Coming off the departure of an entire starting outfield and a Friday starter that led the nation in strikeouts, the Oregon State baseball team started the 2023 season unranked by D1 Baseball. A strong run against a mediocre non-conference schedule saw them enter the rankings March 6th at 25, and immediately drop out after losing a home series to Washington State to start the Pac-12 season. Getting swept by Stanford the next week made the hole deeper, but close-fought series wins against Cal and Washington set the stage for a season defining Civil War series in Eugene.
The Beavers dropped the first game 0-2, came back was trailing with two outs in the bottom of the 7th, facing a third straight series loss centerfielder Micah McDowell drove a pitch to left center for a three run opposite field home run and a lead the Beavers would not relinquish.
That set the stage for an 8-game winning streak to kick off a second half run that drove them up into the top 10 by the end of the Pac-12 regular season (and second in the standings to Stanford) and a chance to secure a home regional with a strong showing in the Pac-12 tournament. Instead, a Beaver pitching staff that was thinned by injuries could not hold up against Arizona, Arizona State, or the thin desert air. The Beavers gave up a combined 27 runs in two games, and despite scoring 22 of their own, earned a trip to Baton Rouge as the 2 seed.
The Beavers had a chance in the regional, pushing the eventual champion LSU team to the brink in their 2nd game of the regional the first game of the winner’s bracket. Things may have gone differently if the Beavers had gotten the extra rest that came with winning their first two games, but a 6-5 loss to the Tigers highlighted a pitching staff thin with injuries (including starters Jacob Kmatz and Jaren Hunter) and couldn't withstand the LSU lineup in the Beavers second elimination game.
Despite the tough ending, there was plenty to be proud of in the Beaver’s 2023 season. In addition to the toughness the entire team showed in turning around the season in that Oregon series, the offense set a school record with 89 home runs, and sophomore second basemen Travis Bazzana set a school record with 36 stolen bases.
The expectations are high for the Beaver lineup in 2024. OSU loses two big bats in Garrett Forrester and Mikey Kane to the MLB draft, but that should be more than balanced by the continued development of the rest of the lineup and the addition of a talented freshman in Trent Caraway. It’s a lineup loaded with power, plenty of speed, top-end talent, depth, basically all you can ask for in a college baseball lineup.
Projected Starting Lineup
2B Travis Bazzana: It is nearly unheard of for a second basemen to be considered at the top of the MLB draft. That norm is singlehandedly being overturned by the Beaver Baseball program with Nick Madrigal going 4th overall in the 2018 draft. Bazzana is looking to make it a trend. He is the third ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline and can be found at the top of any number of prospect lists and mock drafts.
The native of Sydney, Australia hit the ground running from his first at bats with the Corvallis Knights in summer ball of 2021. He parlayed that into a Freshman All-American season and was even better last year. Bazzana reduced his strikeout rate by 5 points while increasing his walk rate by 4. That improved plate discipline also came with a near-doubling of his home run total from 6 to 11, and an explosion in stolen bases to set the Oregon State record with 36. Bazzana was a 3rd team All-American last year per Baseball America and D1 Baseball. He followed that up with a summer in the Cape Cod League, a wooden bat summer league for college baseball’s best prospects, where he did nothing less than hit .375/.456/.581 and win the league MVP.
Bazzana is a pre-season All American per Perfect Game, unsurprisingly the top-rated 2nd basemen in the game per D1 Baseball. He will likely resume his leadoff duties for the Beavers and be in the discussion for the Golden Spikes Award for the best college baseball player in the country.
Upperclassmen Lineup Stalwarts
CF Micah McDowell: McDowell spent his first three seasons in Corvallis biding his time behind the talented outfield trio of Wade Meckler, Jacob Melton, and Justin Boyd. He became a regular starter last year and after a brief injury in the middle of the season established himself in centerfield and the 3-hole in the lineup. McDowell is in the mold of many Beaver hitters of the past, limiting strikeouts and making good contact. He has some power, but it isn't the central part of his game and the same goes for speed on the basepaths. He hit 3rd last year, but the depth of the lineup and McDowell’s on-base skills make him a great candidate to hit behind Bazzana and set the table for the rest of the team.
1B Mason Guerra: It has been a journey to find the right place on the diamond for Guerra. He spent his freshman year as part of a revolving door at third base with Jake Dukart and Matthew Gretler, and spent last year split between left field and DH. With the departure of Garrett Forrester leaving first base open, Guerra likely has a stable home on the diamond in 2024. And that is a good thing since Guerra can flat out rake. He has a career .327/.414/.559 batting line across two seasons in Corvallis and was second on the team with 12 home runs last year. Guerra cut his strikeout rate in half between his freshman and sophomore year although it was still an uncomfortably high 23%. That proclivity to swing and miss was present in his summer league performance on the Cape, but even if that stays consistent in the 2024 season there is plenty enough contact and power to make it worth it.
OF Brady Kasper: Similar to McDowell, Kasper spent his first two years at Oregon State biding his time before stepping confidently into the outfield void last year. With the bat Kasper was a more strikeout prone version of Guerra, hitting over .300, getting on base nearly 40% of the time and equaling Guerra’s 12 home runs. Kasper bounced between the corner outfield spots before settling into right field, a spot he is likely to maintain this year. He hit between the 5th and 7th spot for most of the year last year, and don't be surprised to see him in the former and racking up substantially more than the 28 RBIs he had last year.
SS Elijah Hainline: After the 2023 season Mitch Canham and company set out to find an offensive upgrade at shortstop without sacrificing the plus defense that Kyle Dernedde provided the last few years. They found that upgrade in the form of Hainline, a two-year starter at Washington State who had a breakout year in 2023 and is the 16th ranked shortstop in the country according to D1 Baseball. The Spokane native posted an impressive batting line while playing plus defense and finished the season by collecting 7 hits in three games against College World Series bound Stanford (including 2 home runs). We have him hitting 9th in the projected lineup to provide some on base ability as the lineup turns over, but if he carries his 2023 season forward there is no doubt, he will move towards the top.
Underclassmen Breakout Candidates
OF Gavin Turley: In terms of raw talent, Turley may be the best player on the Oregon State roster. He was projected by many to be an early pick in the 2022 MLB draft before sliding and choosing to come to Corvallis. He came out the gate on fire to start the year, racking up 5 home runs in his first 12 games and was rewarded with the three-spot in the lineup. The wheels then fell off as the Pac-12 season got underway as Turley struggled with strikeouts and picked up just 2 hits in his next 10 games to go with 17 strikeouts in 30 at bats. He was in and out of the lineup for the next few weeks before using the final series of the regular season against Western Carolina to jumpstart a torrid end of the season, ending the season on a 9-game hitting streak in which he racked up 7 multi-hit games and 8 home runs.
With six of those games coming in the Pac-12 tournament and the LSU regional, Turley ended the season with plenty of hope he had figured things out and would keep the momentum going. Turley spent the summer as a teammate to Bazzana on the Cape and put together a stat line that looked a lot like his overall line from 2023 (.222/.406/.431 with a 31% K% and 21% BB%). It's worth noting that he stole 4 bases in 23 games this summer, one more than he stole in nearly twice as many games in the 2023 regular season. The Turley of 2023 is a force unto himself (his .664 slugging percentage was the 4th highest of any OSU season since 2015), but if he can improve his contact the Beavers will have another Golden Spikes candidate on their hands.
3B Trent Caraway: For the second year in a row the Beavers lucked out in the MLB draft. Like Turley, Caraway was a fringe 1st round talent that was expected to sign out of high school. Like Turley, Carraway unexpectedly fell and seemed happy to take Canham’s offer to come to Corvallis. At 6-2, 202 pounds the freshman has a big frame he will continue to grow into and is expected to be the Beavers regular third basemen this year. Caraway is both D1 Baseball and Perfect Game’s pick for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and is the top-rated 3rd basemen in the Pac-12 by D1 Baseball (15th in the country). Those are high expectations for the 19-year-old (and similar to the preseason accolades Turley received last year).
C Tanner Smith: Smith returns behind the plate for his second year as the Beavers starting catcher after backing up Gavin Logan in 2022. He can hold his own with the bat but won’t be asked to carry the load in this lineup. He started 38 of 61 games last year, including all of the Pac-12 tournament and regionals. There is some pop in his bat, 14 of his 33 hits last year went for extra bases.
DH Dallas Macias: When Turley was going through his mid-season struggles it was Macias that garnered a majority of the starts in left field. Macias got on base just fine and had some pop when he did put the ball in play, but strikeouts and a low BABIP meant that when Turley came back around it was Macias that returned to the bench. Over the summer, Macias was a regular with the Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League and showed a tremendous control of the strike zone, striking out just 10 times in 129 at bats. The DH spot is likely to be a bit of a rotation, Macias can also fill in at multiple outfield positions including CF and has the speed to do some damage if he keeps getting on base.
Wilson Weber was the primary backup catcher last year and in position to do so again. He has tremendous power and if he can improve on his contact, he may have some starts as DH or 1B in his future... Easton Talt and Cannon Reeder (a strong candidate for best name on the team) both saw spot duty in the outfield last year including a stretch of 9 starts in 10 games for Talt when McDowell was hurt, and Turley was struggling. Both may be in a similar position to McDowell and Kasper before last year, waiting their turn behind established starters, but look to them if there is an injury or other issue in the starting outfield... Tyce Peterson saw sporadic action as a reserve 2B, which doesn't have much growth potential until next year. His bat was intriguing enough for the coaching staff to give him multiple starts at DH in the later part of the year, and he may be in that rotation with Macias until someone grabs ahold of that spot... Jacob Kreig is a massive individual, standing 6-5 and weighing 240. He saw limited plate appearances last year but showed plate discipline and power. He also possessed a 90s fastball and saw some time on the mound in weekday games... Canham spoke highly of Jabin Trosky’s defense in his season-opening press conference, and indicated he is right up with Hainline & Bazzana in that department. He is unlikely to displace either unless there is an injury, but should see spot duty as a defensive replacement and occasional weekday starter... Brandon Forrester is the younger brother of recently departed Garrett and adds more depth to the infield picture...