Monday, May 13, 2013

Where do these guys come from anyway?

Dennis Rogers - Air Guitar?
Before I jump into the main subject of this post, let me first say that HarbourCats manager Dennis Rogers is "good people". I had the pleasure of talking to him and he was very forthcoming on all of my naive questions. Most of the information below comes from a discussion I was fortunate to have with him late last week. He talked a lot about perspective, having a vision and being well-connected with the players. I can't (yet!) take shots at his managing decisions or call him the Yogi Berra of the Garden City, but I can tell you that first impressions are solid.

Now down to business. I have always been curious as to how this West Coast League (WCL) works in terms of filling rosters, positions, etc. I mean, all the kids are NCAA eligible so they have a limited sweet spot that they can play in this league. As well, if they are on a good team like many of our boys are here, the season overlaps for several weeks as the College World Series fires up until late June. So how do the HarbourCats "acquire" players to build a roster? How do they decide who plays where? How do they come up with a rotation? How do they deal with the College World Series overlap? Who invented liquid soap and why? I won't address all these questions here, but I'll at least begin to try and explain what I have learned.

Starting with the basic player selection process. There is no draft for this league, so it is the organization's job to form relationships with various colleges to essentially "feed" the WCL teams. To be successful here, this takes a while (years) as this is a relationship that is based on a lot of trust and initiated via relationships that are formed over time. Basically, the college programs are letting WCL teams borrow their assets for the summer so they can keep playing, improve, and come back to college better than ever next year. Given the amount of experience that our coaching staff has had in the college ranks, they seem well-connected, which means they were not starting at ground zero when recruiting players for year one. Sure, they still had to pick up the phone and make some cold calls, but reaching out to former players or coaches gives an entry point into these delicate discussions. Over time, if things go well, this can hopefully grow into a link that helps establish a WCL team as a consistent powerhouse, especially if that college is a perennial power (like Cal State Fullerton, for example).

The other aspect is the players themselves. Firstly, it helps to be selective in the colleges that are targeted. Given our situation here - we are Canadian, eh - and going after mostly American kids, or at least kids who live in the Excited States of America, the team keeps an eye out for Canadian talent, West Coast kids or kids who would otherwise presumably assimilate well here. All of this helps to give the player a positive summer experience, and improves the chances of him returning the following year, which of course is helpful to keep a common core and build on things from year to year. The successful WCL franchises like Wenatchee or Corvallis have worked hard to establish a model like this and it shows - 11 of the 16 finalists in WCL history are one of these 2 teams.

One thing not to underestimate is the culture shock of these young US based players who are used to the relative "cathedral" college ballparks in the NCAA. Now they have to potentially cross borders, deal with funny coloured (with a "u"!) money and play in multipurpose (to be kind!) fields. It serves a team well to be careful who they select to increase odds of a positive experience and one that fosters a comfortable presence which will hopefully also mean a fruitful season. So the ideal player would seem to be a low-key, humble, Canadian-born tree-hugger who thinks 15 degrees is a hot day, and - like most other Canadians - has always dreamed of living in the paradise that is Victoria

Being a new team, the 'Cats started behind the eight-ball, in that they announced that they were forming a franchise after these discussions had begun for the 2013 season. This meant that a lot of the marquee talent had already been committed to other teams. So remember fans, it's a journey here and it may take a few years to challenge the AppleSox reign of terror in the WCL standings. You'll notice that a lot of our lads are freshmen, sophomores with even a high school guy sprinkled in for good measure.

Well, that's a start at least. Hopefully you get the main idea of how players are/were selected for our 2013 HarbourCats. Next post, I'll talk a bit about filling specific positions, and dealing with the very short (nonexistent!) training camp, including starting the season with about half a team.


  1. Let's beat Wenatchee THIS year!!!

    1. Hey Anonymous, I like your optimism! Here's to hoping we make applesauce out of the AppleSox!