After each of Aaron Zavala’s 13 hits in his first six college games, Oregon baseball coach George Horton shakes his head, lets out a laugh and has a recurring thought.
“It’s not supposed to be this easy,” Horton said. “To have a freshman be as good as he’s been is pretty unrealistic, but did we think we had a tremendous player? Yes. His numbers in high school were unbelievable but it is certainly a huge step from high school anywhere in the country to play Division I baseball.”
Zavala only moved about an hour for college after earning Class 6A player of the year honors last year for South Salem when he batted .561 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 20 games. He is hitting .542 with four runs and four RBIs as the Ducks (4-2) prepare to host Loyola Marymount (4-3) in a three-game series beginning Friday at PK Park.
“Everything has been going well for me, obviously,” Zavala said. “I had a long offseason and felt like I prepared myself well for the first two series to be in the best position I can to have success at the plate. … I knew I had teammates that would push me and compete with me, but I am always going to believe in myself and know I will play the best I can. I’m going to take myself over anybody else.”
Zavala began his college career by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs in Oregon’s season-opening 9-4 win at eighth-ranked Texas Tech. He has three hits in four of Oregon’s six games to become the first player in the modern history of the program to do that in any six-game stretch.
“Aaron has always been like that,” said Oregon junior first baseman Gabe Matthews, a prep teammate of Zavala with the Saxons. “We’d go home over winter break and he’d try to outwork me. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, I don’t know, but he is hitting the ball now and has to keep it up.”
Zavala has been Oregon’s designated hitter in all six games.
“He has a very bright future but we have to figure out if he is going to be a catcher or an outfielder or if he is going to be an infielder,” Horton said. “He’s got to work to get a glove on the field, but offensively he has been tremendous.”
Zavala, who is listed as a catcher/outfielder for the Ducks, was primarily a catcher in high school.
“My whole life I always hit, but I also played defense so now I have to focus on hitting and seeing how I can provide the most for the team while playing one side of the game,” he said. “I am working between catcher and outfield, working reps at both spots. Refining my skills to see where I fit in the lineup. … I have played all over the field my whole life, more like a utility player. Catcher, skill-wise, is where I am most comfortable on the defensive side but I think I can play anywhere.”
Horton joked that Zavala will “play third, that’s third in the batting order someday.”
Zavala has mostly batted sixth for the Ducks behind an experienced middle of the order that features Spencer Steer, Matthews and Jakob Goldfarb.
“This start does give me confidence, but every game is a new game,” he said. “There are a lot of good hitters in the lineup who can replace me so I have to control what I can control and do my best.”