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At Oregon State, Pat Casey's goals are to fill holes, keep chemistry

by: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY BEN WETZLER

It didn't take Pat Casey and Marty Lees long to put the 2011 season in their rear-view mirror and focus on 2012.

Days after Oregon State's departure from the NCAA super regionals, just two wins short of another berth in the College World Series, the OSU coaches were on the recruiting trail.

Casey was in Vancouver, Wash., watching a high school catcher prospect while Lees was in Florida, looking for a catcher and outfielder from the junior-college ranks.

It's the never-ending pursuit of talent that drives Casey, Lees and their staff as they attempt to get back to the Promised Land of college baseball.

Oregon State, picked by Pac-10 coaches for an eighth-place finish, was 41-19 overall and tied for second in conference with a 17-10 mark this season. That left Casey - named Pac-10 coach of the year for the third time - thirsting for more.

Baseball's recruiting game is unique to other sports because of the June major-league draft. Drafted players who just completed their junior seasons in college, plus graduating high-school seniors, have until Aug. 15 to sign a pro contract.

It's a maddening time for major-college coaches, who sign prep seniors to letters-of-intent in the fall and then must play the waiting game to see which of them wind up on their campus the following September.

Already, OSU received a blow when junior third baseman Carter Bell, drafted in the 29th round by Arizona, signed with the Diamondbacks. Beaver coaches were hoping he would return for a senior season to enhance his draft positioning a year from now.

Catcher Andrew Susac (second round, San Francisco) and pitchers Sam Gaviglio (fifth round, St. Louis) and Josh Osich (sixth round, San Francisco) are as good as gone. It would be big if center fielder Brian Stamps (24th round, Atlanta), a JC transfer who played his first season at OSU this spring, would choose to return for his senior year.

'I'll be surprised if Brian doesn't come back,' says Lees, OSU's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. 'He has a lot to gain if he does.'

Beaver coaches are also keeping a watchful eye on what Lees feels is the best recruiting class in his 10 years with the Oregon State program.

Five of the potential incoming freshman class were drafted, but Lees is just as high on three who weren't selected because pro scouts knew they intended to play college ball - pitcher Riley Wilkerson of West Linn, pitcher/outfielder Dylan Davis of Redmond, Wash., and outfielder Michael Conforto of Woodinville, Wash.

'Conforto and Davis would have been drafted in the top four rounds,' Lees says 'They're probably as good players as we've ever recruited. They can help us right away.'

Lees compares the right-hander Wilkerson to OSU freshman Scott Schultz.

'Had Riley wanted to sign, he'd have been drafted easily,' Lees says. 'He's a Schultz type of kid. He can have as much impact next year as Scott did' this season.

Of the five prep draftees, one - catcher Nate Esposito of Granite Bay, Calif. (46th round, Oakland) - has indicated he is coming to OSU.

One - infielder Brandon Martin of Corona, Calif. (compensation round, Tampa Bay) - will surely sign.

That leaves pitcher Jace Fry from Southridge High (ninth round, Oakland), outfielder Jordan Dunatov of Scottsdale, Ariz., (14th round, Pittsburgh) and pitcher Carlos Rodriguez (20th round, Atlanta).

Casey believes Fry, who went 10-0 with a 1.42 ERA as a senior and was named Metro League pitcher of the year, can win a spot in the starting rotation as a freshman. So does Lees.

'Jace is instrumental to what we have going on for next season,' Lees says. 'We just faced a Vanderbilt bunch where there are a couple of Jace Frys in there. He would mean a lot to our program.'

Rodriguez, a 6-2, 195-pound lef-thander, 'is right there with Jace,' Lees says. 'He is really good.'

Dunatov, 6-5 and 200, is a slugging hitter who can also pitch.

'He is big, strong and athletic,' Lees says. 'We need this kid.'

Two Oregon State pitching signees out of the JC ranks were also drafted - former Century High standout Kylin Turnbull from Santa Barbara (Calf.) City College (fourth round, Washington) and pitcher Cole Brocker from Sacramento City College (39th round, Detroit).

Casey isn't counting his chickens before they're hatched.

'When a guy actually shows up in September, then you can start making those decisions or what kind of a club you'll have,' he says. 'Chemistry is such a big part of what we had going this year. That's something we want going forward. But there are a lot of good things out there for us if it all comes together as we hope.'

Even without Gaviglio and Osich, the pitching stable is as deep and talented as ever. Right-hander Adam Duke (1-0, 4.76), limited to six late-season appearances due to shoulder problems, and left-hander Ben Wetzler (6-3, 4.66) will return as projected starters. That leaves three spots in the rotation up for grabs.

'You need five (starters) nowadays,' Casey says. 'Every year, we've had at least one freshman in the rotation. I'll be surprised if that's not the case next year.'

The bullpen is loaded with returnees, including first-team all-Pac-10 closer Tony Bryant (3-2, 1.52, 12 saves) and set-up man Matt Boyd (1.57, four saves), the latter named Thursday to the U.S. national college summer team. Also back are Schultz (4-1, 3.61), Cole Baylis (1-0, 2.25) and Cam Booser (0-1, 6.97).

Returnees as position players include Kavin Keyes (.302), a first-team all-Pac-10 choice as a designated hitter; second baseman Jake Rodriguez (team-high .320), shortstop Ryan Dunn, first baseman Danny Hayes and outfielders Ryan Barnes and Garrett Nash. Rodriguez probably will move to third base, while Keyes could earn the every-day second base job.

The biggest hole to fill will be at catcher, and Casey thinks little-used pitcher Ryan Gorton, who will be a senior next season, could be the man.

'He's a good enough athlete, he could win that job,' Casey says.

Lees still wants to land a big bopper, perhaps in a designated-hitter role.

'DH is a position now in college baseball,' he says. 'If we have to recruit a full-time DH, we will. We want that and an outfielder who can hit some home runs.'