EUGENE — Oregon baseball finished up fall practices with some jobs still to be earned in the spring.
Matt Mercer is expected to be Oregon’s No. 1 starting pitcher and the infield is almost set, but the rest of the roles will be determined after the Ducks return to PK Park on Jan. 26 to prepare to open for a four-team tournament at UNLV on Feb. 16.
“We were encouraged with the fall,” UO coach George Horton said. “I think the returning sophomores looked like sophomores in a very positive way. They looked bigger and stronger.”
Sophomores Gabe Mathews and Spencer Steer are returning starters at first and third base, respectively, and senior Kyle Kasser probably will be at second base. Ryne Nelson, who spent most of last season as a relief pitcher, is a candidate to start at shortstop, along with senior Daniel Patzlaff.
“The guy that probably stuck out the most was Nelson,” Horton said. “He had a tremendous fall telling us to take a strong look at him at shortstop.”
The 6-foot-4 Nelson had a 4.73 ERA in 13 1/2 innings as a freshman while getting four hits in 26 at-bats.
“His last outing in the fall was his strongest as far as pitching, but he really showed well at shortstop offensively and defensively,” Horton said.
The right-handed Mercer looks like Oregon’s Friday night starter after going 6-7 with a 3.16 ERA as a sophomore. He has been projected as an early-round pick in next year’s major league draft.
Junior left-hander Cole Stringer started 11 games while going 4-3 with a 3.80 ERA last year.
“With his experience level having been in that rotation on the weekend, Cole is a likely candidate to be one of those three starters,” Horton said.
Closer Kenyon Yovan, who had 15 saves and a 1.97 ERA, remains a candidate to move into the rotation. Like Nelson, he could be a starter, reliever or position player.
Sophomore James Acuna also is a potential starter after going 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA.
“We are still figuring that out,” Horton said of his rotation. “Kenyon is going to be our end-of-the-game guy or a starter and then how do we incorporate Nelson into the mix as well. Acuna is throwing well and we have a couple talented freshmen who could compete too.”
Catcher Braden Stutzman, who batted .159 in 25 games as a freshman, was held out for most of the fall with an arm issue as was junior-college transfer Cameron Campbell. Jakob Goldfarb, who played outfield as a freshman and sophomore before redshirting last season due to injury, is getting a look at catcher along with junior-college transfer Ray Soderman.
“We have more questions than answers there,” Horton said.
Springfield grad Taylor Travess is the most experienced outfielder after hitting .247 in 41 games, and Goldfarb also is a candidate to play there if he isn’t the catcher. Sophomore Jason Drees missed the fall with a shoulder injury while junior-college transfer Taylor Adams is in the mix along with freshmen Jonny DeLuca and Evan Williams.
“The first impression of the freshmen is that they might be tremendous players,” Horton said. “Are they going to start? That’s up to them to make us take a hard look at that.”
DeLuca, a 39th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins who elected to go to college, could be Oregon’s center fielder.
“He has five tools, a switch-hitter with power from both sides who can throw and run,” Horton said. “We were switching guys around a bit to take a look. If DeLuca plays, he has the skill set to be a center fielder. Goldfarb is also a candidate with Travess.”
Oregon will open the season against Loyola Marymount, then face UNLV and Indiana State at the tournament in Las Vegas.