Jackson Williams
2006 OU Baseball

The 2006 baseball season is set to begin in less than three weeks and this year's Sooners officially report for individual workouts on Tuesday, Jan. 17 and then begin team practice on Monday, Jan. 23. 

In preparation for the upcoming season, SoonerSports.com will preview what fans can look forward to in 2006 under head coach Sunny Golloway.  The second part in the series features a look at catchers and pitchers on this year's squad.

CATCHING
Returning: J. Shackelford and J. Williams
Newcomers: B. Moss

One of several strengths for the Sooners in 2006 because of returning experience is the catching position.  Last year, Jackson Williams, then a freshman, started 57 games and is ready to have a breakout season in 2006.  A highly recruited high school catcher, Williams receives plenty of praise from Coach Golloway.

“Jackson is truly one of the most talented athletes behind the plate in collegiate baseball,” said Golloway.  “He has amazing pure-arm strength, probably the best that I have ever seen or even heard about.  He is also solid offensively.”

Backing up Williams behind the plate is freshman Brandon Moss and senior Jon Shackelford.  Moss is another talented recruit at the catcher position and is probably too talented to redshirt this season, while Shackelford vastly improved his skills behind the plate in the last year. 

“We have two talented guys backing up Jackson, both of which were pleasant surprises offensively in the fall,” added Golloway.  “Brandon and Jon have a chance to help this club offensively and provide great depth to the position.”

  2005 Stats  |    2006 Schedule (PDF)  |    2006 Roster

PITCHING
Returning: J. Brownell, B. Burns, K. Duke, S. Guerra, D. McCutchen, R. Mottern, W. Savage and P.J. Sandoval
Newcomers: A.T. Cole, N. Conaway, N. Hammons C. Henry, J. Hughes, M. Lovelady and J. Rollins   

The Sooner pitching staff entered the 2005 season after losing two of its top starters (Mark Roberts and David Purcey) and closer (Jarod McAuliff) to the MLB Draft.  That trend does not look to continue this season.  Despite losing Garrett Patterson and Tyler Gooch to the draft, the 2006 Sooners’ pitching staff looks to be solid with 84 percent of the innings pitched returning and five seniors leading the charge. 

Under first year head coach Fred Corral, the staff posted an overall ERA of 4.77 (the lowest in OU’s last five seasons) and did even better in conference play with a 4.04 ERA in 2005.  The 4.04 marks the second lowest ERA  in conference play in the program’s last 21 seasons (3.75 in 1984).

Leadership will not be a problem as more than half of the staff saw time last season.   Seventy-seven percent of the Sooners’ wins and strikeouts return from a year ago. The leader on the mound will once again be Norman native, senior Daniel McCutchen (4-5, 4.18 ERA).  McCutchen struck out 84 batters in 84 innings a year ago and is ready to resume his role as the team’s No. 1 starter in 2006.  Behind him are two other starters with returning weekend experience in senior Steven Guerra (5-6, 5.46 ERA) and sophomore Brad Burns (2-1, 4.50 ERA).

Will Savage
The biggest change from last season will be the No. 2 starter in OU’s rotation (left vacant by Patterson’s departure).  P.J. Sandoval (3-3, 8.36 ERA) appears to be ready to take over that role after a successful summer and fall.  Two other seniors, John Brownell and Will Savage, will give the Sooners’ bullpen the most experience from a year ago.  Savage (9-4, six saves) will continue his role as the team’s closer while Brownell (3-4, 4.57 ERA) will provide solid middle-inning relief and could also see time as a starter.

“When you look at our pitching staff, the number of veterans really stand out with five seniors,” said Golloway.  “However, the talent doesn’t stop there with two solid returning sophomores (Burns and Ryan Mottern) who have the talent to be as good as anyone on the staff.

“We know what the returning guys are capable of, but it will be exciting to see how some of the younger players and juco guys respond once they get the opportunity to learn their roles and show that they are capable of pitching at this level.

“Coach Corral does an excellent job with our staff.  He takes players who throw the ball and teaches them how to pitch.  We are very confident in our returners but also realize that the newcomers have a chance to contribute immediately.  They have a high ceiling and will only get better under Coach Corral.”

When needed, OU should get plenty of help out of the bullpen this year with a balance of arms throwing from both sides.   Coming from the right side are Brownell, A.T. Cole, Nich Conaway, Matt Lovelady, Mottern, and Savage.  Kevin Duke, Nate Hammons, Chris Henry, Joseph Hughes and Jimmie Rollins are the Sooners’ five left-handed arms out of the pen.

COMING UP:
Part 3 - Wednesday, Jan. 18: Infield and outfield
Part 4 - Thursday, Jan. 19: Batting lineup and Q&A with Coach Golloway 

SEASON PREVIEW ARCHIVE:
Part 1 - General outlook and schedule | Diamond Dinner Banquet