginning to see a much more consistency from his rotation. Another thing you’ll notice is the confidence across the board with these pitchers, and I think that’s something he’s helped instill in those guys.
2. Kyler Murray is likely the most “famous” name on the roster, and he’s had a fantastic year. What’s the word on him and the MLB Draft? Given his future in football is likely limited to college (height), he could likely sign somewhere for a 7-figure bonus. How much is that weighing on Sooner football and baseball fans?
I think his draft projections are still a bit blurry at this point due to the fact that he’s still a bit raw and inexperienced as an outfielder, but it’s abundantly clear that his professional future is in baseball. The general thought is that it would take a very early selection and a sizable signing bonus (as you mentioned) to make him even consider a move in 2018. Most aren’t too worried about it happening this offseason, but I’d probably predict Kyler to leave for pro baseball prior to the 2019 football season. However, he was just included in Keith Law’s list of top 50 MLB Draft prospects for 2018 (36), so some people will still be sweating it.
3. The strength of this team appears to be the pitching staff. What can the Red Raiders expect to see from the weekend starters, and who from the bullpen stands out the most?
The ace is Jake Irvin, who is one of the steadiest pitchers in college baseball. Opponents are hitting only .190 against him this season, which is a pretty insane number this deep into league play. Perez has been slightly less consistent, but he hasn’t earned a loss and has been solid as a whole in 2018. The Sunday starter, Nathan Wiles, was outstanding against Texas last weekend, pitching 7.2 scoreless and allowing only five hits. All three starters are capable of dominating a game, but that’s obviously easier said than done against the offensive juggernaut that is Texas Tech. As far as relievers are concerned, freshman Levi Prater is one of the most exciting young pitchers in the nation. He’s got a ton of swagger and a really interesting backstory.
4. Steele Walkers stats pop off the page. Nine home runs, .330+ batting average, and a team leading 37 RBIs. Is he the straw that stirs the drink per say for the Sooner lineup?
Absolutely. He actually started the season with some pedestrian numbers (by his standards), but the power has really gotten going again in the last month or so.
5. Any key injuries/suspensions to be aware of?
None that I’m aware of.
6. Prediction on who wins the series?
I’ll go with Tech, but taking one win from this series is pretty crucial for OU. I think they’ll get that done and come out of the weekend in pretty decent shape from an RPI standpoint.