OSU baseball: Ben Leeper signs with Cubs, other seniors return to Cowboys
STILLWATER — Six Oklahoma State seniors are coming back for one final season, but the Cowboys will need a new closer from the bullpen.
Sunday was the first day undrafted baseball players could sign with a Major League Baseball team, and it provided some clarity for OSU next spring.
The Cowboys' heart of the lineup — Cade Cabiness, Alix Garcia, Carson McCusker and Max Hewitt — all announced their return. Ace Parker Scott is also returning, along with right-hander C.J. Varela.
Hard-throwing closer Ben Leeper is the lone senior to announce his intention to not return. He announced on his Twitter page that he signed with the Chicago Cubs.
“I never could have expected this season to unfold the way it did,” Leeper wrote. “It is time for me to move on to professional baseball.”
For Leeper, his winding journey through college that was marred by injury comes to a close.
The 6-foot right-hander missed his senior season at Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He made just two appearances as a freshman before re-injuring his arm, undergoing another Tommy John Surgery. He also missed his sophomore year.
But he returned in 2018 to make 17 appearances. In 2019, he led the team with seven saves. Last season, his velocity was in the upper 90s in six appearances. He recorded two saves.
Cabiness — a Bixby product — was the Cowboys’ every-day right fielder the past two seasons. This spring, he batted .281 with two home runs and four doubles.
“The season being cut short was hard for myself and my teammates, as we were looking forward to what was still ahead of us,” Cabiness wrote on his Twitter page. “With that being said, I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can accomplish.”
Garcia is a 6-foot-2, 225-pound first baseman who was the team’s second-leading hitter in 2019. This spring, he was off to a bit of a slow start, batting just .250 with a homer and eight RBIs.
“When our season got cancelled, I thought my college career was over,” Garcia wrote on his Twitter page. “After the vote to restore eligibility passed, I could not have been happier.
“There is something special about the people in Stillwater; something you do not get anywhere else in the country. I can’t wait to play at O’Brate Stadium in front of a sea of orange and black.”
Hewitt was the Cowboys’ breakout star this spring, going from a utility player from the bench to the Cowboys’ primary catcher. He was also a force at the plate, batting .410 with 10 RBIs, five doubles, 13 runs, seven walks and just five strikeouts in 17 games.
“Being a part of the Cowboy baseball program has been a dream come true,” Hewitt wrote on his Twitter page. “I am incredibly grateful and excited to return to Oklahoma State next season for my final year of eligibility. I am also grateful to finish my degree.”
Varela made five appearances this spring, including two strong mid-week starts. He had a 1.17 ERA, allowing just two runs and striking out 15.
“This place is too special to hang it up after our shortened season,” Varela wrote on his Twitter page. “There’s only one thing on our minds: to bring a national championship to Stillwater.”
Scott was the Cowboys' Friday pitcher last season. A crafty left-hander had a 2.16 ERA in four starts, allowing six earned runs and striking out 31 batters.
McCusker is the Cowboys' most powerful hitter. The left fielder battled injuries this spring, though. He batted .235 with two homers.