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It's never too soon to plot a return to Omaha

by: JIM CLARK, The Beavers’ College World Series win brought out the fans, including a Jimi Hendrix look-alike who threw an arm around shortstop Darwin Barney at the celebration Tuesday in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Nobody knows if Oregon State can do it again. With the departure of eight key players from its 2006 College World Series team, smart money would have the Beavers dropping back to the pack in '07.

But don't bet against coach Pat Casey.

'I'm excited about going recruiting and getting ready to get back to the College World Series,' says Casey, who earned national coach of the year honors. 'There are going to be years where you lose a lot of guys and you're a little younger and less experienced. That's where developing players comes in.

'But there's no question about our goal. We want to win the Pac-10 again. We want to get back to the World Series. I don't know if that's realistic, but that should be the goal of our program every year.'

Gone to the pros are eight juniors and seniors who played key roles in 96 victories, back-to-back Pac-10 championships and two straight CWS berths. Pitchers Jonah Nickerson, Dallas Buck and Kevin Gunderson; outfielders Cole Gillespie and Tyler Graham; and infielders Bill Rowe, Chris Kunda and Shea McFeely will be spread across the country next year, playing pro ball.

The cupboard in Corvallis won't be bare, though.

The Beavers return all-Pac-10 shortstop Darwin Barney; a catcher with All-America potential in Mitch Canham; part-time starting outfielders John Wallace and Scott Santschi; and a budding No. 1 pitcher in Mike Stutes.

There are plenty of holes to fill, 'but we'll fill them,' Casey promises. 'We've got some great kids coming in, and we've got some kids in our program who will develop and be ready to shine.'

A year ago, Gillespie was a part-time starter in the outfield. This year, he was Pac-10 player of the year and a third-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. A year ago, Chris Kunda was a defensive replacement at second base destined for backup duty as a senior. This year, he was Pac-10 defensive player of the year, Most Valuable Player of the Corvallis regional and a 19th-round pick of the New York Yankees.

'Players step up when given the chance,' Casey says. 'We have a lot of turnover, but we'll find guys who want to compete and want to win.'

A position-by-position projection of what to expect from the Beavers in '07:

• Catcher: Canham has the potential to be one of the best in the country.

• First base: Jordan Lennerton is a 6-2, 215-pound left-hander from El Paso (Texas) Community College by way of Langley, British Columbia. He was drafted out of high school by Toronto and after his freshman year at El Paso by Milwaukee. He can hit and was his league's defensive player of the year.

• Second base: Joey Wong, the Sprague High grad and son of OSU assistant David Wong, should team nicely with Barney as a double-play combination.

• Shortstop: Barney will be the team leader. He's already recognized as one of the best in college baseball.

• Third base: Drew George, a former Lebanon High standout, was all-conference at Lower Columbia (Wash.) CC this spring.

• Outfield: Left-handed hitters Wallace and Santschi are likely starters at the corner spots, especially against right-handers. The center fielder could be either Scotty Berke, who hit .429 with five homers, 18 doubles and 12 homers as a senior at Las Vegas' Sierra Vista High, or Braden Wells, who hit .398 at Dixie State (Utah) College. Others include Koa Kahalehoe and Chris Hopkins of Sierra (Calif.) JC, drafted a year ago by Milwaukee.

• Designated hitter: Mike Lissman has the job.

• Starting pitchers: Stutes showed this season he is capable of being the No. 1 guy. Off his performance in Omaha, Neb., Daniel Turpen would have the edge at winning a Saturday role. The third spot will be up for grabs. Anton Maxwell is a possibility, but he has to get his personal life together and return to the form he showed two years ago, when he was 11-1. Other candidates are Joe Paterson, impressive in relief at the CWS; D.J. Lidyard and Josh Keller from Lower Columbia; and Blake Keitzman, the Southern Oregon Conference player of the year out of Roseburg High.

• Bullpen: Paterson is back, along with Eddie Kunz, the likely closer, and Mark Grbavac.

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