2011 Countdown To Omaha: The Oregon Baseball Preview (Part I)

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2011 Countdown To Omaha:  The Oregon Baseball Preview (Part I)
J.J. Altobelli Delivers Grand Slam vs USC in 2010. Photo by Ben Johsnon - Road2Rosenblatt.com

The Ducks Are Ready To Make A Splash!

The University of Oregon baseball program, under the direction of venerable head coach George Horton, has climbed a long way up the mountain of college baseball supremacy given the 14-42 disaster that Horton and staff suffered during the 2009 season.

But the closer one gets to the mountain top the steeper the climb becomes, especially when considering the slippery slope that injuries play in curtailing a magical season.  Luckily for Oregon, a slew of nagging injuries has occurred during the fall offseason period rather than during the heart of the season as the maturing Duck program has been hamstrung by three broken hands, one broken finger, a nagging back injury and a broken toe.

Throw in the fact that Oregon’s top four returning pitchers have been limited much of the fall, due to the fact that all four played key roles in pitching within the collegiate summer circuit, one can begin to understand the anxiety surrounding such a bevy of injuries that could affect the collective confidence of a maturing program that is on the brink of establishing itself among the nations elite.

However, Oregon is led by one of—if not “THE”—best coaches within the sport and he is brimming with confidence as he believes the Ducks are farther into the center of the onion than in any year since he has been at the helm in Eugene.

Ducks Have Solid Friday Night Ace - Tyler Anderson, Photo By Ben Johnson - Road2Rosenblatt.com

In last years breakout season, in which the Ducks finished tied for fifth in the PAC-10 with California at 13-14 in the conference and 40-24 overall, a 26-game improvement in the win column compared to 2009, Oregon established itself on the national scene with a strong showing at the Storrs Regional hosted by the University of Connecticut.

Oregon lost two close games versus perennial power Florida State while earning much praise from Seminole skipper Mike Martin in the process, no stranger himself to Omaha and the College World Series.  For Oregon, its strength lies in pitching and recruiting, led by Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Andrew Checketts, who is known for his tireless work ethic and attention to detail.

Checketts has put together back-to-back Top-10 recruiting classes according to Baseball America and other leading prognosticators.  With a group of young freshman which earned a number two national recruiting class ranking entering the program in 2011, coupled with what is now a group of seasoned veterans with at least two years of experience under their belt, to a man, all agree they will be greatly disappointed if the Ducks do not earn a trip to Omaha by seasons end.

The PAC-10, however, is loaded yet again this season.  A year after receiving a record eight bids to the NCAA Regionals and having yet another team play in the National Championship Series—the ninth time since 1995 the conference has had a member play for the national championship—the conference has three teams ranked in the Top-10 heading into the 2011 season and seven teams ranked overall.

Oregon looks to Autzenize PK Park this spring - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

UCLA is the obvious choice to win the conference with the majority of its stars returning, especially on the mound.  But the Bruin story entering 2011 is similar to those found in Eugene, Palo Alto, Pullman and Tucson;  all had a great degree of success in 2010 with most of its firepower returning, especially on the bump.  So the Ducks look to have their work cut out for them, but anyone who follows college baseball has to like their chances given Horton’s history of success.

Position-by-Position Breakdown:  “The Pitchers”

Horton Quote:  “I am comfortable with the quality of our staff versus the quantity in numbers”

 

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Tyler Anderson

Alex Keudell

Scott McGough

Madison Boer

Oregon Stats
W/L Record: 7-5
ERA: 2.98
APP/GS: 17-16
CG: 1
Inn Pitched: 102.2
Runs: 41
ER: 34
BB: 33
K's: 105
K/BB Ratio: 3.18 - 1
Oregon Stats
W/L Record: 5-6
ERA: 4.14
APP/GS: 23-11
CG: 0
Inn Pitched: 78.1
Runs: 49
ER: 36
BB: 25
K's: 78
K/BB Ratio: 3.12 - 1
Oregon Stats
W/L Record: 5-2
ERA: 2.45
APP/GS: 25-2
CG: 0
Inn Pitched: 58.2
Runs: 22
ER: 16
BB: 14
K's: 56
K/BB Ratio: 4 - 1
Oregon Stats
W/L Record: 3-1
ERA: 2.44
APP/GS: 23-4
CG: 0
Inn Pitched: 51.2
Runs: 15
ER: 14
BB: 9
K's: 48
K/BB Ratio: 5.33 - 1
Summer Highlights: Played for Team USA which took home a Silver Medal this past summer. Anderson was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three starts. He combined on two shutouts. In 16 innings, allowed 6 hits, three walks while striking out 14. Was rated the No. 8 prospect on the Collegiate National Team by Baseball America. Summer Highlights: In nine starts with the Glacier Pilots of the Great Alaskan League, Keudell finished the summer with a 5.79 era and an 0-2 record. Summer Highlights: Played for Team USA which took home a Silver Medal this past summer where he was 1-1 on the mound with a 0.82 ERA in five relief appearances and a total of 10 innings of work. Was ranked at No. 16 in Baseball America's Team USA Top 20 Prospects list. Boer spent his second consecutive summer playing for the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwoods League and was rated the 10th best prospect in the league by several prognosticators. Working mostly in relief, Boer finished with a 4-1 record with 5 saves in 14 appearances while working 20.1 innings. He recorded 26 strike-outs, held opposing batters to a .219 clip and posted a 0.89 ERA.
Strengths: Anderson has been Oregon's Friday starter since the program was brought back from the ashes in 2008. A complete pitcher who can command both sides of the plate with a balance of four pitches, his best pitch is a lethal change up when ahead in the count. Fastball works consistently in the low 90's. He has been known to elevate the change up on occasion, in which opposing hitters feast on the opportunity. Strengths: Keudell began the season as a starter but pitched mostly in relief during the last half of the year. Alex was second on the team in strikeouts with 78 including 29 batters looking. Scott's father is an ex-big league pitcher so athletic ability runs in the genes. He may be the Ducks overall best athlete as he could play shortstop for most programs around the country. McGough relies on a fastball working in the mid-90 range as he can command both sides of the plate with a variety of pitches. When getting ahead in the count, he is particularly lethal. Madison has a power pitchers body similar to Tom Seaver, but has struggled to get quality innings within the program. It appears that Boer will be in the mix as a Saturday or Sunday starter, or perhaps receiving a workhorse of a workload as the Ducks first pitcher out of the bullpen.
Horton needs a "Big-Bopper" in the middle of the order to get to Omaha - Photo By Ben Jonson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

The Ducks come into 2011 absolutely loaded in the pitching department.  Coach Horton has always been a small ball—approach the game one inning at a time, one pitch at a time—win the inning type of program and Oregon certainly fits the bill in year three of the Horton project.  According to one prominent west coast cross-checker who chose not to be identified, “there isn’t going to be many four or five run innings in that offense as they still lack the big-boppers in the 3-4-5 positions in the batting order, but Horton has never really had the gorilla ball arsenal that can be found in many SEC or ACC batting line-ups.”

Anderson has been the Ducks Friday night starter since he arrived on campus and that shouldn’t change as he provides exceptional energy and confidence to take on all PAC-10 challengers.  His 7-5 record last year does not represent the quality in his performance as he took undefeated Arizona State down to the wire in arguably his best performance of the year—a one run complete game 1-0 loss to the number one team in the country.  He gave up four hits, fanned 10 and didn’t walk a single batter.  His only mistake was hanging a change up to Sun Devil shortstop, Deven Marrero, who promptly hit it over the left field wall in the first inning for the only run of the game.

The Ducks ended ASU’s 24-game win streak to start the 2010 season a night later, largely due to the fact the offense felt they owed Anderson a victory for such a gutty effort.  He provides that type of leadership bringing a harbinger of confidence and success for the entire weekend series.  He beat Stanford, Cal-State-Fullerton, Fresno State, USC, East Tennessee State, Nevada and Seattle, while losing closely contested one run ball games to Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona State.

KC Serna poised for big season in Eugene - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

Given his accomplishments in 2010, it is no surprise that Anderson became the first Duck in 39 years to be named All-PAC-10 Conference, and named to the College Baseball Foundation Pitcher of the Year watch list in 2011.  His 105 strikeouts led the Ducks (new Oregon single-season record), which also ranked sixth in the PAC-10 and 36th nationally.  He held opposing batters to a .219 average and his 7.36 hits allowed per nine innings of work ranked 34th in the country.

The Ducks will go as Anderson sets the table as the Friday starter in 2011.

From here the Ducks can go in a variety of directions.  Alex Keudell was a starter for much of the first half of the season before losing the Sunday starter role to Zach Thornton, whose (9-0) submarine brilliance and pinpoint control on Sunday helped Oregon win a number of “Benchmark Sunday” showdowns, which swung the weekend series scales of balance in Oregon’s favor.  You could make an argument that the Ducks took off when Thornton took off.

Both he and Justin La Tempa have moved on to professional baseball, so the Ducks will have many unproven prospects in important roles, but if left up to coach Checketts, the Ducks will be up to the challenge.

The Ducks struggled mightily in the relief role as Drew Gagnier and Scott McGough couldn’t command the strike zone consistently enough to stem the tide of PAC-10 hitters.  Gagnier was supposed to be a senior superstar, but his command issues thwarted promising expectations.  McGough was young and inexperienced and tried to fill the void but inconsistencies thwarted his effort as well.

PK Park raises the bar in PAC-10 Baseball - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

The confidence McGough gained from earning a Team USA roster spot should carry the day in 2011 and both Keudell and Madison Boer—a promising power pitcher from Eden Prairie (Minnesota)—should provide Oregon with a strong nucleus.  All of the Ducks returning pitchers were delayed in the fall to give the arms time to heal from a hefty spring and summer schedule, which gave promising newcomers Jimmie Sherfy, Brando Tessar, Brandon Brennan and Ryon Healy a chance for extended development during the fall.

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Ryon Healy

Jimmy Sherfy

Brandon Brennan

Brando Tessar

Played for Conejo Oaks of the California Collegiate League. Ranked by Baseball America as top prospect in the league. During Jr. year was 11-0 with 1.81 ERA; 101 K's in 81 innings of work. Played four yrs of varsity baseball. First Team All-League after going 8-1 on mound in 12 appearances. Pitched two complete games with 2.25 ERA with 72 K's in 62.1 innings of work. Father Brad coached Men's Golf at UCLA for seven seasons (1996-2002). Selected in 40th round by the Colorado Rockies. Starting QB in HS at Capistrano Valley HS. Ranked 169th nationally by Perfect Game Crosschecker. Drafted in the 25th Round by the Toronto Blue Jays. 9-2 on the mound with 1.45 ERA. Had 4 shutouts and 103 K's. Four-time All League selection in HS. Stepfather Tim is the hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate.
Ducks took off when Thornton took off in 2010 (9-0 as Sunday Starter) - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

The bottom line is the Ducks are loaded for bear in this department, but they will have to be on their "A" game if they expect to keep up with UCLA, Stanford, Washington State and Arizona, the top contenders to compete for the conference championship.

 

Position-by-Position Breakdown:  “The Catchers”

Horton Quote:  “The quality of our depth at this position is spectacular.”

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Jack Marder

Brett Hambright

Stefan Sabol

Aaron Jones

Oregon Stats:
2010 Bat Ave: .249
Runs: 38
Hits: 49
RBI: 33
SB's: 7-7
Riverside CC Stats:
2010 Bat Ave: .313
Runs: 38
Hits: 56
RBI: N/A
SB's: 6
West Coast League Stats
Summer Ave: .236
Runs: 13
Hits: 26
RBI: 11
SB's: 6-9
West Coast League Stats
Summer Ave: .342
Runs: 10
Hits: 27
RBI: 15
SB's: 4-7
Power Numbers:
HR: 5
2B's: 11
3B's: 1
Power Numbers:
HR: 1
2B's: 11
3B's: 1
Power Numbers:
HR: 1
2B's: 7
3B's: 1
Power Numbers:
HR: 1
2B's: 3
3B's: 0
Draft:
Diamondbacks
30th Round (906)
Newbury Park HS (CA)
Draft:
Phillies
34th Round (1,040)
Riverside CC
Draft:
Braves
17th (524)
Aliso Niguel HS (CA)
Draft:
Red Sox
38th (1,133)
San Clemente HS (CA)
Year 3 of the Horton Project may land Ducks in Omaha - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

Although the Ducks success in 2009 was largely directly tied to the success of senior leader Eddie Rodriguez in being perhaps the only big-bopper in the line-up with the potential to drive any pitch out of the ball park or for extra bases, his daily catching skills left a lot to be desired as he led the PAC-10 in past balls and potential inning-ending third-out, third-strikes that were dropped, which resulted in precipitating two-or-three losses all by himself.

 

 

Marder Looks To Captain Oregon Ship in 2011.

But that is in the past for what was once a major weakness and cause for significant anxiety and a subsequent loss in confidence has turned into a spectacular strength for Oregon.  Sophomore Jack Marder, who spent the majority of his freshman season as a DH or first baseman, will be behind the plate for the Ducks in 2011 if all goes according to plan.

PK Park could host a regional or two this spring - Photo by Ben Johnson, Road2Rosenblatt.com

Marder has been smitten by the injury bug in the past, but as a true testament to Oregon’s meteoric rise, if the front line starter falters, the Ducks have plenty of athleticism at the position to survive if the opportunity presents itself.  Brett Hambright, whose brother Ryan also pitches for the Ducks, looks to split time with Marder at the position.  Hambright excelled during the 2009 season at Riverside Community College batting .313, and led the team in hits (56), runs scored (38) and doubles (11)…also added a triple, one home run and six stolen bases.

Checketts also added two prized recruits, Aaron Jones and Stefan Sabol, who were both named the co-MVP’s of the South Coast League in Southern California to help bolster the position.  Both are equally adept and could handle the load if it weren’t for the experience factor in front of them.  The question of who gains the majority of the playing time simply revolves around which of the four can be the most productive on the offensive side of the equation, which is the reason why Marder looks to have a significant edge in this department with Hambright providing sufficient back up.

 

Part II:  Infielders, Outfielders & Team Summation – Coming Soon!

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