How much can you expect from a first-year program? Not much and after a surprising 8-7 start, Oregon didn't show much last season. With head coach George Horton leading the way though, no team will stagnate and it appears as if the stars are aligned for the Ducks to be respectable in just their second year. A series of events, some a result of fortune and some a result of hard work, have positioned the Ducks well for an impressive 2010 campaign.
Before the Ducks begin play in 2010, there is already some excitement for the program as PK Park nears completion. With over 4,000 seats, eight suites, a videoboard and every amenity a college program can want, PK Park gives Horton and the Ducks an excellent foundation from which to build from. What will certainly be the best stadium in the Pac-10, PK Park is a testament to the growth of college baseball, an appropriate representative of a program hell-bent on growth.
Two consecutive outstanding recruiting classes have stocked the cupboard with plenty of talent. The issue with a second year program is that no players have more than a year of Division-1 experience. They do have one player who is an outright, proven stud though. The Ducks caught a break with junior Drew Gagnier, who chose not to go pro after being drafted in the 14th round. The righthander held opponents to a .137 batting average and struck out nine batters per nine innings, while maintaining a 2.70 ERA. Gagnier provides the Ducks a man out of the bullpen that can go multiple innings when need be to put a lock on any game in the final innings. He will be complimented in the bullpen by sophomore Scott McGouch and senior Ryan Fleckenstrin, a righthander and a lefthander who will give Horton options in relief.
Sophomore Tyler Anderson gives Oregon a talented arm on weekends, bringing a high-80's fastball to go along with a great breaking ball and an improving cutter that causes righthanders problems. The southpaw was just 2-9 with a 6.26 ERA last year as a freshman, but did pick up the win in the program's first win since it was revived and the coaching staff has spoken very highly about how much stronger he got in the offseason, which they believe will result in more repeatable mechanics.
One of the brighter spots on the mound for the Ducks will be freshman Christian Jones, a talented lefty from Danville, CA. Jones throws from a three-quarters slot and that gives him good late movement on his fastball, which sits around 90 mph. His arm slot also gives him an outstanding slurve that will be a legitimate strikeout pitch from day one. Sophomore Madison Boer will also get a chance to start after a rough freshman season in which he started 10 games. Boer finished just 1-8 last year with an ERA of 6.97 and 4/5 walks per nine innings. Improved command will be the key for Boer and the Ducks, who will need exceptional pitching to make up for a poor lineup.
Last season, Oregon finished dead last among Division 1 teams with just 2.8 runs scored per game. Their .227 team batting average was 38 points below the next closest Pac-10 and their .29 home runs per game were 283rd out of 288 Pac-10 teams. Needless to say, the Oregon offense was anemic to the tenth degree and will need to step it up if the Ducks want to climb out of the Pac-10 cellar.
Senior Curtis Raulinaitis was the Ducks' top hitter in 2009 with a .291 batting average and his 16 stolen bases gives Oregon some good speed on the bases, a key for a team with little power. Senior Jett Hart will join Raulinaitis in the outfield and look to improve upon his 2009 season when he hit .207 with a pair of homers and 10 stolen bases in 36 starts. Freshman Andrew Mendenhall is a guy worth keeping an eye on. Although the outfielder is a ways off and may not see too much of the field this year, he has an incredibly high ceiling with a strong arm, good legs and a very quick bat.
Another intriguing incoming freshman is second baseman Jack Marder, a 30th round pick by the Diamondbacks, who has drawn comparisons to Dustin Pedroia for his playing better than his tools would indicate he should and for being what many would call "a scrapper." Marder could be joined by fellow newcomer Stephen Kaupang in the infield, who looks like he will win the third base job and the transfer who played his freshman year at San Diego and sophomore season at Cypress College. Kaupang hit .438 at Cypress College with 12 home runs to earn a spot on the All-Southern California team and will be heavily depended on to provide power. Sophomore KC Serna returns to play shortstop, but will need to hit better than .228, although he did lead the team with three home runs last year.
One of the more enticing games on the national schedule will be the Ducks' season opener on Friday when they play Cal St. Fullerton in Horton's return to his former stomping grounds. It will be a tough go early on for Oregon with 11 of their first 13 on the road, although the grand opening of PK Park will be an excellent one with Washington in town. The Ducks' final nine games before the beginning of Pac-10 play are versus Seattle, Nevada and Southern Utah, giving Oregon a chance to load up on wins and carry some momentum into conference play. While Oregon is still a year or two away from getting to .500 in the Pac-10, the Ducks have a chance at hitting double digit conference wins which would be an amazing accomplishment for a second-year program in the Pac-10.