Sooner Pros at the Break
As the Major League Baseball season gets set for its second act on Friday, Sooner baseball alums across the country are preparing to make an impact on their organizations at all levels within professional baseball. In the first half, six former OU baseball players appeared in the majors; marking the second time in the last three seasons that six Sooners have played in the bigs in a single season.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards is the veteran of the bunch. Fellow right-handed pitchers Chase Anderson, who debuted in 2014, and Jon Gray, who debuted late in 2015, have also been mainstays in Major League rotations this season. Joining those three Sooner alums were three rookies who made their MLB debuts in the first half of the season. Southpaw Steven Okert led it off followed by righty Zach Neal and a second lefty in Dillon Overton.
Opening Day Starter
Richards got the nod on opening day for the Angels. He became the sixth Sooner to make an opening day start and the first since Russ Ortiz for the Atlanta Braves in 2004. Oklahoma alums have combined to make 11 opening day starts on the mound, including three by Danny Jackson (1987-Royals, 1989-Reds, 1991-Cubs) and Carl Morton (1971-Expos, 1974-Braves, 1976-Braves). Richards would strike out seven, but take the loss on opening day as the Angels were shutout by the Cubs. He would make just six starts before season-ending Tommy John surgery following a start at Texas on May 1. Richards went just 1-3 on the mound despite a stellar 2.34 earned run average and 34 strikeouts in 34.2 innings of work.
Getting the Call
Since Richards first appeared in a game for the Angels on August 10, 2011, eight Sooners have made their MLB debut; which is tied for the most with Texas Tech among Big 12 teams over that time frame. Okert made the jump from Triple-A to the majors on April 19 with the San Francisco Giants. A fourth round pick by the Giants in 2012, Okert has totaled six innings in seven MLB relief appearances across two separate stints with the big league club. For the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, he is 4-2 with two saves and a 3.03 ERA.
Neal and Overton have been teammates with the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, this season. Neal first got the call on May 11 and made his debut in relief against the Boston Red Sox. He has made one start and a total of eight appearances with one save in 15.2 innings. As a starter for the Sounds, Neal is 6-2 with a 3.02 ERA. Overton was called up to start for the A’s on June 25. He earned the win over the Angels in his big league debut in 5.2 innings. Overton would make one more start before heading back to Nashville with a 1-1 record. He has won nine consecutive starts at Triple-A with a 10-4 record and 2.98 ERA and 81 strikeouts.
At the midway point of the season, Gray ranks 11th in the National League with a 9.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings average as well as 19th with 95 strikeouts. He was initially held off the Colorado Rockies opening day roster and did not emerge as a member of the rotation until three weeks into the season due to an abdominal strain. Gray would make his way to the mound in Denver on April 22 and since has produced a 5-4 record with a 4.67 ERA in 15 starts.
In the minors, Matt Oberste led the Eastern Division to a win in the Eastern League All-Star Game. Oberste, a corner infielder for the Mets Double-A affiliate in Binghamton, played third and went 4-for-5 with a double and four RBI in a 10-2 win over the Western Division. For the season, he is hitting .290 with 34 RBI and 23 extra-base hits, including 17 doubles. Right-handed reliever Damien Magnifico also earned an All-Star spot in the Pacific Coast League as a member of the Brewers’ Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox. He pitched just 0.1 innings and retired the only batter her faced. Magnifico, has recorded 12 saves and four wins out of the pen with a 4.04 ERA.
MLB Draft Recap
Five Sooners were selected in this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, including a pair of second round picks. Right-hander Alec Hansen was first off the board to the Chicago White Sox with the 49th overall pick followed by infielder Sheldon Neuse to the Washington Nationals at 58. Hansen dominated his first three relief outings in the Arizona Rookie League with 11 strikeouts in seven-shutout innings before a recent promotion to the Great Falls Voyagers of the Pioneer League. Neuse, who recently was named the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year by the College Baseball Hall of Fame, has driven in six runs, while adjusting to third base with the Auburn Doubledays of the Single-A Short-Season New York-Penn League.
Outfielder Cody Thomas was quickly promoted from the Arizona Rookie League to the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League within the Los Angeles Dodgers organization after slugging six home runs in 10 games. Overall, the former OU quarterback is hitting .434 with a .925 slugging percentage, 16 runs and 13 RBI in 15 games. Right-hander Jake Elliott, who was joined by Hansen in Great Falls this week, has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen to the tune of a 2-1 record and 1.59 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. Rounding out the newest class of Sooner pros is right-hander Alex Daniele with the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League; the Single-A Short-Season affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He has struck out nine in 10.2 innings with a 2.53 ERA.