Cole Irvin guarantees Oregon baseball will make College World Series
Redshirt junior pitcher Cole Irvin said with certainty the Ducks will make it to the College World Series in 2016, something they haven’t done in the seven seasons since the baseball program’s reinstatement.
“We are going to Omaha this year,” Irvin said. “I want to make that statement clear.”
Since 2009, the Ducks have gone 225-147-1, made the NCAA regional tournament five times and the Super Regional once in 2012, when they came within one game of a World Series berth.
But Irvin exuded confidence in regards to the upcoming 2016 season, mentioning “Omaha” about as many times as Peyton Manning yells it in a football game, during his interview with the media Jan. 27.
“This year is unlike any other year that I’ve been here, and even the years before that,” Irvin said. “The weekend rotation is incredible, and the back of our bullpen is equally as sharp.”
Irvin called Oregon’s pitching staff this season the “best pitching staff in the country.”
The starting rotation will feature three tall, hard-throwing left-handers including Irvin, redshirt sophomore Matt Krook and sophomore David Peterson. Junior side-armer Cooper Stiles will likely pitch the eighth innings as the set-up man for junior Stephen Nogosek, who will take on the closer role.
Junior shortstop Mark Karaviotis and senior outfielder Phil Craig-St. Louis were thrilled by the idea of playing weekend series behind three starting pitchers who all have the potential to be Friday starters.
“I think those guys are really going to carry us where we need to go,” Karaviotis said.
It’s unclear yet who will be the Friday-night starter, but Krook appears to be the man to beat. He missed the entire 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but said he feels great physically and is “almost to 100 percent now.” He said he plans to pick up right where he left off as a freshman in 2014, when he struck out 60 batters in 45.1 innings with just 22 hits allowed and a 1.79 ERA.
“I’m planning on going 100 percent right out of the gate,” Krook said.
Irvin, who missed the entire 2014 season with the same ulnar collateral ligament injury as Krook, returned to action last season a shell of his freshman self. As a freshman in 2013, Irvin finished with a 12-3 record and 2.48 ERA after throwing 116.0 innings, the second-most in school history. In 2015, he went 2-5 with a 4.10 ERA in 16 starts.
Irvin took three months off over summer to regroup. He said his biggest problem last season was being too focused on his MLB Draft stock, which proved to be a distraction. His draft stock ended up falling — he was picked in the 32nd round of the 2015 MLB Draft compared to the 29th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, out of high school — and he declined to sign professionally.
“Today I’m a better ballplayer, I think,” Irvin said. “I can mentally get through pretty much anything now.”
Manager George Horton wasn’t quite as confident as Irvin was about getting to Omaha this season.
“Not to disagree with Cole, but I’ve taken that approach from where I used to coach, where we were making that trip pretty frequently, and tried to instill that into our culture here. And the guys have kind of bought into it; the only thing we haven’t done is walked the walk.
“It’s great that Cole thinks that way, and hopefully that will show up when he’s in a real uniform, competing against other quality hitters and pitchers,” Horton said. “Saying ‘going to Omaha’ is one thing, but it’s a lot of work, and that’s what makes it so special.”