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JP's Weekly Walk-Off: Infield/Outfield Preview

Coach Casey and the Beaver baseball team kick-off the 2017 season tomorrow in Surprise, Arizona. Get ready for the season with an in-depth look at the Beavers infield and outfield from BeaverBlitz's baseball expert, Jeff Perry.

With OSU a consensus top-10 pick, it has been interesting to see a high ranking based on the pundits saying “we know they’ll have a really good offense, and figure they’ll end up with good enough pitching”, versus the situation where pitching has been lauded as the primary strength.  I do like our pitching situation (more on that tomorrow), but I can’t argue that this year the offense (well, and this is Pat Casey team so they WILL play good D) quite fairly is the presumptive strength.

Key Players Lost

  • Logan Ice (.310, 13 2B, 13 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 39 RBI):  Prior to 2016 Ice was known primarily as an exceptional defender, but as a junior he blossomed as an offensive threat and will represent a huge loss both offensively and defensively.
  • Trever Morrison (.284, 10 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 26 RBI):  Losing a three-year starter in the middle infield is always a blow, but the Beavers do have experienced options to ease the pain of such a transition. 

“Strength up the middle” is always a key, so losing those two at catcher and shortstop is a big blow, but the Beavers do appear to be well positioned to fill those voids by simply shifting some positions among experienced talents, and adding incoming talent from the latest recruiting class.

Offensive Stats

 

AVG

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

2016 Total

.278

1798

315

500

92

32

25

290

32-50

Players Lost

.272

552

97

150

31

12

10

101

5-8

Players Returning

.281

1246

218

350

61

20

15

189

27-42

-- N. Madrigal

.333

195

38

65

11

5

1

29

8-10

-- KJ Harrison

.265

200

48

53

14

4

10

47

4-5

-- C. Donahue

.339

192

32

65

11

5

1

29

9-12

-- M. Gretler

.339

59

8

20

3

0

1

4

2-2

-- K. Nobach

.280

150

23

42

7

1

2

24

2-4

-- J. Anderson

.271

140

22

38

4

0

0

22

1-3

-- C. Grenier

.240

167

32

40

6

3

0

18

1-4

-- S. Kwan

.215

65

4

14

2

2

0

7

0-2

-- T. Larnach

.157

51

2

8

1

0

0

3

0-0

-- A. Atwood

.211

19

8

4

2

0

0

3

0-0

-- Z. Taylor

.125

8

1

1

0

0

0

3

0-0

 

Returning Players/Projected Starters 

Catcher

When asked to talk about his expectation for highly touted freshmen, this quote in a 1/19/17 interview the Oregonian published pretty well sums up Coach Casey’s usual approach when talking about players that have yet to play an inning for OSU: “Potential. The thing about potential, it's potentially great, potentially good or potentially average.” 

By now, I’ve probably heard Coach talk about a couple of  hundred freshmen over the years in pre-season interviews, so when I caught him doing an interview on Sirius-XM this week where he said Adley Rutschman (if he stays healthy) could be the earliest MLB draft pick OSU has ever produced, I about fell over.  Certainly not typical of Coach to speak in such terms and pretty heady stuff when you think of Conforto going 10th over-all.    

Already physically well-developed (I suspect his work with the football strength & conditioning team helped, but there’s no substitute for genetics) – “he’s a man already” in Casey’s words in the aforementioned radio interview.  A big arm that can hit mid-90’s on the mound (a lot of scouts liked him out of high school as a pitcher) will help keep would-be base stealers honest and a big bat that is penciled in to hit in the middle portion of the batting order will be major plusses.  However, his over-all development behind the plate is still a work in progress, so we won’t see the sort of defensive proficiency that Logan Ice arrived on campus with when he was a freshman.  He will be solid, but not a “plus” defender - at least not yet.    

Rutschman’s fellow Sherwood High School alum Zach Taylor saw very limited action last season, but garnered 2nd team all-league honors in the West Coast League last summer, batting .309 as the Corvallis Knights primary catcher.  Particularly if Michael Gretler earns the nod at 3B, Taylor would seem the odds-on favorite to get the starts when Rutschman is given a game off. 

First Base 

There has been talk that KJ Harrison might see more time behind the plate than he has in the past and he may well get a look at 3B or RF… but, I think in the end, he’s the fixture at 1B again this year.  Despite garnering all-conference accolades last season, there is a good deal of room for improvement for KJ in terms of consistency at the plate.  His .265 season average was a bit of a disappointment, and that figure dropped to just .236 in conference play (despite hitting 8 of his 10 HR in Pac-12 play).  I am not alone in predicting KJ finds that consistency this year and has his name in solid consideration for Pac-12 player of the year honors (though, truth be told, I like Nick Madrigal to take that honor).     

With the Beavers’ stress on versatility, there is no shortage of options to spell Harrison at 1B with Gretler, Larnach, and potentially even Rutschman as options.

Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base 

The only thing close to a certainty I can offer is that Nick Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier will occupy two of those three spots virtually game in and game out in Pat Casey’s lineup.  Grenier made 46 of his 49 starts last season at 3B (the other three at 2B) has the ability to play any of the three positions (though SS or 3B seem most likely), while Madrigal (43 starts at 2B, 4 at SS) profiles best at either 2B or SS.  Both players are advanced defenders, so that is a very good starting point.

Another virtual lock I can offer is Christian Donahue will find his name as a fixture in the lineup, but while listed on the roster as an infielder, he could end up spending the bulk of his time in the outfield or at DH as he did last season (one start at 2B vs. 46 OF/DH starts last season after being the primary 2B starter in 2015).

I have two main theories on what the primary roster alignment might look like:

  1. Madrigal 2B, Grenier SS, Gretler 3B
  2. Donahue 2B, Madrigal SS, Grenier 3B

Shortstop is the anchor to the infield, and Grenier is perhaps the most natural fit there defensively (with Madrigal an established “plus” defender at 2B that makes for a great combination), while Gretler is less of a bit less polished as a defender – but not a new option at 3B making 30 starts there in 2015 and five in 2016.  Hence, I lean toward thinking the first option is the most likely, as if we know anything about Coach Casey, he’s going to build his middle-infield to defend at an elite level. 

On the flip side, the “if I was a fantasy league manager this is what I would do” (and frankly why I only manage fantasy league teams and not real players) part of me says option two does answer the question of “how do we make sure Donahue is in the lineup” without really sacrificing over-all defense too much (given I think Grenier would be out best defensive option at 3B by a good bit, which evens out a slight dip at SS and 2B). 

{Author’s note: by the time I finished this article, I reversed my thinking for the 20th time and now think maybe option 2 is more likely.}

Or, something completely different may develop – if there is one thing I’ve learned it is that I never know exactly what Coach Casey might have in mind.

While most are quite familiar with Donahue, Grenier, and Madrigal (so, I’m not spending a lot of time getting into their well-known credentials), don’t overlook Michael Gretler who hit .339 in somewhat limited action, but whose versatility – if not a full-time starter at 3B - will make him an option at C, 1B, 3B, the outfield, and DH and he could be a fixture in the lineup via cobbling together a number of starts at different positions.

It’s going to be a tough nut to crack to see middle-infield innings, but Andy Atwood put together a great summer for the Corvallis Knights (.308, 25 RBI, 19 SB) and would be a solid option to spell a starter or fill in (knock on wood) were there an injury.  The staff likes his ability to the point that he’s also been seeing time in the outfield as a possible path to playing time.

Outfield

The Beavers feature a wealth of experience in the outfield this year, with players that accounted for 141 of 162 outfield starts in 2016 returning (as well as regaining the services of Elliott Cary who made 22 outfield starts in 2015).   

The biggest area of improvement the Beavers can make is finding some stability and consistency in right field after seven different players made starts there last season.  Jack Anderson (33 starts) was a pleasant surprise last year after seeing very limited action in 2015, but will need to take another big step in his development if he hopes to be the primary starter again this season.  Of primary concern would be the very limited power Anderson exhibited (the lowest slugging percentage of any OSU player with more than 60 AB) in what is typically viewed as a position where you put a power hitter. 

Speaking of power, that’s where the discussion about Trevor Larnach begins.  After breaking a foot just prior to the start of the season, Larnach seemed to never catch up after the time he lost, batting just .157 in limited action (51 AB, 12 starts).  However, he is a player the scouts rave about as the prototype for a corner outfielder – 6’4”, 215 lbs. with a good arm and the ability to crush the baseball.  The question is, whether he is ready to carry over the awesome display he puts on during batting practice into hitting quality pitching in game situations. 

Easy segue from one “all the tools, high ceiling” guy to another, which takes me to Elliott Cary, the presumptive starter in center field.  Cary, as is well documented missed last season following elbow surgery, will look to build upon the latter part of his freshman season – ironically about the time he started noticing trouble in the injured elbow – where he seemed to get into a groove and started to display his considerable talent.  Coach Casey on the now often mentioned Sirius-XM interview spoke very positively about what the season away from playing did for Cary in terms of learning and appreciating the little ways great players can impact a game and perhaps (my words, not Coach’s) gave him a greater appreciation for baseball as a team game vs. the focus on individual production.

Cary’s injury and the departure of Jeff Hendrix pushed Kyle Nobach into the role of center fielder last season, but he should return to left field this year, which is a better fit.  After bursting onto the scene as an under the radar transfer in 2015, his offensive numbers dipped a bit last year, but I look for them to pick back up in 2017 without the stress of playing a bit out of position defensively.       

After looking a bit over-matched early in the year, Steven Kwan came on strong down the stretch and did a lot of little things like advancing runners with a sacrifice, taking an extra base when it was there for the taking, solid defense, etc.  What can I say, I really like the way the kid plays and look for him to take a step forward this year, and if something in this presumptive mix of outfield starters doesn’t pan out, I could see him earning time in CF, with Cary having the skill set to play the corners if needed, etc.  

Designated Hitter

Someone is going to be “odd man out” in terms of cracking the infield or outfield lineup, so it could be any number of guys talked about above. 

Newcomers

I wish I could spend more time on these guys, but honestly with the returning depth, I don’t see major playing time for any of the incoming class aside from Rutschman and by now OSU does such a good job with player bios that there’s not a ton I can add that you likely haven’t already seen. Now, these short blurbs is NOT to suggest there isn’t talent there – quite the contrary.  In fact, Casey has talked about the reality of redshirting kids this year that they absolutely believe will be contributors in the future.  While redshirting in football is used as a developmental tool and coaches will look more to “not burning a redshirt year unless necessary/they’ll play a lot”, in baseball you’ll see kids year in and year out get a handful of AB’s or a couple of pitching appearances that would be the football equivalent of a few reps during “garbage time” in a blowout.  I may be missing one, but the last healthy freshman redshirt season I can think of was Zack Reser in 2011. 

So, just some quick-hitters….

Familiar names: Joe Casey (OF) and Zach Zelesky (C) arrive as walk-ons after successful careers at Crescent Valley and Corvallis High School respectively – you’ve likely heard of their fathers Pat and Jim.

More good bloodlines: George Mendazona (IF, Ridgeview HS Redmond, OR) might be my favorite IF/OF recruit in this bunch, and not just because his grandfather was a pretty fair athlete at OSU (Jim Jarvis).  After a summer that saw him make the West Coast League All-Star game, in a lot of other seasons I’d likely be talking about him in the mix for a prominent and perhaps starting role. 

More in-state talent: Andy Armstrong (IF, West Salem) and Elliot Willy (OF, Bend) joined Rutschman, Mendazona, and pitcher Mitch Verberg as part of OSU’s haul landing 5 of the 7 top-rated in-state players. 

Just over the river: Vancouver (Mountain View HS) product Preston Jones has some pretty good bloodlines of his own, as you may remember his brother PJ playing at Wazzu. Also, a Vancouver guy with a pretty fair eye for talent you may have heard of (Jim Wilson) has spoken highly of him if you needed another endorsement of his talent beyond the regional and national rankings.

South of the (Oregon) border: Roseville (Woodcreek HS) infielder Tyler Malone and San Juan Capistrano (San Juan Hills HS) outfielder Jack McCarthy 

Final Thoughts/Throwing Darts at the Board

An exercise in futility, as I’m always way off, but one that I still find interesting is taking a shot at a projected batting order/lineup.  Here goes nothing, and I suspect we may all look back and laugh later…. 

  1. Donahue (2B/DH)
  2. Madrigal (SS/2B)
  3. Harrison (1B)
  4. Larnach (RF)
  5. Cary (CF)
  6. Rutschman (C)
  7. Gretler (3B/DH)
  8. Nobach (LF)
  9. Grenier (3B/SS)

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