Spencer is entering his 11th season as an assistant at Oregon State. The
associate head coach and pitching coach of the Beavers, Spencer has been
instrumental in helping the Beavers to back-to-back College World Series
appearances and the 2006 National Championship. He joins
CollegeBaseballInsider.com for the 2007 season.
Nov. 27, 2006
Just yesterday, I was with Coach Casey at a homecoming event, standing with
four players from last year’s Oregon State University National Championship
As Pat was talking, I was preparing myself to be asked to say something. In
the attempt to come up with something clever, I got to thinking about the four
guys who were standing with us, and I thought about the first time I had seen
each of them play.
Cole Gillespie, 2006 Pac-10 player of the year and our starting left-fielder,
had been a shortstop/pitcher at West Linn High School in Oregon. Tyler Graham,
our starting center fielder, was a shortstop at Great Falls High School in
Montana. Shea McFeely, our starting third baseman, was a shortstop/pitcher at
Federal Way High School in Washington. Ryan Gipson, who started at second base
for us in 2005 and played right-field for us in Omaha in 2006, was a shortstop
at Shasta Community College prior to coming to Oregon State University. To take
it a step further, our starting catcher, Mitch Canham, was a right-fielder/first
baseman/third baseman in high school and had not caught in a game until he
caught his first in college.
The point is that baseball is a game played from the inside out. A team is
only as good as the guys who are playing in the middle of the field: pitchers,
catchers, shortstop and center field.
If this premise is true, then high school teams should play their best
athletes in the middle of the field, and the bulk of your scholarship money
should be spent up the middle.
The shortstop is in the middle of everything: He should know what the
responsibilities of the other infielders are and also display leadership
qualities inherent to the position. If this player moves to another position,
they take those same leadership qualities and a better understanding of the
overall game than would a player who has played left field his whole life.
Because college baseball is limited to 11.7 scholarships, it behooves clubs
to recruit and develop guys who can play more than one position. I have found
that most players are more than willing to change positions if it means there is
a chance to play or to get out from behind an All-American. If a player is
unwilling to move, he is probably not the kid you were looking for in the first
place - putting his personal agenda ahead of the good of the club.
Baseball is a skill sport. Great athletes are not necessarily great baseball
players. The key is finding the athlete who can either already hit or shows you
enough aptitude that you think he can be developed offensively. The problem is
that everyone in college and professional baseball is looking for the same
player. The reality is that the average college hitter who can run and play
multiple positions is more valuable than the average college hitter who can’t
run and plays one position. One more obvious advantage is the more good athletes
you can play on defense, the more balls they will get to. Consequently, your
pitchers will do a better job of pitching to contact and in theory be more
A program’s overall philosophy is a combination of its recruiting, practice
and game-day plan. If you wish to play fast, then you must recruit fast players.
If you are hoping to have power throughout your lineup, then you must recruit
power, maybe at the expense of another tool. Whatever your choice of play, the
key is to have a plan and to recruit and practice towards it.
There is no blueprint for winning, and there is no one plan that is better
than another, but there must be one consistent philosophy that every team member
understands and is working toward.
(photo courtesy of Oregon State Media Relations Office)