2017 Baseball Preview: Fresh faces, new expectations

By Sal Aversa | February 21, 2017 10:59pm
by Kristen Garcia / The Beacon

Baseball is back on the Bluff. With two key players from the 2016 roster — Cooper Hummel and Caleb Whalen — gone to the pros, the Pilot baseball team has lost much of the firepower it had a year ago. But with 20 new players on the team, including 12 freshmen, the Pilots are hoping for better fortune in the 2017 baseball season.

Portland finished just 17-37 last season overall and 3-24 in the West Coast Conference, which left them in last place in the WCC. They lost two key batters in the lineup in Hummel and Whalen, who were both drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in last year’s draft and now play in the minor league. Portland also had 13 seniors graduate from last year’s team, which changes the Pilots’ entire starting lineup and rotation this season.

“We lost some offensive production due to graduation and the draft, but we feel confident that we have the necessary pieces to be a better offensive team in 2017 despite those losses,” head coach Geoff Loomis said.

Loomis (‘92), a UP Athletic Hall of Famer, is one of the most decorated players in the history of the Pilots baseball program. He has the highest career batting average (.376) of any player that’s played for the University of Portland. He was also on the last Pilots squad to make the NCAA Regionals in 1991.

But translating the success from his UP playing career, as well as 13 seasons at the helm of Pacific Lutheran University — during which he coached the team to a 327-197-2 record and two NCAA Championship appearances from 2003 to 2015— didn’t come to fruition in his first year coaching on the Bluff.

The Pilots got off to a hot start, winning four of their first five games last year, but struggled the rest of the year only winning five more games than the year before. They haven’t finished above .500 since 2012.

So in his second season as head coach for Portland, Loomis will turn to a new crop of players to change the narrative of a struggling baseball program.

With the loss of so many seniors, Loomis’ newcomers will have an opportunity to start in their first season as a Pilot.

“This group, while young and inexperienced, has the potential to eclipse our win total from last year,” Loomis said.

That fight for starting positions has been something Loomis and his coaching staff have enjoyed watching this offseason, and is something that they believe is a benefit for their team as it provides more depth at each position.

Without Hummel and Whalen, Loomis is looking for a collective leadership effort this spring.

“We believe that all 34 players on our roster have the responsibility to lead,” Loomis said. “Some do that by displaying their daily work habits, others by being vocal leaders.”

A huge roster turnover won’t guarantee huge success in 2017 for the Pilots; Possibly a few more wins and an escape from last place in the WCC. But Loomis says that the new group of players are hungry to make a name for themselves and turn the program around.