It is almost time for Oregon State baseball! 2011 preview edition


Batter up!  Time for 2011 Oregon State baseball!

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OSU versus Tennessee, Game 3, February 28, 2010

Once again we find the sun is starting to show itself, albeit in a cold and rainy way, and we sense those spring "showers" oh so close.  That means that it is almost time for OSU baseball!  It is a time for fanoverboard to begin waxing poetically about peanut shells and those first base side seats, and for me to describe once again that freshly cut spring grass smell filling my memories of playing outfield oh so long ago!  It is a time to also put behind us a challenging 2010 campaign and move into what I see as a possible new era of talent and potential.

We'll be a different club, I don't think we'll be as one-dimensional as we were last year.  I thought we were pretty one-dimensional last year in a lot of situations. (Coach Casey, Season Opening Press Conference)

As part of getting ready here is my annual baseball preview, which I hope will instill some of my love of the game and excitement for the upcoming season on to Beaver Nation. 

My "preview"  thoughts are after the break, but here are some primer stories I thought were of interest and hope will help get everyone excited about the upcoming season:

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Matt Boyd pitching, OSU versus Maine, Game 4, March 21, 2010

Some of us have already been discussing the upcoming season and a lot of my thoughts revolve around this previous discussion, which I'm looking forward to more of throughout the season.

2011 Questions

1.  Will this OSU baseball team return to tradition and small-ball dominance?  I think at a very basic level the first main question is can the offense return to that smart play we came to expect under Coach Casey's leadership?  What has been very much lacking the last couple seasons has been smart and aggressive batting and base running.  As noted in my review of last season this is interesting because at the stat level the Beavs seemed to outplay their opponents:

2010 Offensive Stats

-Team batting average: .266 (opponent batting average: .255)
-Hits: 471 (opponent hits: 461)
-Doubles: 108 (opponent doubles: 90)
-Triples: 9 (opponent triples: 17)
-HRs: 42 (opponent HRs: 30)
-RBIs: 273 (opponent RBIs: 227)
-Team slugging average: .408 (opponent slugging average: .374)
-Strikeouts:  416 (opponent strikeouts: 390)
-Base on balls:  223 (opponent base on balls: 174)
-Stolen bases:  42 for 62 attempts (opponent stolen bases: 33 for 55)
-LOB: 419 (opponent LOB: 395)

Retrieved from: http://www.osubeavers.com/sports/m-basebl/stats/2009-2010/teamcume.html

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This translates to what I think is a key consideration and the stats not really shown here include things like making the hits at the key times, keeping the batting aggressive all the way through the line-up, bunting well, and making good decisions on the bases that allow for scoring opportunities.  There has already been a good discussion about the whole taking the first strike pitch.  I think this gets at a bit of that aggressiveness that doesn't show up in the stats.  Are OSU batters keeping opposing pitchers honest with working counts deep, hitting strikes that need to be hit no matter the count, getting leadoff batters on base, and also keeping things lively on the base paths?

I think this sums it up well (from the Gazette-Times):

"We feel we will find a true leadoff guy this year," Casey said.

Casey isn't looking for the fastest players, just ones who can get on base.

"They can run back to the dugout pretty fast from home plate in that one or two hole," Casey said, with a laugh.

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2.  Pitching?  Wow, this is another huge one and an issue people have already hinted at as possibly the most important one for the season.  I believe so.  The team lost a lot of seasoned pitching to the draft last year, such as Greg Peavey (left), and we now have a very young bullpen this season (if my count is correct there are eight freshman on the roster this year).  Last season I thought the pitching was wildly inconsistent and especially in terms of we never seemed to have starters, middle relief, and closers on the same page.  One game the starters put the team in a big hole, another game the mid-relief gave a close game away, or in other games the closers lost the games in the final innings.  There were only a few games overall where we had the pitching staff clicking on all cylinders all the way through the game's rotation.  For a successful season I see a lot of the team leadership overall coming from a solid and well rounded pitching staff.

3. On the field leadership?  I know, I know, I always seem to harp on this, but really what has in many ways separated the 2006 and 2007 seasons from the following ones?  The lack of players such as Darwin Barney who instill a sense of team identity and drive both on and off the field.  At certain times I do believe in a team that can create a strong identity without a strong centralized leader, but just again feeling this season there is a need for someone to step it up.  I don't seem to be the only one either:

What we really need is leadership from the guys who have been there before to help them [the young pitchers] get through it....There is no reason we shouldn't have people that are experienced enough playing some key spots and help those guys through it because freshman are going to make mistakes no matter how good they are.  We will live with those mistakes just as long as it takes for them to grow up because they are going to be in the fire early.  (Coach Casey, Season Opening Press Conference)

4. Is the Pac-10 as good as people say?  And what does this mean for the Beavs?  Yes it is a good conference, and I think there are some interesting specific storylines happening for various teams.  There has been enough talk already about the UO, so not going to give that storyline any more justice.  But UCLA has huge expectations placed on its shoulders this year.  What about ASU?  Or what about Cal in its final season?  Or SC and will that storied program bounce back this year?  Who are the sleepers:  Stanford or OSU or WSU or UW?  Sure I'm a bit OSU baseball homer fan, but I do think the Beavs can create some really good storylines themselves this year within conference play.

5. To post-season or not to post-season?  Post-season is an expectation for OSU baseball now, and I don't see any reason not to expect this.  Sure there are a lot of unknowns this year, but I have every confidence under Coach Casey this team will be competing at a high level.  I just don't know how high of a level that will be.

Player Watch

  • Sam Gaviglio:  As for the pitching staff I think it is now his team.  Sure this puts a huge bit of pressure on him, but thinking he should be healthy and ready to go.
  • Carter Bell:  In the past I have thought Carter has had some glimpses of the leadership role I keep looking to.  Not sure he needs to totally step up into that role this season, but do think he needs to be the hitter we have seen at times throughout his career at OSU and needs to be the consistent hitter who can get on base regularly.  Indeed overall live up to his captain status.
  • Smithfielding_osu_ut_medium Tyler Smith (left):  Tyler had a nice overall freshman year and wondering about his continue play in the infield.  Will he step into that role of the solid infielder along the lines of Darwin Barney and Joey Wong?
  • Andrew Susac:  I think this is one possible area where we might see some aggressive and solid on the field leadership.  Andrew had a very solid freshman season and should (needs to) be even better this year.
  • Danny Hayes:  As with Susac, Danny had a pretty solid freshman season.  He did fare better at the beginning and seem to struggle as the season went deeper into conference and post-season play.  I'm hoping though he has his injury Hayes_atbat02a_medium behind him and with his very sweet batting swing will be an offensive threat all season long.
  • Matt Boyd:  Yes I know Connor thinks I may think too much of Matt at times, but I really believe with how Matt is a well-rounded athlete at bat and on the field pitching that he can become another possible leader.
  • Josh Osich and Taylor Starr:  Coach Casey has called these two his best pitchers, can they bounce back from their 2010 season ending injuries and become the seasoned leaders on the mound this young bullpen needs?  And what is their overall health status?
  • Who else?  Coach Casey has mentioned players such as Ben Wetzler, Adam Duke, Max Gordon, Garrett Nash, and Brian Stamps all possibly playing key roles this season.  What about the seniors such as Dylan Jones, Parker Berberet, Michael Miller (top left), Jared Norris, and James Nygren?  Below is a clip of Coach Casey discussing the 2010 signing class, will there be anyone from this class to step it up?
  • Casey said it wouldn't be a surprise to see some players starting you might not expect. All starting positions must be earned, regardless of past success.

    "There is competition going on and I think it will be a surprise to a couple guys that are supposed to be guys for us who won't be starting because of their lack of intensity and their satisfaction with themselves," Casey said.

    "I think you will see some guys who are supposed to be in the lineup who won't be in the lineup. Then I think you will see some guys you probably have never heard of that just pulled up and said, ‘Hey, I'm looking for a place to play' and will be in the lineup and they'll stay in the lineup until those guys decide they want to play hard and get engaged in what we are doing."

    (Oregon State baseball team motivated by lack of respect and Season Opening Press Conference)


Conclusion

All in all I'm very exciting for my favorite team and my favorite sport.  Do I know where all of this is headed?  Not in the least this season, and that both scares me a bit and makes me excited for the possibilities.  What are your thoughts?

Oh and also here's to NO RAIN!!!  Play ball!  Go Beavs!

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