June 3, 2012; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Oklahoma Sooner infielder Caleb Bushyhead (5) throws an out to first base in 7th inning of game three of the Charlottesville regional against the Army Black Knights at Davenport Field. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Laferriere-US PRESSWIRE
There is no need to go into the season that the Oklahoma Sooners have had on the diamond in 2012. It has been well documented here on Crimson and Cream Machine. However, it leaves fans wanting more. The ultimate prize is and always will be a trip to Omaha to play in the College World Series for a shot at a National Championship. The Sooners were slotted to make a great push at returning to Omaha this season yet fell just short in the Columbia Super Regional against the home team and favorites, South Carolina Gamecocks. So, where do the Sooners go from here?
It is important to note that Oklahoma is losing five starting seniors this season in Tanner Toal, Caleb Bushyhead, Erik Ross, Evan Mistich, and Cody Reine. From this group it will be imperative that the Sooners find some new bats and speed at the plate. Not only are the bats of Mistich and Reine going to be missed, but also the leadership and continuity that Bushyhead brought in the field. In just this handful of names, Oklahoma is losing it's entire starting outfield.
They will need to rely on players like Matt Oberste, assuming everything goes well with his surgery, to pick up the slack not only in the field but also on offense. Fans could see some new talent take fill the gap in the outfield in incoming freshman Justin Burba who hit .500 during his junior season. Don't count out Taylor Hawkins who also possess a power swing. If Oberste takes the field along with Hunter Lockwood at first, fans could see Hawkins at catcher presenting a trio of homeruns waiting to happen.
The one constant is the pitching staff. Jake Fisher came on strong late and proved that he is a viable option to come in as relief. With two of the weekend starters returning in Johnathan Gray and Dillon Overton returning, OU will be in a good position. Gray and Overton both recorded over 100 strikeouts this past season and will be looking to build upon that success.
The unknowns are draft decisions. Jordan John, Damien Magnifico, and Steven Okert were all taken early enough in the draft that the experts are not counting on them coming back. This hurts the Sooners in the mid-week games as well as at pitching depth. Okert was one of the better relief pitchers in the nation and will be severely missed on this team.
However, did the Sooners uncover a gem in incoming freshman Billy Waltrip? Waltrip is a southpaw who already possess a 90-92 mph fastball. With strength training on the college level, that could come up into the mid 90's. Lefty's have proven to be dangerous in the Big XII and Waltrip could be next in line.
In a new season, Oklahoma will be relying on pitching once again. They are bringing in several big bats. Yet the bigger question is how will they produce in the clutch? Hits will be there and figuring out a lineup that works will be key.