By Chris Day
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma State University baseball team’s first baseman Zach Johnson is the 2011 Big 12 Conference’s Newcomer of the Year, league officials announced Tuesday.
“I was a little surprised, but very honored,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good players, especially newcomers this year.”
Johnson, a junior, has been an offensive marvel this season.
He has hit safely in 46 of the 54 games and opened the season with a 16-game hitting streak.
The San Ramon, Calif., native and Ohlone Junior College transfer ranks in the top three in the Big 12 in seven offensive categories:
• Batting average – .351
• Home runs – 11
• RBI – 56
• Runs scored – 48
• Doubles – 20
• Slugging percentage – .629
• Total bases – 127
He leads the team with 15 multiple-RBI games, including five games in which he recorded four RBI. On April 29 against Kansas State, he became the first Cowboy since 2003 to hit for the cycle. In 2010, he was a 48th-round draft pick of the Oakland A’s, but opted for a college career at Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State skipper Frank Anderson expected big things from Johnson because of his attitude and work ethic.
“He doesn’t have many highs or lows. He goes about practice like a professional player,” Anderson said. “He’s a pretty quiet kid and comes to play everyday.”
It’s been difficult hitting Big 12 pitching, Johnson said, but his biggest adjustment came at first base – a position he hadn’t played until this system.
“I can’t remember ever playing first,” Johnson said. “I’m only 5-11. I never really had the chance.”
The footwork and receiving throws from other infielders as well as fielding from the right side of the diamond were his biggest challenges, Johnson said.
“As the season has gone on, I’ve gotten better with a lot of practice and feel pretty confident there now,” he said.
Johnson and the Cowboys (34-21, 14-12 Big 12) open the Big 12 Conference Tournament at 9 a.m. Wednesday against Baylor (29-24, 13-14 Big 12) at RedHawks Field at Bricktown in Oklahoma City.
It’s the Pokes’ first appearance in the conference tournament since 2008. Baylor took two of three from O-State in Stillwater earlier this month.
The Cowboys will probably start left-handed pitcher Mike Strong (5-1) against Baylor. The tournament returns to a double-elimination format this season.
“In JUCO, we played the same type of format in our regionals,” Johnson said. “It will definitely help us.”
The Cowboys will rely on pitching and defense, Johnson said, and scratch out runs.
2011 All-Big 12 Baseball Awards
Big 12 Player of the Year: Tyler Naquin, Texas A&M
Big 12 Pitcher of the Year: Taylor Jungmann, Texas
Big 12 Freshman of the Year: Erich Weiss, Texas
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year: Zach Johnson, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Augie Garrido, Texas, and Rob Childress, Texas A&M.
All-Big 12 First Team
Cody Asche, Nebraska, infield
Garrett Buechele, Oklahoma, infield
Brandon Loy, Texas, infield
Max Muncy, Baylor, infield.
Erich Weiss, Texas, infield
Tyler Ogle, Oklahoma, catcher
Barrett Barnes, Texas Tech, outfield
Krey Bratsen, Texas A&M, outfield
Tyler Naquin, Texas A&M, outfield
Dane Phillips, Oklahoma State, designated hitter
David Paiz, Texas Tech, utility
Brooks Pinckard, Baylor, utility
Taylor Jungmann, Texas, starting pitcher
Michael Rocha, Oklahoma, starting pitcher
Ross Stripling, Texas A&M, starting pitcher
James Allen, Kansas State, relief pitcher
Corey Knebel, Texas, relief pitcher
All-Big 12 second team
Zach Johnson, Oklahoma State, infield
Jason King, Kansas State, infield
Cameron Seitzer, Oklahoma, infield
Tant Shepherd, Texas, infield
Kelby Tomlinson, Texas Tech, infield
Jared Womack, Oklahoma State, catcher
Jared King, Kansas State, outfield
Casey Johnson, Oklahoma, outfield
Jimmy Waters, Kansas outfield
Jonah Schmidt, Missouri, designated hitter
Gabe Weidenaar, Oklahoma State, utility
John Stilson, Texas A&M, starting pitcher
Logan Verrett, Baylor, starting pitcher
Michael Wacha, Texas A&M, starting pitcher
Casey Hauptman, Nebraska, relief pitcher
John Neely, Texas Tech
Kansas: Casey Lytle, outfield; T.J. Walz, starting pitcher
Kansas State: Nick Martini, outfield
Missouri: Blake Brown, outfield, Phil McCormick, relief pitcher
Nebraska: Kash Kalkowski, outfield
Oklahoma: Evan Mistich, designated hitter, Dillon Overton, starting pitcher; Burch Smith, starting pitcher
Oklahoma State: Davis Duren, infield; Mark Ginther, infield; Chris Marlow, relief pitcher; Brad Propst, starting pitcher; Devin Shines, outfield; Mike Strong, starting pitcher.
Texas: Cole Green, starting pitcher; Paul Montalbano, outfield
Texas A&M: Kevin Gonzalez, catcher; Jacob House, infielder; Kenny Jackson, infield; Matt Juengel, designated hitter; Adam Smith, infielder
Texas Tech: Bo Altobelli, catcher; Jamodrick McGruder, infielder; Reid Redman, infielder
Krey Bratsen, Texas A&M, outfielder
Charlie Curl, Texas A&M, infielder
Kaiana Eldredge, Kansas, infielder
Jacob Felts, Texas, catcher
Jordan John, Oklahoma, left-handed pitcher
Jared King, Kansas State, outfielder
Corey Knebel, Texas, right-handed pitcher
Trey Masek, Texas Tech, right-handed pitcher
Dillon Overton, Oklahoma, left-handed pitcher
David Paiz, Texas Tech, utility
Marky Payton, Texas, outfielder
Erich Weiss, Texas, infielder
Rob Zastryzny, Missouri, left-handed pitcher.