Last year, Kelowna finished third out of four teams in the East Division - this year called the North Division with the addition of Victoria - sporting a record of 28-26 and missed the playoffs by four games. If my detective skills are accurate, it looks like there are only two returnees from last year - RHP Preston Gray who was 0-2 with a 5.60 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, and a Canadian boy from North Delta, outfielder Reed Lavallee who hit a lofty .429 in 10 games (most of which were at the end of the year). In fact, Kelowna boasts a total of six Canucks (not the evil skating kind) on their roster with two being from the Island - Darren Kolk, an outfielder/LHP from Duncan, and Cody Andreychuk, a third baseman from Nanaimo. Both played this year at Vancouver Island University and hit well above .300. This will make for an interesting match-up on Thursday when our own VIU product - Connor Russell - takes to the hill and will be hurling at his former teammates.
So with such a new lineup, it is anyone's guess what we'll be seeing come out of the visiting dugout. The two teams have very different makeups, with the HarbourCats primarily pulling players from bigger Div I schools and the Falcons seemingly staffing up mostly from Div II schools and Community Colleges. I'd give a slight edge to the HarbourCats here, in that they may have a more seasoned roster to kick off the season even though many of them will still be with their respective NCAA teams.
The 'Cats will be missing the four players who are with teams that survived last weekend's Regionals in the College World Series - UCLA (infielder Brett Urabe), Oklahoma (infielder Anthony Hermelyn and outfielder Justin Burba), Cal State Fullerton (pitcher Bryan Conant). All will remain with their colleges in preparation for the Super Regionals this coming weekend. As well, the six players whose teams were just knocked out of the College World Series will also be absent - New Mexico (Alex Real), San Diego (Ryan Keller), Cal Poly (Jordan Ellis and John Schuknecht), UCSB (Robby Nesovic and Connor Baits). It's uncertain who else - if anyone - will be missing for other reasons, but the team will be initially handing out about nine(ish) ten-day contracts to plug the holes until the rest of the lads show up. Bodies will start trickling in throughout June with a full roster not really in the cards until the start of July.
Another edge that I see for the 'Cats in this series is the hulking (these are big boys) pitching staff. With soon-to-be (as in Thursday!) MLB draft pick Nick Pivetta throwing his 95 mph bee-bees on Wednesday, followed up by Connor Russell on Thursday, the Falcons will have to eat a back-to-back dose of Victoria home cooking. Given there are only eight pitchers for this three game series, the hope is that the starters will go deep (NOT the hitters!) to take it easy on relief arms. Friday's starter has not been set as it depends on how the staff is utilized in the first two games, but Cal State Fullerton product Joe Navilhon may get the nod. Aside from pitching, of course the big edge that the 'Cats will have for this series is the emotion of a hometown crowd that is starved for baseball. Come on Victoria, the Hawks are up 2-0 on the Kings so you can miss ONE playoff hockey game. And word has it that GM Holly Jones paid big dollars to order up this AWESOME weather, so get out and cheer on the local boys!
I predict a 2-1 split in favour of the HarbourCats. Falcons will be as young as the 'Cats, and they may not have anyone left in the College World Series, but the broader Div I experience and the hometown emotion make me tip our boys. That said, I really do not have a lot to go on so it's pretty much guesswork at this point. Whatever the case, baseball is baseball and I'll be loving it.
See you at the yard, meat.
- Monday marked the 125th anniversary of that legendary baseball poem written by Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat
- The video part of the scoreboard has now been fixed so at the very least, fans will be able to see player profiles. Replays are coming, but it is uncertain if they will be ready for opening night. Nice work by the 'Cats techno-staff!
- Given that this is the first baseball game in a long time at RAP, the field is still a work in progress. It is improving every day, but fans should not start throwing their beers at perceived errors, as the infield is still a little soft and may give up some funky late inning bounces.