The Oklahoma Sooners got into a regional in 2017 for the first time since 2013. That wasn’t enough to keep head coach Pete Hughes in place, as he was replaced by OU pitching coach Skip Johnson in the offseason, but perhaps it was enough to get the Sooners decidedly moving in the right direction as a program once again.
A huge catalyst in OU’s push for the postseason in 2017 and turnaround as a program was outfielder Steele Walker, who also developed into quite the MLB prospect along the way.
It’s not as if his 2017 form came out of nowhere, however, as he was a solid performer in 2016, hitting .290/.352/.414 with 17 doubles, which earned him a spot on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, but he was on another level last season.
He hit .333/.413/.541 with 16 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, and 51 RBI, good for First Team All-Big 12 honors. That put him on the map as one of the best offensive catalysts in the Big 12, but it might have been his summer performance that did more for his draft stock.
He began the summer with Collegiate Team USA and shined, hitting .313 with five doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBI, earning MVP honors in the team’s series against Chinese Taipei and Cuba. He also hit .280 during a stint with the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League, which is nothing to sneeze at either. Coming out of the summer, D1Baseball.com placed Walker 28th on their list of the top prospects on the Cape this summer, putting him in some rarified air among college prospects.
Walker notes that simply letting loose has been a huge part of his development as a player.
“I played freer, had more fun, stayed more relaxed,” Walker told Owen McCue of Baseball America this past summer, speaking to his 2017 successes. “I’m going to try and take that into my junior year. Be a leader for those guys and really play as hard as I can, but have fun while I’m doing that.”
With the way 2017 went for the Prosper, Texas, native, how could he not be having fun? And if he can take another step forward in 2018 and help lead the Sooners to yet another postseason appearance, everyone around the program in Norman, Oklahoma, will be having just as good a time.