With football season in full swing, it’s easy to forget about everything else in the world of sports.
But the Oregon baseball team has been participating in fall camp this month in preparation for the 2016 season. Select players and head coach George Horton were available at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex last month to participate in the only interviews with the team for the next several months.
Cole Irvin told reporters that as he comes off a long-toss program he is full-blown, ready to go.
“I’m in all the drills in practice, not skipping a beat,” he said. “I’m 100 percent.” A fully-recovered Irvin is good news for baseball fans as a middle-of-the-road 2015 season was far from what most expected from Oregon’s ace.
The Ducks have 18 freshmen joining the ranks this year — a mine of untested talent that both Irvin and Horton spoke highly of.
“They’re learning the process,” Irvin said. “They’re doing a great job with the focus, the intensity, in the weight room and at practice. It’s all great and they’re doing the best they can to learn as fast as they can.”
Junior Mark Karaviotis stepped up last year at shortstop and continued to refine his play this summer in Cape Cod. While he told reporters his own offensive game benefitted from the extra reps, and said that teammate Matt Krook dominated during summer ball.
“He would go out there and throw 2-3 innings and throw 93, and pretty much shut guys down,” Karaviotis said of Krook.
Horton’s small-ball philosophy asks a tall order from his pitchers, as the offense, while productive, won’t be lighting the world on fire. Thankfully, with a starting rotation of Irvin, Krook and David Peterson, a group that Horton said could be the ”best rotation ever,” the pressure to run up the score will be low.
As good as the weekend rotation appears at this point, there is plenty more competition with 19 pitchers on the active roster.
Nothing is set in stone this early — Horton said the likely rotation was “penciled in.” After all, there’s no reason to eliminate some friendly completion this early in camp.
Veteran reliever Stephen Nogosek turned heads this summer while playing for Team USA, helping secure the closer’s role — the only confirmed piece of an outstanding bullpen that kept the Ducks in the hunt for a title last year.
The rotation isn’t the only race this fall.
The infield will be reinvigorated by the return of first baseman A.J. Balta who missed the 2015 season with a knee injury. Karaviotis will return, along with slugger Matt Eureste, who lost his third base job to the now-departed Mitchell Tolman after struggling a bit defensively.
Daniel Patzlaff filled his highlight reel with fantastic defensive plays, but his cold bat could leave his second base job open to poaching by one of the four incoming freshmen infielders, all of whom are hungry for playing time.
Horton commented on the competitive nature of the program, reminding players that “the days are gone of club baseball and high school baseball, where you get to play every single inning.”
October represents the culmination of a long season for the pros and the beginning of greatness for our Ducks as they lay the groundwork for another trip to the CWS and a chance to play for a title in Omaha.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck