Oropesa turning into a full fleged star

Somewhere in the middle of Ricky Oropesa’s freshman season at USC, it became clear he was going to be a star.

Now, halfway through his sophomore year, it’s apparent he’s going to be even better. Maybe even one of the best to ever play here.

Gaining that status will be a tall order, given the rich history of USC baseball. The 12 national titles and  countless major league players it’s easy to get lost in the record books.

But Oropesa continues to play like he belongs in that company.

The sophomore hit another home run Wednesday night, his 10th of the season. And it wasn’t just a meaningless tack-on run.

No, Wednesday night’s solo shot was a two-out, bottom-of-the-eighth, eventual game-winning home run.

It was much like the one he hit on Feb. 21 against Cal Poly, when he led off the top of the ninth with a tie-breaking homer and spurred USC to a five-run inning.

And much like the one on  March 7 against New Mexico, a two-run homer in the first inning that gave the Trojans a lead they never relinquished.

See where is this going? He’s capable of changing the course of a ballgame with one swing of the bat.

He isn’t just racking up incredible numbers — he’s winning games.

But those numbers can’t be ignored — they’re jaw-dropping.

Wednesday’s home run was the 23rd of his short USC career. He hit 13 last season along with the 10 he’s already hit in 2010.

With each titanic blast deep into the Southern California night, he’s inching closer to historic territory. Barely a season and a half into his career, he’s in prime position to crack USC’s all-time top 10.

Of course, anything can happen. Slumps happen. Injuries happen. Opponents will pitch around him even more.

He could hit another 10 home runs this year. He could hit zero.

But with his talent and his power, the possibility of the former is far greater than that of the latter.

And if he keeps it up as a junior, who knows where he can go?

Getting to the top of the all-time list is no easy task. But if he can do it, he’ll join an elite group of players.

Geoff Jenkins is third with 45 career home runs. Jeff Clement is second with 46. Oropesa was still in grade school when they hit balls out of Dedeaux Field.

And Mark McGwire is the most prolific power hitter in USC history. His 54 career homers are the most ever.

He hit his last one before Oropesa was even born.

At this rate, it’s possible. Oropesa could eventually become the greatest home run hitter in USC history.

Still, his home runs tell just one part of the story.

He’s hitting .348 and showing patience at the plate, to the tune of a .424 on-base percentage.

This after he batted .314 last year and showed he can be a disciplined hitter.

This year he has 12 more extra-base hits and 30 RBI, and he’s tied for the team lead in stolen bases.

He has committed just one error all year.

As a midseason sophomore, Oropesa is proving that he is the complete package.

He’s not just a big bat in the middle of the lineup. He’s someone who can get on base, get in scoring position and get runners in.

And can hit the big fly when he needs to.

When Oropesa comes to the plate, the Trojans can count on him to deliver more often than not.

He’s that kind of player.

And when he leaves for the pros, it’s possible he’ll be the kind of player Trojans in future generations talk about and look up to.

“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Grant at tunkel@usc.edu.