Kevin Abel Eager To Return To Oregon State Despite MLB Interest
On paper, Oregon State righthander Kevin Abel had a decision to make two weeks ago. After not being selected in a five-round MLB draft, he could sign as a nondrafted free agent for a signing bonus of $20,000 or return to Oregon State for another season.
There was undoubtedly interest in Abel from major league organizations, but Abel wasn’t so interested in signing as a free agent, to put it mildly.
“After the two draft days, it was a guarantee (to return to OSU),” Abel said. “I’m not selling myself short for that signing bonus. In my opinion, it’s ridiculous that they put that kind of cap on it.”
It wasn’t that long ago that few would have imagined Abel would even have to make such a choice, and not just because the draft rules changed to reduce the event from 40 rounds to five.
Abel came to Oregon State as a touted member of the 2017 recruiting class, earned Baseball America Freshman of the Year honors in 2018 after helping the Beavers win the national championship and, despite missing most of 2019 and 2020 due to Tommy John surgery, went into the draft ranked No. 124 on the BA 500.
In a normal year, whether that means a longer draft or simply a 2020 season when he would have been able to either pitch for Oregon State, put on his own throwing sessions in front of scouts or both, Abel likely would have been selected.
Instead, he didn’t get those opportunities, he wasn’t interested in signing as a free agent and now he’s headed back to Oregon State.
“After those two days, I knew I was coming back and I was excited for it,” Abel said. “I knew I was in a win-win situation where I was either going to start my dream of being a professional baseball player or I was going to continue my current dream of winning another national championship. Either way, it was a win for me.”
By the time he takes the mound for the Beavers in February 2021, it will have been more than 22 months since the last time he pitched in a competitive game and about 32 months since he threw a shutout against Arkansas in Game 3 of the College World Series finals to clinch the title.
The 2021 season will be a chance for Abel to be the front-of-the-rotation workhorse that he showed he could be late in the 2018 season after injuries and the 2020 season cancellation robbed him of previous chances to prove it. He's preparing for that chance by spending this summer continuing his rehab with Oregon State trainer Davey LaCroix.
Abel is excited for the opportunity to show what he can do in the rotation.
“I feel like I’m finally getting a chance to put together a season where I feel like I can operate at a level I know I can,” Abel said. “My freshman year, I started off slow and picked up toward the end, sophomore year got cut short and this last year just didn’t happen. So I’m really excited to see what a whole season can look like for me, and I’m excited to see how this team comes together.”
As eager as Abel is to put an Oregon State uniform on and get back on the mound at Goss Stadium, the Beavers should be equally excited to have the righthander back to front the rotation.
In 2020, lefthander Christian Chamberlain stepped up, and through four weeks, looked like an ace, going 2-1, 0.82 with 34 strikeouts in 22 innings. But with Chamberlain off to pro baseball after being selected in the fourth round by the Royals, Oregon State is in need of someone to take over that role.
The good news for the Beavers is that Abel has already proven that he can be that type of ace, and he’s confident that he’s better positioned to be that guy now.
“(I’m) a little bit bigger, put on a few pounds, hopefully stronger,” Abel said. “My main focus has been to just learn how to move better. I don’t really necessarily need to put on a whole lot more size, but I need to be aware of my body and how it moves and improve in some areas as far as mobility and things like that.”
As far as goals go, that’s simple. Abel wants to recreate what he was a part of in 2018 and early in 2019—winning Oregon State teams.
“Just win. Win as many games as possible," Abel said. "Hopefully take this team as far as it can go into the postseason and hopefully that means winning the last game of the year."
Last we saw of Oregon State in 2020, it was still a team finding its footing and it remained to be seen how good it would actually be.
In 2021, a healthy Kevin Abel would go a long way toward ensuring that we see just how good this iteration of Oregon State can be.