Thursday, February 28, 2013

The real HarbourCats of Santa Barbara - Feb 28 edition

Winning the 50/50 raffle at a sold-out sporting event would be something, but splitting a four-game weekend series at home is “like kissing your sister” according to UCSB coach Andrew Checketts. The Gauchos easily defeated the University of San Fransico “Dons” 6-1 on Friday night, but lost both games of a doubleheader on Saturday by a combined score of 15-6. They bounced back with a 6-2 win on Sunday to salvage the series split. Unfortunately, UCSB got thumped on Tuesday by the 12th-ranked UCLA Bruins, dropping their record to 4-4 on the season.

Freshman reliever Connor Baits continues to get plenty of chances to pitch, as he appeared in four of the five games this past week. The high point for Baits was when he picked up his first career NCAA save in Friday night's win. His low point came on Tuesday when the Bruins touched him up for a pair of earned runs in only 2/3 of an inning. The runs boosted his ERA to 7.36, although that figure can change quickly since he has only pitched 3 2/3 innings this year. The trend has been for the Gauchos to use Baits in key relief situations, so it will be interesting to see if his recent struggles will alter that approach.
The sign outside Caesar Uyesaka Stadium says it all 

Freshman Robby Nesovic also had his share of work this weekend, pitching in the first two games of his college career and also appearing as a pinch hitter on Saturday. The high point for Nesovic was his one inning of scoreless relief in Tuesday's loss to the Bruins. On the downside, he gave up three hits and a run in his 1 1/3 innings on Friday and he flied out to left field in his pinch-hit appearance. His ERA now stands at a very respectable 3.86.

With such a strong pitching staff, the UCSB coaches have been unable to give any innings to freshman pitchers Dillon Tate and Art Vidrio as yet. However, it's just a matter of time before these two young men get their chance. Their next opportunity will be this weekend when the Gauchos take on San Jose State in a three-game series and then on Monday afternoon when they take on the Saint Mary's College Gaels.

- Co-written by WC and Gus

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Titan connection - Feb 26 edition

Bryan Conant in action against Pepperdine
Cal State Fullerton maintained their perfect record over the past week with a win at Pepperdine and then a three game sweep at TCU to bring their record to 8-0. This bumped them up to #17 in the Baseball America rankings and has people talking about a deep postseason run already.

As for our HarbourCats, only Bryan Conant saw any action last week, as he pitched 1 and 2/3 (it's just mathematically WRONG to say 1.2...that is 1 and 1/5!) innings in the 6-3 win over Pepperdine. Conant entered the game in the 5th inning with a man on 3rd, two out and the Titans leading 5-1. He managed to get the strikeout and came back to pitch the 6th where he gave up his first extra base hit so far this season - a double that eventually scored later in the inning on a groundout. Conant started the 7th with a strikeout and then he issued a walk before being replaced.

Being a freshman, Conant will have to take every inning as an opportunity to show his stuff. It seems that both he and Joe Navilhon will be in a middle relief role and will be battling for precious innings with a host of other relief pitchers. Of the nine total relievers who have gotten any work this year, the biggest "workhorse" has pitched 5 and 1/3 innings. Conant has pitched a total of 2 and 2/3 so he is right around the middle of the usage graph.

The Titans play eight games in ten days starting on March 1st with a three game set against Oregon, so here's to hoping the HarbourCats get to flex their muscles in the next week and a half. There will be lots of innings in the coming days, so I'm thinking it looks good to see some friendly faces in the next few Cal Sate Fullerton box scores.

Matt Cooper
  • With the possible exception of Nick Pivetta’s complete-game shutout on February 16th, Matt Cooper’s outing on Friday was perhaps the most impressive performance by a HarbourCat so far this season. Cooper, who pitched the last two seasons at Bellevue Community College, entered a scoreless game for the University of Hawaii in the top of the eighth inning. He then proceeded to throw 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball against a tough Rice University squad. Cooper only gave up one hit, walked two and struck out eight in a very impressive relief appearance. Although the game was still scoreless when he was removed from the game in the top of the 15th inning, the University of Hawaii ended up losing the game 2-0 in 17 innings.
  • Cooper now has an ERA of 0.00 for the season in his 10 2/3 innings of relief. He also has a spectacular 0.66 WHIP. His University of Hawaii teammate, Scott Kuzminsky, will also be suiting up for the HarbourCats this summer. Kuzminsky has 5.40 ERA in his two brief relief appearances so far in 2013.
  • Four teams took part in the Kleberg Bank College Classic in Corpus Christi this weekend, including the University of Oklahoma and the University of New Mexico. The Sooners earned the tournament championship based on their three straight victories. The wins raised their season record to 9-0, and the Sooners remain the 18th-ranked team in the country according to Baseball America.
  • Two guys who will be a big part of the HarbourCats offense this summer, Anthony Hermelyn and Alex Real, faced off against one another on Sunday. Real hit his first home run of the season in the game, but Hermelyn’s Oklahoma Sooners knocked off Real’s UNM Lobos by a score of 10-8.
  • Alex Real had a solid tournament offensively, going 4-for-14 with a homer, two runs scored and an RBI. He raised his average on the season to a respectable .250.
  • Anthony Hermelyn struggled at the plate on the weekend and went 1-for-8 with an RBI. He’s now hitting .200 with five RBI on the season.
  • Hermelyn’s teammate and fellow HarbourCat Justin Burba is still waiting for an opportunity to show what he can do. Burba was used once on the weekend as a pinch runner and he scored a run. So far he is 0-for-3 in 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Austin Russell is back in the groove

Austin Russell
Austin Russell is beginning to heat up after a tepid start to his season. Russell led his Southern Polytechnic Hornets to a 5-2 win over the University of Mobile on Friday in the rubber match of a three-game series. With the victory, the Hornets improved to 11-4 on the season.

Russell went 3-for-6 in the series to raise his batting average to .393, good for second best on the team. His on-base percentage currently sits at an impressive .485. Russell also picked up his first extra-base hit of the year, a double in the series finale.

Now that Russell appears to be settling in with his new team, I'd expect him to see an increase in playing time. He batted fifth on Friday, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him settle into the leadoff or number two hole in the batting order before too long. Russell's next chance to take to the field comes on Tuesday when the Hornets take on Georgia Gwinnett College in a doubleheader. They then go up against Southern Wesleyan University in the three-game set that starts on Friday.

The news isn't quite so rosy for the other Victorian on the Harbourcats roster who was in action this weekend. Nick Pivetta came back to earth rather abruptly, as his New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds fell 8-6 to Weatherford College on Saturday. He gave up five earned runs on six hits in his 3 2/3 innings of work, while he walked three and struck out three batters. The loss lowered Pivetta's record to 2-1, and his ERA jumped to 3.77. His WHIP also took a beating on the weekend, ballooning to 1.40.

The Thunderbirds now have a record of 10-2 on the season. They'll face Clarendon College in a four-game series this weekend.

The third Garden City native on the HarbourCats, Connor Russell, gets his season underway on the weekend when his Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners play four games in Yakima, Washington. The Mariners will play a pair of games against both Everett Community College and Green River Community College. Russell is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign with the Mariners in which he posted a 0.90 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 77 2/3 innings pitched.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The real HarbourCats of Santa Barbara

This blog post is the first of our regular updates on the four Victoria HarbourCats who are currently playing for the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Gauchos. This first installment was a joint effort by Gus and the newest addition to our team of bloggers, WC. We hope that our series of UCSB blog posts will give you a useful introduction to these four HarbourCats before you come out to see them play at Royal Athletic Park this summer.

The UC Santa Barbara baseball program will be supplying four outstanding young athletes to our HarbourCats this summer. Aside from a future that includes taking to the hill at Royal Athletic Park, the foursome of Connor Baits, Robby Nesovic, Dillon Tate and Art Vidrio have another thing in common -- they are all freshman pitchers who will start the season in the Gauchos bullpen.

The “Fab Four” appear to be in very good hands as they set out on their college careers. UCSB’s head coach, Andrew Checketts, has a great reputation for both recruiting and developing young talent. Before taking his current job, he became known as one of the best pitching coaches in the country thanks to three highly successful seasons at the University of Oregon, seven at UC Riverside and one at Riverside City College (working under HarbourCats head coach Dennis Rogers). While serving as the pitching coach for Rogers in 2001, the RCC hurlers set a school record for team ERA. That record of success and level of familiarity helps to explain the strong relationship between Checketts and Rogers – otherwise we wouldn't have acquired one third of our pitching staff from a single program. This elite coaching connection will help boost the development of a lot more ballplayers than just these four HarbourCats.

UC Santa Barbara got their 2013 season off to a successful start this past weekend, taking two out of three at Fresno State. Game one of the series saw the Gauchos fall by a score of 8-1, but they turned the tables for an 8-1 win on Saturday to even the series. The Sunday rubber match was a convincing 11-3 win for UCSB.

Nesovic (6) and Baits (41) during batting practice
The most highly-touted pitcher of the four HarbourCats, Connor Baits, threw a scoreless ninth inning to close out Saturday’s victory. He didn’t allow a hit and recorded one strike out and one walk. Trusting Baits with the lead in the final inning is a pretty good indication that Checketts already has a lot of confidence in the freshman.

Robby Nesovic didn’t pitch on the weekend, but he started the first game as the designated hitter. He went 0-for-2 on the night and narrowly missed becoming the hero for the Gauchos. Trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning, UCSB had the bases loaded when Nesovic came to the plate. Unfortunately, he lined out to the shortstop who then doubled off the runner on second to end the threat. It will be interesting to see how many plate appearances Nesovic gets with the Gauchos this spring and whether or not the HarbourCats use him as a two-way player as well. It’s always good to have guys on your team with the athleticism required to play the role of utility man.

Neither Dillon Tate nor lefty Art Vidrio saw any action on the weekend, but hopefully Checketts will be able to ease our young recruits into some games in the near future. The next opportunity comes on Friday afternoon when the Gauchos open up a four-game weekend series against the University of San Francisco.

The Sooners opening-day lineup
  • Alex Real is listed as a catcher on the HarbourCats roster, but he started all three games at first base for the University of New Mexico Lobos this past weekend. Real is off to a bit of a slow start with the bat, as he picked up three hits in 14 at-bats. However, he did walk twice to keep his on-base percentage at a respectable .313. The Lobos lost two of three games against Oklahoma State and dropped out of Baseball America’s College Top 25 rankings.
  • One of the most common words used to describe Anthony Hermelyn as a ballplayer is "versatile". While I was aware that he played a number of infield positions and can pitch (effectively), I wasn’t aware that he also was a catcher. So you can imagine my surprise when I checked the opening-day lineups and saw Hermelyn pencilled in behind the plate for the Oklahoma Sooners. He apparently played first base in the fall, but a last-minute decision was made to use the freshman as Oklahoma’s regular catcher instead.
  • Hermelyn has started four of the first six games at catcher. He is off to a decent start offensively, hitting .250 with 4 RBI in 13 at-bats. The Sooners now have a 6-0 record and are ranked 18th in the country by Baseball America. They appear to be a team on the upswing and they could do some serious damage in the College World Series in June.
  • You can watch the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader between the Sooners and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sooners Sports TV. Anthony Hermelyn’s four at-bats come at the 29:38, 56:56, 1:28:28 and 2:07:23 marks.
  • Look for Alex Real and Anthony Hermelyn to be two of the big boppers in the middle of the HarbourCats lineup this summer.
  • In case you haven’t had enough of the Harlem Shake phenomenon, check out the version released by the Cal State Fullerton Titans.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Titan connection

This blog post is the first of our regular updates on the three Victoria HarbourCats who are currently playing for the Cal State Fullerton (CSF) Titans. Although the Titans’ goal is to play in the College World Series (June 15-26), only eight teams will succeed in that quest. No matter how the CSF season ends, our intrepid blogger Darth will be keeping us up-to-date on the contributions made by our players along the way. We hope that our series of CSF blog posts will give you an interesting look at our HarbourCats before you come out to see them play at Royal Athletic Park this summer.

Due to the nature of the WCL, there are a lot of future players who are just now kicking off the US college baseball season. One of these teams - the #19 ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans - has 3.5 HarbourCats playing for them this year. Three of these recruits are freshmen - LHP Bryan Conant, RHP Joe Navilhon and INF David Olmedo-Barrera - and the .5 is a senior...for Woodrow Wilson HS in Long Beach, CA (SS Timmy Richards) who has committed to CSF for next year.

In this opening weekend of NCAA action, CSF went a clean 3-0 at home, defeating USC 3-2 in their season opener and then sweeping Nebraska in a doubleheader 10-5 and 9-0. On Sunday, they travelled to CSU Bakersfield and grabbed an 8-2 win, preserving their perfect 4-0 record. As for the "BabyCats", they will most likely see limited action given they are freshmen on a very strong team. Both pitchers did, however, get into the 2nd game against Nebraska, each pitching a scoreless inning. Navilhon pitched a perfect 7th getting a strikeout in the 3 batters he faced, while Conant allowed 1 hit and struck out 2 to close it down.

RHP Joe Navilhon
LHP Bryan Conant

It will be interesting to see how they use these 2 pitchers in relief but I suspect it will be spot duty in these back to back games to start. Hopefully, they will keep up the solid work and earn some more meaningful innings as the season progresses but with such a strong CSF staff, this will be tough. In fact, the opening day winner - Thomas Eshelman (who played for Klamath Falls last summer) - was ranked the #10 Top prospect in the WCL by Baseball America, and is himself a freshman. He will be entertaining to watch at RAP, given CSF gave him the ball on opening day which was, by the way, the first time a freshman pitched on the first game of the season at CSF since 1987.

David Olmedo-Barrera did not get a plate appearance in any of these 4 games and as with the pitchers, I expect he will see very limited playing time unless CSF gets hit with a serious injury bug. Even then, they are a pretty deep team so cracking this line-up on a regular basis will be tough this year. On the bright side, here's to hoping that David comes to Victoria this summer all fired up and ready to show CSF how he can light it up for the hometown 'Cats.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pivetta tosses complete-game shutout

Nick Pivetta
Nick Pivetta raised his record to 2-0 on Saturday by leading the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds to victory in the second game of a doubleheader against Otero Junior College. The big right-hander from Victoria pitched a complete-game shutout, dropping his ERA to a miniscule 0.84 after his first two starts of the season. Although box scores for New Mexico Junior College baseball games have been very slow to be posted on the internet this spring, an unconfirmed report lists Pivetta as having given up only three hits in his seven innings of work while striking out five. Pivetta's next trip to the mound will likely be on Friday or Saturday when the Thunderbirds take on Weatherford College in a three-game series.

Austin Russell was the only other Victoria native on the HarbourCats roster who was in action this weekend. His Southern Polytechnic Hornets swept Talladega College in a three-game series on Friday and Saturday. Although Russell only had four at-bats on the weekend, he made the most of his limited opportunities by rapping a pair of base hits and knocking in two runs. Russell raised his average to .364 on the season, good for sixth best on the team. The Hornets, who now sport a 9-3 record, take on the University of Mobile in a three-game set next weekend.

The third local player on the HarbourCats, Connor Russell of the VIBI Mariners, opens his season on March 2nd.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Play ball!!

It's another sign that spring is on the way: today marks the beginning of the NCAA Division I baseball season. That means that 25 of the 32 players on the HarbourCats roster are suiting up in a meaningful game for the first time this year. The only HarbourCat who is still waiting for opening day is pitcher Connor Russell of the Vancouver Island Baseball Institute, and he'll have to wait until March 2nd before he can take to the hill.

Two HarbourCats who will be playing prominent roles on their respective Division I teams are Anthony Hermelyn and Alex Real. Hermelyn's Oklahoma Sooners take on Hofstra University in a four-game series this weekend, while Real's UNM Lobos will play a three-game set against Oklahoma State.

Of course, we'll be providing regular updates on the HarbourCats between now and the start of the West Coast League season on June 5th. Next week we'll debut two regular features that will each highlight a team that is a key supplier of talent to the Victoria HarbourCats. Stay tuned... 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Alex is the real deal

It's quite something that all three catchers on the HarbourCats roster have been previously drafted by an MLB club. We have already introduced our readers to David Schuknecht and Casey Schroeder, so now it's time to turn the spotlight on Alex Real.

Real, a 48th-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, is a sophomore with the University of New Mexico Lobos. The 6'0" 215 lb. slugger played in 41 of the Lobos' 61 games in his freshman season, although he did not make any appearances as a catcher. Real hit a solid .271 with 3 homers and 29 RBI, but his production in the clutch was remarkable. Not only did he collect 20 of his 29 RBI with two outs, but he knocked in seven runs in last year's Mountain West Tournament championship game.

Real will play a much more important role with the 21st-ranked Lobos this season. Although he'll primarily be used at first base, he'll also get a significant amount of playing time behind the plate -- something that probably wouldn't be possible without the catching experience he gained playing for the Eau Claire Express in the Northwoods League last summer. Real, who had only ever caught in his senior year of high school, did more than just hold his own playing summer collegiate baseball. Real surprised even himself by being selected as the starting catcher for the South Division in the Northwoods League All-Star Game. He then went on to homer in that game, which was played in front of 6,073 fans. He finished the summer with a .235 batting average, .316 on-base percentage, 5 homers and 22 RBI in 183 at-bats.

The University of New Mexico baseball team opens their season with a three-game set against Oklahoma State this weekend. Ray Birmingham, head coach of the Lobos, is obviously a big fan of Real's. Birmingham was recently quoted as saying "Alex will be an All-American before he leaves here."

I don't know about you, but I'm really looking forward to seeing Real suit up for the HarbourCats at Royal Athletic Park -- no matter which position he is playing. Just make sure you don't park your car on Pembroke Street when he's in the lineup.

  • In case you were busy with the Family Day long weekend and missed the announcement, the HarbourCats are running a "Name the Mascot" contest. You have until the end of the day on February 24th to enter. Go to the team's website for contest rules. 
  • I love the idea that our new mascot will be both roly-poly and pantless -- my favourite mascot of all time also fit that description. Now can we get the colour of his/her fur changed to orange?
  • Austin Russell has cooled off a bit of late after a good start with thSouthern Polytechnic Hornets. Although our hometown boy still has a .333 batting average, the Hornets are hitting .363 as a team and have scored an incredible 75 runs in the their 9 games. Russell has been on the bench for the last couple of games, but we're sure he'll be back out there cranking out the base hits very soon. The Hornets host Talladega College in a three-game series this weekend.
  • In spite of some scorekeeping glitches, we were able to confirm that Victoria's Nick Pivetta did in fact make his debut for the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds this past weekend. On Saturday, he earned the win in the Thunderbirds’ 15-7 victory over Blinn College. Pivetta surrendered five hits and one earned run in 3 2/3 innings of work, while he walked two and struck out four batters. According to Clayton Jones of the Hobbs News-Sun, approximately ten scouts were in attendance at the game. New Mexico is scheduled to play a doubleheader against Otero Junior College on both Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Friday, February 8, 2013

HarbourCats roll out an impressive expansion roster

Tim Richards
I must admit that I was initially a little worried about the quality of players who might be suiting up for an expansion franchise's inaugural season, but the release of the full HarbourCats roster on Thursday put those concerns completely to rest. Head coaches Dennis Rogers and Bob Miller are to be commended for their recruiting efforts, as the 32-man roster is chock full of highly skilled players from top-notch baseball institutions.

The roster includes a grand total of seven players who have been previously drafted by MLB teams and it's highly likely that other HarbourCats will be selected in this June's draft. In addition, 10 of our guys will play this spring for teams listed on Baseball America’s ranking of the Top 25 NCAA Division I baseball squads: two players from the University of Kentucky (ranked 11th), one from UCLA (12th), two from the University of Oklahoma (19th), one from the University of New Mexico (21st), three from Cal State Fullerton (22rd) and one from the University of San Diego (25th).

Although the team is long on skill, the players are a bit less experienced than I was expecting. Of the 32 players, 19 are currently college freshmen and one -- slick-fielding shortstop Tim Richards -- is in his senior year of high school. Of course, the Wenatchee AppleSox carried a similar number of youngsters on their roster last year and they went on to win their fifth WCL championship.

Although not many guys play in the WCL prior to their freshman season of college, Richards certainly won't look out of place competing against more experienced opponents. Last summer, he narrowly missed making USA's U18 national team. ESPN recently ranked Richards as the second-best middle infield prospect in high school, while some have even predicted that he'll be taken late in the first round of this year's MLB draft. He has been compared to Dustin Pedroia for his "high energy approach to the game" and he should be a joy to watch play.

A modest total of seven sophomores and five juniors are also included on the HarbourCats roster. Most of those veterans are found on the pitching staff, which at first blush appears to be the strength of this team. Given the skill, size and experience of our hurlers, opposing batters probably won't be feeling all that comfortable in the Royal Athletic Park batter's box this summer.

  • All 32 players on the current roster have been signed to a full-season contract. The team expects to sign other players to 10-day contracts as we get closer to opening day. In the West Coast League, 10-day contracts are typically used to fill out the roster at the beginning of the season (e.g. when full-season guys are still involved in playoffs with their college team).
  • More info on the other players signed can be found on the HarbourCat's official site
  • Stay tuned to this space for additional player profiles.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rogers wins matchup between HarbourCats coaches

The two co-head coaches of the Victoria HarbourCats squared off on Tuesday, with Dennis Rogers' Riverside City College (RCC) Tigers taking on Bob Miller's Cuesta College Cougars in Riverside, California. Rogers came away with bragging rights at the end of the day, as his Tigers outlasted the Cougars 13-11. The HarbourCats’ David Schuknecht went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored for Rogers' squad.

The RCC Tigers raised their record to 3-0 with the win, while Cuesta College fell to 1-3. Tuesday’s game was the only scheduled meeting between the two clubs this season.

  • David Schuknecht has been in RCC's starting lineup for the first three games of the season – two games behind the plate and the other as the DH. He is hitting .364 with 3 RBI in his 11 at-bats.
  • Austin Russell has started five of the first six games of the season for the Southern Polytechnic Hornets and four of those starts have been in right field. In 15 at-bats, he is hitting .400 with 3 RBI and 7 runs scored.  
  • On Monday, the University of Kentucky held their preseason media day. During the press conference it was revealed that Casey Schroeder will initially be battling with two other MLB-drafted freshmen for the Wildcats’ backup catching position.
  • The NCAA Division I baseball season gets underway on February 15th. HarbourCats playing at this level include Connor Baits (UCSB), Will Ballowe (UW), Josh Cushing (UW), Anthony Hermelyn (Oklahoma), Casey Schroeder (Kentucky) and Brett Urabe (UCLA).
  • Keep an eye out for the HarbourCats logo on the back of two local Coca-Cola delivery trucks. The team just announced the signing of a partnership agreement with the company to supply beverages at Royal Athletic Park.