Jack Anderson redshirted in 2014 as Oregon State won the Pac-12 title and earned the No. 1 national seed for the NCAA tournament.
Eight members of the team were drafted that June, leaving holes to plug in the field and on the mound. OSU still threatened to claim the 2015 conference crown and nearly hosted a regional, finishing 39-18-1 overall in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Anderson believes the 2019 Beavers could also surprise the outside world by contending for another College World Series berth.
“That’s the beauty of college sports,” said Anderson, an outfielder and one of four senior leaders who helped carry the Beavers to the 2018 national title. “You have four or five years with guys and then great players have to move on and do great things.
“There’s a reason guys were recruited here, and they are going to come out ready to go. Next year will definitely be a younger team, but that’s not going to change the way Oregon State baseball plays.”
The Beavers had to replace some serious star power following the 2014 season, including current MLB players Michael Conforto and Jace Fry. Next spring will be no different.
Multi-year starters Nick Madrigal (second base), Cadyn Grenier (shortstop), Steven Kwan (center field) and Drew Rasmussen (pitcher) have all agreed to professional contracts. Fellow junior Trevor Larnach, a right fielder, is expected to sign with the Minnesota Twins before Friday’s deadline.
Pitcher Luke Heimlich, third baseman Michael Gretler, outfielder Kyle Nobach and Anderson are out of eligibility. All four seniors were major contributors over the past few seasons.
“We are losing some great people, great players and leaders. Some of my best friends,” closer Jake Mulholland said. “But just like this year and previous years, we will keep going and people have to step up. That’s just how Oregon State baseball rolls.”
The Beavers are slated to return every arm other than Heimlich, a two-time Pac-12 pitcher of the year and All-American.
Bryce Fehmel and Kevin Abel could become OSU’s new 1-2 punch atop the weekend rotation. Fehmel, a senior-to-be, owns a 26-5 overall record and 3.17 ERA in 61 career appearances (40 starts) while Abel is coming off one of the greatest runs in CWS history.
In seven starts and 16 relief outings as a freshman, Abel finished 8-1 with 108 strikeouts and a 2.88 ERA in 81⅓ innings. The righty tossed a two-hit shutout to seal the national championship and was the first pitcher to win four games at the same CWS.
Anderson said Abel’s 10-strikeout effort against Arkansas was the best pitching performance he’d ever witnessed.
“Especially with the way his season went,” Anderson explained. “He had his ups and downs and I’m sure a lot of people doubted him, but that’s what your freshman year is for. He came into the biggest moments of his life and he was as cool as I’ve seen anyone be.”
Fellow returnees Grant Gambrell, Christian Chamberlain, Sam Tweedt, Jordan Britton and Nathan Burns all possess starting experience. Key relievers Brandon Eisert, Dylan Pearce and Mulholland have also worked extended innings while Dakota Donovan came on late in the season. Mitchell Verburg redshirted in 2018 and could be another righty option out of the pen.
The loss of Heimlich is significant, but OSU’s crop of arms projects to be stronger from top to bottom next year.
“All those questions about this pitching staff were answered in Omaha,” said Gretler, who recently signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “And they might even be better because guys will be older and more experienced.”
Added Mulholland: “I can’t really tell you who is going to fit in there, but it’s going to be exciting to watch it shake out.”
Adley Rutschman, a two-year starter at catcher and potential No. 1 overall pick in next year’s MLB draft, will be back to anchor OSU’s defense and batting order. The majority of Zak Taylor’s 48 starts in 2018 came at first base.
Corner infielder Tyler Malone (41 starts), all-around infielder Andy Armstrong (33) and outfielder Preston Jones (13) all saw plenty of time last season. Armstrong filled in admirably at second base for Madrigal, who missed 26 games with a broken left wrist.
“Losing the best player in the nation is never great, but we knew we could hold up. And Andy Armstrong was incredible,” Anderson said. “The way he stepped up was huge for his confidence and his career moving forward.
“That guy really takes the game seriously and loves playing at Oregon State, loves being a Beaver. He is one of those classic Beaver baseball products.”
Kyler McMahan, Ryan Ober and Zack Zalesky also received some action as freshmen infielders. Junior college transfer Beau Philip, who is now with the Corvallis Knights, could push for playing time.
Troy Claunch made 10 starts behind the plate to spell Rutschman and will be back for his sophomore season.
Jones is likely to take over for Kwan in center while Joe Casey projects as a left fielder. Elliot Willy and Zach Clayton also have experience in the outfield.
“There are some really good players that didn’t get to play much this year,” coach Pat Casey said. “Just a lot of good guys there.”
Based on recent history, a freshman arm or position player is also likely to make a splash.
OSU must replace seven of its top hitters from a team that led the Pac-12 with a .321 batting average, but Gretler isn’t expecting the offense to fall apart.
“The talent is obviously there,” Gretler said. “There’s no doubt it’s going to be different, but every year guys step up and improve. Whoever it is, it’ll be great to see.”