Big 12 appears to be one-team show
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Everyone was shocked last season when the Big 12 was granted eight NCAA postseason bids.
Unless the conference greatly exceeds expectations this season, critics won’t have to worry too much about the league once again having too many bids.
Texas enters the season as the Big 12’s clear-cut leader.
The Longhorns welcome back the nation’s best pitching staff and could be much better than expected at the plate with the return of Cameron Rupp, Kevin Keyes, Connor Rowe and Brandon Loy.
Kansas also is an intriguing team to watch.
The Jayhawks took a huge step forward last season with an impressive 39-24 record and an NCAA regional berth. But with the return of a solid weekend rotation and talented bullpen in addition to a good offensive lineup, the Jayhawks are in business and ready for another act on the national stage.
Texas A&M is another team to watch out of the Big 12. But after the Aggies, the conference couldn’t be more wide open.
The crazy ride will soon begin.
HOW THEY STACK UP
1. Texas – The Longhorns return the nation’s best pitching staff and will be nearly unbeatable if they have a productive offense.
2. Kansas – The Jayhawks welcome back a very talented crop of pitchers and a solid offensive lineup headlined by third baseman Tony Thompson.
3. Texas A&M – The Aggies have some holes to fill but also have some key returning players both on the mound and the plate that can get things done.
4. Oklahoma – The Sooners definitely will hit even without some key players from last year’s club, but the pitching staff looks less pleasing.
5. Kansas State – The Wildcats certainly have some tough holes to fill, but welcome back some offensive cogs and several talented pitchers.
6. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys have some questions to answer at the plate, but look for the pitching staff to be much better than expected.
7. Baylor – The Bears have a wealth of potential on the mound, but their offense leaves much to be desired entering the spring.
8. Missouri – The Tigers have a plethora of questions to answer this season, but coach Tim Jamieson always seems to have his team ready to play.
9. Texas Tech – The pitching staff outside of Chad Bettis is a huge question mark, but the Red Raiders welcome back seven position starters.
10. Nebraska – The Huskers could have a solid offensive lineup, but their weekend rotation must rise to the occasion after a dismal 2009 campaign.
C Cameron Rupp, Texas
1B Kevin Keyes, Texas
2B Tom Belza, Oklahoma State
SS Carter Jurica, Kansas State
3B Tony Thompson, Kansas
OF Brodie Greene, Texas A&M
OF Brian Heere, Kansas
OF Nick Martini, Kansas State
DH Joe Patterson, Texas A&M
SP Taylor Jungmann, Texas
SP Cole Green, Texas
SP T.J. Walz, Kansas
RP Chance Ruffin, Texas
The Jayhawks might have the No. 1 team in college basketball, but there also is a fantastic baseball team about to take the diamond in a couple of weeks. KU coach Ritch Price has done a nice job in his six seasons with the program. The Jayhawks won a Big 12 tournament title a few seasons ago and took another step forward last season with an impressive 39-24 record. However, no season has been more anticipated than the upcoming campaign. The Jayhawks welcome back a solid weekend rotation and an excellent reliever in Colton Murray. They also once again will have a solid offense with third baseman Tony Thompson and outfielder Brian Heere leading the way. For once, the Jayhawks expect to go the distance in the NCAA postseason.
It wasn’t too long ago Baylor appeared to be a permanent fixture on the national stage. The Bears made a huge statement in 2005 with a trip to the College World Series. They appeared to be in business. Well, that wasn’t the case. BU has since struggled to make NCAA regionals. This season won’t be any different. Baylor hasn’t finished better than sixth in the Big 12 the past three seasons. They also haven’t won more than 35 games the last three seasons. The Bears are expected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 this season. BU welcomes back a crop of talented pitchers in Shawn Tolleson, Craig Fritsch, Willie Kempf and Logan Verrett. However, its offense is a major concern. BU could be a huge surprise if its offense rises to the occasion.
RHP Taylor Jungmann, Texas
He could end the season as the nation’s premier pitcher. Jungmann arrived in Austin, Texas, with high hopes. But we’re not sure even he expected to have the type of freshman campaign he had last season. The talented right-handed pitcher was fabulous last season. He made 25 appearances and started 10 games for the Longhorns. He compiled an 11-3 record and had a 2.00 ERA in 94 2/3 innings. He also struck out 101 and walked 35 and limited opposing teams to a .193 batting average. Jungmann definitely is one of the best in the business entering the ’10 campaign.
3B Tony Thompson, Kansas
Thompson is a huge reason the Jayhawks have such high hopes this season. The talented third baseman didn’t have a great freshman campaign, but rose to the occasion in a big way as a sophomore last season. Thompson led the Jayhawks with a .389 batting average, 27 doubles, 21 homers and 82 RBIs. He also slugged .753 and had an impressive .442 on-base percentage. Additionally, Thompson led the team with 186 total bases and established himself as one of the nation’s premier hitters. It’ll be interesting to see if Thompson can emulate that success this season.
(7) – Texas, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor
Big 12 Associate Commissioner and Division I Baseball Committee chairman Tim Weiser received much flack last season when the Big 12 was granted eight bids to the NCAA postseason. To say the least, the Big 12 didn’t deserve eight postseason bids. That makes you wonder how the Big 12’s postseason bids will shake out this season. Texas and Texas A&M are the primary candidates to be regional hosts. Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma are other solid picks to be in NCAA regionals. Baylor will be the team on the bubble. The Bears somehow sneaked into the postseason last season with a 30-26 record. We’ll see if the committee will be as generous this season. Missouri, Nebraska and Texas Tech aren’t expected to be in the postseason picture, but all have talent.
• After finishing last season so close to winning its seventh national title, Texas obviously enters this season with high hopes. The Longhorns also recently announced some changes to their weekend rotation. The Longhorns will still have Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green in the rotation. However, the No. 3 spot is between Brandon Workman and Austin Dicharry. Workman is expected to win the job. That means former staff ace Chance Ruffin is penciled in as closer. Though many may disagree with the idea of moving Ruffin to the bullpen, his attitude and hard-nosed approach is a perfect fit for the role. Don’t look for Ruffin to take a step back.
• Texas Tech looks forward to having Chad Bettis as part of the weekend rotation. But not everything is perfect with the Red Raiders. They will be without a few players this season. Pitchers Robbie Kilcrease and Duke VonSchamann and outfielder Nick Hanslik will miss the season because of Tommy John surgery. Also, left-handed pitcher Zach Fowler also will miss the season. The Red Raiders welcome back several position players, but the pitching staff remains a concern.
• Texas A&M has several talented newcomers to watch this season, but most eyes will be on returning pitcher Ross Hales. The talented left-handed pitcher had a fantastic freshman campaign for the Aggies, but will miss at least a month or two of the season with an injury. The Aggies don’t expect him to be 100 percent to start the season, but do believe he’ll be ready to pitch sooner rather than later. The Aggies list him at 75 percent healthy.
• Oklahoma State was crushed by the departures of weekend starters Andy Oliver and Tyler Blandford. But it can take some solace in the return of senior left-handed pitcher Tyler Lyons. Lyons had an opportunity to go pro but decided to go back to college for his final season. Lyons has had a solid career for the Cowboys and is coming off a campaign where he went 7-6 with a 4.07 ERA in 97 1/3 innings. He also struck out 77 and walked 25 and limited opposing teams to a .289 batting average. Lyons has a chance to be a front-line ace this season.
• Nebraska enters the season with a few bumps and bruises. Kash Kalkowski has a shoulder injury and likely will redshirt this spring. Jordan Roualdes had a knee scope and likely will be back in mid-February. Roualdes had a 6.79 ERA in 59 2/3 innings last season. Erik Anderson is another injured pitcher. He had Tommy John surgery and will not pitch this season.
• Missouri outfielder Ryan Gebhart broke his ankle during fall workouts, but the Tigers are expecting him to make a full recovery before the season begins. For now, though, the Tigers also are expecting Dane Opel, Blake Brown and Jonah Schmidt to be the starting outfielders.
• Kansas State slugger Jason King had an injury last summer that will keep him out much of the spring. However, the Wildcats expect him to return as the designated hitter late in the season, depending on how he progresses. King batted .316 with seven homers and 61 RBIs last season. He also slugged .506 and had a .367 OBP. Also worth noting when it comes to K-State, Thomas Rooke will make the move from reliever to starting pitcher this season.