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Oregon Baseball Preview Part 1: Pitching Rotation Returns Talented But Injured Stars

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Oregon lost its top three pitchers from last season--but could still have the most talented starting staff in the conference.

Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. Early February means the start of college baseball season, and this weekend features Oregon's annual opening series against the Rainbows in Hawaii.

The Ducks were picked second in the conference in the preseason coaches' poll. That would seem amazing given that Oregon lost their top three starting pitchers from last year. But George Horton always manages to piece together an elite pitching staff. Given that two proven starters come back from Tommy John, that staff should, health permitting, have a couple of great anchors.

The first is Cole Irvin. Irvin was Oregon's ace in 2013, sporting a 12-3 record with a 2.48 ERA. Before his injury, Irvin had a low 90s fastball and worked in a nice curve and change. He has very good pitchability and demonstrated good control, walking only 22 batters in 116 innings. Irvin will start Friday in Honolulu, on a 35-pitch count after not having started in two years. But should things go smoothly, he should stretch out and be the ace of the staff come conference season.

Behind Irvin is sophomore Matt Krook. Krook was a first round pick of the Marlins, and looked really promising last year before his UCL tear. He showed absolutely elite stuff, striking out 60 batters in only 45 innings and posting a 1.79 ERA. He touched 94 with his fastball a season ago, and countered it with a mid-70s slider that had devastating movement. He had some control issues, with 19 walks, 11 wild pitches, and seven HBPs, but those should get better with experience. Krook may take a little more time to get healthy, but should be ready by conference play.

The Ducks will spend much of the early season searching for a Sunday starter, and there are many candidates: Jack Karraker, Trent Paddon, Connor Harber, Stephen Nogosek, and David Peterson. Peterson is especially intriguing, being the top high school prospect in the State of Colorado, who can already touch 92 and has a repertoire of four pitches. Peterson fractured his fibula last year in high school, but is ready to go. Horton already figured him for a spot in the rotation in the fall. Peterson was selected in the 28th round by Boston last year, but didn't go higher as he was pretty set on coming to Oregon rather than going pro.

Horton always puts together a great bullpen as well. Closer Jake Reed graduated, but Garrett Cleavinger looks ready to take his place after his impressive performance in the Cape Cod league last summer. The guys who don't win starting jobs and a few newcomers will fight for the remaining bullpen spots.

So long as everyone is healthy, an Irvin-Krook-Peterson rotation would be as talented a group as there is in the conference. All three are major league prospects, which should make for a lot of fun pitching performances at PK Park this spring.