My desk is a mess, we are up to our elbows in work that demands attention, the temp outside is 19 degrees, the east wind is screaming down the Gorge and snow is falling like a lake-effect blizzard in Cleveland – but we can’t get focused because we are really excited about a couple of Oregon Duck baseball recruits!
Looking out the window, it is difficult to get used to the idea that “The Duck Boys of Summer” have begun their trip down a road that will hopefully lead to the College Baseball World Series in Omaha. Yeah, that same “Omaha” the pro football guy keeps yelling about. That road to Omaha begins today: Valentines Day! The Oregon Ducks baseball team plays it’s first game of the 2014 season at Les Murakami Stadium on the University of Hawaii campus, with the first pitch scheduled for 8:35 pm Pacific.
We think those Duck schedulers are really bright guys! Who would schedule a baseball game at the Ducks’ beautiful PK Park on February 14th? Despite the great uniforms, the Ducks would stand a chance of losing ballplayers to frostbite. Those doing the scheduling have punctuated their brilliance with a three-game series in Los Angeles the following week. In contrast, recent reports are that the Ducks have lost some very productive players from the 2013 lineup. ”Things are going downhill for Coach Horton and his staff,” they say. ”How will we ever get through the Pac-12 or the regionals, let alone make it to the College World Series.”
Fret not “FishDuck” Followers! Coaches of successful programs, such as the Ducks baseball program, recruit quality players. The Oregon coaching staff knows how to develop those recruits in a way that will grow and mature into attractive targets for major league baseball organizations. Some players will be offered serious money to sign a talent development contract, leaving Eugene and the Duck baseball family.
The coaching staff accepts this reality as a condition of success and they will bring in a quality class of new players. This challenge is part of the game, just as the smell of freshly mown grass in the spring was once the hallmark of the opening of baseball season — that green plastic stuff that most fields are covered with today, just doesn’t smell the same when you mow it.
By the way, of the talent losses for the 2014 baseball Ducks which have produced this negative chatter, only one is outside the normal player attrition cycle. Cole Irvin was lost for the season due to elbow surgery. He is a left-handed sophomore starting pitcher, who led the Duck pitching staff last year as a freshman starter with a 12-3 record. Irvin’s ERA of 2.48, while not the lowest of the 2013 pitchers, was excellent and reflects the quality of his contribution to the 2013 Duck baseball team.
Cole underwent Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction Surgery earlier this week on his pitching arm elbow, replacing ligaments by tendons taken from elsewhere in his body or from cadaver donors. Elbow ligament damage is a common sports injury due to repeated near capacity tension on those ligaments; this surgery has been performed on many active athletes, but the preponderance on baseball pitchers.
The common name for this procedure is the “Tommy John Surgery” (in reference to the major league pitcher of the same name), who was the first to undergo the operation and, after rehabilitation, was able to continue his very successful 26-year career at the major league level.
The complete recovery level is a comfortable 95%, while those who are able to access top-of-the-line rehabilitation programs, regain a performance level equal to pre-injury performance. Some actually claim improved performance after rehabilitation. We wish Cole the best over the next 12 to 14 months! While he will be frustrated due to his lightened baseball activities, his student responsibilities will continue. His performance will be greatly missed by the Duck baseball team!
This year’s Duck baseball recruiting class looks very good at first glance. We won’t rehash the one-dimensional ratings of others here, as many class ratings are a “fool’s chase.” The quality of a class is a function of recruiting, coaching and development all applied over time.
We point to the USC football program as proof of that concept. Highly-rated recruits under one coach are unproductive and under another, extremely successful. Recruits receive scholarship offers from programs relative to perceived need, staff perceptions of quality and more often than admitted to: coaching fraternity peer pressure (“Everybody wants him”). The Duck 2014 class initially reflects recruiting quality, and two of the newcomers are impressive to this old, quick but rag-armed shortstop – Matt Krook and Austin Grebeck.
Matt Krook, a left-handed freshman pitcher, comes to Oregon from St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in San Francisco, CA. Krook, at 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., was considered an excellent athlete and highly regarded by major league baseball scouts as a left-handed hitting outfielder in high school.
However, when scouts evaluated his pitching talent and clocked his fastball at 95 mph with excellent movement and grading his curveball as above average, professional baseball people began to think not in terms of an excellent outfield prospect, but as a “can’t miss” left-handed pitching prospect. As a young thrower, Krook exhibits great talent and a strong upside.
Young pitchers either possess the natural ability to produce the needed spin required to throw a quality curve ball or they do not. Youngsters who produce a curve ball by altering their grip, arm motion, or wrist and hand movement at delivery, generally have shortened careers, plagued with arm or shoulder injuries. Even the best coaches cannot endow a youngster with the ability to throw with a natural curveball spin.
Matt produces his curve ball with a natural spin. He does, however, suffer the curse of all hard-throwing youngsters — inconsistency in his delivery motion — and the pitch location or control issues that come along with it. Good coaching can correct these problems.
Austin Grebeck attended Mater Dei High School in the Los Angeles area and he is the son of Craig Grebeck, who enjoyed an 12-year major league career as a utility infielder. Craig, who should be celebrated for his years in the “Big Tent,” is actually noteworthy for the fact that his first major league home run was hit off of Hall-of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
Austin has been measured at 5-foot-10, 160 lbs., and is scout-rated with a strong outfield arm, center field range (speed) and outstanding hitting mechanics. Austin Grebeck’s demonstrated abilities promise to translate well in maintaining a strong Duck outfield.
Austin and Matt were both drafted in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft and they each passed up serious signing money in honoring their recruiting commitment to the Ducks. Had they signed and accepted the money, they would have spent at least 3 years riding buses in the professional developmental leagues while maturing and growing in weight and strength.
Also, the coaching help they would receive in the minor leagues is often inconsistent. Here in the Duck program they will be given an opportunity to prepare themselves for a life after baseball through the education provided by one of America’s great universities. They will be subjected to the quality, consistent coaching provided by the Duck program. They will have the opportunity to grow and mature in an atmosphere created by professionals who seek to maximize their potential. They will be provided a well-designed training regimen, bringing strength and weight to their youthful frames.
Time spent in the Duck program will only increase their value as professional prospects, when the time for that step comes. Coach Horton has entertained the possibility he might bring Matt Krook to the Duck 2014 starting rotation as a replacement for the injured Cole Irvin. We can’t wait to watch their college careers develop.
FishDuck Followers, get out to PK Park. Take the family! What a great way to spend time together!!
Until next time, G. Pearson Jr. says, “Take two and hit deep to right!”
(Top Photo by Gary Breedlove)