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MLB Draft 2021: Oklahoma's Tyler Hardman looking to become first Sooners first baseman taken since 2013

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Tyler Hardman

Redshirt junior infielder Tyler Hardman during the Big 12 Baseball Championship game against Oklahoma State on May 26.

Since the end of the 2021 season, Tyler Hardman’s offseason routine has been simple. 

Wake up. Eat breakfast. Lift weights. Go to batting practice. Go to defensive practice. Go for a run. Eat two more meals. Sleep. Repeat. 

With the 2021 MLB Draft taking place July 11-13, this offseason regimen holds immense value for Hardman as he prepares to turn professional, coming off what might be the best season of his career. 

The 22-year-old first baseman was the star of OU’s explosive offense last season, leading the team in almost every hitting statistic. His .397 batting average and 89 hits led the Big 12 Conference, and he ranked in the top 10 in the conference in doubles, home runs, RBIs and total bases.

Hardman’s season highlights include hitting for the cycle against Arkansas State on March 15 and a 15-game hitting streak lasting from March 24 against Texas State to April 17 against Kansas State. His cycle was the first from a Sooner in 11 years, with Cameron Seitzer accomplishing the feat against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2010. 

Currently, he is ranked as the 195th best prospect by MLB.com, the seventh highest among first basemen. If taken, he would be the first OU first baseman drafted since the New York Mets selected Matt Oberste in the seventh round of the 2013 MLB Draft. Hardman could also choose to return to OU next season, where he would have one year of eligibility remaining.

His mindset of working harder than everyone else has defined his career, and he’s doubling down on that as he prepares for the draft. 

‘I’m working out harder now than ever before’

Hardman spent the first couple weeks of his offseason training with now-former teammates Tanner Tredaway, Conor McKenna and his roommate, Justin Mitchell. They would hold their own workouts at L. Dale Mitchell Park, going through fielding and hitting drills. It was a bittersweet time for Hardman, who views his teammates like family. He prepared to say goodbye to them after OU’s season ended earlier than expected with a two-loss exit from the Big 12 tournament in late May. 

The redshirt junior also stayed in Norman to finish his schoolwork, before setting off for Kennesaw, Georgia, where his parents own a house fit with batting cages and a weight room — a perfect place to prepare for the next level. 

“I’m working out harder now than ever before,” Hardman said. “Because now, I don’t have to be cautious because we got a big series coming up. I’m lifting every day to get my complete strength back, if not stronger than it was before.”

He maintains a proper diet and is attempting to gain a larger frame to improve his body strength. Hardman is also emphasizing his mobility, going through many fielding drills. 

Hardman brings his younger sister McKenna to his workouts and constantly asks his older brother Blake to throw or hit with him. During his preparation, Hardman has taken McKenna, a high school softball player, under his wing. 

Whatever he’s working on, Hardman wants to do it with McKenna, too, taking time out of his workout to make sure his sister improves as much as he does.

“We love to work together,” Hardman said. “I love being able to help her out and improve her game.”

On top of his physical improvements, Hardman is also attempting to improve mentally. 

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” Hardman said of working to build his confidence. “I know myself, and I know my game. So, I know that one at-bat or one bad series doesn’t change anything. … Instead of dragging failures on forever, I’m learning from them and instantly putting them behind me.” 

Hardman has always tried to study those around him to add new skills to his game. During his college career, he studied former Sooner players like Seitzer, another first baseman, who taught him how to improve his fielding. 

Hardman’s father Jeff, considers his son being a student of the game to be one of his greatest strengths.

“I think it’s just understanding those competitors and understanding their strengths,” Jeff said. “It’s a big part of who he is. He takes pride in understanding the game.” 

‘This is just the next step for him’

Hardman is no stranger to the draft process, as he was selected in the 37th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies after graduating from Temescal Canyon High School in Corona, California. He does not yet have an agent and instead relies on a close family friend who acts as an adviser. This adviser guided him through the 2017 draft and will do so again this time around, helping put Hardman in the right direction.  

When teams call to introduce themselves, Hardman knows what to tell them. 

“I’m always going to be the first person in and the last one to leave,” Hardman said. “I’m going to work hard and try and pass that around the team as well. They shouldn’t have to worry about that. They should know they’re getting someone who works for every person on the team, not just themselves.”

His father believes Hardman will make an off-the-field impact at the next level, too.

“I would tell a team that he wouldn’t embarrass your organization,” Jeff said. “He would always be a good person, a good employee and a good role model. He’s always been that way, this is just the next step for him.”

One of the reasons Hardman chose to play at OU was the opportunity to grow as a player. He experienced many growing pains his freshman year but blossomed into one of the Big 12’s premier hitters in 2021. To close his college career, he earned All-America honors from Perfect Game, the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National College Baseball Writers Association. 

Hardman started playing on a travel baseball team when he was 7 years old. Since then, Hardman has played all across the country. From California to Oklahoma, he shined wherever he went. He made the varsity team as a freshman at Temescal Canyon and set school records in batting average and hits. He earned a scholarship offer from OU after making the All-Tournament Team at the 2016 Perfect Game World Series in Mesa, Arizona. 

In his college career, he finished with a .311 batting average and a .991 fielding percentage. All those years of hard work, effort and dedication, will come to a head in Denver, the site of the MLB Draft. Sometime between July 11-13, Hardman will hear his name being called.

“It’s been fun watching him,” said Blake, Tyler’s brother. “His growth as a person has been the best part, and his talent has always been there. He’s definitely excited to move onto the next level, and I can’t wait to see his skills translate to the minor leagues and hopefully, one day, the major leagues.”

Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:22 a.m. on July 9 to reflect the proper spelling of Tyler Hardman's father's name.

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