Ah, life in The Shadows. It’s easy to forget, amid all the hoopla surrounding the football team, the men’s basketball team, the men’s AND women’s track & field teams, heck, even the men’s golf team, that Oregon is also a baseball school again. And they’re doing all right, thanks for asking. Well, after four consecutive solid seasons (including a second place finish in the PAC-12 in 2013), they took a step back in 2016, finishing in a tie for eighth place in the conference at 29-26. But don’t feel too bad for the Ugly Ducklings of the Oregon sports world; despite being picked by many to finish eighth again in the rugged Pac-12 in ‘17, things have gone quite swimmingly so far this season, as they currently sit in second place with an overall record of 13-5.
And it all starts with the head coach, George Horton. Since taking over at Oregon and the rebirth of the program in 2009 after a wildly successful run at Cal State-Fullerton (490-212-1, seven Big West Conference titles, 2004 CWS Champions), Horton’s steady hand has seen the once-fledgling squad grow and thrive, to the tune of a 292-198-1 overall record, with appearances in five of the past seven NCAA Regionals.
The 2016 Ducks were a mess offensively, finishing at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most meaningful statistics (including a .232 team batting average, worst in the conference). To compound matters for 2017, Oregon lost starting outfielders Austin Grebeck (.250 BA, 53 Runs, .396 OBP) to the MLB draft (although he was drafted by the Mariners!), Steven Packard (.247 BA, 12 Doubles, 33 RBI), to graduation, and infielder Travis Moniot (5 HR) to transfer from an already anemic lineup.
But a promising crop of freshmen have shown signs of life in the early going this season, led by DH Gabe Matthews (.340 BA, .436 OBP), catcher/outfielder Matthew Dyer (11 Runs, 2 Triples, .480 Slugging %, .450 OBP), and second baseman Morgan McCullough (15 BB, .377 OBP). Add to that mix holdovers junior infielder Kyle Kasser (.333 BA, 23 Hits, 9 BB, .434 OBP), senior outfielder Jake Bennett (.313 BA, 21 hits, 10 Runs, 13 BB, .415 OBP), and junior infielder Daniel Patzlaff (9 Runs, 12 RBI), and Oregon’s offense, while still lacking power, should put more runs on the board in ‘17.
As it was last season, pitching continues to be a strength for Oregon in 2017. Despite losing left-handed starter Cole Irvin (6-4, 3.17 ERA, 93 SO, 1 CG) and second-team All-American righty closer Stephen Nogosek (16 Saves, 1.11 ERA, 45 SO) to the MLB draft, the Ducks return a fairly potent staff, led by burgeoning ace junior lefty David Peterson (4-1, 2.59 ERA, 48 SO), sophomore left hander Cole Stringer(2-1, 2.77 ERA), and sophomore right hander Matt Mercer (3-1, 1.84 ERA). The bullpen is led by another freshman, standout right handed closer Kenyon Yovan (6 Saves, 0.00 ERA, 17 SO), and quality set-up men freshman righty James Acuna (1-0, 0.00 ERA), and sophomore right hander Isaiah Carranza (1 Save, 3.00 ERA).
Players to Watch:
Kyle Kasser (Jr) - INF
The 5’10” Kasser has not only been arguably the Ducks’ most consistent hitter through the young season, but has shown a flair for the dramatic as well, with two game-winning RBI to his credit. He leads Oregon with nine multi-hit games, has reached base safely in 17 of Oregon’s 18 games, and is currently playing error-free ball, while manning both first and third base. In 2016, he hit .266 with 21 RBI and was a second-Team Pac-12 All-Academic.
Daniel Patzlaff (Jr) - INF
A steadying presence in the lineup, the 5’10” Patzlaff currently leads the Ducks in home runs (2) and is second in RBI (12). Patzlaff is a versatile player who can play second, third, or shortstop. In 2016, he hit .239 with 23 RBI; he’s already over halfway to that mark.
Spencer Steer (Fr) - INF
The 5’11” Steer has become a fixture at the Hot Corner, while leading the Ducks in doubles with five, and RBI with 13. He also leads the PAC-12 in a rather unusual category, Hit By Pitch, with 6. Just call him the Ducks’ Brandon Guyer.
Jake Bennett (RSr) - OF
The 5’11” Bennett returns as the 2016 Oregon Team MVP and Outstanding Offensive Player. He’s currently second on the team with 21 hits and 13 walks and already the author of a ten-game hitting streak in 2017. Bennett led the Ducks in 2016 with a .312 batting average, and a .419 on-base percentage.
Pitchers to Watch:
David Peterson (Jr) - LHP
After being roughed up in his first start of the season, the 6’6” Peterson has been on fire, setting a school-record with 17 strikeouts against Mississippi State on March 3rd, and following that with a 14-strikeout performance against Santa Clara on March 10th; the two-game total of 31 strikeouts is the most by a Duck pitcher since baseball returned to UO in 2009. Peterson, who was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for his work against Santa Clara last week, leads the conference with 48 strikeouts, and is tied for first with 4 wins. He’s currently riding a streak of 22 1⁄3 scoreless innings pitched. In 2016, he went 4-5 with a 3.63 ERA and was a member of the US Collegiate National Team.
Kenyon Yovan (Fr) - RHP
The 6’3” flamethrowing freshman from Beaverton’s Westview High has burst onto the scene in 2017, picking up a PAC-12 conference-leading 6 saves through the first month of the season. Yovan has tallied 17 strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a walk and is yet to give up an earned run. Last year, the exciting freshman was named the 2016 Oregonian Brian T. Meehan Memorial Award winner as the top senior prep baseball player in the state of Oregon.
The Ducks play their home games in Eugene in the friendly confines of 4,000 seat PK Park, nestled in the shadows of Autzen Stadium just northeast of the University of Oregon campus.
For more details about not just University of Oregon baseball but All Things Ducks, including broadcast information, tickets and Ducks’ gear, go to goducks.com. For some of the most lively and erudite conversation about the Ducks on the internet, head to the un-official blog of Oregon sports, addictedtoquack.com. For information about the entire conference, head to http://pac-12.com/sport/baseball.
You can listen to the Ducks online at http://tunein.com/radio/Oregon-IMG-Sports-Network-s206509/, or watch on TV at the PAC-12 network. Check your local cable provider for channel and broadcast information. For the Oregon Ducks Baseball 2017 schedule go to http://www.goducks.com/schedule.aspx?path=baseball.