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January 10, 2009

Oregon State aiming for normalcy

No team is more motivated this season than Oregon State.

After winning back-to-back national titles, the Beavers played arguably the nation's toughest schedule last season and compiled a 28-24 overall record. The Beavers didn't make the cut when Selection Monday rolled around.

Oregon State coach Pat Casey understands his team didn't play to its potential last season, but also feels his program should've been rewarded for playing a very challenging schedule.

The Beavers hope to control their own destiny this spring.

OSU must find a way to replace pitcher Mike Stutes and position player Jason Ogata and improve offensively, but otherwise is in good shape.

Casey told me his team's strengths are the pitching staff and leadership. The pitching staff tops the list because the Beaver have a wealth of depth entering the season. He also likes the fact the Beavers return a pair of key leaders and veterans, Ortiz and Wong.

In terms of weaknesses, Casey said the Beavers must get more power from some players this season. He said the past few MLB Drafts and departures of some players have kept the Beavers from establishing a powerful lineup. He also said the team wants to get better offensively and that it will be the key to a successful campaign.

The Beavers have some offensive questions to answer between now and Opening Day, but the pitching staff is in excellent shape. The staff also should prevent the Beavers from having a repeat of last season.

Anything but another postseason appearance would be a surprise.


OREGON STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Ryan Ortiz and the Beavers hope to return to normalcy this season.
LAST SEASON
Record: 28-24, 11-13 in Pac-10
In a nutshell: After winning back-to-back national titles, the Beavers entered the 2008 season with high hopes. However, inconsistency combined with arguably the nation's toughest schedule kept the Beavers from accomplishing their goals. OSU ended the season with an RPI of 60 and failed to make an NCAA regional, much to the chagrin of coach Pat Casey.
PROBABLE STARTERS

Rhoderick
C Ryan Ortiz
1B Jared Norris
2B John Tommasini
SS Joey Wong
3B Stefen Romero
OF John Wallace
OF Koa Kahalehoe
OF Logan Lotti/Mike Miller
DH Brett Casey/Adalberto Santos
SP Jorge Reyes
SP Greg Peavey
SP Josh Osich/Tanner Robles/Tyler Waldron
CP Kevin Rhoderick
Head coach: Pat Casey
2009 OUTLOOK
After failing to impress last season, the Beavers went back to the drawing board this past fall and hope to return to the NCAA postseason this spring. The Beavers certainly will be an interesting team to watch this season. OSU welcomes back offensive key cogs Ryan Ortiz and John Wallace, but must get more production from its returnees and newcomers. While the offense definitely is a question mark, the pitching staff is deep and in great shape with Jorge Reyes, Greg Peavey, Kevin Rhoderick and others leading the charge. The Beavers aren't going to dazzle anyone with their hitting this season, but the pitching staff will lead this program back to an NCAA regional.
Offense

If Oregon State plans to reach the College World Series again this season, its offense must rise to the occasion.

The Beavers finished last season with a .292 batting average. From that team, OSU must replace Jason Ogata, Daniel Robertson, Chris Hopkins, Jordan Lennerton and Lonnie Lechelt.

Ogata batted .301 with four homers and 39 RBIs last season, while Roberts hit .327 with a pair of homers and 27 RBIs. Additionally, Hopkins hit .278, Lennerton hit .277 and Lechelt hit .287 with five homers and 33 RBIs.

The Beavers obviously have several players to replace at the plate, but considering their production last season, accomplishing that goal may not be too difficult with several newcomers in the mix.

Casey is excited about the return of Ortiz and Wong. Ortiz finished last season hitting .351 with five homers and 55 RBIs. He also recorded 16 doubles, one triple and 99 total bases. Additionally, he had a slugging percentage of .527 and an on-base percentage of .442. Wong, meanwhile, is expected to have a good season at the plate after failing to impress in '08. Last season, he batted .244 with five homers and 31 RBIs. He also slugged .353 and had a .341 on-base percentage.

OSU also welcomes back Koa Kahalehoe, John Wallace and Brett Casey, while newcomers Jared Norris, Stefen Romero, Logan Lotti and Adalberto Santos are expected to be immediate contributors.

Kahalehoe is a senior and struggled in limited action last season, while Casey hit .333 in just 12 at bats.

The Beavers have few marquee hitters returning but expect the newcomers to be immediate contributors.


Starting pitching

After earning CWS MVP honors two seasons ago, right-handed pitcher Jorge Reyes entered last season hoping to build on the trip to Omaha. That certainly didn't happen.

Reyes, who likely put too much pressure on himself, had a dismal year on the mound and that trend trickled down to Tanner Robles and Josh Osich.

All three pitchers hope to rise to the occasion this season.

Reyes started 14 games last season, had a record of 4-3 and a 7.08 ERA in 67 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 57 and walked 32, while opponents hit him at a .273 clip.

Robles, meanwhile, had a 6.31 ERA in 35 2/3 innings last season, while Osich had a 7.56 ERA in just 25 innings of work.

Sophomore right-hander Greg Peavey could be OSU's best starter this season. Peavey made five starts last season and had a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings. He also struck out 35 and walked 21, while opponents hit him at a .266 clip.

In the sleeper department, keep an eye on Pacific transfer Tyler Waldron. Waldron finished last season at UP with a 5.20 ERA in 91 2/3 innings of work, but had a very strong fall for the Beavers.

Based on numbers alone, Oregon State's weekend rotation doesn't look great. However, each pitcher has been dominant in the past and I expect them to be very good this season, especially Reyes, who's very motivated.

OSU's weekend rotation will surprise some teams.


Bullpen

There's no question the Beavers will have a good bullpen this season.

OSU welcomes back closer Kevin Rhoderick and reliever Mark Grbavac. Rhoderick is back for his sophomore campaign while Grbavac turned down the New York Mets this past summer to return for his senior season.

In '08, Rhoderick made 20 appearances and had a 2.39 ERA in 26 1/3 innings. He also recorded 12 saves, struck out 32 and walked 20 and held opposing teams to an incredibly low .131 clip.

Grbavac made 22 appearances last season and had a 3.62 ERA in 27 1/3 innings. He also struck out 27 and walked 14 while opponents hit .291 off him.

Other pitchers to watch include right-handers Taylor Starr and Nick Stiltner, left-hander Kraig Sitton and freshman righty Sam Gaviglio.

Starr finished last season with a 1.61 ERA in 22 1/3 innings of work, while Sitton had a 3.91 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. Stiltner redshirted last season.


Shoes to Fill

The Beavers don't have too many shoes to fill.

Mike Stutes is the toughest pitcher to replace, while the offense must replace Jordan Lennerton, Lonnie Lechelt, Daniel Robertson, Jason Ogata and Drew George.

Stutes made 14 starts last season and had a 5.32 ERA in 88 innings of work. He also struck out 81 and walked 42, while opponents hit him at a .275 clip.

Offensively last season, Lennerton hit .277 with six homers and 22, Lechelt hit .287 with five homers and 33 RBIs, Robertson hit .327 with a pair of homers and 27 RBIs, Ogata hit .301 with four homers and 39 RBIs and George hit .322 with three homers and 28 RBIs.

I'll be surprised if OSU doesn't make a quick adjustment without these players.


Must Step Up

After each having great freshman campaigns two seasons ago, pitcher Jorge Reyes and shortstop Joey Wong had dismal sophomore campaigns.

Reyes had an ERA above seven last season while Wong finished the year hitting .244 with five homers and 31 RBIs.

Casey said both players were productive during fall workouts, so it'll be interesting to see if the junior pair rises to the occasion this spring.

The Beavers are in great shape if the duo elevates their game. But if they don't, the Beavers could be in a similar situation as last season.

We believe Wong and Reyes will step up.


Impact Newcomer

The Beavers look for freshman pitcher Sam Gaviglio to be an immediate contributor this season, but their top newcomers are position players.

Keep an eye on Jared Norris, Stefen Romero, Logan Lotti, Adalberto Santos, Carter Bell, Brent Warren and Blake Gibbs.

Norris previously was at Yavapai College and is expected to start at first base this season. Romero previously played at Pima Junior College and is expected to be an immediate contributor at third base.

Casey believes Lotti and Santos will be very good this season, while he also is high on Bell, Warren and Gibbs. Keep a close eye on Gibbs, as Casey likes the power he brings to the lineup.

Newcomers will be a big part of OSU's success this season.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.