Oklahoma is primed to take a big step forward this season with a strong weekend rotation, a solid piece in the closer role and an experienced roster in tow, giving the Sooners a spot in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25. Sitting at No. 24, Oklahoma enters 2020 with question marks offensively after not making the NCAA tournament last year.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Oklahoma club:
2019 record: 33-23 (11-13 Big 12)
Coach (record at school): Skip Johnson (71–48 in 2 seasons)
Ballpark: L. Dale Mitchell Park (3,200)
Postseason history: 37 regionals (active streak: 2), 10 CWS appearances (last in 2010), 2 national titles (last in 1994)
In this preview of Oklahoma's 2020 season, we've graded the Sooners in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Oklahoma in 2020.
Oklahoma's projected lineup
|C||Brady Lindsly, Sr.||.291/.364/.480||5||34||1|
|1B||Tyler Hardman, Jr.||.306/.394/.457||6||42||0|
|2B||Conor McKenna, Sr.||.255/.335/.361||3||31||5|
|3B||Peyton Graham, Fr.||FR--Waxahachie, Texas (HS)|
|SS||Brandon Zaragoza, Sr.||.257/.372/.296||0||30||4|
|LF||Kendall Pettis, Fr.||FR--Chicago (Brother Rice)|
|CF||Tanner Tredaway, Jr.||.260/.363/.308||0||10||7|
|RF||Brady Harlan, Sr.||.255/.377/.328||1||20||6|
|DH||Diego Muniz, So.||.220/.380/.366||3||19||1|
Oklahoma's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Cade Cavalli, Jr.||5-3||3.28||60.1||59||35||0|
|SP #2||Levi Prater, Jr.||7-4||3.26||80||97||43||0|
|SP #3||Dane Acker, Jr.||Transfer--San Jacinto (Texas) College|
|Closer||Jason Ruffcorn, Sr.||2-2||2.43||37||28||13||11|
Grading The Sooners: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
There’s just one returning hitter who hit better than .300 last season — Ty Hardman — but the Sooners should be much improved from an offensive standpoint.
Brandon Zaragoza, who’s back for another season, was much more offensive during fall workouts and will build on his status as a premier defender by becoming a quality hitter.
Catchers Justin Mitchell and Brady Lindsly each took steps forward from an offensive standpoint, and Tanner Tredaway might have taken the biggest leap of all. Tredaway finished last season with a .260 batting average but was much better and more consistent during fall workouts. Coach Skip Johnson feels like he’s ready to have quite the breakout campaign.
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Brady Harlan is athletic and will find ways to get it done — whether it’s hitting for average or for power, while Diego Muniz is just one of those scrappy guys who puts the bat on the ball. Freshman Kendall Pettis is an exciting young player who can make things happen with his legs, while freshmen Peyton Graham, Trent Brown and Connor Beichler are worth watching. Graham has a loose swing and showed big-time potential in the fall, Brown can hit for some power and is a good runner and Beichler could find himself in an important role this spring, too.
This team won’t overwhelm anyone from a power standpoint, but there are some options both in terms of home run and gap power. For instance, the top returning power hitters are Ty Harman and Brady Lindsly, who combined for 11 home runs last season. Harlan should hit for more power this spring, while Tredaway is an athletic guy who can at least get the ball into the gaps.
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The Sooners have a young player, Trent Brown, who also is worth following from a power standpoint. OU liked his strength and power potential during fall workouts. Conor McKenna and Muniz are other potential power producers to watch. Neither had loud home run numbers last season, but both can hit the ball into the gaps.
The Sooners certainly weren’t an overly speedy team last season, finishing the campaign with just two guys with more than five stolen bases. Those two guys — Tanner Tredaway and Brady Harlan — are back this season. Both Harlan and Tredaway have athleticism and can really run and make things happen with their legs, while McKenna has some speed as well.
Where OU made some upgrades in the speed department is with the newcomers, which includes Kendall Pettis and Peyton Graham. Both Pettis and Graham can really run, and the Sooners feel like they’re game-changers in terms of stealing bases and making things happen with their legs.
Veteran shortstop Brandon Zaragoza also has some speed and athleticism. Brady Lindsly and Ty Hardman also can run a little for their positions.
Oklahoma isn’t expected to blow teams away with its team speed, but there will be noticeable improvements from last season.
OU feels good about its defensive setup for good reason.
The Sooners are strong in two important areas – the middle infield and behind the plate.
At the catcher position, Lindsly and Justin Mitchell are both quality defenders and also give the Sooners some much-needed experience at the position.
The 2⃣0⃣2⃣0⃣ schedule is here!— Oklahoma Baseball (@OU_Baseball) December 19, 2019
🔴 Arkansas in OKC (March 17)
⚪ OSU in Tulsa (March 31)
🔴 Open vs Virginia in Pensacola
⚪ Shriners College Classic in Houston.
Full release ➡️https://t.co/d4soJk5z61#BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/RurRP6ZnNd
McKenna and Zaragoza are very good up the middle, too. Zaragoza in particular is one of the Big 12 and nation’s premier defenders and gives the Sooners a lockdown duo up the middle.
The outfield is in good shape, too, with the return of Harlan and speedy freshman Kendall Pettis. Tanner Tredaway is a nice athlete, too, and can track down balls.
Look for OU to be a strong defensive club.
Starting pitching: 65
The Sooners have some huge upside from a starting pitching standpoint. Juniors Cade Cavalli and Levi Prater have big-time potential, and I’m expecting promising things out of them this spring.
Cavalli has been a little up and down at times in the past, but he’s got an excellent frame and huge arm. Cavalli will sit anywhere from 93-94 and up to 95-96 mph with his fastball, along with loose, clean and repeatable arm action. He also has an effective slider, and the changeup continues to make strides. Cavalli could scale the draft boards pretty quickly if he has a strong spring.
Prater is a talented lefty who does a good job of commanding the zone. This past summer at the Cape, Prater was 89-90 mph with his fastball, which had some run to his arm side, while also showing good feel for the slider.
The final spot in the weekend rotation will likely go to San Jacinto (Texas) transfer and former Rice hurler, right-hander Dane Acker. Acker had some good moments during his previous stint at Rice, and there’s definite upside present. Acker will sit anywhere from 89-93 and up to 94 mph with his fastball, along with a splitfinger and a 77-78 mph slider. Acker has a good frame and the experience you want, especially for a Sunday guy in the Big 12 Conference.
Hard-nosed sophomore right-hander Ben Abram is another starting option to watch. Abram showed excellent command and pitchability at times last season. And though he’s slated to start in the midweek at the moment, he could move into the rotation at some point this spring, especially if Acker teeters the edge at all.
Oklahoma has plenty of strong options from a bullpen standpoint.
We talked about Ben Abram above. Wyatt Olds is another hard-nosed right hander who returns and is expected to have a strong campaign.
Jason Ruffcorn leads the charge, and righty Zack Matthews is ready to have a strong season, too. Ruffcorn was 93-94 and up to 95 mph with his fastball in the fall, along with an improved changeup, while Matthews will get up into the mid-90s with his fastball, too, with improved stuff from last season.
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Also, freshmen Jake Bennett and Christian Ruebeck are worth watching. Bennett is an imposing 6-foot-6, 225-pounder, who had a strong fall and sat 89-91 mph with his fastball, along with a quality breaking ball. Coach Skip Johnson feels like there’s much more velocity left in the tank for Bennett, too. Meanwhile, Ruebeck is 89-92 and up to 93 mph with his fastball, along with a solid changeup.
Texas Tech transfer Carson Carter should factor into the equation, too. Carter will sit low-90s and up to 94 mph with his fastball, while the biggest key for the transfer will be making sure he can command the zone with consistency.
Sam Houston State transfer Brad Demco could be a huge addition, too. Demco changed some things about his arm slot and was up to 93-94 mph in the fall. He’s also experienced. However, the Sooners still aren’t sure if they’ll have him in 2020 or not. His waiver appeal is still being considered by the NCAA.
The Sooners missed the NCAA tournament last season but have several key pieces back from a team that still had a decent season with a 30-plus win season.
It’s crucial to have upperclassmen in college baseball, and the Sooners have many of them on this year’s roster.
The weekend rotation will be littered with juniors in Cavalli, Prater and Acker, while the backend of the bullpen is spearheaded by a senior in Jason Ruffcorn. OU also has plenty of experience in the field with the return of seniors Zaragoza (SS), Harlan (OF) and McKenna (2B).
We’ll see if they can meet or exceed expectations.