[Ed. note: This is the first in a series of previews we will be running about the four major college baseball programs in Washington/Oregon: OSU, Oregon, UW, and WSU. If you’ve never attended a college baseball game, hopefully this will familiarize you with the team nearest to you; it’s a great, cheap family outing, and you might even get to see the next Blake Snell, John Olerud, Jacoby Ellsbury, or...look, we had to include Oregon, okay? For this preview, we were lucky to engage the services of Travis and Joe from Building the Dam, the Oregon State SB Nation site. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s one of the best-run college sites out there and particularly exhaustive in its baseball coverage, and we are very grateful to host them here. Welcome, Travis and Joe!]
While the 2016 OSU baseball season ended much earlier than most expected, with the Beavers being left out of the field of 64 by the NCAA selection committee, 2017 should have a much different result. Pat Casey’s squad was picked by Pac-12 coaches to win the league and is a unanimous top 10 team nationally. The Beavers return the bulk of their pitching staff and starting lineup from last year, while adding in a few big recruits and several players who missed last season due to injury. This year’s team is one of the deepest OSU teams in recent memory.
Beavers head coach Pat Casey will (or already has?) reach(ed) 800 career wins this season and has a chance to move into seventh in Pac-12 history for total wins. He’s the winningest head coach in the history of Oregon State...in any sport.
The pitching staff, led by Luke Heimlich, will need to replace 2016 Friday starter Travis Eckert (7th round pick by Kansas City), but with several guys getting starting experience last season and the return of Sam Tweedt and Drew Rasmussen (eventually) from Tommy John surgery the rotation should be in good hands. The bullpen was somewhat of an Achilles heel for the 2016 squad, but early season results have painted a much better picture in 2017. Led by Seattle native and closer Max Englebrekt, the bullpen has only yielded 2 earned runs in the first 11 games of the season.
The Beavers lose only two starters from the 2016 team in catcher Logan Ice (2nd round pick by Cleveland) and shortstop Trever Morrison (12th round pick by Milwaukee). The lineup will again be anchored by Nick Madrigal, who moves over to shortstop, and junior first baseman KJ Harrison. Pat Casey also expects big things from junior Christian Donahue, sophomores Cadyn Grenier and Trevor Larnach, and freshman Adley Rutschman. The lineup is very sound fundamentally (a trademark of Pat Casey coached teams), but could struggle at times to produce a lot of power as Harrison is the only returner who hit more than 2 home runs a season ago (Harrison led the Beavs with 10).
Players to watch:
Nick Madrigal (SO.) - SS/2B
Last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year was selected as a 2017 preseason All-American by numerous publications. The 5’8” sophomore, nicknamed “Nick Magical,” was drafted in the 17th round out of high school and will likely be one of the top collegiate draft prospects in 2018.
KJ Harrison (JR.) - 1B/C
The slugging junior out of Hawaii led the team in doubles, home runs, and RBIs last year. Harrison, who was the Pac-12 Freshman of the year in 2015 and the All-Pac-12 first baseman in 2016, appeared on several preseason All-American lists and was ranked by Baseball America as the 43rd best collegiate draft prospect for 2017.
Christian Donahue (JR.) - Utility
The junior could be the Beavers’ most underrated player. Donahue is a jack-of-all-trades who can play infield or outfield while hitting for a high average. One of the Beavs’ most experienced players, the Hawaii native was a Pac-12 First Team selection last year.
Luke Heimlich (JR.) - LHP
The junior out of Puyallup replaces Travis Eckert as the Friday starter for Pat Casey. Heimlich, OSU’s most experienced starter, has gotten off to a great start in 2017, going 2-0 with a 0.44 ERA and 25 K’s in three starts, picking up right where he left off in 2016:
Drew Rasmussen (RS-SO.) - RHP
The author of the only perfect game in OSU history missed the bulk of last season due to Tommy John surgery. The Spokane native, who was rated by Baseball America as the 34th best collegiate prospect for the 2017 draft, has recently started throwing bullpen sessions and should be available for Pat Casey later in the season.
Max Englebrekt (RS SR.) - LHP
The son of Mariners Director of all ROOT Sports broadcasts, Mark Englebrekt, Max was named to the Stopper of the Year award watch list given to the nation’s best collegiate closer. [SIDE NOTE: Max is a great Twitter follow, if you’re so inclined.]
- This season marks the tenth anniversary of the Beavers’ most recent College World Series title. The members of that team will be honored April 7-9, at Goss Stadium in Corvallis.
- The Beavers will travel to Seattle April 13th-15th to take on Washington. For more information on those games and the rest of the 2017 schedule, visit OSUBeavers.com.
- Most of OSU’s schedule this year will be broadcast via Pac-12 Network and their free streaming channels. You can find those links on OSUBeavers.com and they will usually be posted on Building the Dam as well.
- If you live in the Portland/Vancouver area, you can catch most games on Rip City Radio 620 AM as well.
- For a more in-depth look at the Beavs throughout the season you can check out Oregon State’s SBNation site BuildingTheDam.com
PS: You’re welcome for Andrew Moore... please take good care of him.