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2014 Oklahoma Sooners Baseball Preview

After spending the last seven seasons at the helm of the Virginia Tech baseball program, Pete Hughes is about to begin his inaugural season as the skipper for the Oklahoma Sooners. Known for being a guy who can turn programs around, Hughes takes over an Oklahoma squad that has made NCAA Tournament appearances a regular occasion in recent years, even knocking Hughes’ Virginia Tech Hokies from the tournament in the Blacksburg Regional last season.

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5 Total Updates since February 10, 2014
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2014 OU Baseball Preview - Starting Pitchers

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We're talking about six or seven guys to fill out four or five rotation spots, that speaks to depth in your pitching staff. That gives me a good problem to have honestly.-Pete Hughes

When it comes to arms out of the bullpen Pete Hughes has a whole lot of options at his disposal. The deepest position on the team are the guys who take the mound. Oklahoma has a total of 17 pitchers (4 lefties/13 righties) vying to replace Dillon Overton and Jonathan Gray who have moved on to pro ball. Narrowing down the field may be the biggest challenge that Coach Hughes faces early on in his tenure. As the season plays out we'll see for sure who emerges as the go-to weekend guys but as of now the coach seems to at least have a hunch as to who his possible starters would be.

If I had to lean on it right now and give you some names, I would think it would be Jacob Evans, Adam Choplick, and we'll probably look for a freshman, whether its Jake Elliott or Octavio Rodriguez to fill out our rotation. We've got some dependable veteran guys that I'm kind of hesitant to take them out of that bullpen because it's so valuable to have that guy who can put out a fire three or four times a week for you. - Pete Hughes in an interview with CCM on February 2nd

Guys like Ralph Garza Jr, Kyle Hayes and Robert Tasin are looking to start the season as guys who will come out of the pen as opposed to starters. Its a great plan, as Coach Hughes already stated, because it allows the Sooner coaching staff to have confidence in their bullpen.

Possible Starters

LH Sophomre Adam Choplick (6-8/261) - A guy that Coach Hughes is expecting big things from, and probably a guy that Bob Stoops would love to get a look at, Choplick showed flashes of his potential in outings last season. He also struggled with injuries at times through the season causing him to drop a once 3-0 record to 3-3 on the year. He ended with a 5.56 ERA and fanned 36 batters.

"Adam is 6-7/6-8 and guys aren't used to seeing the ball come from that release point. That's where the deception and difficulty comes in, not so much the V-Low, all the guys at this level can handle the V-Low, they're not used to seeing it coming out over seven feet. Guys aren't used to focusing on that area when they're picking up a baseball." - Pete Hughes in an interview with CCM on February 2nd

RH Freshman Jake Elliott (6-7/200) - Anytime the coach calls out a true freshman as a possible starter before he ever takes the field to begin his collegiate career it says a lot about what the team thinks of him. That's the position that Elliott and Octavio Rodriguez find themselves in.

Elliott was a four-year letter winner at Coppell (TX) High School. He was also a two-time All-District pitcher and a Louisville Slugger second team All-American in 2013.

LH Sophomore Jacob Evans (6-2/205) - Led the team with 9 saves and a 7-2 record in 30 total appearances during his freshman campaign. Recorded a 2.06 ERA for the season. The ability to throw two lefties in a weekend is an advantageous opportunity for the Sooners and Evans is one of three possible options.

LH Freshman Octavio Rodriguez (6-5/205) - A four-year letter winner at Franklin High School (El Paso, TX) and was named the Collegiate Baseball 2013 All-El Paso Pitcher of the Year. He recorded over 200 strike outs during his high school career.

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2014 Oklahoma Sooners Baseball Preview: Outfield

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This year you're looking at a team that we inherit where the two top hitters are gone and four of the nine starters are gone. -Pete Hughes

Oklahoma may be young in the outfield as they start the 2014 baseball season but at least they are experienced. Whereas the infield may have multiple personnel options, and questions, the guys in the grass are returning players who helped lead the team to a Super Regional last season. Not only are they solid in the field, they are also contributors on offense but batting a combined .244 last season.

Oklahoma's outfield combines speed and power on offense along with sound defense. Some of the biggest hitters on the team are from the outfield, and will no doubt be looked upon to fill the void of Matt Oberste and Jack Mayfield, but perhaps the best base-runner in the entire Big XII plays in the Sooners' outfield. This is the group of guys that will have to lead this team early on in the season.

Sophomore Craig Aikin (5-10/170) - A speedster who can make your pay dearly for booting the ball or throwing a wild pitch, Aikin led the team, in 2013, with 16 stolen bases. He started in all 64 of Oklahoma's games last season and produced a .286 batting average, with 23 RBI, and crossed home plate 42 times.

Junior Taylor Alspaugh (6-0/175) - Possibly the Sooners' best defensive outfielder, Alspaugh recorded a perfect fielding percentage in 2013. He appeared in 21 games through the season but took on a starting role in the postseason. He batted .189 for the year but also posted a .286 on base percentage.

Junior Colt Bickerstaff (6-1/220) - A potential power hitter, Bickerstaff made 22 starts in 2013, and 29 total game appearances, posting a batting average of .238 and knocking in 13 runs.

Sophomore Hunter Haley (5-10/175) - Mentioned specifically by Coach Hughes as one of the guys that could fill the role as a power hitter in 2014, Haley batted .264 last season and had a slugging percentage of .389. He tied for the team-high with four triples despite only appearing in 48 games, with 45 of those being starts.

Freshman Cody Thomas (6-5/215) - Its not sure how much of an impact Thomas will have immediately with the baseball team because he's been splitting duties between the baseball and football programs. One thing that we do know is that he's raw and talented. He was a three-year letter winner, three-time All-District and two-time District MVP at Heritage High School in Colleyville, Texas. He was also drafted by the New York Yankees in the 30th round of the 2013 MLB draft.

"Cody is hustling around and doing both right now. Give him credit because he's super talented. He's raw but his skill set, specifically his power-tool, if off the charts. We've got to organize his weeks, get him his reps, and put him in a situation when he's playing he's prepared to play and I'm not going to do that until we get to that point with him. I'll give him credit, he hadn't seen live pitching in...I don't know...seven months and he came out of the gates day one and got three knocks off a live arm. That'll tell you what kind of athlete he is." - Oklahoma Baseball Coach Pete Hughes in an interview with CCM on February 2nd.

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2014 Oklahoma Sooners Baseball Preview: Infield

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photo via USA Today Sports

As Pete Hughes starts his head coaching tenure at Oklahoma one of his biggest challenges is going to be finding someone to replace the power of Matt Oberste and Jack Mayfield. The two combined to be OU's top home run hitters and RBI leaders, but Mayfield also led the team on the diamond from the shortstop position.

When talking about his need to replace some power from the plate, Coach Hughes said that he had multiple options from the returning players but also raved about some of his incoming freshmen.

"I'm a big believer in work ethic and kids getting better, I think (Anthony) Hermelyn, (Hector) Lorenzana, (Kolby) Carpenter and (Hunter) Haley those guys have had a lot of at bats. It takes some at bats to figure out how to be a power guy too, and start elevating baseballs you didn't in the past. I look to see a couple of those guys to provide a little punch for us but honestly we have three freshmen that I think are going to hit in our lineup and bring some power to the lineup." - Oklahoma Baseball Coach Pete Hughes in an interview with CCM on 2/13/14

Regardless of where the power comes from the thing that we know for sure is that Oklahoma needs it. The other thing that the Sooners need from their infield is mistake-free defense. That's a tall order for a group that is really only returning three starters and will potentially feature a trio of freshmen in 2014.

Veterans

Sophomore Anthony Hermelyn (6-1/200) - A starter in 48 games behind the plate last season, Hermelyn was fourth on the team in batting average at .275 for the year. He knocked in 26 runs in 2013 while also drawing 23 walks and recording 14 multi-hit games.

Senior Dylan Neal (6-2/195) - When Hermelyn isn't behind the plate you'll most likely find Neal there. He appeared in 26 games in 2013 (12 starts behind the plate) and had an on base percentage of .327 for the year.

Sophomore Kolbey Carpenter (6-0/175) - Batted .264, during his 54 game appearances in 2013, with 24 RBIs. He recorded multiple hits in 15 games last season.

Senior Hector Lorenzana (5-11/190) - You could make the argument that Lorenzana is the team leader as he is now Oklahoma's most experienced infielder. A starter in all 64 games last season (at second base), Lorenzana batted .274 and knocked in 42 RBIs which placed him second on the team.

Newcomers

Junior Joshua Ake (5-11/175) - A JUCO transfer from Howard College, Ake batted .278, with 10 RBI, while playing in 36 games for the Hawks.

Freshman Niko Buentello (6-3/210) - A four-time All-District selection in high school, Buentello hit 30 career home runs at Lewisville (TX) High School.

Freshman Austin O'Brien (6-3/200) - A three-time letter winner at Owasso (OK) High School, O'Brien was named the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year in 2013, and was a Louisville Slugger and Max Preps All-American, while leading Owasso to the 6A state title.

Freshman Sheldon Neuse (6-0/195) - One of three freshmen (along with Buentello and O'Brien) singled out by Coach Hughes as guys who will take the field in 2014, Neuse is a power hitter that will bat in the middle of the lineup. Neuse was named District MVP both his junior and senior years of high school and was a four-year letter winner at Keller (TX) Fossil Ridge.

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OU Coach Pete Hughes Talks Baseball With CCM

After spending the last seven seasons at the helm of the Virginia Tech baseball program, Pete Hughes is about to begin his inaugural season as the skipper for the Oklahoma Sooners. Known for being a guy who can turn programs around, Hughes takes over an Oklahoma squad that has made NCAA Tournament appearances a regular occasion in recent years, even knocking Hughes’ Virginia Tech Hokies from the tournament in the Blacksburg Regional last season.

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