2013 Oregon Baseball Preview

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DucksAttack.com

Published: January 16, 2013

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What follows is a general overview of the upcoming 2013 season. I’d consider the depth charts below a rough draft, as positions and playing time can be very fluid the first month or so. Things could look very different by the end of the season and, heck, they could look very different by the time the first game rolls around.

 

We’re less than a month away from the season opener @ Hawaii. I was going to try to post this yesterday to commemorate the beginning of the countdown, but y’know. A day late, a dollar short.

 

Let’s look at the team.

 

The Bats

 

2B Aaron Payne, Jr

Started all 65 games in 2012. Team-high .405 OBP, led Oregon in runs scored and co-led in triples. Gets on base by any-means-necessary mantra (plunked 25 times), and led the team in steals. A prototypical leadoff hitter by nearly every definition.

 

LF Brett Thomas, Jr

Started 53 games in 2012. Team-high .313 BA, also accounted for the most doubles and co-led in triples. Of all Oregon’s injury’s last season, perhaps none were felt as much as Thomas’ absence in the Oregon State series.

 

1B Ryon Healy, Jr

Started all 65 games in 2012. Perhaps Oregon’s best all-around hitter in each of his first two seasons. Led team in RBIs, hits, total bases, second in BA and doubles. Launched 4 round-trippers.

 

C Shaun Chase, So

Really only played in the first month of the season as a freshman, but displayed big power potential. Hit two home runs and had several other balls bounce off the fence. Said to have made big gains defensively at catcher over the summer.

 

RF Kyle Garlick, Jr

Started 58 games in 2012. Co-led the team in HR at 6, co-led in triples, second in slugging %. Knack for big hits, and played a flawless (0 errors) right field. Provides protection for Chase in the lineup.

 

DH Ryan Hambright, Sr

Four-year contributor played very well at 3B after Heineman was lost. May play the field if Heineman does some catching, but the coaches will likely want his bat in the line-up regardless. Named MVP of the Eugene Regional after a monster first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

 

3B Scott Heineman, So

Started 29 games as a freshman before suffering a season-ending injury. Hit the rookie wall after the first month but the coaches kept him in the lineup because they obviously liked what they saw. Good eye for the baseball and played a solid 3B. May do some catching.

 

CF Steven Packard, So

Back from a two-year church mission, Packard started 45 games and was a big part of Oregon’s surprise 2010 run to the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. His .333 BA and .412 OBP would have led Oregon last season. May or may not play initially, but his return is a pleasant surprise and if he hits anything like he did three years ago there’s a place in the line-up for him.

 

SS JJ Altobelli, Sr

Oregon’s first four-year starter since rebirth, Alto plays a monster shortstop and could, and has, hit much higher in the line-up. Found a home last year in the 9-hole and gives Oregon a weapon where most teams stick defensive-oriented position players.

 

Snap Judgments

 

Going into last year, the only things we could write in stone were Healy, Altobelli, and Aaron Jones. We had a lot of turnover from the Danny Pulfer/KC Serna era, and though we knew we’d see some of the younger players (Garlick, Thomas) we weren’t sure how much.

 

This year is a different story. Five guys in the lineup above started over 50 games last year, and that does not include Hambright or Heineman, who more or less each started half a season. Or Packard, who started 45 games his freshman year. In my lineup, Chase has started the fewest games (18), and to be fair only one of those was at catcher. But this is an experienced bunch.

 

And it’s deep. You’ll notice the absence of a couple familiar names, like Connor Hoffman and Andrew Mendenhall. The former started 46 games last season, the latter 17 and appeared in 41, often as a defensive replacement or pinch hitter/runner. I gave Packard the nod because his potential intrigues me, but we’re not short on experience off the bench. Hoffman was essentially the everyday centerfielder last year, and Mendenhall has been a contributor for three years now.

 

This is a solid group. We’re still not a team that’s going to mash the ball each weekend, but we may finally have a power bat with double-digit home run potential in Shaun Chase. But where this team may lack in raw power it has every chance of being Oregon’s best lineup from 1-through-9 since rebirth. There are some ‘ifs’ involved, of course (there always are), but if our strong junior class keeps putting up the numbers they have, and if sophomores like Heineman and Chase make the second-year improvements most college players do, and Packard comes back and hits like he did this team really doesn’t have an easy out. And that’s pretty big. Not giving the opposition an easy inning and making them battle each and every batter is something we haven’t been good at so far, and it can be just as effective as going yard. Fielding a team with nine capable hitters means rallies don’t have to die and you’re not waiting eagerly for three or four bats to come around every couple of innings. I think we can do that this season. Constant battling, wearing down pitching staffs, occasional power, continuous pressure on the base paths. That’s Oregon.

 

We’re also in Year 2 of Mark Wasikowski, and hopefully this is the year all those lessoned learned last season come to fruition. Wasikowski left Arizona after 10 years to come teach the Ducks how to hit like the Wildcats, and that isn’t a bad thing.

 

The Arms

 

Let’s go with the starters first.

 

RHP Jake Reed, So

Brilliant freshman year saw him go 8-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 114 innings. His .230 opponent BA was the same as Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Keudell. He’s the staff ace now.

 

LHP Christian Jones, Jr-RS

Missed the 2012 season, but is expected to make a full recovery. Went 7-2 as a sophomore in 2011, with a 3.24 ERA and 73 K’s in 77.2 IP. Also notched two wins against the Beavs that year. He’s always had good stuff, now Oregon needs him to put it all together to win in the Pac-12, and he needs to put it all together to impress the scouts.

 

RHP Brando Tessar, Jr

Went 4-1 in 9 starts as a first-year starter before missing a substantial amount of time due to injury. Came back in the Super Regional against Kent State and pitched well in relief. Solid stuff as a sophomore, could be an above average Pac-12 starter with a year under his belt.

 

RHP Jeff Gold, Jr-RS

Went into 2012 as a reliever/emergency starter, then got thrust into the Sunday job once injuries to the staff took effect. Only Keudell and Reed ended up starting more games; Gold responded by going 8-4 with a 3.66 ERA. Up-and-down season overall, but when he was on he was on, like when he shut down eventual national champion Arizona in Tucson. That unexpected year of experience could make him as good of a 4th starter as anyone in the Pac-12.

 

The ‘Pen

 

RHP Jimmie Sherfy, Jr

Enjoy him, Duck fans, while you can. The All-American struck out 93 in 61.1 IP, which is, to put it in sophisticated baseball terms, ridiculously stupid. His 19 saves and 2.20 ERA are going to get him selected very high in the 2013 MLB Draft, but we’ve got him for another go-round.

 

LHP Tommy Thorpe, So

Was to the 8th inning what Sherfy was to the 9th: dominant. Would have been an easy pick for most valuable freshman if not for Reed. A 2.11 ERA in 35 appearances as the bridge between starter and closer.

 

LHP Jordan Spencer, So

A sometimes starter/sometimes reliever in 2012, Spencer is known mostly for throwing the program’s first no-hitter since rebirth in a mid-week games against Portland. Proved to be fairly erratic in other appearances, but he was a likely redshirt candidate before the injuries started mounting.

 

RHP Cole Wiper, Fr-RS

Selected in the 14th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, then was lost for the year before ever throwing a pitch. Highly touted prospect should be able to show off his stuff this year.

 

RHP Sam Johnson, Fr-RS

Likewise, Johnson, the #2 prospect from the state of Oregon for 2011, was lost for the year before his freshman season ever started. Helped Westview to the 6A state championship.

 

Snap Judgments

 

The above ‘depth chart’ is really just a series of semi-educated guesses. College baseball is a fairly unique thing; some weeks you play 3 games, and certain players who are designated midweek starters suddenly need time throwing a couple innings out of the bullpen to stay sharp. Some weeks you play 5 games, and you need every last arm you have available, especially if someone is hurt or gets shelled. Pitching roles can be fairly ambiguous in the college game, especially for younger players. I would bank on Coach Horton trying several kids as midweek starters at one point or another.

 

What do I think? I think our starting staff has the potential to be very, very good. Reed was phenomenal as our Saturday guy last year, a year removed from pitching against high school kids. Jones has been around a long time and has thrived as a starter. And Tessar, like Reed, should benefit from having a year of Pac-12 play under his belt. Same with Gold.

 

There’s really a lot to be said about working under Coach Horton, who now handles the pitching staff himself. Players flat out get better from year to year. Keudell is as good a model of that as anybody we’ve had since rebirth. He was shelled as a walk-on in 2009, the following year he went 5-6 with a 4.14 ERA as he bounced around between the starting rotation and the bullpen. In 2011, he developed into a reliable Sunday guy going 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA, and then last year he was, of course, your Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year. Tyler Anderson went from passable to great to the #13 overall pick in the 2011 Draft in three seasons. Madison Boer went from awful to dominant closer to dominant starter and 2nd Round Draft pick in three seasons.

 

However the starting crew shakes out, it’s got to be nice knowing that they have the Pac-12’s best bullpen ready to close things out. Sherfy was a revelation last year, and Thorpe was almost unhittable in a set-up role. That more or less makes each time out a 7-inning game for the opposition, which is a huge boost to that day’s Duck starter. We were very short on healthy arms last year, but this year we’re loaded.

 

The Rooks

 

I said this before and after last season and I’ll say it again, recruiting in baseball is really hard to figure out. With very rare exceptions, high school baseball phenoms rarely get the publicity of, say, a Thomas Tyner, who everybody knows is expected to do big things from day one next year. Or a Dominic Artis, who everybody had penciled in as Oregon’s starting point guard the moment he commited to Dana Altman. High school baseball film really doesn’t exist to the general public, so really, guys like me, when trying to project incoming freshmen contributions to the team, are just staring at stat sheets and let me tell you – every stat sheet pretty much looks the same. Almost every high school senior who can command a D-1 scholarship can destroy high school pitching.

 

Because of that, I really don’t like projecting freshman contributions. For all I know, Coach Horton has seen enough of his freshman in fall practice to already pencil in two or three as every day starters. I have no way of knowing for sure. So when I do these things, I’m really just going off what I know. I don’t know our freshmen yet, so I largely don’t talk about them. I’d just be guessing. So don’t consider my mock line-up the end-all – there’s more to this program than what I’ve talked about. It’s just that I don’t know much about them yet.

 

That said, here are a couple freshmen and junior college transfers of note, and a bit about them.

 

LHP Cole Irvin was Baseball America’s #70 overall prospect for the class of 2012, and was taken in the 29th round of last June’s MLB Draft by Toronto. He would be considered Oregon’s top-ranked recruit that made it to Eugene. He was selected much later in the draft than anyone anticipated, much to the gain of our program.

 

C Josh Graham, from Roseburg High School, was the state’s #2 prospect. #1 was P/OF Carson Kelly, who (wisely) chose to take the money after being drafted last June. Graham was selected in the 22nd round of last June’s MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

 

RHP Jason Priestly was Graham’s teammate at Roseburg, and an All-State player.

 

OF Tyler Baumgartner swung a huge stick for Bellevue CC the past two years, leading them to the NWAAC championship in 2012. I was surprised he was taken in the draft.

 

RHP Clayton Crum is a JC transfer who was taken in the 37th round of the MLB Draft.

 

The MLB Draft hit the Ducks hard. We lost 4 highly touted kids, all of whom could have contributed this season. The Ducks brought in 6 JC transfers in all, largely for depth purposes. Because of defections to the Draft, we only brought in 6 freshmen.

 

The Schedule

 

The Pac-12 will once again be as strong as any conference in the country. The schedule will be difficult, make no mistake.

 

We open, as we tend to do, with a 4-game series @ Hawaii. We’ve gone 1-3, 2-2, and 3-1 against the Rainbows in this series the last three years. If that pattern holds, that would be a heck of a start for the Ducks. But Hawaii traditionally fields a strong team, and sweeping any program over a 4-game set is asking a lot.

 

We open up PK the following week with a 3-game series against Loyola-Marymount, and a midweek game against Portland.

 

It’s off to Fullerton after that, with 3 games against Coach Horton’s old team. That’s always extra incentive for the Titans, to say nothing of the fact that we eliminated Fullerton in the Eugene Regional last June.

 

It’s then 7 home games in 10 days, with a 2-game midweek series against Cal-State Northridge, a 3-game series against Vanderbilt, and a 2-game series against Texas State. We caught Vanderbilt in an off year last season; I wouldn’t be shocked to find them back among the nation’s elite this year.

 

And then, after 4 weeks and 18 games, it’s Pac-12 season. Just like that. Sure, there are plenty more non-conference games left – 3 more against Portland, 2 against Oregon State, 2 against Seattle U, 2 against Gonzaga, a 3-game weekend trip to Ohio State – but for 10 of the next 11 weekends, we’re playing Pac-12 games.

 

It’s a good home schedule. Vanderbilt is a CWS regular, Arizona – the defending national champion – UCLA, Stanford, and Oregon State all come to PK. All were NCAA Tournament teams last season. Fullerton, on the road, will be a great early season test. Big 10 baseball isn’t necessarily strong, but Ohio State did have a winning record last year. Portland tends to give us fits.

 

Let’s Bottom Line This Thing

 

As always, the pitching shall lead us.

 

The Oregon staff finished #12 nationally in team ERA in 2012. They were #19 in 2011, and #3 in 2010.

 

But Hortonball consists of three phases, not merely pitching: in order to succeed, you have to play top-notch defense and put the game in motion on the base paths. To that end, the Ducks were #7 in fielding % in 2012, and #2 in sacrifice bunts. How does a team with little pop get to within a game of the CWS? You excel in all three areas.

 

There’s no reason we can’t do so again this season. The pitching staff is deep, the defense returns a lot of starters, and you know we’ll continue to put the game in motion. That’s a good Hortonball recipe. But this game is defined by the little things, and those are often hard to prognosticate. But the pieces are there.

 

Are there concerns? Absolutely. Brett Hambright was a heck of a defensive catcher, and you don’t really appreciate that aspect of the position until you don’t have it anymore. Nothing sucks quite like giving up free runs on a passed ball. Shaun Chase will need to prove he can field the position, and if he can’t, he’ll find himself either at DH or not playing very quickly as we attempt to find someone who can.

 

We were also very good in close games last season. Remember 2011? We weren’t. Talent-wise, what separated 2011 from 2012? Not much, if anything at all. One team won 33 games and was/is considered a disappointment, the other won 46 games and had the best season the program has seen since rebirth. That’s why I call baseball a ‘funny game’ so often. Talent usually wins out in football and basketball. It doesn’t always in baseball. In baseball, some seasons the clutch hits always seem to happen at just the right moment. Some seasons, they never do. Sometimes the ball carries right to your outfielder, sometimes it bloops into shallow left. Sometimes your pitcher throws a mistake pitch in a big ballpark and the ball dies on the warning track, sometimes he makes the same mistake in a hitter’s park and the ball lands six rows deep in the outfield bleachers.

 

But you have to like the pieces we’ll be going to battle with. Pitching and defense will keep you in most games, and the best weapon in close games is a lights-out bullpen. Check, check, and check. We’ve got kids who can swing the sticks. We’ve got a coaching staff that knows how to win.

 

I’m optimistic.


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