As Ducks Open Practice With Several Moving Parts, Heineman's Versatility A Huge Asset
By Rob Moseley
Entering his fourth year with the Oregon baseball team, Scott Heineman has learned through experience to be ready for anything. That attitude will serve him well this season for the Ducks, who officially began practicing for the 2015 campaign Friday.
Recruited as an infielder, Heineman was moved to catcher prior to his sophomore year, then was asked to play outfield for the first time in his life. The Ducks’ opening day center fielder in 2013, Heineman was preparing to return in that role last spring – then was shifted to third base on the first day of the year.
That versatility will serve both Heineman and the Ducks well in the coming months. Oregon coach George Horton said the Ducks are as deep as ever in 2015, but conversely are unsettled as to how all those pieces will fit together when the season opens Feb. 13 in Hawaii, and beyond.
Enter Heineman, who can play infield, all over the outfield and even on the mound. “I just see my name on the lineup card, and whatever position it is, that’s where I’ll be,” the native of Pacific Palisades, Calif., said. “Then it’s just a matter of which glove to grab.”
Heineman has had to add one more glove to his equipment bag of late. The Ducks recently lost sophomore A.J. Balta for the year to a knee injury. Among the options mentioned by Horton to replace Balta at first base? Why, Heineman, of course.
Given the play of JC transfers Brandon Cuddy at first and Matt Eureste at third, the Ducks may shift preseason all-American Mitchell Tolman to second, forming a double-play combination with shortstop Mark Karaviotis. The outfield mix includes Nick Catalano, Austin Grebeck, Phil Craig-St. Louis and Steven Packard, and the Ducks are deep at catcher, led by slugger Shaun Chase.
Somewhere in there, Heineman will have a job – perhaps most likely in right field. “I try not to focus on where I’m situated,” Heineman said. “It’s more what I can do in those situations. Doing whatever I can to control having consistency at the plate and consistency in the field – wherever that is.”
Heineman, who hit .278 with a .746 OPS as a sophomore, played just eight games in 2014 before a left shoulder injury ended his season. Unable to swing the bat 100 percent until this month, he put his healthy throwing shoulder to use on the mound and is in the mix to provide short relief this season.
But it’s in the field and at the plate where Heineman most loves to play. And the Ducks want to take advantage of his bat, given Heineman’s steady progress in the cage since being cleared to face live pitching. “He’s driving the ball and looks to be back up to speed, running the bases really well,” Horton said.
Heineman’s speed made him an asset at the top of the lineup the last two years; he was in the No. 2 hole to open 2013, and hit leadoff in the 2014 opener. This spring, Heineman could be tabbed to join Tolman and Chase in the middle of the order. Yet again, he’s ready for anything.
“Really, it’s going to be the same approach: line-drive swing,” Heineman said. “The only difference is, as opposed to being a table-setter and getting on, it’s going to be driving guys in. Coming through in clutch situations where guys are on base, and tough counts to hit.”
One thing Heineman doesn’t doubt is that he’ll see pitches to hit. All that depth among position players is an asset in the batter’s box, too. Guys like Craig-St. Louis and freshman Jakob Goldfarb have Horton thinking this could be Oregon’s deepest lineup of the new era.
Heineman agrees. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Shaun Chase, who’s probably the most threatening guy in our lineup for sure,” he said. “If I’m a pitcher, I don’t want to face him, but I don’t want to face the next guy in the lineup, either.”
Staying sharp for all his potential roles is a juggling act. Heineman is throwing one inning a week in game conditions, plus getting bullpen work. He formally practices with the outfielders, but he drops in on infield workouts as well. “I just like to take groundballs whenever I can,” he said. “If not for repetition, for fun, too.”
After not being able to swing a bat for nearly a full year, Heineman’s appreciation for the game is heightened. Not so much, however, that he’s ready for Feb. 13 to be here already.
“I’m pumped I still have three more weeks,” he said. “It’s more time to get back out there and get used to things. The prior injuries I had were foot things, stuff that took a couple months. This was 11 months, no live pitching. So it’s good to get back out here, see live pitching and just play again.”
Heineman can be sure he’ll be called on to play for the Ducks in 2015, whenever he’s available. The only question is where on the field he’ll be found.