Bazzana, Beavers believe 2024 baseball season will be a hit

The Beavers celebrating against USC on Friday, Apr. 14 2023.
The Beavers celebrating against USC on Friday, Apr. 14 2023.
Rafael Quero Juarez

Wake up and smell the hot dogs. It’s time for Beaver baseball.

The Beavers are just days away from the first pitch of its 2024 season, and there is no need to mince words about this: It’s going to be the Travis Bazzana show. 

Projected to be among the top three players chosen in the next Major League Baseball draft, Bazzana, the Beavs’ second baseman, will lead a team of experienced veterans and a cast of promising newcomers into the team’s final PAC-12 season. 

Here are some storylines we’ll be following as the season gets underway against New Mexico on Feb. 16. 

THE WONDER FROM DOWN UNDER

While there are some questions about which position Bazzana will play at the next level, MLB scouts are universally excited about his hitting. The junior, who grew up in Australia, hit 0.374 with 11 home runs and 55 Runs Batted In’s last season. He also stole 36 bases and walked 59 times, tied for the team lead with Garrett Forrester, who was drafted in the third round of last year’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

More simply, Bazzana’s offensive production is the engine that will power the Beaver offense, and expectations for a stellar 2024 season are sky-high. 

“I don’t think he’s ever satisfied,” Head Coach Mitch Canham said. “I’ve said that Travis is part of the 1% but I think that he’s even a smaller percentage of that in how he goes about his process and work.”

After the Beavs had their 2023 season halted by Louisiana State University, Bazzana continued his domination over the summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League. The lefty hit 0.375, earning him the league’s batting title and coveted Most Valuable Player award.

But awards and accolades aren’t everything for Bazzana; relationships and connections with teammates are what he thinks will propel them to the top.

“The biggest thing for me is just continuing to grow as a person and a leader,” Bazzana said. “Learning more and more about my teammates and seeing how I can pour into them every day. Lead with action and bring the guys with me.”

Oh yeah, and he also shared the cover page of “Baseball America,” with the Beaver’s sophomore power-bat, Gavin Turley. 

“It’s still kind of a wild thing to think about,” Bazzana said. “Growing up, you see ‘Baseball America’ and you see the stars and the people you look up to. If I ever have a man cave or something like that, that cover will probably be up somewhere.”

THE ARMS 

“It makes it easier when you have a lot of depth on the mound, you stay healthy and you also have guys who are ready to step up when the time comes,” Canham said. 

Boy, do the Beavers have depth this year. Case in point: former University of Arizona right-hander Aiden May. The junior from Albuquerque, New Mexico boasted a 5-3 record in 16 starts while posting a 6.33 Earned Run Average at the end of the Wildcats’ 2023 season. 

There’s no question May feels comfortable inside Goss Stadium; the last time he pitched on the turf bump he tossed a season-high nine strikeouts.

May is the early favorite to earn the spot of Friday starter in the rotation. 

“Having seen (May) compete and compete against us, you know there’s an electric arm there. (He) works to fill up the strike zone and (he’s) hard to square up,” Canham said. 

Bridger Holmes, a 6-4 righty, found his way to Corvallis after posting a 7-1 record with a 2.63 ERA and punching out 162 hitters at Feather River Junior College. Holmes features an extremely lively fastball paired with a slider that moves in the opposite direction posing a hefty task to opposing hitters. 

New to the left-field bullpen is Cal Poly transfer Kyle Scott. He appeared in 21 games for the Mustangs last year, hurling 24 strikeouts in 22.33 innings and a batting average against of 0.175. Scott’s fastball sits around 93-95 mph and features a sharp slider.

Sophomore flamethrower Nelson Keljo pitched in 20 games for the Beavers mainly out of the bullpen and racked up 32 strikeouts in 21.67 innings of work. 

“Keljo’s slider has gotten even better,” Canham said. “He already has a plus fastball but his slider has continued to develop.”

After being shut down for the season before the Beavers 2023 regional against LSU, Jacob Kmatz is poised to pick up where he left off. The 6-foot-3 righthander started in 14 games 10 in PAC-12 play and finished 3-3 with an ERA of 5.05.

“It feels good to be back playing again,” Kmatz said. “It hurt to not be there at (LSU). I think all of us have felt that pain from last year whether we were there or not and it’s feeding into what we are trying to achieve this year.”

Joey Mundt is back. After spending nearly two years shut down due to injury, the 217-pound right-hander will find his way back on the Goss Stadium bump and give a huge boost to this year’s pitching staff. In 2021, Mundt racked up two saves in 23 games and posted a 4.73 ERA. 

“I never hear him complain,” Canham said. “He’s the one taking out the trash and holding the guys accountable… That young man has been working his butt off and he deserves a chance to compete.”

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

Headlining “Baseball America” eighth-ranked 2024 recruiting class is infield phenom Trent Caraway, who won Gatorade’s California Baseball Player of the Year award. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder captained JSerra Catholic High School to its second consecutive state championship while batting a whopping 0.462 and breaking the school’s record with 49 hits. 

Carraway should see his name on the opening-day lineup and while it might be hard to look past his big-bat, the coaching staff is just as thrilled with his defensive abilities. 

“Carraway’s got a bazooka,” Canham said. “It’s fun to watch him pick up a ball on his backhand down the line and throw it across (the diamond).”

It would be foolish to stop at the top of the barrel with this group of recruits as it’s full of big bats and live arms. West Linn native Drew Talavs comes to the Beavers fresh off a Class 6A state title in a season where he struck out 107 batters. Pitching coach Rich Dorman said he’s reached 95 mph with his fastball this fall. 

Freshman Eric Segura is an arm that has managed to capture the team’s attention.

“Holy cow, Eric Segura,” Dorman said. “Eric has done a tremendous job of showing his competitiveness and that he can potentially be a starter for us. Right now if I’m ranking freshman he’s probably near the top.”

6-foot-6 right-hander Laif Palmer has already proven to the coaching staff that he’s a competitor. Coach Dorman mentioned that Palmer had a minor setback when the squad returned from winter break but is set to make a return to the bump in the middle to the end of the year. 

Dam Analytics, the Beavers’ in-house stats squad, recorded Palmer reaching up to 95 mph with his fastball in the fall.

“He’s a monster,” Canham said. “He’s gonna throw really hard and the projection he has is going to be tremendous.”

This year, a familiar last name finds its way to Corvallis in Brandon Forrester, the brother of the Beavers’ 2023 first baseman Garrett Forrester.

“Brandon’s been working his butt off,” Canham said. “He shows up early and stays late. There’s a lot of similarities between him and his brother but he’s more of a speed and contact guy.”

THE GOAL

Canham’s Beavs are not distracted by any of the noise. Whether it be a top 10 pre-season ranking or moving to an independent schedule for next year’s season, their expectation stays the same.

“We expect nothing but bringing home a National Championship this year,” first-baseman Mason Guerra said.

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