Pac-12 baseball preview: Oregon aims to rekindle former glory

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During a four-year stretch from 2012 to 2015, Oregon baseball established itself as one of the Pac-12’s elite programs. The Ducks never quite captured a national championship, but in that stretch, they compiled a record of 176-80 while sending flocks of prospects to the pros.

Over the last few years, they’ve yet to recapture that same level of prominence. Since 2015, Oregon has failed to qualify for the tournament, and just last season, the program finished with a losing record for the first time since the disastrous 2009 season.

Oregon has several solid, young pieces, including prospects who could wind up hearing their names called in June. But with a lack of depth on both sides of the ball, the Ducks may be left with more questions than answers.

Offense

Oregon is coming off a season in which it was statistically the worst offensive team in the Pac-12 by a large margin. Last season, the Ducks ranked dead last in batting average, slugging percentage, hits and home runs, while finishing second to last in on-base percentage.

It won’t help Oregon that it’ll be losing Kyle Kasser, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 30th round of the MLB draft. Kasser, an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2018, finished with the second-highest batting average (.278) and second-highest on-base percentage (.381) on the team and tied for the team lead in hits (60).

Losing Kasser will sting, but the Ducks will have the privilege of retaining redshirt senior Jakob Goldfarb, who is fresh off being named an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention.

After sitting out the 2017 season with a foot injury, Goldfarb emerged as Oregon’s most dangerous weapon at the plate.

In 2018, Goldfarb led the team in batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.397), slugging percentage (.487) and steals (14) while tying for the team lead in home runs (6). Goldfarb was also a dangerous weapon in the outfield, tying the program record for outfield assists in a season with seven.

Assuming Goldfarb puts together another solid season, he’ll likely end next year having cracked the program’s top 10 in doubles and walks.

Joining Goldfarb next season is a fellow All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in junior Spencer Steer, who was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians in the 29th round.

Selected to the publication Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman All-American Team in 2017, Steer continued to build on the foundation of a great first year, finishing with career highs in batting average (.275), on-base percentage (.381), slugging percentage (.407), hits (52) and home runs (4).

Junior Gabe Matthews will also be returning to the fray for Oregon. Another selection to Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman All-American Team, Matthews had a solid sophomore season for the Ducks, finishing second on the team with 79 total bases.

After Goldfarb, Steer and Matthews, the Ducks are lacking in proven offensive talent. To mitigate that lack of depth, Oregon may have to rely on some transfers in Cameron Campbell, Taylor Adams and Chris May.

On the freshman front, the Ducks will welcome outfielder Vinny Tosti, who is ranked 59th in his class and 13th at his position.

Tosti, who was selected to play in the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic, has been heralded for having a well-rounded game. Among Tosti’s more notable strengths are his speed and his arm, which rank in the 99th and 95th percentiles of his class, respectively.

The outfielder is joined by A.J. Miller and James Bell, among other freshmen position players, both of whom are ranked in the top 400 of their class.

Pitching

The Ducks were a pretty middle-of-the-road unit last year, finishing seventh in ERA and opponent batting average, although they did finish second in strikeouts.

Heading to the pros are Matt Mercer and Parker Kelly, the former being drafted in the fifth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks and the latter by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 20th round.

Mercer, an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in his final year, ended his career at Oregon with the ninth-most strikeouts and innings pitched in school history, while Kelly was the team’s go-to multiple-inning reliever.

Oregon’s most notable returning pitcher is junior Kenyon Yovan, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners out of high school.

Yovan, a two-time All-Pac-12 First-Team selection, transitioned from relief to starting midway through last season, a change that came despite him having earned a reputation as one of the country’s premier closers.

Despite having never started at the collegiate level entering the season, Yovan immediately excelled, putting together a 2.77 ERA over 10 starts and striking out 71 batters. If his seven-run outing against UCLA is excluded, Yovan had a 1.99 ERA as a starter.

Additionally, sophomore Kolby Somers returns for his second season with the Ducks. Like Yovan, Somers began last season out of the bullpen but was worked in to the starting rotation. In 62.1 innings of work, Somers finished with an ERA of 4.62 and 46 strikeouts.

With Mercer having moved on to the pros, Oregon will need to find an arm capable of being the team’s third starter. Sophomore Cullen Kafka made a couple starts last season, but didn’t have much success in that role.

Sophomore Robert Ahlstrom, who transferred from Chemeketa Community College, may be a candidate to crack the rotation. In 12 games as a freshman at Chemeketa, Ahlstrom compiled a 2.55 ERA and struck out 84 hitters.

Justice delos Santos covers baseball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.