Just a few years ago, the total number of Oregon baseball alumni to reach the big leagues since the program’s reboot was barely enough to assemble an infield. Fast forward to 2022, and you could have made a complete starting nine among the Ducks who played Major League Baseball this past season.
When Tyler Anderson made his MLB debut in June 2016, he and Scott McGough were the only UO alumni since 2009 to make “The Show.” But when that duo returned to Eugene last weekend for the program’s alumni reunion, they were among several other big leaguers.
Of the nine Ducks who played MLB ball in 2022, five returned for alumni weekend – Anderson, David Peterson, Garrett Cleavinger, Jake Reed and Ryne Nelson. Nelson was the newest addition to the club, having made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 5, three days after Spencer Steer broke through with the Cincinnati Reds.
“Every time it happens, that debut is just such a special thing for the Duck fraternity, because it is really small so far,” Reed said. “And so each one means a lot right now; we’re not Vanderbilt or USC, where it’s hundreds and hundreds. We have a small group and so it’s really cool to see that continue to grow.”
The fraternity of Ducks is growing to the point that they’re beginning to overlap at the big-league level. When Reed broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2021, he was teammates with Cleavinger and former UO reliever Jimmie Sherfy. Peterson is teammates on the New York Mets with Stephen Nogosek, and Anderson pitched for the Dodgers in 2022 with both Reed and Cleavinger.
Anderson recently signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels, where he’ll potentially match up at some point against fellow UO alum and new AL West rival Cole Irvin of the Oakland Athletics. On Sept. 12 this past season, when Nelson made his second career start for Arizona, the opposing pitcher for the Dodgers was Anderson.
“You just see a lot more guys around the league that were Ducks,” said Anderson, the second UO alum since the reboot to reach the big leagues, after McGough did so in 2015. “It just speaks to what they’re doing with the program – recruiting really good players, and then developing great players. What you learn here, you can take to the next level.”
Anderson started a game in the NL Division Series for the Dodgers in October, and threw five scoreless innings. Peterson made two appearances in the NL Wild Card series for the Mets, and Cleavinger was outstanding in two scoreless postseason appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays.
If guys like McGough, Anderson and Ryon Healy were the trailblazers for Oregon baseball on the path to the big leagues, Cleavinger was in the next generation, with the likes of Kyle Garlick, Peterson and Reed. This past season they got to celebrate the arrival of the next wave, in Steer and Nelson.
“Even the guys I didn’t play with here at Oregon, you see them make it to the big leagues and you feel a sense of pride that this is where we all came from,” Cleavinger said Saturday while watching the home run derby conducted as part of alumni weekend at PK Park. “And it’s awesome to be able to come back here and kind of reconnect with everybody.”
Nelson participated in alumni weekend for the first time as an active big leaguer, after making three starts for the Diamondbacks in September. He was a freshman at Oregon in 2017, when Peterson was an all-American and a first-round draft pick by the Mets.
“I got to watch him go through the whole process of having just an unbelievable year,” Nelson said. “Becoming a first-round draft pick, all of it. Seeing stuff like that, it can only motivate you. The work he did on the side, what he did with (then-UO pitching coach Jason Dietrich) and just trying to implement that in my own career and follow those steps – because it’s not a bad plan.”
It wasn’t long ago that a player for the Ducks had to look hard to find an alum of the program as a role model at the MLB level. Now the ranks are expanding, and should continue to in future years as the likes of 2021 second-round draft pick Aaron Zavala2022 second-round pick Josh Kasevich and more progress up the ladder towards “The Show.”
“A lot of us in my years looked up to the Andersons, the Healys, and it was our goal to keep that going,” Peterson said. “It was a lot of fun to see guys ahead of me get up there, and now it’s a lot of fun to see those guys behind us start to come up.
“Obviously we want to win a World Series at the college level, and be in the postseason every year. But also once you’re gone, being able to come back and talk to guys that have made it about their experience, and really have that fraternity of guys that are in pro baseball, yeah, it’s fun.”