In his first mailbag answer column, James Cleary addresses questions ranging from Pac-12 players in the MLB Draft, to the progress of an expansion program, and the consequences of last season’s cancellations and extended eligibility. As always, your questions are much-appreciated. (You can ask them here.)
Posted on August 7, 2020
What is the real reason Mitch Canham pushed Pat Bailey out at OSU, and what impact will it have on the program?
—Steve, Albany, OR
Steve, I imagine the number of people who know the answer to this could be counted on one hand, and none are going to be talking about it. However, I do have a source very close to the program who indicated that this move was one made by Coach Canham himself.
I see two possible reasons for it and, likely, both are partially true.
The first reason is to get assistant coach Ryan Gipson on the payroll. Baseball has some funny rules that limit the number of paid coaches you can have on a staff. Gibson, who is a great coach himself, is close with Canham and is certainly deserving of being paid.
The second reason boils down to the reality that there are very few successful programs that have two starting quarterbacks. What I mean by this is simply that Canham and Bailey are two different coaches with two different styles.
Bailey ran the program as the head guy the year after Pat Casey left, and going from the guy in charge to second in command is not easy for anyone. The move likely feels freeing to Canham who can now really begin the new era at OSU.
As to the impact on the program, it is obviously too early to say for sure. If you take a close look, the only holdover on staff from the 2018 National Title team is Jake Rodriguez, the Director of Baseball Operations.
The entire coaching staff, training staff, and strength and conditioning staff from 2018 is gone.
Canham was hand-picked by Coach Casey. A former Beaver player, Canham came up in the Beaver system. However, he learned some new tricks in his minor league playing days, and also during his time with the Mariners. I expect to see a bit more of a new school approach in Corvallis during the Canham Era.
This doesn’t mean we won’t see any small ball, nor will we see a team that leads the conference in strike outs and home runs every year. It does mean you may see a more aggressive style of baseball. The next few years will be really interesting to watch in Corvallis.
Which of the Pac-12 players drafted do you expect to contribute the most to their MLB team this season, what’s left of it?
—Don, Glendale, AZ
Don, I am not completely sure what you mean with this question. Unlike every other sport, you are not going to see any guys drafted in 2020 play at the major league level in 2020.
In fact, it is highly unlikely that we will see Adley Rutschman (2019 1st overall pick) or Andrew Vaughn (2019 3rd overall pick) play in the big leagues this season. We certainly will not see Spencer Torkelson (2020 1st overall pick) or any other 2020 draft pick this baseball season.
If you are talking about former Pac-12 Players that are going to break into the league this year, there are some good ones to keep an eye out for.
One fun encounter occurred this past Friday (July 31st) when second baseman Nick Madrigal (2018 4th overall pick from Oregon State) made his MLB debut for the White Sox against pitcher Kris Bubic (2018 40th overall pick from Stanford) who was also making his MLB debut for the opposing Kansas City Royals.
Bubic got the better of Madrigal in that one, getting Madrigal to ground out in the two at-bats where the two faced off. However, the Sox ended up taking the win in the end.
As of opening day, 42 former Pac-12 baseball players were on Major league rosters. Since then, a few more have trickled in and I am sure we will see some more going in and out as this unusual season continues.
Do you think the Utes can ever compete with the top Pac-12 baseball programs? What would it take, and when would you expect it to happen?
—Leonard, Salt Lake City, UT
Leonard, I guess it depends on what you mean by “compete.” In 2016, the Utes were the outright Pac-12 champions, which suggests that they certainly can win a Conference title. Admittedly, that was a down year for the Pac-12 and I do not see that happening again anytime soon.
Further, if you are talking about Utah becoming a powerhouse baseball program like USC, UCLA, ASU or OSU (to name a few), the answer is: It’s probably not going to happen.
The main disadvantage Utah has in becoming a powerhouse baseball school is the location of the state. Baseball is a warm-weather sport and Salt Lake City is not known for its warm winters. Players in the state can’t go hit on the field or play long-toss on a daily basis like they can in Arizona or California.
For this reason, the baseball talent pool in Utah is just not as deep as it is in other states. It is difficult to sell the idea of coming to Salt Lake and spending four or five months stuck in batting cages to a talented kid raised in LA or Phoenix.
Besides the weather, Utah just does not have the historical success that other programs do. Utah has sent 16 players to the MLB all time. Compare that to the 128 players sent by USC, or the 125 players by ASU.
Again, this becomes a real challenge in recruiting top talent.
This doesn’t mean that Utah will never compete within this Conference. The reality is that any team that can find three quality starting pitchers will have a great chance to win games each weekend. You add some guys that can handle the bat and you quickly have a team that can make some noise.
For Utah, it is probably going to take some really good recruiting of kids that were raised in the state, and convincing them to stay there to play college ball.
Assuming Pac-12 baseball is played this spring, which teams will be helped the most by having more players back from last year?
—Robert, La Mirada, CA
Robert, this is a really interesting question because I can see the advantages for both young and old teams alike. For the older teams, they are going to return a lot of talent they might otherwise have lost to the draft or graduation. This is obviously going to help come next spring.
For the younger teams, they will now have an extra season of fall ball together which can be huge for young guys. In addition, the added year to get bigger, faster, and stronger could be a tremendous boost for some really talented guys that were waiting to catch up physically.
To get more specific, I think most teams are helped by the situation overall. The one school this is certainly not true for would be Arizona State. ASU lost five guys in the first 115 picks of the 2020 draft, including Number One overall pick Spencer Torkelson. That is an incredible amount of talent, and there is no doubt that they will have less fire power in 2021.
The three teams that I see benefitting the most from the delay are Cal, USC, and OSU.
Cal entered the 2020 season with a lot of talent that just hadn’t yet played at a level to match it. The extra year gives that talent time to develop. Most notably, Darren Baker (son of Astros’ manager Dusty Baker) will be returning to play in California after going undrafted in the shortened MLB draft.
For USC and OSU, it is mostly about the new coaches. Both programs have a lot of historical success, and both programs made coaching moves after 2019. The short season gave these coaches a taste of what coaching these big programs would be like. They can both use that experience to come out much more confident in 2021.
In addition, neither team lost many guys to the draft. Oregon State also brings back World Series star pitcher Kevin Able, who would have certainly gone to the MLB if this was a normal year.
—Recent James Cleary Stories—
- MLB Announcement Changes Landscape of College Baseball
- Cleary: Making Sense of a Lost Baseball Season
- Cleary: 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Predictions
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Utah Utes
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: UW & WSU
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Oregon & OSU
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: USC & UCLA
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Cal & Stanford
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Arizona & ASU
- Cleary: The Pac-12 is the SEC of Baseball
Cleary Mailbag: Why Pat Bailey wasn’t retained as an assistant at OSUPlus questions about MLB Draft, last season's cancellations, and more- August 7, 2020
MLB Announcement Changes Landscape of College BaseballThe pro baseball league has dramatically reduced the 2020 draft from previous seasons- May 9, 2020
Cleary: Making Sense of a Lost Baseball SeasonWith extended eligibility, next season figures to be much different- April 9, 2020