If there was any doubt Oklahoma is about to enter a different kind of season, it was removed two weeks ago.
A simple intra-squad scrimmage brought junior pitchers Dillon Overton and Jonathan Gray to the mound for one inning apiece.
The stands at L. Dale Mitchell Park were virtually empty. There were some parents and a few diehard fans there, but they were outnumbered by the people representing major league baseball. Some were scouts, the kind that write up their reports and ship them up the chain of command once a week.
However, some were the men those reports go to. A few more were even higher in the pecking order.
“It just goes with the territory of being first-round guys,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said Saturday.
Overton and Gray better get used to a season when every single time they toe the rubber, dozens of radar guns will rise and every pitch will be scrutinized. Their presence makes OU baseball must-see viewing for scouts, cross-checkers, assistant general managers and some general managers throughout Major League Baseball. They have the kind of arms that warrant millions of dollars in first-round signing bonuses.
They’re also the reason OU, which opens the season at 3 p.m. Friday at L. Dale Mitchell against Hofstra, enters the 2013 with high expectations — and pressure.
That’s fine with Overton. The junior left-hander is 14-7 over the last two seasons with a 2.83 ERA. He’s won big games the last two seasons.
“It’s a little tough to know that so many people are watching you and so much is on the line,” he said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was a little kid and this is what I love to do. There’s pressure whether there are guns in the air or not. It doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna let all that get to me. I’m just gonna keep going out there and having fun playing the game that I love.”
Overton will assume the coveted “Friday Night” role this season. He’ll get the ball in those weekend series against the opponents’ aces. What makes OU special is Gray will follow him in the rotation with a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s and an equally burgeoning draft stock.
The junior’s body of work might not be as deep as Overton’s at OU, but he went 8-4 last season with a 3.16 ERA and was the Sooners’ most dominant pitcher in the second half of the season.
“I found more comfort in the environment and the pressure and the speed of the game,” Gray said. “Every time I went out there, I had more confidence in what I could do. I felt more comfortable. I knew what I could do and I went out and did it.”
Golloway went out and added coveted junior college transfer Billy Waltrip to that three-man rotation. The left-hander was a 12th-round pick out Seminole State in June. He came to OU because he’s projected to go higher with a season at the Division I level.
Waltrip will get all the attention required to move up. If college baseball has turned into a pitcher’s game, then the Sooners are adequately stocked.
But it won’t last for long. All three are juniors. This will likely be their only year — together — in OU uniforms.
“It’s a young man’s game, even at the professional level. You need to get out and start that professional journey early, because they can still come back and finish their degree,” Golloway said. “That’s why we don’t try to talk them out of it (turning pro). We understand minor league baseball and going through the system … Every one of them believes he’s gonna play or pitch in the big leagues someday. We like that, we want that, we recruit that.”
This season, OU has that kind of talent in its starting rotation. It will ride it as far as it goes.