The Oregon Ducks baseball team was picked to finish 5th in the Pac-12 in the pre-season Coaches poll released last week, but it’s fair to say the 2022 team has its sights set quite a bit higher. After finishing one game out in the Pac-12 race and hosting a regional final in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Oregon comes into the 2022 season with high hopes. The Ducks return 10 field players and 9 pitchers from last year’s squad, which went 39 – 16 overall and 20 – 10 in the Pac-12. The 2022 regular season schedule is highly favorable, with the Ducks playing 35 games at home and only 21 on the road. Oregon has an excellent chance to improve on their 39-win season from a year ago, compete again for the Pac-12 Championship and to avenge the disappointment of the regional final loss to LSU.
Player Development Is Key
Oregon looks to replace some outstanding talent, including 3 players who were taken in the MLB “First-Year Player” draft last summer – infielder Aaron Zavala, and pitchers Robert Ahlstrom and Cullen Kafka. Zavala was the 2nd pick of the 2nd round by the Texas Rangers. The team welcomes about a dozen Freshmen and talented transfers. The new and returning players look to benefit from the Coaching Staff’s emphasis on player development. During a season preview for the media, Coach Mark Wasikowski said that player development has been, and will be, a top priority for the Ducks. He credited player development for getting Oregon to the regional final last season and believes the on-going work will continue to pay dividends in 2022.
Despite losing some talented players from last year’s Bullpen, Oregon should have a strong pitching staff in 2022. Wasikowski used the phrase “big arm” when discussing several of the team’s pitchers. The Ducks return nine players who pitched at least one inning in 2021, and also added talent. While final decisions have yet to be made, Wasikowski singled out Isaac Ayon (5.21 ERA), R.J. Gordon (4.19) who had some mid-week and spot starts in 2021, and Andrew Mosiello (4.12) as potential “weekend starters.” The Coach also said that Adam Maier, who joined Oregon from the University of British Columbia, where he was mostly an infielder, could be in the mix for starting spots. Maier spent summer ball working on pitching and improved enough to warrant additional work during Fall and Winter workouts. The main question mark for the pitching staff is the “unbalanced” nature of the Bullpen. The team is loaded with righthanders but can bring only two southpaws to the mound, one of whom is exclusively a closer. Typically, teams might try to bring a left-handed pitcher in against left-handed batters in relief. Wasikowski, however, noted that he believes the depth of hard-throwing righties available will allow success with both long and short relief stints.
Oregon will also enjoy a lot of depth in potential battery-mates for the quickly developing pitching staff. Jack Scanlon, who started 46 games in 2021 but was injured in the regionals, is back from that injury. Josiah Cromwick also returns from injury. Anson Aroz, a Freshman who was the #2 rated prospect in California, Bennett Thompson, a Freshman from South Medford High, and Logan Paustian, a transfer from Arizona State round out the loaded catchers room and give the coaching staff some options.
The 2021 Ducks were an excellent offensive squad, breaking several team records for offensive production. Oregon returns only two players who hit more than .300 last season. Sophomore Josh Kasevich led last year’s Ducks with 50 runs batted in, while Tanner Smith and Anthony Hall added 36 each. The team will feature 7 players with 2021 on-base percentages at .350 or higher. The Ducks also return some speed on the basepaths when it’s required. Sam Novitske was perfect in 10 attempted steals in 2021 and Kasevich added 7. Overall, Oregon stole 52 bases last year and was successful on 77 percent of attempts. Oregon also returns four players who drew more than 20 walks last season. The team’s on-base percentage was .392.
Oregon’s defense committed only 40 total errors in 2021 while its opponents committed 61. Returners Jack Scanlon and Anthony Hall led the team a year ago with .993 and .987 fielding percentages. Scanlon led returners with 379 put-outs and 31 assists from behind the plate.
PK PARK CHANGES
Oregon’s home stadium received a small facelift in the offseason, including the installation of new turf and some changes to the outfield fence line. The stadium will feature a new scoreboard and new videoboard. Coach Wasikowski noted that the fence will now be a uniform 6’6” in height. This should allow for more exciting athletic plays for outfielders who can now jump and catch a potential home run ball at the top of the fence. Coach also noted that balls hit over an outfielder’s head that would jump over the previous fence are now likely to hit the fence and rebound into the field of play, leading to more chances for triples or to score a runner from first. Wasikowski described those as “the most exciting play in the game.” Previously, PK Park had gained a reputation as a “Pitcher’s Park” due to its large outfield dimensions and short right-field porch. With the right- and left-field fences now at an approximately equal distance from home plate and a uniform height, some of that reputation may fade.
Oregon opens the season on Friday, February 18 against San Diego on the road. After four games in sunny Southern California, the Ducks return for their home opener and a 4-game series against St. John’s beginning on Friday, February 25. The Pac-12 season for Oregon begins on March 11 with a 3-game series on the road with the Stanford Cardinal. The Pac-12 will also institute a postseason tournament after the 2022 regular season.
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