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2024 Big 12 baseball preview: TCU and Texas are favorites with OSU next in line

Mar. 13—For the first time since 2013, the Big 12 welcomes new members to its conference slate, and with it comes some changes in schedule alignment.

In the past, Oklahoma State faced all eight conference opponents each year (Iowa State is without a baseball program), and then would flip locations the following year against each team.

Now, with 13 members, it is impossible to face everybody in the same season. However, the league slate will now expand from 24 games to 30 games. Each team plays a three-game series against 10 league foes, leaving two opponents off the schedule each season.

Big 12 play has already begun, with Oklahoma State being a week late to the party. All other conference teams played league games this past week. With the Cowboys having their "bye weekend" for week one, every weekend for 10 weeks straight will be filled with conference games.

The Big 12's preseason rankings and awards were announced way back in late January, and here's a refresher on those:

1. TCU (11) — 143

2. Texas (2) — 131

3. Okla. State — 119

4. Texas Tech — 107

5. Kansas State — 98

T6. Oklahoma — 85

T6. West Virginia — 85

8. Kansas — 67

9. Houston — 56

10. UCF — 45

11. Baylor — 36

T12. BYU — 21

T12. Cincinnati — 21

Preseason Player of the Year: JJ Wetherholt, West Virginia

Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Lebarron Johnson Jr., Texas

Preseason Newcomer of the Year: Payton Tolle, TCU

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Will Gasparino, Texas

The Cowboys received two Preseason All-Big 12 selections with Nolan Schubert and Carson Benge.

The Big 12 has had at least one representative in the College World Series every season since 2014, with Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma having made appearances.

As for this year, TCU has received the most love from the media and the other coaches. The Horned Frogs are coming off a surprise run to Omaha, making it for the first time since 2017. With four preseason All-Big 12 members, including pitchers Ben Abeldt and Kole Klacker, shortstop sensation Anthony Silva and Wichita State transfer slugger Payton Tolle, TCU is the favorite to win the league in 2024.

Texas is picked to finish second this season after a disastrous end to last season, losing in the Palo Alto Super Regional on a fly ball lost in the lights. This year's Longhorns have the ability to not only make it back to supers but potentially find their way to Omaha.

With a pitching coach change and the return of their ace, Lebarron Johnson, coach David Pierce is looking for a return to Omaha after making it consecutively in 2021 and 2022 before missing out in 2023. Offensively, Texas returns four starters from a year ago but also is quite youthful having five underclassmen with at least nine starts in the lineup.

Josh Holliday's Cowboys were picked to finish third in the league for 2024, and the biggest task coming into the season was to find an ace, which it seems they have in Brian Holiday, and to replace the big bats that left (Roc Riggio, Marcus Brown, Nolan McLean). The offense has been a work in progress, but the pitching has been better than expected so far this year.

Nolan Schubert has dealt with injuries early in the season, and his return should provide a spark to the offense, but the team is coming off its best offensive performance of the season with a 14-5 win against Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday, which counted as a non conference game.

As for the rest of the league, Texas Tech has reached seven straight postseasons but haven't made it to Omaha since 2019. The Red Raiders return each of their top three hitters from a year ago in Gavin Kash, Kevin Bazzell and Austin Green.

Kansas State won 35 games last season, its most in a decade. Despite that, the Wildcats were noticeably snubbed from a selection in the NCAA Tournament. Helping fuel the revenge tour are Preseason First Team All-Americans Tyson Neighbors (right-handed relief pitcher) and Kaelen Culpepper (SS).

Oklahoma made a Cinderella run to the CWS finals two seasons ago, but nearly all of the pieces from that team are now gone. John Spikerman and Kendall Pettis are the lone returning starters from that 2022 team.

West Virginia's bright spot is shortstop JJ Wetherholt, though he hasn't played since the season-opening series after leaving the fourth game with a hamstring injury. He is MLB.com's projected No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick for the upcoming 2024 Draft. Wetherholt won Big 12 POTY and was the batting title winner in the NCAA, batting .449 with 16 HR and a Big 12 most 36 stolen bases. WVU as a whole is currently dealing with major injury issues as a team.

The other six teams in the league have just two representatives on the All Big 12 team, with both being members of the Kansas Jayhawks in Kodey Shojinaga and Jansen Reeder.

The conference as a whole showed its depth in week one, with Kansas taking the series against TCU, Texas Tech forcing a rubber match against Texas and Cincinnati nearly taking the series from Kansas State in Manhattan.

So far this season, Texas Tech is far above the pack offensively, leading in nearly every statistical category, with TCU and Oklahoma the next ones in line.

Houston's pitching staff is at the top of the conference in ERA and top three in opponent batting average, strikeouts and walks issued.

Oklahoma State begins its conference run on Friday with a three-game series on the road against conference newcomer UCF, followed by the first Big 12 home series against TCU. Overall, OSU's other series include road sets with West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas and Houston while playing at home against Oklahoma, Cincinnati, BYU and Texas Tech.