OU baseball: Five things to watch ahead of the 2020 season

Oklahoma's Tyler Hardman connects with the ball during the Sooners' game against Baylor during the Big 12 tournament last May at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Hardman is OU's leading returning hitter. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

1. The offense: It lacked the power and consistency to help Oklahoma’s bullpen finish games off late last season.

Though leading hitter Tyler Hardman (.300, 6 HRs) returns, OU essentially must replace Cade Cavalli’s production with the junior moving to pitching full-time.

Coach Skip Johnson still believes consistency and production are fixable.

OU is more athletic with freshmen Kendall Pettis and Peyton Graham in the mix. The Sooners want to be a pressure offense with bat control and an aggressive base-running focus.

The staff has changed roles slightly; former longtime MLB scout Clay Overcash will focus on scouting while Clay Van Hook has assumed most of the offense and hitting responsibilities.

2. Dane Acker: The transfer from San Jacinto (Texas) College came to OU after being drafted in the 23rd round by the Diamondbacks last June.

He is already in the starting rotation and scheduled to begin Sunday’s game against Virginia. Acker went 10-0 last season. As a freshman at Rice in 2018 he went 5-2 in 16 appearances, making the Conference USA All-Freshman team.

3. The gauntlet: The first extended difficult stretch begins March 17 against Arkansas in Oklahoma City. That’s followed with a three-game series against Texas (March 20-22), a road trip to Dallas Baptist (March 24), a series at TCU (March 27-29) and a non-conference game against Oklahoma State in Tulsa (March 31).

The Sooners have difficult games before that: Virginia (Friday-Sunday), Arkansas (Feb. 28), Missouri (Feb. 29) and LSU (March 1), but they’ll discover a lot about themselves beginning mid-March.

4. Growing up: Four true freshman from a year ago who played regularly make up an important sophomore class.

Pitchers Ben Abram, Jaret Godman and Wyatt Olds saw a lot of time on the mound. Diego Muniz, a utility player, is another important piece offensively and defensively.

5. Heart and soul: Graduated seniors Brylie Ware and Blake Brewster were key components from a leadership standpoint. Those shoes must be filled by others.

Former Westmoore star Brandon Zaragoza was the lone four-year player representing OU at its preseason media day. Johnson added that redshirt junior Jordan Vujovich has taken over the vocal leadership role once held by Brewster.

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