Oklahoma baseball: Sooners open season this weekend with four home games

Jun 26, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Oklahoma Sooners left fielder Kendall Pettis (7) dodges a pitch against the Ole Miss Rebels during the seventh inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Oklahoma Sooners left fielder Kendall Pettis (7) dodges a pitch against the Ole Miss Rebels during the seventh inning at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2023 Oklahoma baseball season gets underway at home on Friday with four games over the President’s Day weekend.

The Sooners kick off the new season with a three-game series at L. Dale Mitchell Park against California Baptist and a single game on Monday hosting Air Force.

This 2023 Oklahoma team will look very different from the Sooner team that was runner-up to national champion Ole Miss in last season’s College World Series. The Sooners lose four prime position players plus their best starting pitcher from last season’s CWS team. The four position players — SS Peyton Graham, 1B Blake Robertson, CF Tanner Tredaway and C Jimmy Crooks — were the Sooners top four hitters from a year ago based on batting average.

In addition to starter Cade Horton, Oklahoma also loses Jake Bennett and David Sandlin from its starting rotation and closer Michael Trevin.

Eleven Oklahoma Sooners were selected in the 2022 MLB Draft from a team that finished the 2022 season 45-24 and No. 2 in the USA Today College Baseball Coaches Poll. OU was 15-9 in the Big 12 and tied for second place.

Head coach Skip Johnson will have a lot of retooling to do with 25 newcomers from the recruiting and transfer ranks joining the OU roster this season. Johnson is in his sixth season as the Sooners’ skipper. He has an overall record of 157-104 in his five seasons as head of the OU baseball program.

The Sooners were picked to finish fifth in the 2023 Big 12 Preseason Poll conducted by the league coaches.

Core returning players include sophomores John Spikerman, an outfielder, and second baseman Jackson Nicklaus, who return for their second season in Norman. Both were named to the 2023 Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Third baseman Wallace Clark and outfielder Kendall Pettis also return.

Spikerman has the best batting average (.318) among the Sooner returnees. Nicklaus led the returning players last season with 11 home runs, 35 runs batted in, an .892 on-base percentage and a .495 slugging percentage.

Fifth-year senior Diego Muniz and redshirt-junior Sebastian Orduno will also see expanded action in the coming season, Muniz in a utility capacity and Orduno in the outfield.

Among the transfer position players who are new at OU this season, Bryce Madron from Cowley (Kansas) Community College has really impressed Johonson and the OU coaching staff. The junior outfielder is small in stature at 5-foot, 8 inches and 175 pounds, but he wields a power-packed bat. The past two seasons at Cowley College he batted .418 with 135 runs batted in and 24 home runs.

Mason Strong, a transfer from BYU, will probably earn the starting role replacing Crooks at catcher. Freshman Rocco Garza-Gongora is a lead candidate at first base, replacing Robertson, despite playing mostly in the outfield in high school in Laredo, Texas. He batted .471 as a senior and stole 22 bases.

The competition for starting shortstop is between junior Anthony Mackenzie, a transfer from Sam Houston State, and Dakota Harris, who comes to OU from the junior college ranks in Florida. Mackenzie is the better stick, but Harris was a defensive standout at Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida.

The biggest overhaul in the Oklahoma roster this season is in the pitching staff. The Sooners weekend rotation for 2023 is expected to include right-hander Kale Davis, who transferred from Oklahoma State, and McClennan (Texas) College transfer Will Carsten, who throws from the right side. The third spot in the weekend rotation could go to either James Hitt, a Texas Tech transfer, or Braxton Douthit, a transfer from Lamar. Hitt is a left-hander and Douthit is a right-hander.

Freshman right-hander Carson Turnquist and freshman southpaw Julian Hachem will get looks as the midweek starter.

Relief duty could be by committee, at least to start the season, redshirt senior Braden Carmichael, a left-hander, and sophomore right-hander Thomas Gray, who transferred to OU from TCU, are prime candidates coming out of the bullpen.