Beavers, Ducks ready to get back into swing of college baseball
Oregon State returns eight starters from the team that was 5-9 when the 2020 season was halted.
But the most significant return is pitcher Kevin Abel. Scheduled to start the 2021 opener on Feb. 19 at Surprise, Arizona, against Kansas State, Abel has not pitched in a game in almost two years. The star of the 2018 OSU College World Series championship as a freshman, Abel underwent Tommy John surgery. (Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction) in 2019.
If healthy, Abel, who turns 22 Friday, Feb. 19, will be the ace of a deep pitching staff. But look for pitching roles to evolve. OSU's roster lists 20 pitchers, 16 of whom made the trip to Arizona. Second-year freshman Cooper Hjerpe, a lefty, and third-year righty Jake Pfennigs are the likely next two in the rotation. The Beavers have proven end-of-game arms in senior lefty Jake Mulholland and junior Mitchell Verburg.
Offensively, junior Kyler McMahan hit a Pac-12 best .439 in 2020's 14 games. Other top returning hitters are senior shortstop Andy Armstrong (.321) and sophomore infielder Jake Dukart (.323).
The Ducks return every key player from the team that finished 8-7 in Mark Wasikowski's abbreviated first season.
On the mound, fourth-year juniors Robert Ahlstrom and Cullen Kafka are the most experienced starters. Brett Walker, who led the Ducks staff last season (3-0, 0.84 ERA) and Peyton Fuller are other fourth-year Ducks who look to build on promising results in the shortened 2020 season.
Offensively, fifth-year Ducks Kenyon Yovan (.429/4HR/22 runs in 2020) and Gabe Matthews (.339) provide pop in the middle of a lineup that batted .276 in 15 2020 games, with the help of sophomore Aaron Zavala's .418 average.
Wasikowski said the Ducks have worked hard to get bigger and stronger. "You're going to see a physical group," Wasikowski said.
That includes third baseman Nick Bellafronto (6-0, 211), a graduate transfer from Stanford and freshman outfielder Robby Ashford (6-3, 225), who is splitting time between baseball and competing to be the football team's next quarterback.
The Ducks' opening series against Omaha was canceled because of COVID-19 contact tracing protocols within the Oregon program, but Wasikowski is hopeful his team can play a series against Seattle U, scheduled to open Feb. 25.
UCLA, ranked No. 2 in the USA Today coaches' poll, was the unanimous choice in the Pac-12 coaches' poll. Arizona (No. 19 USA Today) and Arizona State followed the Bruins, with Oregon State picked to finish fourth and Oregon seventh.
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