2022 State Farm College Baseball Showdown

Oklahoma Preview: Sooners Aim To Pester The Top Of The Big 12

Oklahoma Preview: Sooners Aim To Pester The Top Of The Big 12

After a string of bad seasons, the Oklahoma Sooners baseball program will try to get back to the top of the Big 12.

Feb 4, 2022 by Briar Napier
Oklahoma Preview: Sooners Aim To Pester The Top Of The Big 12

Things got weird for Oklahoma baseball last season.

The Sooners proved many times that despite an under-.500 record (27-28), they had the horses to compete with the kings of the Big 12. They beat their Red River rival and league champion Texas, and won a series against Bedlam foe Oklahoma State, yet it was those two exact schools that dumped out the Sooners when losses meant elimination in the Big 12 Tournament.

Some of those pieces that led to the positive moments in Norman last year are gone. Some return hoping to have improved from the offseason—and some might have their roles replaced by program upstarts.

What’s to expect as Oklahoma looks to make the good times stick this season? Look no further as FloBaseball previews the Sooners’ upcoming season. 

Hitting

There are some holes in the Sooners’ batting battalion that need to be patched up, and the biggest one was left by the reigning Big 12 batting champion. Infielder Tyler Hardman batted .397 to top the league, a performance that contributed to him being selected with the 153rd overall pick by the New York Yankees in last year’s MLB Draft. With second-leading hitter Conor McKenna out of the picture, as well, it’s likely to be redshirt sophomore Peyton Graham (a Second Team All-Big 12 nod last year) that’s tasked with being the top returning hitter on OU. 

The Texas-born third baseman stands an imposing 6-foot-4 in the batter’s box and smacked 11 home runs, the highest number on the team behind the tie between Hardman and McKenna. Graham batted leadoff most of the year for the Sooners as his speed helped him to tie for the team lead with seven stolen bases. Elsewhere in the lineup, sophomore catcher Jimmy Crooks (.287 avg., 39 RBI) had a nice first year in Norman after transferring from the JUCO level in the 2020-21 offseason, starting 19 games as the Sooners’ designated hitter in the process last season.

Pitching

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Oklahoma’s pitching staff was pretty atrocious last season. The Sooners were dead-last in the Big 12 in several pitching categories including ERA (5.84), home runs allowed (74) and saves (6), with numerous parts of the rotation caught imploding far too many times for coach Skip Johnson’s liking. It was a bit of a shocking downturn as Johnson is considered a well-respected guru of the mound around the college game, having been the pitching coach on a Texas team that made three College World Series appearances. But if 2021 was indeed just a weird blip in the Sooners’ rotation, expect plenty of strides to be made in 2022. Those could be spearheaded by an exciting prospect in right-handed hurler Keegan Allen, who was rated the No. 1 right-hander in his class from Arkansas by Perfect Game and the No. 84 right-hander nationally. Left-hander Braden Carmichael went 6-3 in 14 starts last season, throwing 68 strikeouts in 68 innings in the process, but a high ERA (5.03) prevented him from being one of the elite arms of the Big 12.

X-Factor

The 40-win barrier. In eight full seasons under former coach Sunny Golloway from 2006-13, the Sooners passed 40 wins six times and used the momentum from one of them in 2010 to carry them to the College World Series—OU’s last appearance to date in Omaha. That hasn’t been the case lately. In fact, even while throwing out the canceled 2020 season, in which many games weren’t played, OU’s win count in Johnson’s tenure has finished at 38 in 2018, 33 in 2019 and 27 and 2021—the latter of which was the school’s lowest win total in a full season since 2003. Cracking that 40-win echelon could go a long way toward getting Oklahoma back in the fray among the top dogs of the Big 12 (a league in which OU haven't finished better than fourth in since 2018) and keep the chase on its biggest rivals including Texas and Oklahoma State, which are currently Nos. 1 and 7 in the D1Baseball Preseason Top 25, respectively.