Frequently a pre-season top-25 pick, the 2017 Oregon Duck baseball team will start the year flying under the radar so to speak. Bold predictions to open up the 2016 campaign came back to haunt when the team finished just three games over .500 at 29-26 and missed the post season for the first time since 2011.
One direct consequence has the Ducks picked to finish eighth in the conference, but it is fair to note one year ago Utah was similarly regarded then won the conference championship to the surprise of everyone.
Beginning his ninth season at the helm, head coach George Horton will have a retooled staff to guide the Ducks. Mark Wasikowski’s departure to become the head coach at Purdue will have Horton shift from managing the pitching staff to taking control of the offense. To fill that gap, Jay Uhlman was elevated to associate head coach and Jason Dietrich was added as the pitching coach.
Dietrich will start with one proven commodity in junior left-hander David Petersen (4-5, 3.63) as the probable Friday starter. Sophomore righty Matt Mercer (2-2, 4.28) started five games as a frosh and looks poised to step in to the Saturday role. The Sunday starter will be an ongoing competition with freshmen James Acuna and Tristan Duncan hoping to fill the void.
Workhorse Cooper Stiles (2-3, 3.52, 1 save) will take the ball whenever Dietrich hands it to him and Brac Warren appears set to be the Ducks’ closer.
Offensively the Ducks suffered an early blow with the loss of Jakob Goldfarb to injury. The team leader in batting average – senior Jake Bennett (.312) – returns as does junior outfielder A.J. Balta who led the Duck with nine home runs, 47 seven RBI and a .455 slugging percentage. More offense is expected out of junior catcher Tim Susnara after hitting .268 and driving in 24 runs a year ago.
The Ducks open the season at Fresno State on Friday, February 17th. Mississippi State will visit PK in the home opener on Friday March 3rd at 6:00 pm.
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Oregon State (8) 97
2. Stanford (2) 89
3. Arizona 78
4. Washington (1) 76
5. UCLA 54
6. Utah 49
7. Arizona State 48
8. Oregon 45
9. California 31
10. USC 27
11. Washington State 11