Sooner Baseball Ready for 2017

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Brendan Flynn
By Brendan Flynn
Assistant Director of Communications
FEBRUARY 13, 2017
2017 Oklahoma Sooners Baseball

Fourth-year head coach Pete Hughes and the University of Oklahoma baseball team continue to re-build a program seeking its place as a contender on the national stage year-in-and-year-out. The 2017 Sooners feature a unique mix of talent in its ranks, including the only four-year player of the Hughes era, a veteran senior class that made immediate contributions a year ago after junior college stints, a signature sophomore class and a deep crop of newcomers.

Oklahoma embarks on the 2017 season on Friday, February 17 when its visits Long Beach State on opening day; marking the first time the Sooners begin their schedule on the road since 2013. Overall, OU plays a 56-game regular season slate with 27 games played at L. Dale Mitchell Park.

Senior Austin O’Brien (Owasso, Okla.) shared a starting role his first two seasons at Oklahoma before cementing himself as the primary starter at first base early in the 2016 season. O’Brien, senior catcher Renae Martinez (San Pedro, Calif.) and senior right-handed pitcher JB Olson (Shady Shores, Texas) will serve as the Sooners’ co-captains for 2017. Fellow seniors Jack Flansburg (Orange, Calif.) and Ben Hollas (Longview, Texas), who like Martinez and Olson all arrived at Oklahoma through the junior college ranks, make up the veteran core of the Sooner roster.

Oklahoma’s sophomore class, which entered its rookie season as a top-10 incoming freshman class in the country, returns three Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball News Freshman All-Americans. Catcher Domenic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh, Pa.) set an OU freshman record with a .592 slugging percentage, right-handed pitcher Jake Irvin (Bloomington, Minn.) won a team-high six games and outfielder Steele Walker (Prosper, Texas) was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention pick.

Pitchers

For the third time in four seasons, the Oklahoma pitching staff returns less than half of its innings pitched from the year before, but returns 17 of its 30 wins from 2016. A deep sophomore class is expected to handle the bulk of the starts on the weekend and in the midweek, while a veteran core of relievers will anchor the back-end of the bullpen. Joining the OU coaching staff this season is Skip Johnson, who will take over the duties as the team’s pitching coach.

Irvin emerged as the Sooners’ Friday night starter late in his freshman campaign. Standing at 6-foot-5, the former Minnesota Twins draft pick, is equipped with a low-90s fastball and a tough slider. He went 6-2 with a 4.47 earned run average and 51 strikeouts in 56.1 innings last season. Expected to follow Irvin in the weekend rotation is 6-foot-2 sophomore right-hander Dylan Grove (Oklahoma City). Grove sits low- to mid-90s on his fastball with a hard slider. He pitched to a 3-1 record, 3.77 ERA and tossed a seven-inning complete-game to beat No. 5 Texas Tech in a Big 12 Championship elimination game.

No.NameYearB/THometown/School
13 Ryan Madden So. S/R Westminster, Colo./Fairview
15 Kyle Tyler So. R/R Oklahoma City, Okla./Westmoore
20 Devon Perez Jr. R/R Ashburn, Va./Iowa Western CC
22 Lane Ramsey RSo. R/R Oklahoma City, Okla./Newman
23 Dylan Grove So. R/R Oklahoma City, Okla./Moore
25 JB Olson Sr. R/R Shady Shores, Texas/Seward College
27 Jake Irvin So. R/R Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson
28 Connor Berry So. R/R Sugar Land, Texas/Kempner
31 Trevor Munsch Fr. L/L Lawrence, Kan./Lawrence Free State
32 Joey Zurawik RJr. R/R Bixby, Okla./Eastern Oklahoma State
35 Nathan Wiles Fr. R/R Overland Park, Kan./Blule Valley West
36 Austin Kerns RJr. L/L Owasso, Okla./Eastern Oklahoma State
37 Braden Minor Fr. R/R Wichita, Kan./Eisenhower
38 Austin Hansen So. R/R Lenexa, Kan./Olathe Northwest
42 Braidyn Fink Fr. L/L Moore, Okla./Westmoore

Competing for the Sunday and midweek starting roles in the OU rotation are a trifecta of Sooner sophomores; Austin Hansen (Lenexa, Kan.), Ryan Madden (Westminster, Colo.) and Kyle Tyler (Oklahoma City). Hansen, a 6-foot righty, appeared in 17 games as a freshman, all in relief, with a spotless 4-0 record and 2.93 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. Madden, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, made three starts, all in Big 12 play, and seven relief appearances. He went 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 24 innings. Tyler, a 6-foot righty, was effective early in the 2016 season as he produced a 1-0 record and 2.12 ERA in seven games, including three midweek starts.

Joining the fold and looking for starts this season are a pair of junior college transfers; junior Devon Perez (Ashburn, Va.) and redshirt-sophomore Lane Ramsey (Oklahoma City). Perez, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, pitched at Iowa Western Community College and earned a perfect 9-0 record in 2015. At 6-foot-8, Ramsey, a right-hander is the tallest pitcher on staff. He sat out 2016 due to labrum surgery and previously pitched for one season at Newman University in 2015.

In 2016, Olson nailed down four saves and went 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA, primarily as the Sooners’ go-to setup man out of the bullpen. The 6-foot-2 sidearm specialist, he will begin the 2017 season as Oklahoma’s closer. Joining Olson to finish off games is graduate transfer Vincenzo Aiello (Staten Island, N.Y.), who pitched at Rider University for parts of the last four seasons. A 6-foot-3 right-hander, he throws his fastball in the mid-90s and appeared in 52 games for the Broncs in his career.

Returning to the bullpen this season are redshirt-junior Austin Kerns (Owasso, Okla.) and sophomore Connor Berry (Sugar Land, Texas). Kerns, a 6-foot-2 lefty, made three starts early in 2016 before moving to the bullpen. He went 1-1 with a 5.64 ERA. A 6-foot righty with a plus-curveball, Berry made 11 relief appearances as a rookie with a 4.80 ERA and held opponents to a .196 batting average.

Redshirt-junior Joey Zurawik (Bixby, Okla.) and four additional newcomers round out the rest of the OU pitching staff. Zurawik, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, joined the team a year ago, but sat out the season due to his second Tommy John surgery. Equipped with a mid-90s fastball, he returned to the mound to strike out eight batters in just 3.2 innings of summer ball. Right-handed freshmen Braden Minor (Wichita, Kan.) and Nathan Wiles (Overland Park, Kan.) will compete for innings out of the bullpen right away. Minor, a 6-foot former Gatorade Player of the Year in Kansas, pitched four years of varsity baseball at Eisenhower High School. Standing at 6-foot-5, Wiles also hails from the Sunflower State. He went 8-0 with a 1.34 ERA as a senior.

From the left side, the Sooners have added freshmen Braidyn Fink (Moore, Okla.) and Trevor Munsch (Lawrence, Kan.). Fink, a 6-foot-1 product of Westmoore High School, and the 6-foot-4 Munsch will compete for outs against left-handed hitters in middle- and late-inning scenarios.

Catchers

Oklahoma played three newcomers behind the dish in 2016. This season all three return with Martinez as the projected starter heading towards opening weekend. He emerged as the starter late in 2016 after DeRenzo had been shut down and underwent Tommy John surgery. Martinez hit .246 for the season with a .415 slugging and .380 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitting backstop finished the year with a .423 average in the final nine games of the season. Before his season was cut short, DeRenzo, another right-handed bat, blasted eight home runs, six doubles and three triples with a .243 average.

No.NameYearB/THometown/School
6 Chandler Wagoner RSo. R/R Temecula, Calif./Great Oak
9 Domenic DeRenzo So. R/R Pittsburgh, Pa./Pittsburgh Central Catholic
24 Jeremiah Adams Fr. R/R Mattapoisett, Mass./Tabor Academy
40 Brady Lindsly Fr. L/R Keller, Texas/Keller
41 Renae Martinez Sr. R/R San Pedro, Calif./El Camino College

Freshman Brady Lindsly (Keller, Texas), the Sooners’ left-handed option behind the plate, will instantly earn starts in either a catcher platoon with Martinez or as the OU designated hitter. Dividing his time between catcher and shortstop as a senior at Keller High School, he was named a Perfect Game All-Region Second Team selection in 2016. Adding depth to the catching ranks are redshirt-sophomore Chandler Wagoner (Temecula, Calif.) and freshman Jeremiah Adams (Mattapoisett, Mass.); both right-handed hitters. Wagoner appeared in 12 games last season and went 2-for-10 with a .385 OBP. Adams, possessing one of the best arms on the team, is the ultimate utility player on the Oklahoma roster. He will compete for time at catcher, third base and in the outfield.

Hughes, who coached the Sooner infielders the last three seasons, will coach the catchers in 2017.

Infielders

O’Brien, the only player on the roster in Hughes’ first season back in 2014, enters his senior season with 104 career hits and 10 career home runs. A right-handed hitter, he returned to the OU lineup permanently in the middle of March last season following 2015 labrum surgery. He hit .267 with a .424 slugging percentage, nine doubles and five home runs. Flansburg and junior Kyle Mendenhall (Carlsbad, Calif.) join O’Brien as veterans on the infield. A year ago, the left-handed hitting Flansburg started multiple games at all four infield positions and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. He hit .278 with a .401 OBP and 29 RBI. The right-handed hitting Mendenhall, who has played exclusively at second base in his career, hit just .183, but made great strides at the plate in the offseason and was named a Texas Collegiate League All-Star in the summer.

No.NameYearB/THometown/School
3 Cade Harris So. L/R Leona, Texas/Centerville
4 Brandon Zaragoza Fr. R/R Moore, Okla./Westmoore
5 Kyle Mendenhall Jr. R/R Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad
7 Jack Flansburg Sr. L/R Orange, Calif./Cypress College
11 Thomas Hughes Fr. R/R Norman, Okla./Norman North
12 Brylie Ware So. R/R Sedgwick, Kan./Neosho County CC
21 Lorin Archibald Jr. L/R Renton, Wash./Lower Columbia CC
33 Austin O'Brien Sr. R/R Owasso, Okla./Owasso

Sophomores Cade Harris (Leona, Texas) and Thomas Hughes (Norman, Okla.) will fill the utility roles on the infield. Harris, a left-handed option off the bench, started 37 games at third base as a freshman and can provide depth at shortstop. He hit .248 with a .387 OBP and drew 30 total walks. Hughes, who hits from the right side, was used primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement in 2016. He made five starts and totaled 29 games played.

The newcomers on the infield include junior Lorin Archibald (Renton, Wash.), sophomore Brylie Ware (Sedgwick, Kan.) and freshman Brandon Zaragoza (Moore, Okla.). A lefty bat with power potential, Archibald will compete for starts at first and DH. He was a two-time All-Conference selection at Lower Columbia College; which plays in the wood-bat NWAC. Ware is the reigning NJCAA Player of the Year, while at Neosho County Community College; where he won the NJCAA Triple Crown with a .589 batting average, 29 home runs and 122 RBI. A right-handed hitter, Ware will fit primarily at third base. Zaragoza, a right-handed hitting middle infielder, will immediately compete for the Sooners’ starting shortstop position. He possesses the soft hands and a strong arm required to play the position and can turn over the OU lineup.

Volunteer assistant and recruiting coordinator Roberto Gallegos joined the Oklahoma staff in the fall and took over the coaching of the infield.

Outfielders

Hollas started 30 games in the outfield last season and proved to be the best defensive outfielder on the team. He owned a .384 OBP and put down a team-leading 10 sacrifice hits, while also providing the Sooners with a pair of walk-off knocks. Walker, who like Hollas is a left-handed hitter and played all three outfield positions in 2016, returns to the middle of the Oklahoma order after hitting .290 with a .414 slugging percentage. He tied for second most in program history in doubles by a freshman with 17.

No.NameYearB/THometown/School
1 Steele Walker So. L/L Prosper, Texas/Prosper
2 Blake Brewster So. L/L Moore, Okla./Moore
16 Ke'one Givens Fr. R/R Jones, Okla./Jones
17 Kyler Murray RFr. R/R Allen, Texas/Texas A&M
29 Quin Walbergh RSo. R/R Edmond, Okla./Edmond Santa Fe
30 Ben Hollas Sr. L/L Longview, Texas/Hill College

Seeking increased playing time in the Sooner outfield are sophomore Blake Brewster (Moore, Okla.) and redshirt-sophomore Quin Walbergh (Edmond, Okla.). Brewster made just four starts as a freshman and can play the corner outfield or DH. A lefty at the plate, he hit .250 overall, including a .300 average off the bench. Walbergh transitions to the outfield this season from the infield, where he started 15 games at third base over the last two seasons. A right-handed hitting option added to the outfield, he hit .227 in limited playing time before a season-ending injury in mid-March.

Adding to Oklahoma’s outfield depth are redshirt-freshman Kyler Murray (Allen, Texas) and freshman Ke’one Givens (Jones, Okla.). Murray, a quarterback on the OU football team, played football at Texas A&M before transferring to OU a year ago. A right-handed hitter, he is transitioning to the outfield after playing in the middle infield at Allen High School, where he became the first player in the country to compete in both the Under Armour All-American baseball and football games. Givens is going through the same transition from the infield to the outfield. A speedy, right-handed hitter, he was an All-State Honorable Mention pick out of Jones High School as a senior.

Assistant coach Mike Anderson enters his fourth season coaching the Sooner outfielders and serving as the team’s hitting coach.

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