Kyle Kasser can hit the ball deep, but he has a hard time hitting it over the fence.
Going into his junior season, the Oregon infielder had yet to hit a home run. He was infamous for hitting deep fly balls that got swallowed up at the warning track, about 15 feet from the outfield fence. His teammates jokingly called them “Kasser Bombs.”
“He’s a guy that leaves a lot on the warning track,” head coach George Horton said.
But on March 3, in the team’s home opener against Mississippi State, Kasser in the bottom of the fifth inning crushed a pitch deep into the outfield. He expected it to be another long out, but this time the ball sailed over the fence for a home run. The Ducks took a 1-0 lead and ended up winning by that score.
“To see (the ball) go up into the air and just fly, it was awesome,” starting pitcher David Peterson said after the game. “It’s crazy how that ended up being the difference in the game.”
It was Kasser’s first home run since sixth grade.
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” Kasser said.
Kasser is on a hot streak that has Oregon’s offense firing on all cylinders as the Ducks (13-5) enter conference play. As the leadoff hitter and an everyday starter, Kasser has a .333 batting average and leads the team with 23 hits.
“I’m feeling really good right now,” Kasser said. “I’m just trying to stay aggressive, and when I get my pitch, just trying not to miss it.”
Kasser got off to a slow start this season, with only four hits in his first 23 at-bats. But he’s been on a tear ever since, hitting .413 in the last 11 games, of which Oregon has won nine.
“I felt like I was having good at-bats, I just wasn’t getting the results,” Kasser said. “My confidence stayed up and I didn’t let it get to me.”
Last season, Kasser was still collecting lots of hits, but his batting average (.266) and on-base percentage (.365) were low. This season both are up by about .070 points.
He credits his success to his work in the offseason taking increased batting practice against left-handed pitchers. It’s common for lefty batters, like Kasser, to struggle against lefty pitchers.
Since replacing Seattle Mariners draftee Austin Grebeck in the leadoff spot this season, Kasser has had a 17-game on-base streak and recorded at least two hits in nine different games. The highlight of his season was his solo home run against Mississippi State, part of a 3-hit night.
Prior to that, the highlight of Kasser’s career came during his freshman season, when he drew a full-count, bases-loaded walk to beat the Oregon State Beavers, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth.
It’s unreasonable to assume that Kasser’s hot streak will last all season; with the ebbs and flows of any baseball season, it’s likely his numbers will regress toward the mean. But with his boost in power and improvement against lefty pitchers, maybe more of his “Kasser Bombs” will turn into home runs.
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter: @zlast3445