A Cowboys Baseball Alumni Roundup

Head coach Josh Holliday has stated multiple times his goal has been to get Oklahoma State back to where it once was – back to the era of his father, Tom Holliday, and the era of Gary Ward before him.

To knowledgeable college baseball fans, Oklahoma State is one of the most prestigious programs in the country thanks to the job of those two men. But it was more than the head coaches that made the Cowboys so prodigious. It was the constant stream of talent coming through Stillwater?and not just college-level talent, but future major league baseball talent.

There have been the pure sluggers…Jeromy Burnitz, Chris Richard and Luke Scott. But there have also been the pitchers...Scott Baker, Scott Williamson, Dave Mlicki and future manager John Farrell. And then, of course, there are the legends...Robin Ventura, Pete Incaviglia and Mickey Tettleton.

There has been at least one draft pick selected from Oklahoma State University every year since 1977 and there have been multiple draft picks every year since 1994. But recently, there have been more former Cowboys getting released than advancing in the minor leagues.

In the last 12-16 months, there were 18 former Oklahoma State players, mostly guys that played under Frank Anderson, who got released, leaving only 16 Cowboys currently playing professional baseball in the MLB or MiLB.

It will take Josh Holliday’s players a few years before they start making a big impact in professional baseball, but the early returns from the 2013 and 2014 draftees look promising.

Here’s a look at where all the former Oklahoma State draftees ended up as this season was coming to a close, including the 18 players who were released in 2013 and 2014:

MLB
Scott Baker (TEX - RHP) - The veteran right-hander has been the swingman for the beaten up Texas pitching staff. Baker has made 24 appearances, including seven starts. Despite a 5.52 ERA, he has been instrumental as an innings eater out of the bullpen. He also had won three consecutive decisions at the end of August before losing his final start prior to the writing of this story and having to miss time with triceps tendinitis.

Andrew Heaney (MIA - LHP) - After starting the season in AA, the 2012 first round pick made his big league debut in June. And it was a great debut. Heaney allowed one run on four hits in six innings, but took a tough-luck loss. That was followed by three unsuccessful starts and a demotion back to AAA. In the minors, between AA and AAA, Heaney was 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 137.1 innings. He was called back up to join Miami's bullpen in September and has pitched 4.2 scoreless frames since the call-up as of this article's writing.

Jordy Mercer (PIT - SS) - The former third round pick has been a constant in the middle of the infield for the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates. After struggling the first two months of the season, Mercer came on in the second half. He hit .319 in the month of July and his .777 second-half OPS, as of writing, was the highest among national league shortstops. He was batting .260 with 11 homers and 53 RBI in final week of the regular season.

AAA
Corey Brown (BOS - OF) - Brown joined his third different organization this season, but that didn't equate to success for the former first round compensation pick. Brown struggled at the plate, posting the lowest on-base percentage (.294) of his professional career. He did knock 17 homers to give him 140 in eight minor league seasons.

Matt Hague (TOR - 1B) - Despite being an International League All-Star this year, Hague was placed on waivers by Pittsburgh and was picked up by the Toronto organization. The 2009 ninth round pick rewarded the Blue Jays with a strong finish to the year hitting .377 with seven doubles, a homer and 10 RBI in his 13 games with AAA Buffalo.

Tyler Lyons (STL - LHP) - Lyons spent his third season with AAA Memphis and got his second stint with the big league ball club making seven early season appearances, including four starts. Lyons was rusty upon his June return to AAA, but he really excelled in July, going 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA in four starts. He rejoined the Cardinals after rosters expanded late in the season.

Andy Oliver (PIT - LHP) - The Pirates decided to move the former second round draft pick to the bullpen this season and it paid great dividends. Oliver had his best season, compiling a career-low 2.53 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 64 innings for a career-best 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Scott Richmond (TEX - RHP) - After making 24 starts (8-11, 5.52 ERA) with Toronto in 2009, Richmond has been fighting to get back to the big leagues on a permanent basis ever since. Unfortunately, things are headed in the wrong direction for Richmond. After three major league appearances in 2012, Richmond hasn't made it out of AAA the last two seasons and his stats haven't been pretty. He went 6-7 with a 5.91 ERA in 2013 and was even worse this season, finishing 1-6 with a 7.65 ERA.

AA
Tom Belza (ARI - OF) - Despite being a 43rd round pick, Tom Belza continues to produce base knocks. Belza batted .305 with a .387 on-base percentage with AA Mobile this season. After hitting 10 homers last season, Belza managed just one this year, but he was a perfect two-hole hitter, batting .347 in 196 at bats in the spot.

Luis Flores (CHC - C) - Flores continued to fill his role as backup catcher. Despite being in the minors for seven years, Flores has never played in more than 67 games, which he equaled this season between AAA Iowa and AA Tennessee. Flores hit .253 with a .388 on-base percentage between the two stops.

Jason Hursh (ATL - RHP) - In his first full season since Tommy John surgery cost him his 2012 season at Oklahoma State, Hursh made 26 starts compiling a 3.58 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 148.1 innings. It was enough to earn him Atlanta's Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. He finished the year strong, going 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his final 10 starts.

Michael Strong (MIL - LHP) - Mike Strong produced some strong numbers in 2014. Pitching in 31 games (six starts) with Hi-A Brevard County, Strong put together a 2-2, 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP line. He allowed only 56 hits while striking out 78 in 75.2 innings before getting promoted to AA Huntsville. In two appearances, Strong struck out 12 in eight innings and allowed just one earned run.

Hi-A
Brendan McCurry (OAK - RHP) - At OK State, Brendan McCurry was about as lights out as they come. Nothing changed in his first professional season. Between three stops, Oakland's 22nd round pick this year allowed 14 hits while striking out 37 in 28.2 innings. He went 2-0 with two saves, giving up just one run this season.

Lo-A
Tanner Krietemeier (ATL - 1B) - Atlanta's 23rd round pick saved his best for last. After hitting .254 in 19 games with Lo-A Rome, Krietemeier came back from a DL stint ready to go. In the Appalachian League playoffs with Rookie League Danville, he went 6-for-15 with four runs, four walks, four RBI and his first career home run.

Vince Wheeland (HOU - RHP) - One of the most dynamic pitchers in Oklahoma State history, Wheeland didn't find the same success in his first taste of professional baseball. He allowed 26 hits in 18.1 innings with short season Lo-A Tri-City, amassing a 5.89 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP.

Rookie League
Zach Fish (CHW - OF) - This year's Big 12 Player of the Year got off to a slow start in his professional career, hitting just .184 in the first half of the season. But he started to get hot in the second half, batting .299 with five homers and 16 RBI in the final 31 regular-season games.

Released
Hunter Bailey (2B) - After batting just .182 in his first 16 games at Lo-A Hagerstown, Bailey's career ended with the Washington Nationals' organization in 2013.

Ronald Barnes (RHP) - Barnes voluntarily retired after the 2013 season. He struggled to a 5.76 ERA in Hi-A, but had allowed just two runs in 20 innings at the Lo-A level in 2013.

Tyler Blanford (RHP) - It doesn't matter whether you are a fifth round pick or a 40th round pick when you compile a 7.42 ERA over four seasons. Blanford, a 2009 fifth round pick, was released by Hi-A High Desert after giving up 17 earned runs in 10 innings to open the 2013 season.

Josh Fields (3B) - At least Josh Fields is getting some travel and exploration out of baseball. After being released following a power-sapped 2013 season in which he still hit .289, Fields went to the Triple-A Mexican League this summer. Fields, who also previously played in Japan, batted .297 with five homers and 29 RBI in 30 games.

Justin Friend (RHP) - Justin Friend made three scoreless outings to open the season, but it wasn't enough to impress the Philadelphia organization. Friend was released in April. The former 13th round pick has a career 3.32 ERA.

Mike Hernandez (OF) - The former 45th round pick was released in 2013 after batting .233 in 61 games between Lo-A, Hi-A and AA. Hernandez returned to the independent leagues where he spent 2009-2013 before getting signed by Detroit. In 84 games this year, Hernandez hit .265 with 10 homers and 45 RBI.

Chris Gutierrez (SS) - After nine years in the minors, Gutierrez was inactive this season. He batted just .212 in 85 games with AA Jacksonville in 2013. Though he spent time in AAA five of the last six season, Gutierrez never got that coveted call-up to the bigs.

Jason Jaramillo (C) - The former second round pick wasn't able to make an impact with AAA Oklahoma City or AAA Tacoma in 2013, hitting just .215 with 22 RBI in 61 games. He played in 119 major league games in his career, batting .235 with four homers and 38 RBi.

Zach Johnson (1B) - The former Astros' 15th round pick hit .298 in 20 games with Hi-A Lancaster to start the 2013 season, but hit just .252 in 42 games with AA Corpus Christi before his release last year.

Tomas Keeling (LHP) - Milwaukee's 18th round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Keeling was released after posting a 1-3 record and a 4.68 ERA between two AA stops in 2013. He spent this season in the independent leagues where the control issues that have plagued him throughout his professional career continued. He walked 15 in 11.2 innings. In 166.1 combined innings over five seasons, Keeling now has 140 walks and 174 strikeouts.

Randy McCurry (3B) - He was released following the 2013 season after hitting .216 with 21 RBI in 55 games with Lo-A Hillsboro. McCurry was a 23rd round pick of the Diamondbacks.

Neil Medchill (OF) - Released after hitting .243 with no pop in 64 games between AA and AAA in 2013, Medchill spent this year with the Sugar Land Skeeters playing with Rusty Ryal. He batted just .231 in 50 games.

Rusty Ryal (2B) - Starting the 2014 season with the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent leagues, Ryal earned an opportunity in the Phillies organization, but he hit just .172 in 23 games between AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley before being released in July.

Luke Scott (OF) - Luke Scott banged 135 major league homers and another 121 in the minors, but after being granted free agency after the 2013 season, Scott took on a new challenge by launching six homers and batted .267 with a .392 on-base percentage in 130 at bats with SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization this year.

Devin Shines (OF) - The Dodgers released their 2011 38th round pick following the 2013 season when he hit .191 between Lo-A Great Lakes and Hi-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Chase Stevens (RHP) - Stevens was released following the 2013 season after tallying a 0-2 record and a 5.51 ERA in 32.2 innings (36 H, 20 BB, 45 K). He was a 30th round pick by Arizona in 2012.

Robbie Weinhardt (RHP) - He was released after compiling a 3.13 ERA in 69 innings between AA Erie and AAA Toledo in 2013. Weinhardt spent six seasons in the Detroit organization after being drafted in the 10th round of the 2008 draft. He made 30 MLB appearances, compiling a 2-2 record and a 6.39 ERA.

Ty Wright (OF) - Wright spent the 2014 season in the independent leagues after not being re-signed. He hit .280 with six homers and 36 RBI in 66 games with AAA Iowa in 2013. This year, he knocked 13 homers in 112 games with Somerset.

NOTE: THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE WINTER 2014 ISSUE OF GOPOKES MAGAZINE

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