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Sooner Baseball 2023 Season Preview

Oklahoma Baseball around the horn preview. Take a look the squad and get to know some new names.
Oklahoma Baseball around the horn preview. Take a look the squad and get to know some new names.

New Year, New Look, kinda…

While Oklahoma had much to be proud of, having 11 players selected in the 2022 MLB draft, it left many fans and media thinking Skip Johnson might not have much left of a team that made a run at College Baseball’s highest achievement. While miracles do not happen everyday, 2023 might be a year that OU Baseball shows the world it’s right where it belongs. Even with the loss of manpower, Skip Johnson has put together a strong enough schedule that should pack enough RPI power to put the Sooners in post season contention. As usual, they will need to take care of business in the midweek, but have extra opportunities in big time series such as the Frisco College Baseball Classic in early march (Cal, Mississippi State and Ohio State), and a four game, midseason non-conference match up with Top 10 Pac-12 power Stanford starting March 29. The Sooners were picked to finish 5th in the Big 12, but a .500 finish or better should put them squarely in contention for the post season. Let’s start off by taking a deep dive into this year’s roster.

Off we go…

Everyone wants to talk about starting pitching, and that is all good and well, but often you can have a team that is built from the bullpen out. You regularly see this in the major leagues, with teams building their pitching staffs around a prolific closer or a combination of high-end relief talent. Star power is something any team would be happy to have, but losing their starting closer to the MLB, the Sooners have some new potential stars through development and recruiting.  I believe OU will not only have one of the better starting rotations this spring, but they will also have one of the deepest and strongest bullpens, in not just the Big 12, but in the country. 


So, let’s start this preview with the “Asylum”, the name given to the gentleman who find their home down the left field line. Our stop the bleeding/showstopper type arms be found in Sophomore RHP Aaron Calhoun, Junior RHP Carson Atwood, Sophomore RHP Colton Sundloff, Junior RHP Jett Lodes, Junior LHP Carter Campbell and Senior LHP Brayden Carmichael, who all return battle hardened with a trip to Omaha under their belt. Calhoun might be the most intriguing of this group having had an excellent summer in the Cape Cod League. Posting a 2-0 record, 3.97 ERA with 17 K’s while only giving up 7 hits over a 6-game stretch. “AC” may be our first line of defense in must have outs situations. His value as the Sooners potential top reliever may very well earn him a starting spot by season’s end or possibly a rotation spot in his draft year come 2024. Another name we all know and love is Braden Carmichael, who has been quite reliable in his time in the Crimson and Cream. If you were to ask him this season is an opportunity to bounce back from a tough ’22 year. Braden has been called upon as a midweek starter but will be best suited as another go-to option out of the pen. Carter Campbell was one of Skip’s most reliable relievers last year appearing in 29 and 1/3 innings, going 3-0 striking out 17, and with a 3.95 ERA, his ability to throw strikes when his name is called, combined with a stellar fall camp, will be the reason he is heavily relied upon this spring. Carter could push for a starting spot, but the idea of him as a closer is being entertained.  Another name to watch returning this year is Griffin Miller, who had to be shelved due to injury last season. Miller is a true fireballer and will be eased back into action, but it should be noted that a healthy Griffin Miller means good things for the Sooners. He has a closers mentality and will compete for the job. Carson Atwood provided consistency as a relief pitcher in 2022 as well, but his most prolific moment was his first career start vs West Virginia in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. Pitching 3 complete innings, giving up only one hit and sitting down two mountaineers before giving way to the bullpen, who then finished the job with a 6-4 victory and sparked the run towards the CWS finals. 

There will be plenty of new names in the Sooner Bullpen this season. Some you might recognize from other D1 programs and some who will be looking to make a name for themselves in 2022. Let’s start with Virginia transplant RHP Blake Bales. In 2021 he was nominated for Stopper of the Year award and was an All-American, going 3-0 out of the pen, with a 0.71 ERA over 38 innings pitched on 25 appearances. Bales had a 29.1 inning run of not allowing even a single run. He is a seasoned veteran who can help provide leadership to some of the younger pitchers on this staff. Another name from a high profile D1 program that has landed in Norman is Gray Thomas, a TCU transfer (from Oklahoma City) who will provide an immediate impact in the bullpen and may find a way into the rotation as a mid-week starter. We all remember the spectacle that was Trevin Michael last season, who transferred from Lamar University only to become one of the most entertaining and productive closers to spend a single season with the program. Looking ahead to this spring it is possible that Braxton Douthit will follow in the same footsteps as Trevin, as a strong contender for heavy innings and/or the closer but could easily handle a spot in the weekend rotation. Carson Turnquist, Gray Harrison, Julien Hachem, Peyton Olejnik (Triton College), Carson Pierce (Cowley College), Aaron Webber (Cowley College), Gabe Murrell, Camden Chalfant, and Erik Van Valkenburg will all compete for innings in this extremely deep relief corp.


A spot in the starting rotation for Oklahoma is going to be as heated as any QB competition we have seen in many years. Gone are the likes of David Sandlin, Cade Horton, Chazz Martinez and Jake Bennett, massive shoes to fill for sure, however, Skip has been able to bring in some lively arms who in my opinion will keep the Sooners on a championship level. The biggest pick up of the offseason as far as pitching goes is former Oklahoma State Cowboy Kale Davis. Davis led OSU with 26 appearances as a reliever in 2021 and was the winning pitcher vs the Sooners, going 4 1/3 shutout innings with a career high 7 K’s, accruing 68 Ks on 50 1/3 innings pitched.  2022 marked another solid year for “KD,” as he made 26 appearances with 56 Ks on 4 1/3 innings, allowing opponents to bat just .205 against him. Kade might be the linchpin of the weekend rotation, but there will be plenty of other talented arms behind him. Next in line for possible weekend duty is Texas Tech transfer, Jamie Hitt. Jamie spent two seasons with the raiders and is poised to be a heavy contributor from the get go. The southpaw bolsters a mid 90’s fastball with a fall off the table slider. Hitt saw a lot of publicity in the offseason and was heralded by D1 baseball as one of the top 5 left handers rising in the 2023 MLB draft. My pick for the last spot in the weekend rotation goes to McLennan JC transfer Will Carsten. To be totally honest this pick was quite difficult as the talent pool in Norman is deep, so there are a few names that could be called but Will looks like he could really shine in this Sooner staff. Going 19-3 in two years as a starter in Waco, helping pave the way for back-to-back conference titles and consecutive national titles. Another possible starter might be Dodge City CC transfer (by way of UC-Davis) Adam Walker who was tabbed by D1 Baseball as one of the Top 50 impact transfers for 2023.  Other options if not designated for relief duty are Braden Carmicheal, Aaron Calhoun, Carson Turnquist, Gray Thomas, Carson Atwood, and Aaron Webber


Replacing Jimmy Crooks from last year’s squad in an impossible feat. His athleticism, instinct, IQ and bat will be very difficult to duplicate. The two men tasked with the job will be Freshmen Easton Carmichael and BYU transfer Mason Strong. Easton was ranked the No. 3 catcher in the State of Texas and No. 34 back stop in the country in the 2022 class. Coming out of Prosper, Texas, the younger brother of Braden Carmichael and son of Darby Carmichael, hit .375 with 9 doubles and 3 homeruns. His sub 2 second pop-time will make him quite the defensive threat. Strong was ranked the No 1 catcher in the state of Utah and the No 48 catcher nationally in the 2021 class and played with BYU in 2022. He was sidelined due to injury and eventually made the move to Oklahoma. Plus athleticism and a quality bat will earn him plenty of innings if needed. In the offseason we saw rumblings of Wallace Clark taking reps and working on his own at the catcher position. This would provide exceptional depth at a position that is definitely up for grabs. Another possible option as a backup or in a pinch is Diego Muniz. The kid can truly do it all. 


The infield looks to build on last year’s stellar defensive performance. There is not a game down the stretch last season that didn’t include a highlight play from the infield. The losses are notable in a second round 20/30 shortstop Peyton Graham, and the always reliable, flirting with .500 OBP, Blake Robertson. It will be interesting to see who fills the role of “Mr. Steady” at the top of the order. However, don’t think the power will be hard to find on the infield after losing PG. 

At 1B, we may see a position battle to start the season with two chaos ready choices. First, the junior transfer from Sam Houston State, Anthony Mackenzie. Anthony was one of the highest rated 2022 MLB draft prospects in the Southland Conference after posting a .242 average with 13 doubles and 10 SB. This will be Anthony’s 4th year of college ball, giving him some very valuable experience on a young infield. Speaking of young, his counterpart is a 6-2 freshman also out of the state of Texas, Rocco Garza-Gongora. Rocco may be the definition of a chaotic first baseman. Slashing .471/.557/.739 with two bombs, 41 runs scored and 22 stolen bases, Rocco gives Reggie some serious athleticism at a position that usually lacks it. Moving along the infield we will see a familiar face at 2B, Jackson Nicklaus. What really needs to be said here? The guy is a living breathing highlight reel. Ready made for any situation, while never seeming to feel the moment is too big. “Jax” was part of the three headed freshman monster that spearheaded Oklahoma to an Omaha run. Batting .288 with 11 HR’s and a .397 OBP, Jackson may be one of the most well rounded hitters on the team. Balancing plate discipline and power that will bring scouts to the park and a slick glove in the field that is sure to give ESPN some content. There is little reason to wonder why Nicklaus was a Preseason First Team Big 12 pick. Speaking of guys who win awards, Dakota Harris will be Nicklaus’ double play partner and defensively may be the most valuable player on the team. Last year at Polk State, Dakota was the All-Suncoast Conference Defensive Player of the Year with a .973 fielding percentage. In 150 chances at SS he committed an absurdly low 4 errors. If his glove doesn’t get you excited to see him in crimson and cream then his .347 average, 5 taters, and 15 stolen bases should. The man from Land O’ Lakes is smooth as butter in the field and we are all here for it. We end our trip around the infield at 3B where we meet a guy that flies under the radar. Wallace Clark gave Skip and Co. exactly what they needed last year. A solid 3rd baseman that allowed Cade Horton to develop into a 1st round draft pick as a pitcher. Did you know, Wally had 27 RBI’s in 48 games last year? I sure didn’t. Wally came up clutch in so many situations last year, but his glove was the real star. Playing the hot corner at this level is hard enough, doing it as a freshman is unrealistic. Clark did just that. His All Big 12 snub will surely be rectified soon when he puts on a show this year. 

On a side note, when you get a moment go check out photos from the fall or spring to see the amount of muscle Jack and Wally have put on. Suffice to say, summer workouts were not missed. Rounding out the IF room are two freshmen Caden Powell and Patrick Engskov. Both won All State high school honors in Oklahoma and Arkansas respectively. They both know the assignment as they look to be the next freshman flash Sooners. Finally, we end with “MR. UTILITY”, Diego Muniz. I’d imagine Diego could have been covered in any group (Maybe we can even get him on the bump this year). Diego is a team leader, just ask anyone. He will contribute to the cause whenever his name is called in any position you put him in. He doesn’t know how to do anything at the plate except produce productive at bats. Diego finished the year with a .410 OBP driving in 24 runs and playing well everywhere. When you see his name in the lineup you know you are getting two things: great defense and professional AB’s.


The outfield may be the most recognizable position group coming into 2023. Starting with the familiar faces, Kendall Pettis looks to build on a strong but challenging 2022 campaign. Missing time midway through the season with an elbow injury, left us all wondering what would or could “KP” play a significant role down the stretch. His .259 AVG /.449 OBP with 27 RBI and 22 SB is nothing to sneeze at, but most of that production came after the elbow injury. In fact coming into Omaha KP possibly had the hottest bat on the team. No longer the youngster, KPs calm and cool leadership will be a key to this year’s team success. Speaking of back half of the season success, you will need to look no further than John Spikerman. “Spike” is more than just the most ‘GIFable’ player on the team. Seriously, go look at any OU baseball Twitter post and you will likely see a Spike GIF in the comments. While only starting 30 games last year he posted some other worldly numbers. Spike hit .317 AVG/.434 OBP with 11 extra base hits and 12 stolen bases in 2022; while solidifying an outfield that already had plenty of speed. I dare you to find a faster outfield than we had last season in the NCAA (all levels). Spikerman is the deadly combination of quick and fast, which may make it obvious that he would start contributing as a freshman quickly. Rounding out our returning outfielders is Sebastian Orduno. Although “PRIMO” may not draw the same attention that some of the other contributors from last year do, he certainly played a major impact. He appeared in 43 games last year and was an easy choice for Skip off the bench. Anytime you have a player that gives you .400 plus OBP you will feel comfortable putting him in any situation. Fortunately we had just that in Omaha after a Brett Squires injury that left a large hole in the DH spot. Sebastian was ready for the call and gave us productive AB after productive AB. I am unsure where PRIMO will land to start the season, but I am sure that when he gets his opportunities he will make the most of them. 

The talent does not stop with those returning in the outfield. Perhaps the most anticipated transfer to OU baseball in a while is Bryce Madron. If you do not know what Bryce did last year at Cowley County, then allow me to introduce you to a .420/.531/.800 slash line… oh yeah and 72 RBIs… oh and 25 SB in 65 games. Those my friends are video game numbers. The crazy part is last year was no fluke. His freshman year he hit .415 with an even better .556 OBP. What changed in his sophomore campaign? The power. Madron hit 20 bombs last year compared to his 4 as a freshman. Most players tend to sacrifice AVG for power numbers, but not Madron. The true question is just how much power is in that bat? An established pure hitter with big potential facing more power arms in the Big 12 may cause some fireworks. He already smashed 2 grand slams during fall ball in the same game. Sounds like those on the Berms may be getting a lot of souvenirs this year. Oh and I might also mention Bryce committed just 3 errors in 121 games in his 2 years at Cowley. That’ll play folks. Last but certainly not least is freshman standout Tavion Vaughns. “TV” might be the highest touted incoming freshman or at least the guy with the highest ceiling. Standing in at 6-3 208 lbs, Tavion already has that big man presence at the plate. He posted a .512 AVG and .548 OBP last year in highschool and is the #3 ranked outfielder out of the state of Texas. Who knows what the season may hold for this talented young man. Whether he gets AB’s as a DH or another choice for skip in the outfield we are all excited to see what this young man can do on the diamond. 

Sooners 360 Projected Lineup


Friday – Kale Davis

Saturday – Jamie Hitt or Carter Campbell

Sunday – Will Carsten or Adam Walker or Aaron Webber

Mid-Week – Aaron Calhoun or Carson Turnquist or Carter Campbell or Aaron Webber

Closer – Braxton Douthit

Catcher – Easton Carmicheal or Mason Strong

First Base – Anthony MacKenzie or Rocco Garza-Gongora

Second Base – Jackson Nicklaus

Short Stop – Dakota Harris 

Third Base – Wallace Clark

Left Field – Kendall Pettis or Diego Muniz

Center Field – John Spikerman

Right Field – Bryce Madron

DH – Sebastion Orduno or Rocco Garza Gongora or Anthony MacKenzie or Tavion Vaughns


The Sooners have 31 new members added to this season’s roster and while that may seem like a massive turnover a ton of experience also returns with the players that remain from 2022. Expectations for this club are pretty low when it comes to the national pundits. The sooners have been left out of all major rankings and to be quite honest that is the way they like it. This club could not crack the rankings until the later part of last season. The kind of kid that Skip recruits cares little for individual stats, awards or rankings. Those rankings almost got them hosting duties last season, but at the same time those rankings had nothing to do with the run that can only be considered Sooner Magic. It is “In Skip we trust!” as the Sooner Head Coach has reeled in very talented pitching group to replace the pro level talent lured away in the offseason. On that not Reggie Willits has been promoted to Associate Head Coach and it will be exciting to watch his his players create havoc all over the park once again. 

The goal is always a trip to Omaha and a National Championship but anything less than a regional final or super would be disappointing. If pitching proves to be Skip Johnson caliber this team has enough talent and fire power to have a decent shot at any goal they set for the 2023 campaign.  

Thank you to Brandon Schultz for co-authoring this article.

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