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MailTribune.com
  • WCL BASEBALL

    Back in full swing

    Oregon State's Casper builds momentum as hitter, pitcher with the Rogues
  • If ever there were a baseball player who needed to recharge his battery over the summer, it's Jerad Casper.
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    • JERAD CASPER
      WHO: A 6-foot-2, 200-pound third baseman/pitcher for the Medford Rogues.
      • WHAT: Casper started 20 of his 29 games last season for Oregon State but saw limited action down the stretch as t...
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      JERAD CASPER
      WHO: A 6-foot-2, 200-pound third baseman/pitcher for the Medford Rogues.

      • WHAT: Casper started 20 of his 29 games last season for Oregon State but saw limited action down the stretch as the Beavers advanced to the College World Series. He's hitting .305 with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in WCL play for the Rogues, and has allowed only one hit with seven strikeouts in three innings of relief pitching overall.
      • UP NEXT: Medford at Corvallis, 6:40 tonight at Goss Stadium.
  • If ever there were a baseball player who needed to recharge his battery over the summer, it's Jerad Casper.
    Casper was a fixture in the Oregon State lineup this past spring after transferring from Bellevue Community College, starting out as strong as anyone before ultimately fading into the background by midseason during the Beavers' journey to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
    The experience was both gratifying and grueling for the power-hitting third baseman. On one hand, he achieved a goal of making it to the CWS. On the other, all he could do was sit and support his teammates from the sidelines.
    With all that in his rearview mirror these days, Casper is going about the process of rebuilding his confidence and refining his play here as a member of the West Coast League's Medford Rogues.
    "This was a good place to come and get some at-bats and be around the guys and have a family atmosphere," he said. "Most importantly, I want to win, and with this group of guys I think we can do that here. It's been a lot of fun so far and we've gotten really close."
    After a slow start, Casper has been a key fixture in the Rogues' ability to climb up the WCL's South Division standings as they make their stretch run following the All-Star break. The Rogues entered Wednesday's game in Corvallis with a 20-19 record, standing third behind the Bend Elks (23-14) and Corvallis Knight's (21-15).
    The fact that Medford's final 15 games of the WCL season begin with Casper's return to Goss Stadium seems fitting, with the power-hitting third baseman able to showcase to his OSU peers and coaches just how far he's come in the matter of a month.
    Casper is the reigning WCL player of the week after going 12-for-26 with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs during his team's recent six-game winning streak. He was a replacement pick for the WCL's All-Star game in Victoria, B.C., but couldn't take part because he didn't have his passport.
    The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder entered Wednesday's game hitting .305 with 11 RBIs and seven extra-base hits in WCL play. He homered twice in his first action for the Rogues, but that was in nonleague play for the Rogues.
    "Casper's got some strength," said Rogues teammate Kevin Davidson, who is among the league leaders with five homers and 28 RBIs. "He's a big boy and he's got a great swing."
    That swing led the Maple Valley, Wash., native to all sorts of accolades at Tahoma High School, and then again at Bellevue. The 21-year-old standout likely expected the same success when he took the field for Oregon State, but wound up starting 20 of his 29 games and hitting .167 with four doubles, nine runs and 11 RBIs.
    "I think this last year he kinda underperformed and he knows that as a player," said Rogues assistant coach Dylan Jones, who serves as an undergraduate member of OSU's coaching staff. "I think this summer he's got to get back to being the player that he is and getting that confidence and find a groove with his swing. I think he's been doing a good job with that this summer, he just needs to keep going and ride it into next fall where we can start rebuilding for next year."
    Casper has no bitter feelings toward his first run with the Beavers, only disappointment in not being able to play a bigger role.
    "At first when I stopped playing that much, it sucked not being out there," he said, "but, at the same time, I still had a job to do and still had to keep upbeat for the team. The thing I went to Oregon State for was to go to Omaha and win a national championship, and we got pretty close. I was just trying to be a team guy and trying to help us any way we can to get there — that was my main goal — so I still had a lot of fun."
    While in Omaha, Casper said he got to see firsthand how amazing it can be to reach the national championships, and took quite a bit from the experience.
    "It was the most unreal experience I've ever had," he said. "It was so much fun. The atmosphere is great, the city of Omaha was just unreal and all the fans were very supportive. We just had a blast."
    "It also motivated me being there," added Casper. "When we were there I took everything in and I felt it was a great time but, at the same time, it kinda sucked because I couldn't play. It motivates me to work harder every day. Maybe next year I can start out and get a job and we can go back to Omaha."
    What job that may be remains to be seen, and Casper is doing his best to create more options for his senior campaign. Through a request from OSU head coach Pat Casey, Casper is seeing action on the pitcher's mound for the first time since he left Bellevue — and to stellar results.
    "Coach Casey definitely wanted us first to use him to get better in the field defensively and get his confidence back at the plate," said Rogues head coach Josh Hogan, "but they also asked if we could try to get him in there on the mound and see if he could do that and maybe give them an extra option."
    Casper struck out the side in his first appearance, a nonleague game against Central Oregon, then struck out three again with one hit allowed in his first WCL outing against Bend. In his second WCL effort, he allowed an easy groundout to second base, a flyout to right field and then picked up another strikeout — making it nine outs in 10 batters faced overall.
    "He's got a great arm at third and he pitched when he was in community college and we've just seen that there's potential there," Jones said of the summer experiment. "If it's going to give him an opportunity to be on the field, and help us win games, then I think it's going to be something that's a win-win for both sides."
    Casper couldn't agree more.
    "I'm all for it," he said. "It's just one of those things the coaches want to explore and see if it can get me on the field a little bit more. Any way to get me on the field is good with me. If they want me to play outfield or catcher or whatever, it doesn't really matter to me as long as I'm playing."
    Casper said his velocity was in the low 90s when he was in high school but he hasn't really tested that since those days. His success on the mound isn't entirely unexpected, but it certainly caught Hogan off guard.
    "It really was a surprise," the Rogues coach said of his first outings. "I thought he'd have a little velo and I heard he had a decent curve but I didn't know he pounded the strike zone that well. He's pretty good up there. That curveball's very sharp, it's a very plus pitch."
    "We're trying to win games so it's not like we're just throwing him out there because coach Casey wants us to," added Hogan. "We're putting him out there in situations where it's kind of a big deal because we trust him up there."
    And it's that kind of trust Casper has hoped to regain this summer in an effort to springboard him to bigger and better next season at Oregon State.
    "As a senior coming back, I think he's got a great chance to be a good leader for us," said Jones. "Just being around the program for a year and coming back is a really good thing for him. Once you get a little taste of (the CWS) you want to go back, and I think that's what I keep hearing him say. He keeps saying that he should've been hitting in Omaha, and ultimately I think he's going to be one of those guys as a senior who's only goal is to get back there. He wants to get those (at-bats) at the end of the year, that's what he's striving for and something I think he can earn if he keeps this up."
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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