Feb. 8, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. -- The 2011 baseball season is less than two weeks away and SoonerSports.com is previewing the season with a two-part series.
Part two, which breaks down the Sooners by position, is below. The first part in the series was posted on Feb. 7 and SoonerSports.com also recently sat down with head coach Sunny Golloway for a quick Q&A session.
Returners: Tyler Ogle
Newcomer: Casey Coyle, Luke Lawyer, Jake Smith and Tanner Toal
The Sooners' experience starts behind the plate as junior captain Tyler Ogle resumes his duties as OU's starting catcher. Ogle took over the role last season to replace the departure of 2009 Johnny Bench Award winner J.T. Wise. The Sooner program has a history of producing quality players at the position and Ogle is poised to be next in line with talent on both offense and defense.
Ogle was hampered by injury early in the season but finished his sophomore campaign strong. His 2010 numbers included a .331 batting average, 11 homers and 46 RBIs. In 58 games played (46 starts), he was stellar on the defensive side with a .992 fielding percentage, while also throwing out 11 on the base paths.
"He really caught well last year, especially in the postseason," said head coach Sunny Golloway. "He threw out would-be base stealers and has always had pop in his bat. After playing all of last year, he has learned the game and he can control the game better. I think he understands the game now and accepts the responsibility of being more of a leader."
After Ogle, junior Tanner Toal brings the most experience behind the plate. Toal hit .357 last year at Howard Junior College en route to collecting all-conference honors.
"Tanner is a guy that you watch in practice and you don't appreciate him, but you see him in games and you realize how special he is," said Golloway. "You have to remember he started every day at Howard Junior College. He caught Burch Smith there and we saw that chemistry during the Red/White Series in the fall."
The depth behind the plate continues with freshmen Casey Coyle and Jake Smith. Coyle, a talented prep player from Putnam City North H.S. in Oklahoma, could, along with Toal, give Ogle some time off from the strenuous position.
"We have to bring Casey along because we feel like he is the future behind the plate," said Golloway. "He may spell Tyler at catcher along with Tanner.
"We can't be thin behind the plate because it is an injury-prone position. You have to have guys that you feel can start every day, and that is how we feel about the catchers on our roster."
Returners: Anthony Collazo, Ryan Duke, Ryan Gibson, Jordan John, Jack Mayfield, Tyson Seng and Bobby Shore
Newcomers: Steven Bruce, Cale Coshow, Drew Krittenbrink, Kindle Ladd, Scott Myers, Dillon Overton, Cayle Shambaugh and Burch Smith
Projected Rotation: No. 1 Rocha (RHP) , No. 2 Shore (RHP), No. 3 B. Smith (RHP), No. 4 Gibson (LHP), No. 5 Overton (LHP)
Bullpen: RHP - Bruce, Coshow, Duke, Krittenbrink, Ladd, Mayfield, Myers and Seng
LHP - John, Collazo and Shambaugh
Going into last season, the Sooner coaching staff had to replace the likes of Andrew Doyle and Garrett Richards, two highly drafted hurlers that started 19 games with 17 wins. This season, OU returns Michael Rocha and Bobby Shore who combined for 24 starts and won 17 games in 2010. While they provide the calming effect mentioned by Sunny Golloway, OU does have to replace Zach Neal, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2010. Fellow Howard Junior College transfer Burch Smith looks to slide nicely into the weekend rotation. Following the three right-handers is a pair of lefties in sophomore Ryan Gibson and freshman Dillon Overton, who are expected to fill the midweek role for the Sooners.
"It's a much more calming effect going into the season because we know what we have," said Golloway. "On paper, as far as the wow factor, in other words drafted players, you don't see that with our rotation. It's not what you see at some top 10 programs with three out of the four projected as high draft picks. What we do have is experience and success. Bobby won 10 games for us last year, Rocha had eight and is a three-year starter, and Burch has a real high ceiling as probably our highest projected draft pick next year.
"It's a really good staff, I can tell you that. We have confidence that we can match up with the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 with any staff in the country."
Meanwhile, the bullpen is bolstered by the return of closer Ryan Duke (12 saves in 2010), who is featured on the Stopper of the Year preseason watch list for the second straight year. Duke is joined by fellow returnees Anthony Collazo (24 appearances), Jack Mayfield (17 appearances, three starts) and Tyson Seng, who returns to the program after playing a significant role in 2008 and 2009. Nine newcomers give OU a deep bullpen with a mixture of arms from both sides of the mound.
"The bullpen is going to be the key, as it is every year," said Golloway. "We have to fill the gap left by Jeremy Erben. We knew last year we could give him the ball to bridge the gap to Ryan Duke. We are going to give that chance to Tyson Seng this year. He has a tremendous amount of experience, and is a mature 23-year-old senior. Tyson will have a good chance to be this year's Jeremy Erben.
"Kindle Ladd is a guy that has some moxy to him. He changes speed well, mixes well and hits his spots. Anthony Collazo has to step up for us. We are talking about a really talented left-hander that can do a lot of things. He works hard and has a lot of talent. He was a junior last year and hopefully he grew up coming from a junior college and now he knows what to expect."
While Gibson and Overton are penciled in as the midweek starters, Golloway will also use them out of the pen once conference play begins. Jacky Mayfield, who started three games last year, all in Big 12 play, is another guy that will provide depth in the bullpen as conference play begins.
"Jack is just too good," added Golloway. "If he is not starting, there is a good chance he can be a middle relief guy. Shambaugh, Bruce, John and Myers are just some of the others we hope can help us."
Returners: Caleb Bushyhead, Garrett Buechele, Cale Ellis, Drew Harrison, Jack Mayfield, Cameron Seitzer and Max White
Newcomers: Evan Mistich and Drew Dahlberg
The trend of familiar faces continues with the Sooners' infield. While OU only had one returning starter in the infield to begin the 2010 season, OU returns all but one of the starters in 2011. Juniors Garrett Buechele (3B), Caleb Bushyhead (SS) and Cameron Seitzer (1B) make up one of the top infields in the country.
Replacing the lone departed infielder (second baseman Danny Black) is sophomore Max White. Originally recruited as an infielder, White started 50-plus games as a true freshman, but mostly in the outfield. White will not be alone up the middle, sophomore Jack Mayfield will start off 2011 at shortstop in place of Bushyhead, who tore his ACL in the fall. The return of Buechele, who was drafted in the 19th round, and Cameron Seitzer is extremely important in the early part of the season as the youngsters up the middle get some reps.
"It's real important to have those veterans at the corners with some new guys in the middle of the infield," said Golloway. "When we are running our bunt defense, we are all having to move at the same time and trust each other to be there, to throw the ball. That's the part I worried the most about in the offseason. Max is extremely athletic at second and Jack is too (at SS). But those other guys (Bushyhead and Black) knew what to do, when to do it and how to do it. "
The sophomore duo up the middle does have experience from a year ago. White started six games at second base last season and Mayfield combined for five starts between second and third base. In addition to their infield duties, Mayfield and White were all-conference performers in 2010 as true freshmen in some pressure-filled situations.
"At this point last season, I think Max has a better grasp of our bunt defense," said Golloway when comparing White to Black. "Danny (Black) learned it and was great at it, and his success last year and then being drafted proves that. I feel confident in Max and Jack. After the first week, they are going to have four games of experience as a starting infielder. So the way I look at it, we are going to have returning starters at those positions for the second weekend.
"These two guys competed at a high level and played significant roles, especially in the postseason. Just look at game two of the Super Regional. Jack came in and provided that middle relief and Max hit that huge home run to give us a cushion."
Mayfield did not receive the number of at-bats that White did, as he pitched a majority of the way down the final stretch of the season. But the coaches have confidence in him to provide offense as well. He will look to fill the void left by Bushyhead until Big 12 play begins. Bushyhead was one of OU's top hitters in 2010 with a .327 average and 40 RBIs.
"We have to make sure he (Jack) is focused at shortstop until Caleb comes back," added Golloway. "He could see some time on the mound early in the year, but when the game is on the line, he needs to be at short. We don't need to be taxing his arm early in the year because we have depth on the mound. However, Jack has to help us pitch in conference and postseason play, he is too good not to use on the mound."
While the middle of the infield remains somewhat of a question mark, Buechele and Seitzer make up arguably the best pair of corner infielders in the country. In 2010, Buechele and Seitzer combined for 33 homers and 118 runs driven in, while fielding their positions like savvy Major League veterans.
"We expect more of the same from Garrett and Cam," said Golloway. They are the sons of long-time pros and coaches. They understand the game extremely well and will help mentor some of our younger players."
OU has solid depth in the infield with senior Cale Ellis and sophomore Drew Harrison also returning, while junior Evan Mistich and freshman Drew Dahlberg will fight for playing time during their first seasons in Norman.
Returners: Elliott Blair, Tyler Brady, Ricky Eisenberg, Chris Ellison, Casey Johnson, Cody Reine and Erik Ross
Newcomers: Cayle Shambaugh
The Sooners' outfield might feature the deepest talent on the team. While juniors Chris Ellison and Cody Reine return to their starting positions in center field and right field, respectively, the Sooners have six other athletes that could start in left.
The left field position was filled by freshman All-American Max White in 2010. This season, the role will probably start off with Erik Ross or Ricky Eisenberg, two Sooners who split time as the designated hitter in the postseason.
"Left field is all the depth of the other two outfield spots wanting to start," said Golloway. "We have Ricky, who played a lot ... two games as the DH in the College World Series and two games in the super regional. Then we have Woody (Ross), the Norman Regional hero with the double against North Carolina. He might be the best hitter we have with the new BBCOR bats. Casey Johnson is a senior and a two-year starter, Elliott Blair is a senior captain and can really, really play, and Cale Shambaugh is a freshman phenom that physically looks like a junior.
"We probably have seven outfielders who can start for us, it's the truth. Three seniors, one freshman and the rest are juniors. It really sets us up pretty good for the next couple years."
While the position of left fielder is still open for competition, Ellison has center field locked down for the second straight year. The junior speedster stole 24 bases last season to lead the team and ranked third in the Big 12. No Sooner has stolen that many bases in a single season since current Major Leaguer Reggie Willits with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Willits swiped 37 bases in 2003 before getting drafted by the Angels in the seventh round that same year.
"Ellison is a five-tool guy and his upside is ridiculous," said Golloway. "Each year, he has gotten bigger and stronger. The improvement from his freshman to sophomore season was fun to watch. We will look for the same this season."
In right field, Reine will start 2011 in the Sooners' lineup as opposed to a year ago when he didn't earn that role until the second month of the season. The Louisiana native fields his position well, but is known more for the pop in his bat.
Reine finished the year with 10 home runs, but five of those came during the NCAA Tournament, including four monster shots during the Sooners' best-of-three series victory at No. 1 Virginia in the Charlottesville Super Regional.
"Cody has earned a starting spot," said Golloway. "After his performance in the Super Regional, he was basically a national hero."
The coaching staff hopes to see some production out of Elliott Blair and Casey Johnson. The two seniors have been slowed due to injury at various points during their careers, but enter 2011 healthy and ready to contribute.
"The amount of talent we have in the outfield is unprecedented," said Golloway. "When you have guys like Casey and Elliott not even projected as starters right now, that speaks to the volume of depth that this coaching staff has recruited."
The lone new recruit roaming the outfield this season is two-way player Cayle Shambaugh. The freshman from Jay, Okla., is a two-time Under Armour All-American and five-tool player. The coaches will look to get him some reps whenever possible.