5 Biggest Pairs of Shoes to Fill in Big 12 Baseball

Over the last several weeks, we’ve talked about the five players who will leave the biggest production gaps on their teams after leaving due to graduation or the MLB Draft in the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten.

Today, we’re going to do the same for the Big 12.

Remember the rules we’ve set. We limit the list to one player per team, just for the sake of variety, and furthermore, we don’t take into account the team’s ability to replace the player. We’re simply concerning ourselves with how much production will be missing, not with how well equipped a team is to move on.

Let’s get to it.

Stephen Villines – Kansas

This might not have been the first name that came to your mind when you thought of the players that will be most missed in the Big 12, but Villines very well might have meant more to the Kansas pitching staff than any other player in the league meant to his respective unit.

There are always a few of these types of guys floating around college baseball, but Villines is one of those players who seems to have been in college baseball for more than a decade, and there’s a reason for that. He was a four-year player for Kansas, and he was a contributor from the minute he stepped on the field.

In fact, over the course of his entire freshman season in 2014, a season that ended in Kansas’ most recent regional appearance, he was just about unhittable. In 48 innings over 29 relief appearances, he had a 1.50 ERA, a .200 opponent batting average, and he collected eight saves.

As a sophomore, he threw 53 innings over 28 relief appearances, and while some of his stats weren’t quite as impressive, such as his 3.40 ERA and .288 opponent batting average, he showed a more dominant side at times, as he increased his strikeout total from 23 to 56, while only increasing his walk total by one, from nine to ten. For good measure, he had 13 saves.

His junior season featured more of the same. He threw 50.2 innings over 23 appearances, lowered his ERA back down to 2.13, kept his strikeout-to-walk ratio solid at 47-to-16, and dropped his opponent batting average back down to .235. Finally, in his final season, he tossed 28.1 innings over 20 appearances with a 3.49 ERA, a magnificent 39/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and ten saves.

For his Jayhawks career, he appeared in 102 games, threw 180 innings, put up a 2.55 ERA, had a 165/39 strikeout-to-walk ratio, collected 36 saves, and limited opponents to a .254 batting average. Simply put, he was an incredibly productive pitcher for an incredibly long time.

Morgan Cooper – Texas

Morgan Cooper’s career at Texas wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it sure started off that way.

As a freshman on the most recent Texas team to get to the College World Series, Cooper was a dominant arm out of the bullpen. It was in that season that he threw 56 innings over 29 appearances with a 2.89 ERA, a 41/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .247 opponent batting average.

But rather than getting a chance to follow-up that season with another like it, Cooper was sidelined for the entirety of the 2015 season due to injury.

In 2016, however, Cooper came back strong and was solid for the Longhorns in a little different role. This time, he was starting games. He threw 67 innings over 13 appearances, 12 of which were starts, with a 4.03 ERA and a 70/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In 2017, in his swan song season for the Longhorns, he took a huge step forward. As the team’s undisputed ace, he threw 89.1 innings across 16 appearances, 15 of which were starts. He had a 2.32 ERA, a 110/33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he limited opponents to a .204 batting average. By the end of the regular season, he had as much to do with Texas getting back into the postseason as anyone.

Heading into his second season at the helm, head coach David Pierce will continue to work to restore Texas to its place among college baseball’s elite, and that task would be a lot easier if he had a guy like Cooper on the roster moving forward.

Brian Howard – TCU

The Horned Frogs had a few guys that could have made it on this list. In fact, catcher Evan Skoug is probably the toughest omission of anyone, particularly with the type of numbers he put up this past season.

But instead, Howard gets the nod, and there are a couple of reasons why. For one, you can’t deny that he was one of the very best in college baseball when it mattered most. According to stats tweeted by Carlos Mendez of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, he went 6-0 in postseason games for the Horned Frogs with a 1.87 ERA in 53 innings, surrendering just 32, walking just 18, and striking out 62. That’s about as good as it gets when you consider the type of competition he was facing at that stage.

But you also can’t overlook the fact that he was a steady contributor all throughout his TCU career, and wasn’t just a flash in the pan once the postseason came along.

As a freshman in 2014, he didn’t have a ton of chances, but he was effective in the chances he did receive. In 13 innings over nine relief appearances, he had a 2.77 ERA and struck out 14. As a sophomore, he didn’t have a defined role, but he did a little bit of everything for the team. Over 17 appearances, including four starts, he had a 3.53 ERA and a 46/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings.

It was in his junior season, though, that he took the biggest leap. Returning to a team in 2016 that was learning to live life without the likes of Preston Morrison, Tyler Alexander, and Alex Young on the pitching staff, Howard stepped up in a big way. Over 98.2 innings spread across 17 starts, he had a 3.19 ERA and a 93/30 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Then, in 2017, he put a capper on his TCU career with an outstanding campaign. In 105 innings over 19 starts, he had a 3.77 ERA, all the while setting a career high in strikeouts with 113 and limiting his walks allowed to 35.

Over four seasons in Ft. Worth, he had a 26-5 record, sported a 3.46 ERA, and piled up 266 strikeouts in 262.2 innings of work. That’s workhorse-type stuff.

Orlando Garcia – Texas Tech

Like Howard with TCU, there were a number of contenders from Texas Tech’s roster for this list that very well could be mentioned rather than Orlando Garcia. Tanner Gardner, an outfielder who did a little bit of everything for the Red Raiders, and Ryan Long, a veteran infielder who came on strong in his last season in Lubbock, are chief among them.

But like Howard, there was more to this selection than raw numbers.

Like Howard, he’s been a steady contributor from day one. As a freshman in 2015, he worked his way into Division I baseball nicely, if not in spectacular fashion, by hitting .259 with a .326 on-base percentage in 40 games, 34 of which were starts. As a sophomore, though, he took his first big leap and hit .265/.378/.425 with six homers and 30 RBI. Just as importantly, he was there just about every day, as he played in 60 games, 54 of which he started.

In 2017, he provided more of that type of stability, while also taking a massive step forward in terms of his offensive production. He hit .305/.386/.550 with 13 home runs and 62 RBI.

Beyond that, he also ably handled a premium defensive position as the team’s shortstop. He wasn’t spotless at the position, but he was very smooth and he never seemed to panic in a defensive situation. A power bat that can also handle himself well at shortstop? Those don’t grow on trees, and that will make Garcia tough to replace.

Jackson Cramer – West Virginia

This class of veterans at West Virginia looks like a group that will go down as the group that helped head coach Randy Mazey get the program fully turned around and headed in the right direction, and Jackson Cramer was right in the middle of all of it.

Cramer’s career didn’t get off to a roaring start, as he hit .242/.353/.343 in a part-time role as a freshman, but he got things going in a big way as a sophomore by hitting .291/.389/.520 with 15 doubles and eight home runs. The doubles total was good for second on the team, while the homers were good for a tie for second.

As a junior, he took another step forward by hitting .300/.416/.535 with 14 doubles, three triples, and nine home runs. This time, the doubles total was good for a tie for second on the team, while the nine homers put him clear into second place on the roster.

It was more of the same as a senior, when the Texan hit .270/.370/.472 with 14 doubles and 11 homers, helping the Mountaineers back into a regional for the first time sine 1996. In this, his final season, his doubles were good for a tie for the team lead, while the 11 homers were good for best on the team.

Others, such as Kyle Davis, may have every bit as big a claim to a starring role in helping WVU back into the postseason, but certainly Cramer did his part.

Honorable mentions, in no particular order

Austen Wade – TCU
Tyler Buffett – Oklahoma State
Evan Skoug – TCU
Blake Weiman – Kansas
Trey Cobb – Oklahoma State
Tanner Gardner – Texas Tech
Matt McLaughlin – Kansas
Kacy Clemens – Texas
J.B. Olson – Oklahoma
Jake Scudder – Kansas State
Garrett McCain – Oklahoma State
Zane Gurwitz – Texas
Parker Rigler – Kansas State
Kyle Davis – West Virginia
Kameron Esthay – Baylor
Matt Menard – Baylor

About the Author

Joseph Healy

Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he’s not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.