The Big 12 might not have the depth of some of country's other top conferences, but there are enough stars to make the upcoming league baseball tournament an anticipated event.
Texas Tech comes into the week as the top seed and favorite to win the championship after clinching the conference's regular-season title. The team has the best offense in the Big 12 and a strong enough pitching staff to remain a top contender throughout the postseason. Of course, Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia and others have a chance to compete for that trophy in Oklahoma City.
No matter who wins, though, these individuals will be worth the price of admission when the tournament kicks off Wednesday.
Eric Gutierrez, 1B, Texas Tech
If Texas Tech follows up its regular-season title with a tournament win, Eric Gutierrez will likely be a big reason why.
The senior has turned himself into one of the best power hitters in the country, hitting .347 with 12 home runs and a Big 12-leading 51 RBI. His last long ball came in the final game of the regular season against West Virginia, which announcer Brian Hanni believes will clinch him a prestigious honor:
Gutierrez has seven home runs in conference play and a .376 batting average, making him a nightmare on opposing pitchers and a leader for the highest-scoring offense in the league.
Meanwhile, he is not just a poor athlete who was thrown to first base. Gutierrez has become an excellent defender who makes a major impact in the field. His all-around effort makes him valuable and someone to watch throughout the week.
Jake Scudder, 1B, Kansas State
Fans won't be able to see Michael Tinsley with Kansas not participating in the tournament, but there could be another hot hitter on a struggling team from the Sunflower State.
Although Kansas State has struggled throughout much of Big 12 play with an 8-16 record, Jake Scudder has done his job with a .407 batting average in 24 games to lead all players in this stretch. He also added four home runs and seven doubles for good measure.
Scudder transferred from Iowa Western Community College, and while the Wildcats were hoping for a lot of production from the utility player, he has been even better than most anticipated. He has come through in big moments and consistently has a great approach at the plate.
While it will be a long shot for Kansas State to make a deep run in this tournament, Scudder will do his best to carry the squad as far as possible.
Thomas Hatch, P, Oklahoma State
Not only is Thomas Hatch the Big 12's best pitcher by ERA with a 2.10 mark for the season, but he has also been downright dominating at times.
The Oklahoma State starter had a stretch of 38.2 innings without allowing an earned run, including 33 innings without giving up a single run overall. He also put together three complete-game shutouts during his impressive 2016 season.
"Thomas is becoming a professional pitcher," pitching coach Rob Walton recently explained, per John Helsley of the Oklahoman. "His mound presence, his poise, all those things. I'm proud of Thomas for what he's doing. But I'm also proud of him for the way he's grown up, because he's turning into a great kid."
There is no denying Hatch's mental toughness after the right-hander missed all of 2015 with an elbow injury. It's also clear his stuff is as good as ever during his lights-out sophomore campaign.
Hatch is only going to get better, but opposing hitters should already be scared.
Chad Donato, P, West Virginia
Consistency has been a problem for Chad Donato this season, but when he is on, he is as good as almost anyone in the conference.
The West Virginia pitcher allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings his last time out against Texas Tech, which followed a terrible effort against William and Mary where he gave up seven runs (six earned). This up-and-down play helped him finish the year with a respectable 3.32 ERA but just a 3-4 record.
He is still a burden on opposing batters thanks to his overpowering repertoire that is so difficult to hit. He finished the regular season with 110 strikeouts, good enough for 13th in college baseball. He also has the control to force hitters to swing the bat with just 20 walks on the year.
If he gets a chance to step on the mound, West Virginia could be tough to beat.
Statistics from Big12Sports.com and team websites.
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