Head coach Mark Wasikowski and the Oregon baseball team were admittedly disappointed after their opening series against Omaha was canceled last weekend. But the team kept their heads up, and, after nearly a year off, will finally play competitive baseball again when they take on Seattle in a four-game series starting Thursday, Feb. 25.
“We had a very good weekend, and the group’s motivated,” Wasikowski said.
Wasikowski said he understands that a big part of this season is following the COVID-19 protocols, and with the ongoing pandemic, there are no shortcuts.
“These protocols are tough,” he said. “And no, you’re not allowed to go out and have a normal life and all that kind of stuff. If you want to play baseball, that’s just part of what you have to accept.”
While it’s a big commitment to not go out and do things that most people would consider normal, Wasikowski expressed confidence in his players as the season gets rolling this week.
“I haven’t thrown any stones at my team for what happened this last weekend in terms of ‘Hey guys, it’s your fault,’” he said. “That would be unfair. We’re not doing that. I back my players, and my players understand the responsibility.”
The Ducks are putting a product on the field this year that features a crowded clubhouse, but with that comes added depth in multiple areas.
Catcher, first base, second base and shortstop are all set, with Jack Scanlon, Gabe Matthews, Gavin Grant and Josh Kasevich locked into those roles, respectively. While infield defense was more of a concern last year, Wasikowski said that it’s not an issue this season.
Freshman Scanlon, who had a .400 OBP in his first taste of college baseball last year, is ready to take on a leadership role behind the plate, according to Wasikowski, who said that his throwing arm has improved as well.
“I know what to expect, and just go out there and play with my hair on fire,” Scanlon said.
The one infield position that’s still up for grabs is third base, which is down to Sam Novitske and Stanford transfer Nick Bellafronto. Wasikowski said that while Bellafronto beat out Novitske in the fall, Novitske “probably has a nose over him” now.
In the outfield, the Ducks have two freshmen who can run down the ball in center field, Robby Ashford and Bryce Boettcher.
“If there’s a weakness that I haven’t been especially happy with in some of the scrimmages, it’s the fact that the challenging ball in the outfield hasn’t been caught enough,” Wasikowski said.
In the corner outfield spots, they have Tanner Smith, Aaron Zavala and Anthony Hall, all of whom have impressed with their bats. Wasikowski said that Hall is a work in progress in center, but an above average corner outfielder.
The Ducks also acquired an abundance of pitching depth, including freshmen Isaac Ayon and Rio Britton who are going to start in the bullpen, but could find themselves starting games as the season goes on. Wasikowski said that he’s going to be careful not to overwork any arms and that fans can expect to see most of their pitching staff this weekend.
Wasikowski hasn’t set a rotation yet, as he’s waiting to get today’s test results back before he makes any final calls there.
Wasikowski has continuously stressed how physical and big this year’s group is, and how fans are going to see a lot of size on the field. That being said, he’s not going for a “home run or bust” type of approach.
“We’re not into the trend of swinging out of your ass and strike out a bunch of times in a game,” he said. “That’s called fun to watch; that’s not fun to watch for me.”
With a bolstered team all around, the Ducks have their eyes set on some hefty goals as they take the field on Thursday.
“The bottom line is that these kids in the Oregon Duck locker room right now haven’t played in a postseason game yet…,” Wasikowski said. “I think we can get back to that, but we need to prove it on the field first.”