Baseball Season Preview

With depth at every position, the Ducks are finalizing their lineup for the upcoming 2015 season

After beginning the season on the road, the Ducks will open in PK Park February 19 against New Mexico State.

By UO Student Lili Wagner

After going 44-20 last year and playing in the NCAA Regionals, the University of Oregon baseball team is ready to take to the diamond for the program’s seventh year under the leadership of head coach George Horton.

Entering 2015, the Ducks return six starting position players from last year’s team. Three players—junior second baseman Mitchell Tolman, senior catcher Shaun Chase, and junior pitcher Cole Irvin—have been named preseason All-Americans, and the Ducks rank No. 15 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll and No. 20 in the Baseball America preseason Top 25.

Junior Scott Heineman has proved versatile in
the infield in preseason training.

“We have excellent depth, position-player wise,” said Horton. “It will probably be similar to our top 12 in years past, but the difference is it that 12 through 20 are viable, real guys we think could play in a lot of college programs. I couldn’t say that about all the guys we’ve had in the past.”

Due to sophomore first baseman A.J. Balta’s recent knee injury the infield line-up is still being decided, but with versatile players such as junior infielder Scott Heineman in play, Horton doesn’t seem anxious about the reshuffling.

In regard to hitting, Horton remarked, “It’s going to be a real battle who’s going to be the top nine when we get to March, when we get to evaluate the guys fairly with uniforms on and everything else.

“We’ve got four very competent catchers and we’re deep in that position,” Horton continued, mentioning the possibility of seeing some of the catching staff on the mound.

The pitching rotation is still being decided, with five able pitchers in the running. Horton said he has seen instances of brilliance in all of his pitchers, but is looking for consistency. “The most consistent has been Garret Cleavinger, and he’ll be our closer. He served as a freshman and sophomore as that set-up guy for Jimmie (Sherfy) and Jake (Reed), and we think he’s ready to be that guy you hand the ball to in the ninth inning that gets it done.”

The Ducks face a challenging season, with strong competition from UCLA, with its strong pitching, Arizona State, with its good personnel, and Stanford, with its young pitching in the Pac-12 Conference. Horton was also careful not to discredit defending back-to-back Pac-12 champion Oregon State, saying, “No shock that it looks like it’s going to be a competitive race as always.”

As they have done every year since 2010, the Ducks will make their first appearance of the year in sunny Hawaii for a four-game series against the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. After that series, the Ducks return to Eugene for their first home game at PK Park February 19, facing New Mexico State.

“The starting gate’s open and away we go,” Horton chuckled.