With great power comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man’s uncle said that. Or possibly Voltaire. Scholars are not in agreement on the origin of the quote.
Either way, it applies to Oklahoma’s Sheldon Neuse.
The junior slugger for the Sooners holds himself to a high standard. That’s why, even after a 2015 season that included a second straight unanimous all-Big 12 selection, an unsatisfied Neuse went back to work.
He wanted more, so the batting cages became his second home.
“I would credit it to the work I’ve put in since coming back to campus in the fall after what I thought was a rough summer,” said Neuse, the Tribune-Herald’s Big 12 player of the year. “Just making sure I stayed within myself and didn’t try to do too much. I have to give a lot of credit to the guys around me being able to get on and hitting well.”
Neuse’s surname sounds like “Noisy” — and the name fits, considering he swings one of the loudest bats in the Big 12. As OU’s regular shortstop, he turned in his best all-around year at the plate, hitting .374 with nine home runs, 36 RBIs and a league-best .690 slugging percentage.
But Neuse is that rare modern college baseball player who excels both as a hitter and a pitcher. He took over the Sooners’ closer role for a stretch this year, and was arguably the team’s most effective pitcher. On the year, he tallied a 4-1 record with a Big 12-best 1.47 ERA and four saves. The junior out of Keller Fossil Ridge is a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year.
He’d get the vote of Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes, that’s for certain.
“It’s not even debatable,” Hughes said. “This year, Sheldon is the best player I’ve ever coached. I don’t normally throw superlatives out there, but it is what it is.”
Neuse’s natural ability and powerful right-handed swing should make him a coveted prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft. The Texas Rangers selected Neuse in the 38th round coming out of high school, but the work he’s logged over the past three seasons should lead to an even lower-round selection this year. The draft is June 9-11.
As Oklahoma wrapped up its run at the Big 12 tournament Saturday, Neuse said he was grateful for his time in Norman. But the next stage of his life awaits.
“Best three years of my life,” Neuse said. “So many experiences, friendships, relationships that were built here, stuff I will remember forever. (I am) not ready to leave yet, but there are places I’ve got to go and things I’ve got to do for myself.”
Coach of the year: Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock
Rather than take it as a slight, Texas Tech’s Tim Tadlock used the Big 12’s preseason poll as motivation.
The conference’s coaches picked the Red Raiders fifth out of the league’s nine baseball teams. In some respects, a fair guess, considering Tech finished fourth in the league last year.
But Tadlock felt like if his team played up to its potential, they’d have a shot at the crown.
“Probably the biggest teaching moment you can have in this is, hey, let’s get with it today and play well today and play good baseball,” Tadlock said. “We’ll take the results either way as long as we’ll play good baseball.”
Tech was plenty good. The Red Raiders won the Big 12 for the first time since the league’s inaugural baseball season of 1997, going 19-5 in league games, including 10-2 on the road. They torched opposing pitching, leading the Big 12 in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, walks and RBIs.
Pitcher of the year: OSU’s Thomas Hatch
Pain gave Thomas Hatch perspective. It ached at the time, but in the end it helped him become the pitcher he is today.
Hatch missed the entire 2015 season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his arm. When he finally returned this season, he had matured as a person and a pitcher. Hatch gave much of the credit to OSU pitching coach Rob Walton.
“Rob equipped me in those 15 months,” Hatch said. “It was really tough, but ultimately it helped me both mentally and physically. I needed it. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Hatch had pitched sparingly as an OSU freshman in 2014, but this more rugged version was ready for a heavy workload. He took over as the Cowboys’ Friday starter, going 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA while leading the Big 12 in innings pitched (105.1), complete games (3) and shutouts (3).
Freshman of the year: TCU’s Luken Baker
Sometimes Luken Baker’s teammates just stop what they’re doing and watch.
They can’t help it. Baker’s gifts are as prodigious as his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame.
“He’s amazing,” said TCU outfielder Josh Watson, following a 5-for-5 hitting day from Baker against Baylor at the Big 12 tournament. “I think he hit one off the parking garage (across from the stadium) today.”
The pedigree was there. Baker was the jewel of TCU’s seventh-ranked recruiting class, winning the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year honor his senior year at Conroe Oak Ridge.
Amazingly, he lived up to the hype. Baker not only swung a mighty bat as the Frogs’ cleanup hitter, recording a .364 batting average with 47 RBIs, but he also locked down a spot in TCU’s weekend pitching rotation, too. Baker recorded a 3-1 record with a 1.70 ERA in 10 starts before a shoulder injury put an end to his pitching duties in late April.
Newcomer of the year: KSU’s Jake Scudder
Jake Scudder shot in from the juco ranks like a scud missile.
Scudder played two years at Iowa Western Community College before transferring to Kansas State. The junior first baseman hit .333 with 45 RBIs, and led the Big 12 in conference-only batting average (.407) and hits (37), becoming the first player in the league to do so since Texas’ Erich Weiss in 2012.
2016 TRIBUNE-HERALD ALL-BIG 12 BASEBALL TEAM
|1B||Eric Gutierrez||Sr||.345||12||53||Texas Tech|
|SS||Donnie Walton||Sr||.352||3||41||Oklahoma St.|
|OF||Tyler Neslony||Sr||.321||9||50||Texas Tech|
|OF||Tanner Gardner||So||.376||3||31||Texas Tech|
|OF||Darius Hill||Fr||.338||3||36||West Virginia|
|SP||Thomas Hatch||So||6-2||2.31||92||Oklahoma St.|
|SP||Davis Martin||Fr||8-0||2.41||52||Texas Tech|
|RP||Tyler Buffett||Jr||6-3||3.58||60||Oklahoma St.|
|Player of the Year: Sheldon Neuse, SS/P, Oklahoma|
|Pitcher of the Year: Thomas Hatch, Oklahoma State|
|Freshman of the Year: Luken Baker, DH/P, TCU|
|Newcomer of the Year: Jake Scudder, 1B, Kansas State|
|Coach of the Year: Tim Tadlock, Texas Tech|
|1B||Jake Scudder||Jr||.333||7||45||Kansas St.|
|2B||J.R. Davis||Jr||.352||1||29||Oklahoma St.|
|SS||Tyler Wolfe||Sr||.284||3||37||Kansas St.|
|3B||Garrett Benge||So||.299||4||36||Oklahoma St.|
|OF||Stephen Smith||Jr||.321||9||38||Texas Tech|
|DH||Cory Raley||Sr||.327||6||47||Texas Tech|
|SP||Chad Donato||Jr||3-4||3.27||111||West Virginia|
|RP||Hayden Howard||Jr||8-3||3.13||43||Texas Tech|