In 2005, the Sooners will enter their 15th season under head coach Larry Cochell and with the new season comes new expectations and fresh faces. After a second place finish in the Big 12 and an appearance at the Oklahoma City Regional a season ago, the OU coaching staff is excited about the 2005 version of the Sooners that features a combination of freshmen, junior college transfers and returning experience. Thirteen members of the 2004 squad return this season and 19 newcomers will join OU along with new pitching coach, Fred Corral.
"I am very excited about this ball club and it should be an exciting year for everyone connected with OU baseball," said Cochell. "We have a lot of new personnel and the biggest challenge that it presents is getting them and the returning players to mold into one cohesive unit. Everyone has to be going in the same direction and we all have to understand our roles in order to enjoy a successful season.
"I am confident that coach Corral will do an outstanding job with our pitching staff. He’s been involved in three levels of baseball, junior college, professional and Division I, so his background and track record are solid.
"Steven Guerra, John Brownell, P.J. Sandoval, Don Powers, Kevin Duke and Brad Burns are new players we are counting on to step in and pitch for us this year," said Cochell. "Garrett Patterson, Ryan Mottern and Daniel McCutchen are our main returnees."
2005 Big 12 Preseason Poll | 2004 Big 12 Standings (PDF)
Defensively, the Sooners look balanced with quickness in the outfield and a solid group of defensive infielders, outfielders and catchers.
"As a coaching staff, we believe that defensively we are going to be very solid. We have great speed in the outfield and quality infielders. We are also pleased with our catching. Offensively, we are going to be improved over last year because we are only replacing Ole Sheldon and Andrew McGuire. And with the return of Ryan Rohlinger, Russell Raley, Matt Bose and Eric Thornton, along with the addition of Kevin Smith, Chuckie Caufield, Freddy Rodriguez and Kody Kaiser, we will be better both offensively and defensively this year. Ultimately, It will all come down to our pitching staff."
Just like last season, the Sooners’ non-conference schedule presents numerous challenges, most of which come away from L. Dale Mitchell Park. The season will start at the Coca-Cola Classic Spring College Baseball Tournament in Surprise, Ariz. In three days of action, the Sooners will face Gonzaga, Arizona State and South Alabama. OU also returns to the Kia Classic this season, hosted by Cal State Fullerton. The Sooners walked away from last year’s Kia as the champions, rattling off victories against Cal State Fullerton, Southern California and Georgia Tech. The opponents in this year’s edition of the Kia Classic include Nevada, UCLA and host Cal State Fullerton.
2005 Schedule (PDF) | 2005 Roster (PDF)
"I like a tough non-conference schedule for three reasons," said Cochell. "No. 1, it prepares your team for the rest of the season by competing against strong teams. No. 2, it lets players know what they need to work on and No. 3 it helps coaches become aware of the players’ strengths and weaknesses. Basically, the non-conference schedule prepares you for the Big 12 season and serves as a fact-finding mission for the whole team."
As usual, the Big 12 will feature some of the nation’s best teams and this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament will also be played in Oklahoma City at Bricktown.
"The Big 12 is always tough," commented Cochell. "That is especially true this year because Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State are much improved ball clubs. There are no easy weekends. When conference play begins, we have to be ready as a team to play to our potential every single game.
After losing the team’s two best starters, David Purcey and Mark Roberts, and its closer (Jarod McAuliff) to the Major League Baseball Draft, the biggest hole left to fill in 2005 might be in the pitching staff. But according to Cochell, that void has been filled with the additions of Guerra, Brownell, Duke, Powers, Sandoval, Burns and with the return of Patterson, all expected to see time as starters. McCutchen is another Sooner veteran who could see some time starting on the mound, but will most likely serve as the team’s closer.
McCutchen, probably the team’s most experienced pitcher, proved to be effective on the mound last season and the coaching staff will look to him for experience as a starter or as the team’s closer. He made 35 appearances last season, including two starts, and held a 3.43 ERA with his four wins and three losses. In 57.0 innings pitched, he struck out 60 batters and recorded five saves. Joining McCutchen in the bullpen are sophomore Mottern, juniors Will Savage and Tyler Gooch and freshman Tyler Adkins.
"Entering this season, we knew that we had some quality pitchers to replace," added Cochell. "However, we feel that we were successful in replacing what we lost with a nice mix of freshmen and junior college transfers. This staff has the potential to provide us with a lot of depth and that should lead to more success than last year.
The new talent has the Sooners feeling comfortable with their staff, despite it being unproven. The staff will be led by the Sooners’ new pitching coach, Fred Corral. He comes to Norman after a two-year stint with Tennessee, where the Volunteers’ staff enjoyed immediate success under him.
"We are very optimistic about our pitching staff and Coach Corral is doing a great job with all of them. Not many people know a lot about the new guys on our staff, but they will learn as the season progresses."
Among the new faces appearing on OU’s mound, (Burns, Sandoval, Brownell, Powers, Duke and Guerra), all have been drafted at some point in their career and Duke has participated on several MLB scout teams. Sandoval stands out among the group as a two-time JUCO All-American and a two-time draftee (’02 & ’03). As a starter last season, he held down a 2.64 ERA and posted a 9-3 record with one save while competing at Saddleback CC.
"I feel the same way this season as I do about a lot of prior years. We will only go as far as our pitching takes us," added Cochell. "The success of this team will come down to the success of the pitching staff and we feel very comfortable with the group of guys we have. Even though we lost McAuliff to the draft, we still are confident in our closers and their ability to close out games. That, of course, is very important."
At the catching position, the Sooners will turn to two very talented athletes to split time behind the plate. Bose, a three-year starter at multiple positions for OU, will make the transition. He was an All-America third baseman his freshman season and has moved back and forth between the corners ever since. Freshman Jackson Williams was one of the most highly recruited athletes in high school at the position (in the state of Oklahoma) and he will share time with Bose. Jon Shackelford will also see time after playing first base in 2004 and will serve as a key utility player for OU at both positions this season.
"Throughout the course of a 62-game season, you need to have two guys that are ready to go at all times because of the possibilities of injuries," said Cochell. "We have the luxury of having two guys on our roster, Bose and Williams, who provide the talent necessary to play the position on an every-day basis. We feel very comfortable with those two and we think Matt’s future is behind the plate. He caught very well in the fall and we expect him to continue that trend for us in the spring. We are really excited about Jackson Williams because he is going to be an outstanding catcher. He has made the transition from high school baseball to Division I a smooth one up to this point. Jon will be our third catcher and he will basically be used in a utility role this season."
A majority of this team’s leadership may surface from its infield where it returns four starters. Among that group is senior Thornton, who was the team’s designated hitter last season, but has also seen a lot of time at the corners in his career at OU. Along with Thornton, juniors Raley and Rohlinger solidify the middle infield and will be joined by Bose, who can start at first and third base but will most likely see most of his action behind the plate.
With Bose at catcher and Thornton at DH, the coaching staff has high hopes for junior-college transfer Rodriguez at first base. The 5-10 Rodriguez comes over from Cypress Community College where he was named California’s top defensive player in the junior college circuit. At the opposite corner of the infield, Smith looks to be another name who should stand out for the Sooners in 2005, the junior college transfer produced impressive offensive numbers in junior college ball and could see time batting in the three, four or five slot for Cochell.
"We will have a stellar infield this year, one that is solid on both sides of the ball," said Cochell. "Raley will be starting for us at second where he was an All-Big 12 selection last season. He is a two-year starter and has improved every season. Raley is an outstanding defensive player and has the ability to become a complete player (offensively and defensively). We’ll have Rohlinger starting at shortstop for us this year. He had a slow start last year while recovering from a broken arm, but this year he is fully recovered. Our middle infield will be one of the best in the conference and the country based on their prior experience.
"We are blessed to return the amount of talent that we do in our infield. To combine it with newcomers like Smith and Rodriguez should make for a very solid defensive and offensive unit. Rodriguez was an outstanding junior college player in the state of California last season. He’s a complete baseball player who can bunt, run and do all the necessary things to win a baseball game. Smith will remind people of Gregg Dobbs because he is an outstanding hitter and defensive player. He is another player who can hit in the three, four, or five hole for us this year."
Jeff Scuderi, Scott Rooker, Chad Lembeck and Aaron Ivey will lead a group of skilled outfielders for OU in 2005. They are joined by a talented group of newcomers who will provide a lot of depth.
"We have an abundance of good outfielders," added Cochell. "After a good fall season, Scuderi could get the nod in center. He had a really good defensive season last year and I think he will be improved offensively this year.
"Ivey is another returner who was a spot starter last year. He sports exciting speed and has improved his bunting skills from a year ago. Scott is a left-handed batter who can bunt and he also possesses good running skills. He redshirted his freshman year and has continued to improve since then.
"Chad also gives us some power from the right side of the plate and he continues to get better during his time here. He is a young man from Colorado and was an infielder before we switched him over and he will play his way into the lineup."
Despite the fact that Caufield, Kaiser, Joe Dunigan and Cory Williamson are embarking upon their first season with OU, they will provide the Sooners with depth in the outfield.
"Caufield is an exciting junior college transfer who should see a lot of time this year," said Cochell of the junior whose sister, LaNeishea Caufield, played basketball for OU. "He brings a lot to the table and can do so many things offensively and defensively.
"Dunigan has tremendous talent and should see time in the lineup. He runs, throws and has power at the plate. Williamson is an outstanding left-handed hitter and he made the all-tournament team at last year’s Junior College World Series. Finally, Kaiser is another exciting first-year player. He is another newcomer who will play himself into the lineup because of his throwing arm, bat and overall speed."