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Oregon Ducks baseball sets Cullen Kafka as Opening Day starter, Sam Olsson to catch, Kenyon Yovan to begin season in bullpen

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 2/12/2020 By James Crepea, oregonlive.com
a baseball player throwing a ball: Cullen Kafka will be Oregon's Opening Day starter. Photo by Chase Allgood, for The Oregonian/OregonLive. © Chase Allgood/Chase Allgood, for The Oregonian/oregonlive.com/TNS Cullen Kafka will be Oregon's Opening Day starter. Photo by Chase Allgood, for The Oregonian/OregonLive.

EUGENE — Oregon baseball has its Opening Day battery.

Junior right-hander Cullen Kafka will be the starting pitcher and Eugene native Sam Olsson will be behind the plate for the Ducks for Friday’s season opener against Minnesota as part of the Angels College Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Redshirt-junior Kenyon Yovan will begin the season out of the bullpen but still be in the starting lineup at DH.

Kafka, who went 5-5 with a 5.48 ERA in 2019, will duel with Minnesota ace Max Meyer (5-3, 2.11 ERA), a Team USA collegiate national team star and second team all-Big Ten honoree last season.

“He could touch 100 on Opening Day,” Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski said on The James Crepea Show on Fox Sports Eugene. “This kid is as good as they get in the country. For him and Kafka to go head-to-head on Friday night, it’s a scouting director’s dream scenario. It’s probably going to be extremely well attended from Major League scouts.”

Kafka led the Ducks with 14 starts last season, including five to open weekend. The Walnut Creek, Calif. native said he spent the offseason focused on strength and conditioning to improve his strength and endurance.

“I feel great,” Kafka said. “Body feels great.”

Olsson, who transferred from Tacoma C.C. and began his college career at San Jose State, won the catching battle over freshmen Jack Scanlon and Parker Schmidt and sophomore Aaron Zavala, who will likely start in right field.

“(Olsson’s) developed on both sides of the ball,” Wasikowski said. “He’s an offensive player as well that can put a charge in a baseball. He’s not just a guy that can sit back there and catch but he can do a couple of things to help our club win.”

For Yovan, a two-time all-Pac-12 honoree who missed nearly all of last season after a shoulder injury ended his season after just two innings, Wasikowski said the bullpen assignment to open the season is a matter of building up strength and endurance to be an effective starter.

“He is ready to pitch,” Wasikowski said. “But in terms of the number of bullets and the overall arm strength and such, the overall feel, he’s not at 100 percent yet in terms of maximum arm strength. He is in terms of health, which is nice.”

Yovan hit .233 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 2018 is expected to hit in the middle of Oregon’s lineup at DH.

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©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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