By Rob Moseley
His dramatic draft saga behind him, Matt Krook now is just one of the guys.
The Oregon baseball team kicked off fall practice this morning with 17 newcomers on hand, none bearing weightier expectations than Krook, the left-handed pitcher from Hillsborough, Calif. The 35th pick in this year’s MLB draft, Krook agreed to contract terms with the Miami Marlins, only to have team doctors raise concerns about his pitching shoulder.
That drama, and any fear of injury, is now three months behind him. Krook has spent the last month settling in with the Ducks, the team he verbally committed to as a high school junior before his MLB draft stock exploded last season.
“I feel like this is where I should be, and everything worked out perfectly,” Krook said.
After advancing to the NCAA Regional round in the spring, the Ducks will hold a month of practices this fall and then open the 2014 season on Feb. 14 at Hawaii. Oregon’s lineup took a hit with the graduation of Ryon Healy, and the defense will need to replace shortstop J.J. Altobelli, but the Ducks are stocked with pitching, despite the loss of closer Jimmie Sherfy.
All three weekend starters return, including sophomore Cole Irvin, who set a UO record with 12 wins in the spring. He’s joined by juniors Jake Reed and Tommy Thorpe, plus short reliever Garrett Cleavinger.
With a fastball that touches 95 mph and a biting curveball, Krook could be a candidate to replace Sherfy, or challenge one of the veterans starters for a spot in the rotation. With the pressure of the season still months away, though, Krook can continue the adjustment to college life, after coming so close to turning pro.
“Everything I’ve seen so far is that he’s really clicked with the younger guys,” Reed said. “He’s not ‘Krook, the first-rounder.’ He’s just another freshman. And that’s what everybody wants out of him.”
The easy assumption is that Krook isn’t where he pictured himself at this point, based on his draft position. To the contrary, he said; since committing to the Ducks as a high school junior, he always envisioned his future in Eugene, and had to quickly readjust his perspective after rocketing up draft lifts as a senior.
Prior to that, Krook said, he’d been “kind of a nobody.” But after dedicating himself to a workout regimen, he added 5 mph to his fastball last year. Professional scouts took notice, and on June 5 the Marlins sent legend Andre Dawson to the podium for the announcement of Krook’s selection.
“It was really surreal,” the 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander said. “It hit me, like, ‘This happened; is this what you want?’ Those next few weeks were a tough few weeks.”
Over the course of June, Krook agreed to basic contract terms with the Marlins, flew to Florida and found out team doctors took issue with the shoulder. Krook was sitting in a hotel room in Miami after hearing that news when he decided his path would lead to Eugene after all.
“The decision was pretty simple once I really thought about it,” Krook said. “I wanted to get the college experience, and get to play for a national championship contending team.”
Other doctors have since cleared Krook to throw, and he says there are no lingering concerns about the stability of his shoulder. Krook has had several bullpen sessions already in Eugene, showing off the repertoire that could make him a factor for the Ducks in the spring.
Irvin is only a year removed from his own freshman season. A key for Krook, Irvin said, will be quickly digesting Oregon’s system – signs from the catcher, etc. – so that it becomes second nature.
“If he’s able to slow it down, work with the coaches and work with the guys on the team, he’s going to have a chance to have a huge impact,” Irvin said.
A 29th-round MLB draft pick himself out of high school, Irvin said he arrived in Oregon “a little too cocky.” Veteran players “put me in my place,” Irvin said, for which he’s now grateful.
The Ducks will watch Krook now that practices have begun to see how he adjusts to this level. But Irvin said Krook’s personality is such that he has a chance to be a team leader soon, and that he hasn’t seen any sort of overconfidence.
Krook’s discussions of his goal for this season illustrate that. It’s all about the team, regardless of the role he ultimately assumes.
“Obviously the goal is to get to Omaha (for the College World Series),” Krook said. “Watching last year, watching UCLA do that and win, it was awesome. It got me fired up. It got me thinking, all right, next year we’re going to get there and do what they just did.”
Regardless of his draft experience, that’s the journey Krook says he wanted to take all along, as a Duck.