Preview: Oregon readies for 2016 season with high expectations

A season ago, the Ducks finished sixth in the Pac-12 with a 16-14 conference record, 38-25 overall and an early exit at the NCAA Regional Tournament.

Last Wednesday, the season objective was revealed immediately:

“We are going to Omaha,” junior starting pitcher Cole Irvin said to media. “I want to make that statement clear.”

And there is good reason to believe this Ducks team will be the first to reach Omaha since the program was reinstated in 2009.

In addition to Irvin, sophomores Matt Krook and David Peterson bolster what could be the best weekend rotation Oregon has featured. First-year pitching coach Mitch Karraker labeled the three lefties all with first- or second-round potential as pitchers that could go in next year’s MLB draft.

“The potential is unbelievable,” first-year pitching coach Mitch Karraker said. “We’re really excited about what it could be. We still have a lot of work to do. We need to get the results in.”

The back end of the bullpen seems to be solidified too. Junior Cooper Stiles will likely set-up closer Stephen Nogosek, who has been honored twice this preseason with All-American recognition.

Of course, there are freshmen arms from Oregon’s N0. 8-ranked recruiting class that head coach George Horton and Karraker plan to send to the mound. That group is highlighted by lefty Kyle Robeiol and right handers Isaiah Carranza and Jacob Bennet.

The offense will be without Mitchell Tolman, who led Oregon in nearly every offensive category last season. That said, freshmen who have impressed Horton include Matt Kroon and Travis Moniot, two infielders selected in the 2015 MLB draft out of high school.

“The infusion of that youth and talent into the returning guys looks like it could be a really successful mix as we move forward,” Horton said. “We’ve got a lot of jobs that are still out there.”

Oregon ranks No. 14 in the Baseball America preseason poll. Conference foes Oregon State (No. 5), California (No. 8) and UCLA (N0. 10) rank better. USC (No. 16) is the only other Pac-12 program ranked in the same poll.

Oregon will face five teams ranked in Baseball America’s preseason top 25. Its first currently-ranked opponent will come on March 11, when it faces No. 20 Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi, for a three-game series. It’s the first and only ranked non-conference opponent Oregon will face before Pac-12 play.

For the Ducks, in-conference baseball begins March 18 when Utah visits PK Park. It’ll be an early test as Oregon plays the meat of its conference schedule in April. The always intriguing Civil War series will be in Corvallis this season, but not before the Beavers drive south to Eugene twice for out-of-conference meetings.

If the Ducks are to have a date with Omaha in June, it’s going to require a lot more than confidence. Yet it looks to be a talented Oregon baseball team in 2016.

“The only thing we haven’t done is walk the walk,” Horton said.

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Andrew Bantly

Andrew Bantly

Andrew is a sports reporter contributing to Oregon football and baseball. The Bay Area-native hit his first (and only) official home run at age 12. You may have recently seen him on pink crutches.