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‘That’s what it should look like’: OU’s Skip Johnson sees loss of entire weekend rotation to MLB Draft as representative of program’s strength

OU coach Skip Johnson (left) will have a new-look pitching staff in 2021 after the entire weekend rotation for the Sooners in 2020 was selected in this week's MLB Draft. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
OU coach Skip Johnson (left) will have a new-look pitching staff in 2021 after the entire weekend rotation for the Sooners in 2020 was selected in this week's MLB Draft. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Skip Johnson likely faces the daunting task of replacing his entire weekend rotation of pitchers going into the 2021 season after the results of this week's MLB Draft.

The Sooners saw first-round pick Cade Cavalli go to the Washington Nationals, third-round pick Levi Prater to the St. Louis Cardinals and fourth-round pick Dane Acker to the Oakland Athletics. All three could return to school since the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring-sport athletes whose seasons were cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. But they aren't expected to turn down an MLB contract.

However, Johnson isn’t worrying about the future. Instead, he’s thinking about how putting crops of talent into professional baseball should be the standard at Oklahoma.

“I look at the University of Oklahoma as being a Power 5 school and I don’t have an expectation for kids,” Johnson said on a Zoom call on Friday. “But that’s what it should look like, right? I mean, we’re the University of Oklahoma.”

The three highlight a stout Sooners draft class. Along with the pitching trio, catcher Brady Lindsly was taken in the fourth round, and OU signees Ed Howard and Daxton Fulton were taken in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Cavalli, a Bixby native, was the headliner for OU’s potential draftees, and most viewed him as a surefire first-round pick. After spending his first two seasons with Oklahoma pitching and batting, Cavalli transitioned to pitching exclusively in 2020 and struck out 37 batters in 23 1⁄3 innings pitched.

“Cade can really spin the ball. He has the ability to throw fastball, curveball, slider, change,” Johnson said. “I think that's the thing that he's going to continue to grow in repeating his delivery. He's got a feel for all of those things. He's got some toughness to him too.”

Prater, an Ada native, started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA. He was a named to the All-Big 12 Second-Team during his sophomore season in 2019 after starting 14 games, leading the team in strikeouts with 97 and allowing a .211 batting average.

“(He’s a) fierce competitor. A guy that is never going to give in. He gets after it,” Johnson said. “(He has) a three-pitch mix. His last outing he was at 91, 94, a power breaking ball plus a change up. It's an uncomfortable at-bat. … I think he's going to continue to grow. He's not ever going to give in.”

While Cavalli and Prater spent their entire collegiate careers with the Sooners, Acker made his way to Norman after playing two seasons at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas.

Despite only appearing in four games at OU, Acker etched his name in Sooner record books by tossing a complete game no-hitter against LSU on March 1, a game the Sooners won 1-0. It was the first complete game no-hitter at Oklahoma since 1989.

Johnson said he could tangibly see Acker’s growth as a pitcher despite his brief time in the program.

“I think it just shows you what this program’s about, shows you what this baseball program’s about, what our coaching staff is about: It’s about development,” Johnson said. “I think that was what was beautiful. I really wish we could have reaped the benefits of the rest of the year, who knows how that would have played out? But I gotta think it would have been good, for sure.”

Along with losing the three pitchers and Lindsly, the Sooners are also losing highly touted prospects in Howard and Fulton, who is a Mustang native.

The silver lining for Johnson is he is retaining two 2020 signees in Norman product Cade Horton and Westmoore product Jace Bohrofen, who likely would have been selected if the draft wasn’t shortened to five rounds due to the coronavirus.

While the two will have to wait at least three years until they reach the pro ranks, Johnson said their time at Oklahoma could pay dividends down the road.

“I was sitting there thinking about, ‘What am I gonna tell these guys tonight if they don’t get drafted?” Johnson said. “But I think it’s better. They have more time for life lessons… Are you going to feel sorry for yourself that you didn’t get drafted and that you didn’t get the money? Or are you going to get better from it?”

When looking at the talent leaving Norman for the pro ranks, questions still linger over OU baseball after ending the season 14-4 and ranked in the top 15.

What could have been? Could this have been the year the Sooners reached the College World Series since 2010?

It’s a topic Johnson has mostly been able to avoid in the past few months, but after seeing the results of the draft, he’s found himself thinking about more frequently.

“Now that those guys are gone you dwell on it a little more, but we’re gonna get over it,” Johnson said. “We’re happy for them they got that opportunity because they worked for that, they really did. It’s fun. They’re always going to be a part of OU baseball."

***

OU gotta be kidding

The Sooners had six players and signees selected in this week's MLB Draft:

Rd. (Pk.) — Pos. — Player — Team

1 (16) — SS — Ed Howard-* — CHC

1 (22) — RHP — Cade Cavalli — WAS

2 (40) — LHP — Daxton Fulton-* — MIA

3 (93) — LHP — Levi Prater — STL

4 (123) — C — Brady Lindsly — WAS

4 (127) — RHP — Dane Acker — OAK

*-Signee

Related Photos
<strong>St. Louis Cardinals draft pick Levi Prater started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA for OU. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

St. Louis Cardinals draft pick Levi Prater started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA for OU. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-n_3e1b69ef92506fd54ba22885934918b4.jpg" alt="Photo - St. Louis Cardinals draft pick Levi Prater started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA for OU. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" St. Louis Cardinals draft pick Levi Prater started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA for OU. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> St. Louis Cardinals draft pick Levi Prater started four games in 2020 and posted a 3.42 ERA for OU. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9dfe011463958ea8204e52df3ea72c30.jpg" alt="Photo - OU catcher Brady Lindsly throws the ball during practice Feb. 7 at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU catcher Brady Lindsly throws the ball during practice Feb. 7 at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU catcher Brady Lindsly throws the ball during practice Feb. 7 at L. Dale Mitchell Park in Norman. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ba603acb98ff6e83cc0db831471668f5.jpg" alt="Photo - Cade Cavalli struck out 37 batters in 23 1⁄3 innings pitched this season for OU. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Cade Cavalli struck out 37 batters in 23 1⁄3 innings pitched this season for OU. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Cade Cavalli struck out 37 batters in 23 1⁄3 innings pitched this season for OU. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-eba8d05b32d93d17182f8ff5c7f63c90.jpg" alt="Photo - OU coach Skip Johnson (left) will have a new-look pitching staff in 2021 after the entire weekend rotation for the Sooners in 2020 was selected in this week's MLB Draft. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU coach Skip Johnson (left) will have a new-look pitching staff in 2021 after the entire weekend rotation for the Sooners in 2020 was selected in this week's MLB Draft. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU coach Skip Johnson (left) will have a new-look pitching staff in 2021 after the entire weekend rotation for the Sooners in 2020 was selected in this week's MLB Draft. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Vic Reynolds

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