Oregon State Baseball is off to their best start ever at 25-1, are the consensus #1 team in the nation, have swept 3 straight Pac-12 series (that number jumps to 4 if you go back to last season) and are on a 20 game wining streak, needless to say things are going quite well in Corvallis, as our friends at Pacific Takes recently pointed out.
The starting pitching staff, behind the efforts of Luke Heimlich, Bryce Fehmel and Jake Thompson, has been lights out, leading the nation in several statistical categories including ERA, all without the services of ace Drew Rasmussen. The author of OSU’s only perfect game, Rasmussen, is said to be ahead of schedule on his return from Tommy-John surgery and should return to the mound sometime this season. The bullpen, which struggled last year, has been phenomenal this year, led by newcomers Jake Mulholland (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 Saves) and Brandon Eisert (3-0 2.50 ERA), as well as senior closer Max Englebrekt (2-0, 0.87 ERA 5 Saves). Meanwhile the offense has been led by sophomore middle infielder Nick Madrigal and junior first baseman, KJ Harrison, with steady contributions coming the entire lineup including breakout performances by sophomores Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier.
Here are our mid-season award picks:
Most Valuable Pitcher: Luke Heimlich
I will admit coming into this season, my biggest concern was the lack of a true ‘ace’ in the absence of Drew Rasmussen, apparently Luke Heimlich doesn’t care about making me look smart. The junior lefty has been every bit the pitcher you hope to have on a Friday night, with a mind boggling 0.52 ERA in 7 starts this season, the Big Maneuver has proven he can go toe-to-toe with any pitcher in the country. Heimlich’s impressive numbers and increased velocity have him poised to go in the early rounds of June’s MLB Draft.
Most Valuable Hitter: Nick Madrigal
When you are hitting .350 with 17 RBI’s, have an on base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500, you should win this award, but unfortunately for KJ Harrison he shares a lineup with a guy whose numbers eclipse him. That guy of course is Nick Madrigal who is hitting .394, with 17 RBI’s a .462 OBP% and a .558 SLG%, oh and he leads the team in home runs. The 5’8” (probably 5’7”, but as a fellow vertically challenged individual I will let him have this one) sophomore, has every bit lived up to the pre-season hype that saw him land on several all-american lists. Beaver Nation better enjoy him while he is here, because he will be a high draft pick in 2018, Arizona State’s skipper even went as far as calling Madrigal the best player in the country.
#ASU Tracy Smith on Oregon State' 2B Nick Madrigal: "I think that kid's the best player in the country bar none."— jeffmetcalfe (@jeffmetcalfe) March 18, 2017
Breakout Player: Trevor Larnach
This award could go to Grenier, who has been on fire with the bat as of late and nothing short of spectacular in the field, but after a dismal freshman campaign marred by injury Trevor Larnach as been a stalwart in the heart of the order for OSU. The outfielder has played every game this season, either in right field or as the DH while hitting .306 with 9 doubles and 17 RBI’s while drawing a team high 19 walks. Larnach has drawn praise from national pundits for his ability to hurt a baseball.
Trevor Larnach @BeaverBaseball looks to me like easily one of the ten best pure hitters in college baseball right now— Frankie Piliere (@FPiliereD1) March 26, 2017
Biggest Surprise: Jake Thompson
After a frustrating two seasons battling injury, inconsistency and confidence Jake has been an amazing surprise for Pat Casey and crew. Thompson was originally slated as the Beavs 4th starting pitcher, which would have meant Tuesday starts and/or coming out of the bullpen, but the junior out of Florence has pitched his way into the Sunday starter role with a 6-0 record and a 1.20 ERA. Playoff baseball inevitably comes down to pitching, and when you have a third starter who is pitching as well as Thompson, there is a great chance you’ll be on a plane to Omaha come June.
Side note... look at how Jake Thompson looks at this baseball, if that isn’t love I don’t know what is.
Top Freshman: Adley Rutschman
Jake Mulholland and his 0.00 ERA and 25 K’s in 22 innings out of the bullpen could easily have gotten this award, and maybe he should, but I give a slight edge to the freshman catcher who can boot a 63-yard field goal. Rutschman has stepped into a huge hole left by the departed Logan Ice and has performed well backstopping the nation’s best pitching staff. The Sherwood native struggled at the plate early in the season, but seems to have figured it out as of late, hitting his first career home run on Sunday and driving in the winning runs last night versus Portland.
Defensive Player: Cadyn Grenier
The OSU pitching staff has put up some outstanding numbers this season, but if you were to ask them or Pat Casey how they have been able to do it, they would surely point out the spectacular defense they have had behind them. OSU has a bunch of players who can play solid defense at multiple positions, but sophomore Cadyn Grenier may just be the best of the bunch. Grenier who has seen time at second, third and short has been a regular contributor to the Pac-12’s “#12best” with eye popping plays with his glove. Check out this run saving play from game one of the Arizona series.
Other notes and thoughts:
- Zak Taylor is really good at getting on base via error. Twice in the ninth inning during the Arizona series (games one and two) and once during the Stanford series. I’m not sure what to attribute that to, probably luck, but I will give Taylor the credit anyway.
- Steven Kwan is quietly a very big reason this team has done so well, defensively very good in the outfield and has excelled as a #2 hitter behind Nick Madrigal.
- I think it’s impossible to understate how much the improvement out of the bullpen has helped this team. I don’t know what the plans are with Mulholland in the future, but if they don’t convert him to a starter he will be a top flight collegiate closer in short order.
- This team is doing this with two very good players on the shelf, the aforementioned Drew Rasmussen and outfielder Kyle Nobach.
- Pat Casey deserves all the credit in the world for what he has built in Corvallis, a perennial baseball contender in the rain soaked northwest.
- While we are only about half way through the season, and obviously lots of things could still happen, it is hard to imagine this team not punching one of the 8 tickets to Omaha. The consensus #1 team in the nation has already faced the Pac-12’s two other ranked teams (Arizona and Stanford) and has swept them both.
- Comment below and let me know your thoughts on this amazing 2017 season