Oregon baseball looks ahead to 2015 season
Oregon baseball head coach George Horton and select players spoke to the media on Wednesday about the upcoming 2015 season. It begins on Feb. 13 in Honolulu against Hawaii for a four-game series.
Here are the takeaways:
New look infield
With the exception of Mark Karaviotis at shortstop, the entire infield will feature a different face from the 2014 squad. With the return of utility man Scott Heineman, who missed most of last season with a torn labrum in his hip, the Ducks have plenty of depth.
Mitchell Tolman, who played third for most of the 2014 season, will be the starting second basemen. Tolman, a junior, was recruited as second basemen, but played elsewhere, as Aaron Payne, who graduated last spring, played in the position instead. Tolman led last year’s team with a .315 average and 49 RBIs. He was also named a Perfect Game preseason All-American heading into the 2015 campaign.
A.J. Balta’s injury has created a “two-horse race” at first base, said Horton, between Brandon Cuddy and Jakob Goldfarb.
Cuddy is the most “natural guy” off the bunch, said Horton. Cuddy transferred to the Ducks from Seminole State College ahead of the 2015 season and hit .297 with four home runs and 28 RBIs at the junior college level.
Matt Eureste, a junior from Houston, Texas, would be the starting third baseman if the season started today. He previously played at Texas Tech and San Jacinto Community College before transferring to Oregon. In his most recent season with San Jacinto CC, he hit for a .262 average with one home run and 21 RBIs.
Outfield is open
Phil Craig-St. Louis “is one of our top nine or ten hitters,” said Horton. Craig-St. Louis also transferred to the Ducks from Seminole State College. The Quebec, Canada native hit .352 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs last season, and he was named the Canadian Baseball Network Player of the Year. Craig-St. Louis said he just wants to be in the lineup, but feels the most comfortable in left field.
Austin Grebeck and Nick Catalano are battling for the starting center field spot and likely the leadoff spot as well. Grebeck batted .254 last season– just .004 points higher than Catalano.
Heineman, who will be in the lineup somewhere, can virtually play anywhere on the diamond. It seems that his most likely starting spot will be in the outfield. In 2013, Heineman hit .278 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.
Irvin, Krook to lead rotation
Both Cole Irvin and Matt Krook left last season with injuries that required Tommy John surgery. Now back and healthy, the two veterans should lead Oregon’s rotation.
Irvin is waiting to hear back from his doctor to see if he will take the mound in Oregon’s opening series against Hawaii, but he is near the end of his recovery. During his freshman season, the left-hander was 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA and struck out 60 in 116 innings. He was honored as a Baseball America, Perfect Game and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.
Krook, a sophomore from San Mateo, California, went down with an injury after going 2-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 45.1 innings last season. Krook, another lefty, is behind Irvin in the recovery process, but is expected to be ready in the not-so-distant future.
As for the rest of the rotation, there is still a question mark.
“Nobody has clearly identified themselves as the best guy,” Horton said.
Garrett Cleavinger to be closer
“He’ll be our closer,” Horton said.
Horton, who usually keeps an open mind about a newly freed position, couldn’t have been more clear about Cleavinger becoming the Ducks’ closer. The past two seasons Cleavinger has set-up the ninth inning for All-American Jimmie Sherfy and Jake Reed. The Baldwin City, Kansas native has a career 2.13 ERA in 76 innings with 106 strikeouts and a .895 WHIP.
Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @andrewbantly