Baseball OU: Peyton Graham slides to shortstop, the evolution of Jake Bennett – 5 things to know ahead of the 2022 season | Sports

Oklahoma opens its 2022 season against Auburn at 11 a.m. on Feb. 18 during the State Farm College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

The Sooners finished the 2021 season with an overall record of 27-28, going 11-13 in Big 12 play. They withdrew from the Big 12 tournament after back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Texas and did not participate. at the NCAA Tournament.

To preview the 2022 roster, head coach Skip Johnson, left-handed pitcher Jake Bennett and infielder Peyton Graham met with reporters Friday afternoon. Here are five things to know ahead of the Sooners’ spring start:

Graham slides to shortstop, Horton returns third

With longtime OU starting shortstop Brandon Zaragoza now playing for the American Professional Baseball Association’s Gary SouthShore RailCats, Graham moves from third base to his natural stop position. -short this season.

In two years at third base, Graham boasted a .923 fielding percentage and produced 44 outs. In 2021, the now redshirted sophomore led the Sooners in stolen bases with seven while batting .288 and hitting 62 hits and 11 homers.

“I played here at shortstop pretty much my whole life until I got here and then they moved me to third base,” Graham said. “Third base was a tougher transition than going back to shortstop.”

Graham has received a lot of attention throughout the preseason, being selected to Baseball America’s preseason All-American team and the All-Big 12 preseason team over the past month. .

“Early Spring (Graham) hasn’t played as well, but the last two weeks he’s played really, really well,” Johnson said. “I think if Peyton comes out and focuses on his team and what he can do to help his team win the baseball game, then all of those individual accolades will take care of themselves.”

Graham also has help in the infield, with Norman native Cade Horton, a redshirt freshman, who is coming back from an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery last season and is now playing third. goal.

Johnson said Horton, whom he dubbed one of the best freshman pitchers he had ever seen before his injury, will be slightly slower to return to the mound as his arm regains full strength.

Overall, versatility within the infield will be a strength for the Sooners.

“I think we’re going to be pretty solid,” Graham said. “I think we have a lot of guys who can play all positions in the infield.”

Throwing strikes, Bennett looking like an ace, Godman to close

The Sooners struggled on the mound last season, finishing 2021 with a 5.84 ERA and giving up 242 steps. They allowed 353 runs and 473 hits in 482.1 innings pitched. After last spring’s lackluster performance, Johnson explained what he expects from his rotation and bullpen in 2022.

“Launching strikes is key, and we haven’t done a good job of doing that,” Johnson said. “There were times when we were brilliant, and there were times when, quite frankly, we were horrible.”

After getting extra work last summer in the Cape Cod league, Bennett feels increasingly confident heading into his third season at Norman. During the 2021 summer season, Bennett had a 3.00 ERA and knocked out 32 opponents in 33 innings pitched.

“Cape Cod was great, there was a lot of good competition,” Bennett said. “I feel like I learned a lot about myself as a pitcher. One area I really wanted to improve was in my position.

After a promising start to the 2020 college season where Bennett was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, the 2021 season didn’t go to plan. He amassed a 6.34 ERA and allowed 68 hits and seven homers to finish the season with a 4-3 record. He now has the opportunity to prove that his performance in 2020 was no fluke.

“Take a picture of him in high school, his high school birth and take a little bit of him from where he started in high school to when he got to the University of Oklahoma and what he’s been up to lately years…that’s where I talk about culture and development,” Johnson said.

“Not a lot of people take plans and stick to a plan. He’s gotten better every year since he’s been here. I’m so excited to see this growth in him. This young man’s improvement in our program shows you what we’ve done since we’ve been here.

After facing Bennett in the spring scrums, Graham also noticed the improvement in his redshirt sophomore teammate.

“His pitcher, it’s amazing, especially this year,” Graham said. “He throws a lot harder than he has in previous years and his stuff is good.”

As the presumptive Friday night starter for the Sooners, the former all-American freshman from Bixby has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the pitching team.

“We’ve got a ton of depth, everyone looks really solid,” Bennett said. “If we can just stick to our plan of going one pitch at a time, we’re going to do something special.”

Along with his praise for Bennett, Johnson said Godman would get the nod as the Sooners edge closer to the start of the season. Last season, Godman made 19 relief appearances and started one game, compiling a 6.49 ERA with a 1-2 record.

Godman replaces former Sooners right-hander Jason Ruffcorn, who held the closest job for three seasons before being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2021.

“I think Godman is a guy who does the three things a loved one should be able to do,” Johnson said. “One you throw strikes, two he can hold runners and three he can line up his position.”

New crop flowing through the dugout

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the Sooners’ normal routine last season as they were only allowed to train in small groups. This spring marks the first time in two years that the team has worked together again.

Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season, the Sooners had amassed a 14-4 record and were ranked 9th in the nation. The team batted a combined .279 in those 18 games, good for third place in the Big 12.

“My freshman year, we had a really good team, and it’s kind of like that (still now),” Bennett said. “Everyone is on the same page, and the team chemistry has been phenomenal…

“Last year I felt like it was a bit divided. You had a few clicks here and there, but this year everyone is so well integrated and everyone gets along really well.”

Johnson said when a team is fed by players instead of being fed by a coach, it’s beneficial, and that attitude prevailed throughout spring training. He was adamant about the true culture established before the pandemic and says the Sooners have worked to restore that potential.

“It’s something that our kids have really taken on,” Johnson said. “Like, I’m looking over there the other day, and Jake Bennett (freshman pitcher Aaron Calhoun) is doing arm drills… We had (junior pitcher in red shirt Jaret Godman) baptized (junior pitcher in a red Griffin Miller shirt.) That says enough about the culture. ”

Willits emphasizes details in return to alma mater

Former Yankees first base coach Reggie Willits was announced to the 2022 Sooners coaching staff as a volunteer assistant on Oct. 21, bringing him back to his alma mater.

Born and raised in Chickasha, Willits played in the OU outfield from 2002 to 2003. After playing for the Los Angeles Angels for six years, he transitioned into coaching, winning two baseball championships. of state toBinger-Oney High School in Binger.

From 2015 to 2017, Willits was the Yankees’ outfield and base running coordinator. He then served as first base coach for the Yankees from 2018-21, before returning to Norman.

“I think he adds a lot on the detail side, and he’s really really picky about the details,” Johnson said. “He’s been a breath of fresh air. I think things will help with the offense, base run and outfield.

Opening weekend sets the tone for the Sooners

After opening against Auburn at Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field, OU will also face Michigan and Arizona. The Wildcats are fresh off a berth in the College World Series last season, while the Wolverines were the national runners-up in 2019. Opening weekend gives the Sooners a chance to prove themselves against established competition.

“It will be a fun environment,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for our team to come out and it’s going to be a good barometer to see where we are.

“That environment is where we’re really going to say, if it speeds them up, if they’re comfortable in that environment… We try to practice like a game, but you can never get it right. “

Oklahoma played two games at Globe Life Field last season, losing 5-9 to Stephen A. Austin and beating UT Arlington 7-1.

“It’s always fun to play in these beautiful stadiums, especially when you’re playing good competition,” Graham said. “It’s going to be really fun to go out there and play.”

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