Selected searches:Rankings Football Basketball Track Autzen Hayward Blogs Forum
Published: June 12, 2012
I’m not going to write a Super Regional recap. It probably wouldn’t be a lot of fun to write, and it probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun to read. We all know what happened. We played three one-run games and we lost two of them.
As disappointing as Monday’s finale turned out to be, for me the most disappointing aspect of it all is that this team doesn’t get to play baseball anymore. They were an incredibly fun bunch to watch, a treat in close games, and they played fundamental baseball so well they almost always put a smile on an old school fan’s face… like mine. Not only were they fun to watch, they looked like they were having fun playing. And that’s disappointing, too. We wanted to watch them keep playing, and you know they wanted to keep playing.
But instead of looking back, I’m going to try to stay in the Oregon tradition of looking forward. We defied a lot of expectations – mine included – in finishing a game shy of the College World Series. We’ll lose some kids, but we’ll be bringing back a strong crop, too. I’m going to break this into parts: position players and, sometime next week, pitchers.
I’m basing this off of what we know now. Meaning, I’m not going to talk about incoming recruits. I fully expect a few of them to play big roles on this team in 2013, but I don’t know them or how they’ll adjust, or, in some cases, if they’ll even be here (ahem, Carson Kelly). Sure, Kelly would look great out there in the field at PK, and I’m sure he’d be an immediate starter, but I’m going to put that off to the side for now.
1B: Let’s start off easy. After starting 30 of our 60 games as a freshman in 2011, Ryon Healy started every game in 2012, either at 1B or DH. Healy hit .312 with 4 HR, 13 2B, and 42 RBIs as a fixture in the 3-hole. He led the team in hits and at bats and RBIs. He’s good with the glove on top of it all, and should have a big junior season… likely his last with the program.
2B: Another easy one. Aaron Payne got into 12 games and made 4 starts as a freshman in 2011, about what you’d expect playing behind team MVP Danny Pulfer. He was a virtual unknown going into 2012, but as the only true 2B on the roster, we all kind of figured he’d get the nod. Which he did – and he certainly made the most of it. Payne led the Ducks in OBP at .405, with an uncanny knack for getting plunked (25 times!). In addition to a nice BA, he was second on the team in walks and was named Pac-12 Player of the Week twice for a pair of big weekend series in conference. He’s an old school prototypical leadoff hitter who flat out knows how to get on base. Healy and Payne were the only Ducks to start every game in 2012.
SS: Playing to the theme, another easy pick. JJ Altobelli started his freshman and sophomore seasons at 3B before sliding over to SS in 2012 and he will be, lest my memory betrays me, our first four-year starter since rebirth. With an elite glove and a decent bat I thought he had an opportunity to get himself drafted, but with a scaled back MLB Draft his name didn’t end up getting called. Selfishly, that’s good for Oregon. He teams with Payne to form a dynamic middle infield duo defensively for us, and Coach Horton has the luxury of batting him just about anywhere in the lineup.
3B: Finally, some intrigue. Thomas Walker won the job going into the season with the promise of a big bat, then he committed a couple bad errors in Hawaii and fellow true freshman Scott Heineman took over for the next couple of months. Heineman started off hot, but hit the freshman wall as conference play got started. He was then lost for the season with an injury, which gave Walker another shot. Then Walker got hurt. Veteran utility guys Kevin Shephard and Ryan Hambright then took over. Shephard struggled at the plate, more or less ceding the position to Hambright. Hambright didn’t set the world on fire, but he played a solid 3B defensively then exploded in the Eugene Regional, going 7-for-11 and winning regional MVP honors. Next year? Now, that’s anybody’s guess. Walker, Heineman, and Hambright all return. Walker probably has the biggest potential at the plate, and hopefully an off-season devoted to baseball will shore up any defensive liabilities. Heineman played a good defensive 3B and showed flashes as a hitter, and Horton & Co. certainly seemed to like what they saw despite an ever-slumping average. Hambright’s been around forever; I still remember the hype around him as a freshman in 2010. He was supposed to bring a big power bat to a program that desperately needed one, but that never materialized. He finished 2012 strong; is he just a late bloomer? Who knows. One of these guys will likely win the 3B job. One of them might be a DH candidate. The other might be relegated to a utility role.
C: A little more intrigue for you – maybe. If Aaron Jones comes back, this is his spot, and the conversation is over. But he was taken in the 18th round of the MLB Draft as a draft-eligible sophomore, and only he knows what his future plans are. An argument for his return would be that if he could prove he can play an everyday catcher role, his draft stock is going to rise considerably. Catchers are at a premium in baseball. If you can play the position, you don’t even have to hit to catch on with a major league club. Hell, my beloved Seattle Mariners have long had guys like Rob Johnson and Miguel Olivo manning the catcher position, and not only can they not hit, they can’t defend, either. Jones has a solid bat and has been a big time two-year contributor for us. If he leaves, then things get dicey. Some fans don’t really appreciate a solid defensive catcher until they don’t have one, but let me assure you nothing is more irritating than giving up free bases (or runs) because of passed balls. Brett Hambright is leaving us, and he played a mighty fine catcher. I think Jones can do that, too, but after Hambright and Jones we didn’t really see much from our catchers in 2012. Shaun Chase is my pick to win the spot if Jones departs. He started at catcher, once, in a midweek game after Jones had hurt his ankle and couldn’t catch anymore, and Hambright needed a break. While I do worry about Chase on the defensive end, his bat is what really intrigues me. Chase, as a freshman, started the first couple weeks at DH and 1B for us and showed one thing – power. He hit two HRs in those first three weeks, and had several other balls bounce off the wall resulting in doubles. What he also did was strike out – a lot. It was all-or-nothing for Chase, who hit .178 in 25 games (18 starts). An off-season of working pitch counts and learning to lay off certain pitches will, hopefully, do wonders for his game. As will being behind the plate every day during summer leagues. If his bat matures, he’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order power hitter with double-digit home run potential. I’m not saying he needs to strive to hit .300, either, but a better eye at the plate will go a long way. LOVE his potential. Daniel Pardini, a junior-to-be, is the only other option currently on scholarship. He was a part time pinch hitter who appeared in 12 games. He was 1-for-10 on the season, his lone hit, to his credit, being a home run. For everyone who says, “we need more bats on this team,” and for everyone who thinks we lack punch, Shaun Chase could certainly be a remedy to our problem.
LF: Brett Thomas had a highly underrated freshman season, hitting .291 in 31 starts – good for 3rd on the team, behind Pulfer and Healy, among players with at least 100 at bats. I thought he would bat lead off going into the 2012 season. He seemed like a natural replacement for Pulfer, but instead Thomas found a new spot – smack dab in the heart of the order. Can’t say it was the wrong decision, either. Thomas led the Ducks in BA at .313, led the team in 2B, and tied for the team lead in 3B. He helped keep the offense afloat when Jones went down for a couple weeks, and we all saw what happened when Thomas missed the Oregon State series with a knee injury. All he does is hit. It will be interesting to track his junior year – because of the position he plays, I’m just not sure what his MLB Draft potential looks like. Professional scouts look for power from the outfield spots, especially the corner outfield positions. Thomas isn’t a power hitter. I said above that this is likely Healy’s last season as a Duck because I think his draft stock is high, but I just don’t know what Thomas’ looks like. He swings a mean bat and he plays his position well, but does his game translate to the next level?
RF: Yes, I know I skipped CF. But RF is another easy one. Before the 2012 season got underway I threw in Kyle Garlick as a probable starter because I was most familiar with him, as opposed to, say, some of the incoming freshman. Garlick had a decent freshman year, posting a respectable BA and showing some power potential. I figured he might have the nod over some of the new guys. Which he did… and never gave up. Garlick had a wonderful sophomore season, hitting .287 with a team-leading 6 round-trippers. He offered great protection behind Healy and Thomas in the line-up, finished second in RBIs, and perhaps most importantly, he had an outstanding knack for coming up with big, 2-out clutch hits. That’s not something that should be overlooked.
CF: The corner outfield spots are all but solidified, but CF is where things are up for debate. Connor Hoffman made the most starts in the outfield this year (46), but could never claim the job outright from Andrew Mendenhall or Vernell Warren. Hoffman was part of that big recruiting class of 2010, the one that brought us Healy, Jones, Thomas, Garlick, etc. But while Hoffman has plenty of experience under his belt, he hasn’t quite become the name that some of his classmates are. He hit alright in 2012 — .239 BA, 3 HRs (including an inside-the-parker) – and plays his position well. Mendenhall has been around forever (it seems); he looked like a great find in 2010, his freshman year, when he hit .318 in 36 appearances (13 starts). But while his playing time increased in 2011 (44 appearances), his BA plummeted to .226. He hit .218 in 2012 in 41 appearances (17 starts, the most of his career). Mendenhall is the superior fielder, though Hoffman’s no slouch. A darkhorse here? Billy Flamion was a 25th round draft pick out of high school and was expected to have a pretty big impact right away, but he actually found more playing time pitching out of the bullpen (11 appearances) than in the line-up (10). Sometimes kids just take a year to develop – Jimmy Sherfy couldn’t find a role in an extremely poor bullpen in 2011, then became one of the nation’s best closers in 2012. I certainly wouldn’t write off a kid as physically talented as Flamion just because his first collegiate season was underwhelming.
DH: I guess I see the DH spot coming down to this: is Aaron Jones coming back? If he does, I can’t think of a better candidate here than Shaun Chase, assuming Chase can shore up his swing during summer ball and fall camp. If Chase can’t, or he’s needed to catch, I think the top candidate here is one of the kids who don’t win the 3B job.
Honestly? I don’t see Aaron Jones coming back. My projected lineup, based on what we have returning:
2B Aaron Payne, Junior
LF Brett Thomas, Junior
1B Ryon Healy, Junior
C Shaun Chase, Soph
RF Kyle Garlick, Junior
DH Thomas Walker, Soph
3B Scott Heineman, Soph
CF Connor Hoffman, Junior
SS JJ Altobelli, Senior
Ideally, this line-up would give our leaders in OBP (Payne) and BA (Thomas) an opportunity to get on base with our all-around best hitter (Healy) up to knock them in. Chase is walking power potential, and hopefully batting in front of Garlick will allow him to see some decent pitches. Really, we pretty much know what we’re getting out of our junior class. How successful we are at improving our offense probably depends on how our sophomores develop. Beyond Chase, who I’ve talked about quite a bit already, I think both Walker and Heineman have big roles to play going forward. Walker has a big frame and can launch a ball a long ways if he gets a hold of it. Like Chase, it’s really just a matter of developing his eye at the plate. Heineman, I think, is a viable candidate to slide over to SS once Alto leaves. At the plate, Heineman actually had a very good handle of the strike zone for his age; despite hitting only .189 in 27 starts, he posted a commendable .342 OBP due to his ability to draw walks. He needs to work on making solid contact, but I think he has it in him. Hoffman has a bit of pop, and Alto is as solid of a #9 hitter as they come.
Do I expect huge power numbers and a big increase in runs scored next season? No. But do I expect overall improvement? Yes. We were very young this year, and 7 of our 9 position players were full-time starters for the first time. Altobelli and Jones started 59 and 58 games, respectively, in 2011, but after them Thomas (31) and Healy (30) were our returning leaders in starts. Brett Hambright started 21 games in 2011, his brother Ryan 20, Hoffman 11, Payne 4. The baseball season is long and grueling, and going a full 60+ games can’t really be taught – you more or less just have to experience it. And this year, we were just young. According to my projected line-up, we’ll have guys returning who made 65 (Healy, Payne) 58 (Garlick), 53 (Thomas), 51 (Alto), and 46 (Hoffman) starts in 2013. And that’s not including Aaron Jones. Heineman made 27 starts, Chase 18, Walker 16, but 6 of my 9 projected starters went the distance in 2012, and that’ll pay dividends going forward.
I don’t think we’re going to instantly turn into Arizona, but I do think we’ll do better scoring runs.
But that’s not all!
In 2010, we had a freshman right fielder by the name of Steven Packard. He was a huge part of our success in 2010; he made 45 starts, hitting .333 in 159 ABs with an OBP north of .410. Both numbers would have led our 2012 team. After the season ended, he left for a two-year church mission. If my math is right… and it isn’t always… he could, in theory, return to the team in 2013. Will he? Well, I have no idea. But it’s something to keep in mind. I’m sure he has a spot open to him, if he chooses to come back to Eugene to finish college. He’s a damn fine hitter.
A rundown on our 2013 pitching staff coming soon.