While camps are hardly underway for Major League Baseball, the collegiate season is well underway as non-conference games are being played all across the country. This includes Oregon State University, led by their highly respected Manager, Pat Casey. The Beavers have large aspirations coming into this year, as they should. 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the black and orange. In an always fierce Pac-12, the Beavers posted an 18-12 record in league play, good enough for 4th in the tight knit conference. Although OSU finished the regular season ranked as high as 16th in many polls, they drew a less than favorable seeding due to their finish in the Pac-12. The Beavers were forced to go on the road to LSU’s regional and ran into a buzz saw there. The final games of the season were not fond memories for the team, but the experience gained by the young nucleolus of players could prove to be invaluable for this year. The Beavs’ are led by a dominant returning pitching staff, as well as freshman All-American and Second Team All-American Michael Conforto. Coach Casey must be feeling happy as he enters his astounding 19th season with the program. With all of the factors listed above, Oregon State should have its sights set on Omaha, Nebraska and perhaps even more.
Despite losing freshman standout Jace Fry for the season due to Tommy John surgery, Oregon State still boasts easily one of the best starting rotations in not only the Pac-12, but in the entire nation. Dan Child leads the group of hurlers. Child gained All Pac-12 mentions last year, as he went 6-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 16 starts. Following the 2012 season, Child was invited to pitch for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, where he recorded 2 saves with a 2.45 ERA. Aided by his large frame, Child has a powerful downhill throwing motion. He has a fastball that can touch 94 MPH and a good, sharp slider. It’s plausible that Child will be pitching on many Friday night games.
While Child may be viewed as the staff ace, there is little drop off to the rest of the rotation. Matt Boyd, the onetime shut down reliever for this team, has been converted to a starter this year. Boyd was drafted in the 13th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, but he chose not to sign, instead returning to Oregon State for his senior year. Do not count on many growing pains due to changing of positions. Boyd is a natural athlete and should adapt to a starting role with little hindrance. The left hander went 4-0 for the Beavers last year, with a 3.41 ERA and striking out 31 batters in 37 innings. Boyd has valuable deception in his delivery, good velocity on his fastball, but what may be his most important quality are his smarts. He knows how to attack hitters, he understands the game.
A third starter that will be impactful this season is the returning junior, Ben Wetzler. Although Wetzler missed his start in the Beavers opening series this year due to a pulled back muscle, the injury should not bother him in the long term. Wetzler went 8-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 16 games started. The Clackamas High School standout was drafted straight out of high school in the 15th round by the Cleveland Indians. Wetzler owns a decent repertoire of pitches, his fastball, curve, and changeup are all above average. Once Wetzler is healthy, look for him to be as successful as any pitcher on the team.
While the largest strength of this team is in their pitching, the best player on the team resides in the outfield, batting cleanup in this lineup. Michael Conforto’s rookie season could not have been more effective. Conforto not only led the Beavers with an eye-popping 76 RBI, but it was good enough to lead the Pac-12. He also led the beavers in batting average, hitting at a .349 clip. After having a torrid freshmen season, Conforto was invited to play for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Don’t look too much into the fact that he was only 11-53 in the 16 games he played; statistics during international play tends to be erratic, especially for a college athlete. Conforto has an extremely fluid swing and can drive the ball to all parts of the field. He also has impeccably accurate eye for the strike zone, leading to copious amounts of walks. Conforto is also a natural leader, a quality that became evident at a very early time in the year last season. He is the perfect figure to lead by example for this team, a true cornerstone of the team that sets the standard on the field and at the plate.
Oregon State has large expectations, spanning from the media, fans, and particularly from the players themselves. This team flashed glimpses of promise quite often last year; however, it was clear that there was much room for improvement. The Beavers need more production from the other outfield spots besides Conforto, as well as consistency from 1st base and DH. Look for these areas to improve due to the Beavers influx of solid recruits and junior college transfers. Coach Casey is incredibly adept at using his lineup to its strengths and knowing exactly what his personnel is capable of. With almost 20 years of experience coaching at Oregon State, it’s obvious that Casey provides valuable coaching intangibles for the team. The Beavers have a tough road ahead of them. The Pac-12 is sure to be a gauntlet again this year, with teams like Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, and Stanford all vying for the conference title. This is nothing new to Oregon State. Establishing a solid Pac-12 record will be imperative when it comes to seeding in the playoffs. This Beaver team is poised to take the next step and return to the college world series for the first time since 2007. With an imposing pitching staff, the continued rise of Michael Conforto, and savvy coach Casey, Beaver fans should set their goals for Omaha and beyond.
Peter Reed is on Twitter. Follow him at @piratepeter11