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By KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/First-yeat coach Mitch Canham likes the work, progress he saw in the fall

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Sophomore Matt Gretler is one of the returnees with experience who will have a shot to start on the infield for the Beavers.With first-year Oregon State baseball coach Mitch Canham, looking back at his first fall practice with the Beavers and ahead to a 2020 season that begins Feb. 14 against New Mexico in Surprise, Arizona. ...

• Through the last dozen or so years of the Pat Casey era, Oregon State would always return a major presence or two in the batting order. Not so this season.

The only returning position player who hit better than .270 or three or more home runs last season is junior first baseman/outfielder Alex McGarry, who started hot, then slumped to a .293 average with eight homers, 29 RBIs and a .401 on-base percentage.

Canham will need to get offensive firepower from relatively unproven sources, be they returnees or recruits added for the upcoming season. Even so, the former All-America catcher who helped the Beavers to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07 sounds nary a word of discouragement.

"Off of what I saw this fall and how I watched them work, identifying what we're good at and being really good at it will be our focus," Canham said. "Do I think we're going to hit hundreds of home runs? No. That may not be one of our big strengths, but we have a lot of guys who have pop.

"We're in a good place. The growth the position players have shown with the bat and on the bases is trending in the right direction. They're confident. Getting in the (batter's) box has a lot to do with confidence. When you're putting in the work and you know you can be successful, results will follow. We've made big strides there."

Even so, Canham conceded, "The only time you're really going to know what will happen is when the season starts and we find out what we can do. It's always different competing in the fall than in the real season."

So with a promising pitching staff and a defense expected to be a strength, the 2020 Beavers may be a throwback to some of Casey's "small-ball" clubs. The players who produce consistently at the plate are the ones most likely to earn the starting jobs.

• Asked which veterans emerged as team leaders in the spring, Canham mentioned junior catcher Troy Claunch, senior infielder Andy Armstrong and junior infielder Richie Mascarenas, the latter a transfer from Linn-Benton Community College.

Troy Claunch"Troy did really well this fall when the ball was in his hand or a bat, but also in leading in the clubhouse," Canham said. "I would put Andy in the same category. Richie just joined us this fall and is already a key guy, showing others the importance of work ethic."

• Which freshmen caught Canham's eye? He mentioned a couple of outfielders — 6-4, 185-pound J.D. McLaughlin of Chandler, Arizona, and 6-2, 180-pound left-handed swinging Micah McDowell of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"J.D. has some juice with the bat and some arm strength in the outfield," Canham said. "Micah walked into fall ball ready to compete. He can run, he can defend, he has great hand-eye (coordination). He did a lot of really cool stuff this fall. He has definitely jumped into the mix."

• Leading candidate to back up Claunch and get some playing time at catcher is Cole Hamilton, a 5-8, 185-pound sophomore transfer from Linn-Benton. Hamilton is recovering from off-season Tommy John elbow surgery and did not participate in the fall.

"Cole is very talented, a good left-handed bat," Canham said. "He has big-time energy, works his tail off. He and Troy do a great job pushing one another."

• Veterans Armstrong, Jake Dukart, Jake Harvey and Matt Gretler have the inside edge on the starting jobs at second base, third base and shortstop, but Masarenas and freshmen Justin Boyd, Cesar Valero Sanchez and Kyle Dernedde will get their shots.

"Boyd had a really good fall," Canham said. "We have a high projection for Kyle, too. I'm impressed with how he goes about his work."

McGarry and junior Ryon Ober will vie for time at first base, perhaps joined by Gretler and Sanchez.

Veterans Joe Casey, Preston Jones and Kyler McMahan will get first looks in the outfield.

"In the fall, I noticed how much Joe's body has changed, how strong he has gotten," Canham said of the 6-foot, 190-pound Casey, a junior and the son of ex-OSU coach Pat Casey.

Also in the mix in the outfield is junior Jacob Melton, a 6-3, 185-pound left-handed sophomore who hit .365 with 16 stolen bases for Linn-Benton last season.

"He floats in the outfield," Canham said. "Before you know it, he has covered a ton of ground. And he has some tools on offense."

• Canham has been impressed with first-year pitching coach Rich Dorman.

"Coach Dorman is doing a phenomenal job helping his guys get better," Canham said. "He holds them accountable. Everyone communicates a little differently, and a coach has to be able to connect with each of them. He does a great job with that.

"Our pitchers made big improvements across the board through the fall, especially once we got done with the (two practice) games and the scrimmages and did more individual work."

• The biggest question is who starts, and who comes out of the bullpen?

The four starters the first two weeks of the season could be junior left-hander Christian Chamberlain, junior right-hander Nathan Burns and sophomore right-handers Jake Pfennigs and Joey Mundt.

Jake MulhollandSenior left-hander Jake Mulholland appears to be a good bet to be the closer again.

"Chamberlain and 'Mully' are two lefty arms who I'm very confident with the ball in their hands," Canham said. "I can see great things from them next season."

Junior right-hander Mitchell Verburg is another key piece, either as a starter or out of the bullpen. Other who will get a good look are 6-2, 220-pound sophomore left-hander Andrew Walling, 6-0, 185-pound right-handed JC transfer Reid Sebby and five freshmen — 6-2, 190-pound right-hander Jack Washburn, 6-0, 220-pound right-hander Will Fritsch, 5-8, 155-pound left-hander Kai Murphy, 6-2, 175-pound left-hander Cooper Hjerpe and 6-5, 245-pound right-hander AJ Lattery.

• Small-group practice begins Jan. 6, will full-team workouts starting on Jan. 24.

There will be one change in the Beavers' front-office personnel. Director of player development Tyler Graham has left to take a position in the Texas Rangers' organization.

"We'll announce a replacement in the next couple of weeks," Canham said. "Tyler will be missed."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers


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