The 2012 baseball season ended with a fizzle as a Kent State bloop single into left field ended Oregon’s post season run just one win short of a College World Series bid. While the season had a disappointing final stanza, the 2012 campaign finished with a school record 46 wins, and Oregon’s first ever Super Regional appearance. With seven postion starters, four starting pitchers, and an All-American closer in Jimmie Sherfy returning, the Ducks are poised to make a run deep into the 2013 postseason.
The road to Omaha won’t be easy, as a stacked PAC-12 will test the Ducks every weekend. How “stacked” is the PAC-12? Oregon was picked fourth in the preseason PAC-12 Coaches Poll behind Stanford, UCLA, and Oregon State, who are all consensus top-15 teams in every preseason poll.
Before the Ducks head into the conference circuit, they’ll have to weather a very challenging out of conference schedule that features a series with the Cal State Fullerton Titans in Southern California, and a visit from No. 2 Vanderbilt.
Oregon’s road back to the postseason starts on the mound. After the graduation of perennial ace Alex Keudell, the Ducks will need to find a new “Friday Night” starter. The most immediate candidate is Freshman All-American starter Jake Reed. Reed finished his debut season with an 8-4 record, 2.92 ERA, and 113 innings pitched in 17 appearances. With a developing arsenal of pitches, the sophomore is looking to improve on his already impressive stat lines in 2013.
After that, things are a little more cloudy. Tommy Thorpe is projected be the second pitcher in the rotation to start the season, while he has the least amount of experience among the starters. With only one start in the 2012 season, Thorpe pitched 38.2 innings of relief, racking up 48 strikeouts, and limiting batters to a .176 average against the reliever. Also in consideration for the second spot is star recruit Cole Irvin, a hard throwing left-hander out of Servite High School in Yorba Linda, CA. Irvin should make his debut at some point during the opening weekend, as he looks to lock up a spot in the rotation. The final starter on the team in Jeff Gold, who started 13 games last season as the final weekend pitcher. Gold had a solid 2012 campaign with an 8-4 record, and a 3.66 ERA.
One of the team’s biggest additions is Christian Jones, who missed all of 2012 with an elbow injury. The left-hander ended his 2011 season with an impressive 7-2 record with 3.24 ERA, and 77.2 innings pitched. However, his readiness is still in question, and Jones will likely start the 2013 season in the bullpen.
While the rotation might not be completely solid yet, Duck fans should not fret — Coach Horton has to pick between good, and good; not bad, and bad.
Oregon’s bullpen is not as deep, but is extremely talented. Matters start and end with Oregon’s star closer Jimmie Sherfy, who led the nation in K/9 last year with 93 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. Sherfy has received several preseason accolades, including 3 All-America honors, and made an appearance on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list. With Thorpe moving to the starting rotation, the Ducks will need to find another suitable reliever to complement Sherfy. Christian Jones will likely fill that role to start the season before his move to the rotation, but his fellow additions to the bullpen will need to complete the staff in 2013. High School All American Garrett Cleavinger, redshirt Freshman Cole Wiper, and LCC transfer Darrell Hunter are all looking to make their debuts from the pen. They’ll need to develop quickly to back up the solid back end of the bullpen.
On offense, the Ducks are lucky to return most of their big pieces from last season, but the 2012 campaign was less than impressive for such a highly ranked team. With a team .265 batting average (good for 11th in the conference), the Ducks were one of the worst offensive teams in the country last season. Even then, Oregon is returning its most potent offensive player in Ryon Healy is coming off a team-high 42 RBI season, which is backed up by a .312 batting average. Following Healy is left fielder Brett Thomas, who hit for a team best .313 batting average last year. Kyle Garlick finished with 41 RBIs (second best on the team) in 2012, and rounds out the top of the lineup for the 2013 season. Also returning is Steven Packard, who spent the last two years away from the diamond on his LDS mission. Packard last played for the Ducks in 2010, where he finished the season with a .333 batting average.
While the Oregon offense left a lot to be desired last season, the Ducks are optimistic that this unit will improve collectively this season. With the core of the offense returning, and a few additional players returning from injury, expect Oregon to have a suitable offense, at the very least, this season.
The Diamond Ducks open their season this Friday in Hawaii for a four game series with the Warriors. We’ll have complete coverage here at FishDuck.com, so stay tuned, and get ready for another exciting season of Oregon baseball!