Oregon's baseball team returns the left side of its infield, but Ryne Nelson and Spencer Steer may both be among the Ducks switching positions this season.
Nelson was Oregon’s starting shortstop and closer last year, but will likely focus exclusively on pitching this season. Steer, a two-year starter at third base, is a candidate to replace Nelson at shortstop.
“That’s kind of up to the coaches, but I’d love to play there,” Steer said. “I know I can pay there so it is whatever they see as the best fit for the team. I am working there now, but who knows.”
Steer and first baseman Gabe Matthews are Oregon’s two returning infield starters. Freshmen Kyle Froemke, Sam Novitske and Max Foxcroft are contending for the other two spots.
“The game goes very slow for Spencer, he’s always under control and very experienced,” Oregon coach George Horton said. “Instead of having two freshmen in the middle, it might be good to have an experienced guy there. Physically, Spencer can do it for sure. We will have to see between the freshmen where they would play at second and third if Spencer is at short.”
Sophomore Jonny DeLuca has also gotten some work in the middle of the infield, but is expected to return to outfield. The Ducks have moved senior Jakob Goldfarb to catcher after he spent three seasons in the outfield.
That would leave DeLuca as the only regular returning to the outfield. although sophomore Evan Williams began last season in left field. Junior outfielder Jason Drees has battled a knee injury but should be ready when the Ducks open the season Feb. 15 at Texas Tech.
Freshman Vinny Tosti is competing for a starting spot while James Bell and Aaron Zavala could also play in the outfield while also serving as options at catcher. The Ducks added junior-college transfers Marco Young, Taylor Adams and Chris May in the outfield.
Two-time all-Pac-12 pitcher Kenyon Yovan will be at the top of Oregon’s pitching rotation after going 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA last year when he moved from the bullpen to a starting role.
Nelson is likely to slot in at the Saturday starter behind Yovan, but could be sent back to the bullpen if Oregon needs him as the closer after he went 3-1 with four saves and a 3.86 ERA last year.
“We are throwing Nelly as a starter now, but we have to see how everyone else fits into the puzzle and where he can be used best for the sake of the team,” Horton said.
Sophomore Kolby Somers went 2-7 with a 4.62 ERA while serving as Oregon’s Sunday starter during the second half of last season. Junior left-hander Cole Stringer, who is 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA in 34 career appearances, returns after sitting out a redshirt season last year due to injury.
Horton noted that sophomore Cullen Kafka looked as good as any starter in the fall when Yovan and Nelson got limited work following busy summer schedules.
“I would say we will have good battles at undetermined positions,” Horton said. “Guys who can play the infield or outfield or catch. We are more athletic, more physical and pass the eye test more than we have in past years. We think we might be deeper, especially position-player wise.
"We are working on our depth on the mound. As we try to build the arms up, hopefully our pitching depth will expand. We have a high end with Nelson and Kenyon and Kafka has emerged as a guy. We have seen improvement from some juniors after their sophomore year and the freshmen have been a work-in-progress. I hope they get comfortable and add depth to the mound.”