#40 Oklahoma Baseball 2016 Preview

Oklahoma Sooners
Overall Rank: #40
Conference Rank: #4 Big 12
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The Oklahoma Sooners are coming off of a relatively disappointing 2014 season, managing just slightly above a .500 record in Coach Pete Hughes second season at the helm. While they weren’t able to do enough to secure a postseason berth a season ago, the return of juniors (and pre-season All-Americans) Alec Hansen and Sheldon Neuse give them high hopes for a chance at the NCAA’s in 2016. With series wins over conference foes Texas and Texas Tech last year, the Sooners showed they can compete in the ever challenging Big 12.
2015: 34-27, 13-11
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Pete Hughes
Field Players:
Sheldon Neuse is one of the best players in the conference, if not the country. The junior IF/Pitcher batted .275 in 2015, while slugging six home runs and collecting 19 extra base hits overall. The good news is that Neuse is back. The bad news is, none of the rest of the power bats return. Light hitting Austin O’Brien returns, as does Alex Wise, who showed a little pop and excellent plate discipline in limited starts. Senior outfielder Hunter Haley will man the grass once more. He didn’t have a great season at the plate, but was once again solid on the basepaths. The starting unit are all quality fielders as well, coming in at just a shade under 97% success rate.  
The staff starts with the excellent Alec Hansen, who posted a 3.95 ERA and 5-6 record in 15 starts. With 94 strikeouts in 82 innings, the 6’7” flamethrower (he consistently throws in the mid to upper 90s) could contend for the conference’s best pitcher, if his control continues to improve - and the run support shows up. Another 6’7” intimidating junior, righty Jake Elliot also returns, after posting an ERA just a shade over 3.00 last season and leading the team in innings pitched.
Who to Watch:
Neuse is the heartbeat of this team. While his numbers don’t necessarily jump off of the page, he is an old school player who wears his emotions on his sleeve and knows how to get his teammates fired up. He also seems to always come through with a clutch hit or big defensive play when his team needs it most. True freshman Kyle Tyler has a chance to make an impact on the mound, as he posted a 0.96 ERA as a high school senior. Fellow freshman, first baseman Chris Andritsos, should compete for the starting job, and his defense at a key spot could go a long way to deciding the success of the team. Senior outfielder Hunter Haley has looked strong in the off-season, and his improved bat should help an outfield that was inconsistent with production in 2015.
Final Projection:
The Sooners have a lot of young talent, and return two of the best players around. But they play in a gauntlet of a conference that might be too good, and too deep, to give them a legitimate shot of winning enough games to get to the tournament. With a forgiving opening schedule, including playing six of their first nine at home, OU could get off to a hot start to gain some positive momentum before playing in the Dodger Stadium Classic, where they will face UCLA, USC and Mississippi State in Southern California. A Series against traditional power Long Beach State, as well as one-offs with Dallas Baptist and Fresno State, should prepare them for the Big XII grind. With tough games against Texas Tech and TCU falling on the road this year, it will take a long run in the conference tourney to get the Sooners to the next level.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Sheldon Neuse, IF, 229
Hits: Sheldon Neuser, IF, 63
Home Runs: Sheldon Neuse, IF, 6
RBIs: Sheldon Neuse, IF, 43
Runs: Sheldon Neuse IF, 26
Stolen Bases: Sheldon Neuse, IF 10
Wins: Alec Hansen, P, 5
Innings Pitched: Jake Elliot, P, 88.1
Strikeouts: Alec Hansen, P, 94
Saves: Sheldon Neuse, IF/P, 1
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#4 Alec Hansen