By Jim • 

Sports Fan: OSU baseball remains stocked with talent

Although the Oregon State baseball team faltered in the regional playoffs in Corvallis, the Beavers’ players and coaching staff should look back on the recently completed season with fond memories.

After all, the club captured its second consecutive Pac-12 title and earned its eighth post-season appearance in the last nine years. That’s an enviable record, and Beavers’ boss Pat Casey, his assistants and players should be credited for their success in the last decade.

But the question still lingers: What happened to the Beavers’ bats in the last few outings of the season? Even the All-American Michael Conforto couldn’t find the groove during the waning weeks, looking perhaps too hard for walks instead of swinging the bat aggressively.

Dylan Davis, OSU’s (and the Pac-12’s) RBI leader, had his problems, too, as the run production came almost to a screeching halt. After averaging 6.5 runs prior to the team slump, the production fell off to 2.4 runs per game over the last 12 contests.

Did the Beavers peak early? Were some of the team’s leading hitters feeling extra pressure during the last segment of a 59-game season and, like Conforto, taking too many pitches looking for the perfect offering? Remember, OSU lost its final series of the conference season to USC, which finished only fifth in the Pac-12, and I recall Conforto looking at a perfect third strike for a backward K at least once or twice.

To some degree, the Beaver hitters were too tentative at the plate in the last few series of the season, and in post-season play, the club scored only 12 runs in five games while OSU’s pitching staff continued to do its part to move on to the super regionals — with the exception of the 14-2 loss to UC Irvine in the second game of the Corvallis regional.

Pitching ace Jace Fry recently signed with the Chicago White Sox, giving up his final season of eligibility. A $760,000 bonus was apparently too alluring to pass up to return for his senior year.

Fellow All-American Ben Wetzler, the consistent Friday night starter, is also gone, albeit for a lot fewer shekels than Fry, as well as junior Michael Conforto, who was drafted 10th overall by the New York Mets.

Outfielder Dylan Davis will also turn professional, foregoing his senior year at OSU. Ace reliever Scott Schultz, who finished his career with 18 saves, will also be gone.

And, according to some baseball insiders, several of Oregon State’s current recruits will never see duty in a Beavers’ uniform, like College of Nevada Southern outfielder Grant Heyman (.377 BA; eight homers; 24 doubles; 43 RBI), but will instead sign professional contracts. But that’s the nature of recruiting the best high school baseball players — you win some and you lose some. Just down the road in Eugene, several of coach George Horton’s recruits have opted for the professional ranks, too, and won’t get to wear the most current Ducks’ uniforms, some of the most colorful in college baseball.

The good news is that several solid Beavers’ players will return for another season of Pac-12 play including right-handed pitcher Andrew Moore, who should earn the number one starter position for OSU. Catcher Logan Ice, who threw out 18 of 34 runners attempting to steal and who gained the respect of his older teammates as a rookie this season, is also returning as well as third baseman Caleb Hamilton and shortstop Trevor Morrison. Leadoff hitter Jeff Hendrix, who played high school ball at nearby Santiam Christian, will return to patrol his centerfield position. Hendrix, a sophomore, hit .351, 4th in the conference.
Of the current players returning for the 2015 campaign, potential pitching starters include Chandler Eden and Jake Thompson along with recruits Gage Hinsz (also drafted) and Drew Rasmussen. But the team will miss two of the nation’s best left-handers, Wetzler and Fry.

To replace Conforto in left and Davis in right, Casey will take a good look at returnees Michael Howard, Billy King and Caylen Clardy along with recruits Elliot Clay and Grant Heyman (also drafted).

So, yes, there will be big holes to fill with Conforto (.345 BA; 56 RBI), Davis (.283 BA; 64 RBI), Wetzler (12-1; 0.87 ERA) and Fry (11-2; 1.80 ERA) moving on. But the Beavers’ cupboard won’t be bare, and Casey’s ability to develop players will be a big factor in the 2015 club’s success. And since some of the 2015 recruits were drafted in the late rounds, perhaps they’ll decide to give college baseball a try and delay professional careers for a season or two. The recruits have until July 18 to decide: black and orange in Corvallis or, for most, a stint in the minor leagues.

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