We are less than a month away from from opening day at Dan Law Field. That means it’s time to look at the strength of our Big 12 opponents.
Last season, Baylor finished with a 37-21 overall record and 13-11 in Big 12 play. They finished fifth in the conference and then prospered through the conference tournament reaching the championship game. In 2019, that same starting lineup will return – including catcher Shea Langeliers who is considered one of the top catching prospects in the country. JUCO transfer Logan Freeman will also be joining the pitching staff and is expected to take on an active role with the team. Their only issue in the bullpen. Most of them are gone. Replacing those players and avoiding injury could be a difficult task for the Bears.
The Jayhawks finished eighth in the Big 12 in 2018. They had a 27-30 overall record and finished 8-15 in Big 12 play. With a record like this, they still managed to get an invite to the Big 12 Tournament and somehow took down the top-seeded Texas. In 2019, Ryan Zeferjahn will likely return to weekend rotation. He has one of the best arms in the country and struck out 100 batters in just 80.1 innings last season. They will lose two of their top hitters, but will still have most of the lineup back.
Kansas State struggled in 2018. They had a 23-31 overall record and just barely managed a 5-19 conference record. You read that right. They only won five conference games and were dead last in the Big 12. Needless to say, they did not participate in the conference tournament. In 2019, they are losing some of their key players. Not that it would make much of a difference anyway. Maybe some of the newcomers will step in and make a major impact.
The Sooners finished fourth in the Big 12 Conference last season and were in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament. They were also in the Tallahassee tournament where they won the first two games and then dropped the next two to Mississippi State. They went 14-10 in conference play and had a 38-25 overall record. Unfortunately for the Sooners, they will lose the stars of the show – Kyler Murray and Steele Walker. Last season, they were the only two players to hit double-digit home runs for the team. They are also losing their best starting pitcher making it a tough spot to be in for the Sooners. Offensively they shouldn’t have a problem, but they will need to rely on newcomers to fill in those key roles if they want to repeat, or even improve their 2018 season.
Okie State struggled as the season started, but somehow managed to finish second in the Big 12. Then they went 0-2 in the conference tournament. They had major issues out of conference too, and they just couldn’t get the job against Stetson in the regionals. They finished the season 31-26-1 overall and 16-8 in conference. Lucky for them, they get some experience players back this season. One of these players is Colin Simpson who hit .280 and had 448 runs scored, 13 doubles, 18 homeruns, and 51 RBI in 2018. Joe Lienhard will likely take charge of the weekend pitching rotation, but he will need help from Jensen Elliott and Mitchell Stone. Oklahoma State fans are hoping for a more consistent 2019, and their pitching staff might be able to help.
Last year the Horned Frogs missed the postseason entirely. The same team that reached the College World Series four straight seasons finished the 2018 season with a 33-23 overall record and 10-13 in conference play. They do have talented pitchers, injuries have really hurt the team in the past. To get back to the team they were before, they need their entire team to remain healthy.
Texas did impressively well in 2018. Their 42-23 overall record, 17-7 conference record and a strong postseason run earned them a trip to Omaha. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they just have one weekend starting pitcher returning in 2019, Blair Henley, who finished the last season with a 3.32 ERA in 86.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 64 hitters. They will have to rely on newcomers to get them back to their 2018 state.
The West Virginia Mountaineers had a 29-27 overall record last season. They finished 9-15 in conference play. It was enough to earn them an invitation to the Big 12 Tournament, but they fell short of a championship. They have a lot of big names returning in 2019 including outfielder Darius Hill, first baseman Marques Inman, outfielder Brandon White, etc. The pitching staff will likely see Alek Manoah back in rotation. He has one of the best arms in the big 12 finishing the 2018 season with a 4.00 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 54 innings pitched. Their biggest issues in 2019 might be their defense.
Most importantly, we have our Texas Tech Red Raiders. If you think last year’s schedule was difficult, you should see the 2019 season. The good news is Josh Jung, Gabe Holt, Brian Klein, Cam Warren, Braxton Fulford, and Cody Masters will return. In the pitching staff, John Mcmillon is expected to return to weekend rotation along with Caleb Kilian. If you ask Tim Tadlock, this team has the potential to be one of the best teams yet.
Overall, the Big 12 is set for an interesting 2019 season. Below is how I think the Big 12 shakes up before the season gets in swing:
- Texas Tech
- West Virginia
- Oklahoma State
- Kansas State
What do you think? Leave comments below with your Big 12 rankings!