What Canham can do, and is doing, atop OSU baseball program
CORVALLIS — Things will be different with Oregon State baseball when the Beavers open fall camp Sept. 9 at Goss Stadium in preparation for the 2020 season.
Three of the four coaches who guided the Beavers to the College World Series championship in 2018 are gone. Head coach Pat Casey is a senior associate athletic director at OSU. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie is now associate head coach at Arizona. Third-base coach Andy Jenkins has just accepted a coaching position at Cal State Fullerton.
Only assistant coach Pat Bailey — who served as interim head coach last season in Casey's absence — remains on a staff now headed by former OSU catching great Mitch Canham.
Canham, who turns 35 in September, has never coached at the college level. The former star of Oregon State's national championship clubs of 2006 and '07 spent 3 1/2 seasons as a manager in the Seattle Mariners' system following eight years in the minor leagues as a player. Canham was managing the Double-A Arkansas Travelers when he was hired by OSU in mid-June.
Yeskie, who served as Oregon State's pitching coach for 11 years, initially accepted Canham's offer to remain on the OSU staff with him. Five weeks later, he was gone for Tucson.
"It surprised me," Canham said from Seattle, where he was scouting potential recruits at a tournament. "My plan coming in was to do what I could to retain both 'Bailes' and Nate, with whom I have long-time relationships. They're both great coaches and people.
"I'm sorry to lose him. He told me he needed to go in a different direction with the opportunity he had."
Canham, Yeskie and Bailey were the finalists for the OSU head coaching job. It's no secret that Yeskie — who didn't respond to a phone call for this article — was bitterly disappointed to be bypassed in favor of Canham. It was nothing against Canham; Yeskie simply felt he was more deserving after his years of excellent service at the school.
Yeskie, who was making about $240,000 annually at Oregon State, got a bump-up in title to associate head coach and a pay raise at Arizona. He left Canham holding a bag at OSU during a time when the new skipper is maniacly busy getting established into his new role, visiting with current players and 2020 recruits and their families, scouting potential recruits, planning fall workouts and meeting with compliance officers, strength and conditioning staffers and trainers.
Now, Canham must make a critical hire. He said he's not going to be rushed into it.
"We have a lot of great applicants," he said. "It's a highly desired position. It's a huge role. We have always been very successful on the mound.
"I want to be thorough and find the right candidate. I want to make sure to give this process the respect it deserves. I will leave no stone unturned. I want to find who is going to best for the program. I'm not going to put a time line on it, but ideally we'll find the right candidate before we start (fall ball)."
Canham declined to discuss candidates, but keep a name in mind: Pete Woodworth.
Woodworth, 31, was Canham's pitching coach in each of the past four years in the Mariners' chain, including the past season with the Travelers. Woodworth also has experience at the college level, having served three years as pitching coach at Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Canham is opting for continuity, at least to a degree. Volunteer assistant Ryan Gipson, who coached first base last season, will return. Canham chose to retain Gipson — also a former teammate of his at OSU — over Jenkins. Canham said a decision hasn't been made yet on who will coach third base next season. Canham said he coached third in "a majority of the games" his past four years as a minor-league manager.
"I'm very comfortable over there," he said, "but it's early for us to make that decision right now."
Former Beavers Jake Rodriguez (director of operations) and Tyler Graham (director of player development) will return in the same capacities. Ex-Beaver Parker Berberet will be one of three undergrad assistant coaches, with the other two to be named.
Canham was introduced to analytics during his managing career in the minor leagues and will incorporate it into his coaching next season.
"We're going to be using newer technology as part of our player development process," he said, "and using the information from the measurables to get better. I'd like to think I'm a mix of old-school and new-school. Analytics isn't the driving force, but some of these tools can help us find a good process to make improvements or maintain strengths."
Among Oregon State's 13-player 2019 recruiting class, only pitcher Drew Gilbert defected. The left-hander from Stillwater, Minnesota, was given his release and is headed for Tennessee. The rest of the players have arrived for the summer bridge program or will shortly, and they'll all be on hand for the start of fall ball.
The incoming freshman class:
• Infielders Justin Boyd of Parker, Colorado, and Cesar Valero Sanchez of Calgary, Alberta.
• Infielder/outfielder Kyle Dernedde of Tualatin.
• Outfielders Micah McDowell of Halifax, Nova Scotia; Wyatt Young of Houston; Jacob Melton of Linn-Benton CC, and JD McLaughlin of Chandler, Arizona.
• Catcher/infielder Ben Steck of Mill Creek, Washington.
• Pitchers Will Frisch of Stillwater, Minnesota; Cooper Hjerpe of Capay, California, and Jack Washburn of Webster, Wisconsin.
• Pitcher/outfielder Kai Murphy of Mesa, Arizona.
"It's a phenomenal group," Canham said. "I'd heard about the guys before I got here. After having conversation with most of them, I'm extremely impressed by their attitude, their outlook, the bond they have and an eagerness to work together. They are all excited to be a Beav and to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship."
That's probably not going to happen immediately. Oregon State loses the national player of the year, catcher Adley Rutschman, along with all-Pac-12 shortstop Beau Philip, outfielder Tyler Malone and pitchers Brandon Eisert, Grant Gambrell and Bryce Fehmel to the pros.
Of the 10 players who got at least 100 at-bats last season, seven return — Alex McGarry, Ryan Ober, Joe Casey, Andy Armstrong, Kyler McMahan, Preston Jones and George Mendazona. But there isn't the marquee type of player of the likes of Rutschman, Michael Conforto, Nick Madrigal, Jacoby Ellsbury or Canham that the Beavers have had through most seasons over the past 15 years.
"That's what the fall is for — building that mentality," Canham said. "Every year, great leaders emerge."
Pitching should be the strong suit again, with returning arms such as Mitchell Verburg, Christian Chamberlain, Jake Mulholland, Joey Mundt, Andrew Walling, Jake Pfennigs and Nathan Burns. Left-hander Jordan Britton has transferred to Boise State for his senior year. And it seems doubtful that Kevin Abel, the Most Outstanding Pitcher of the 2018 CWS who sat out most of last season after Tommy John elbow surgery, will pitch again for the Beavers. He's likely to sit out next season and then sign a pro contract.
Canham said Abel has been in Corvallis this summer, providing leadership for some of Oregon State's young pitchers as he continues the rehab process.
"He's been really great about that," Canham said. "He's really, really special. We're not going to rush him back. I want to make sure he's healthy and put in a spot to have a very long career."
Pat Casey, who didn't want to be a distraction to Bailey's staff and mostly stayed away from the program last season, will be much more visible this year. Casey and Canham speak almost daily about the job and the program. He'll be at practice and at Goss much more often next season.
Since accepting OSU's head coaching job, Canham has hardly had time yet to breathe, much less buy a home in Corvallis for him and his family. He'll rent for now, but after signing a five-year, $1.75-million contract — base salary ranging from $300,000 next season to $400,000 in 2023-24, plus significant bonus opportunities — he should be able to afford comfortable living.
"I've been at this a little over a month, but I'm still of the same mind-set as far as my joy for it," Canham said. "I love being here. I love being around the people at Oregon State."
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