Monday, March 31, 2014

Bob Miller takes over as head coach

Bob Miller
Bob Miller is now the head coach of the Victoria HarbourCats. Miller and Dennis Rogers shared the coaching duties last summer, but Rogers has informed the club that he will not be returning for the 2014 season due to family health and business reasons.

Both men are more than capable of leading a West Coast League team on their own, so I wouldn't expect the change to have a negative impact on the performance of the HarbourCats. I mean no disrespect to the highly-decorated coach Rogers, but we have been blessed by an embarrassment of riches on the coaching side of things. 

Miller’s promotion does allow for a more clear definition of responsibilities for each member of the coaching staff. There was some confusion last season about the difference between a “head coach” and a “co-head coach”, and that ambiguity even spilled over onto the playing field. Rogers was tossed from a game at Royal Athletic Park last summer for a minor transgression and was initially given a suspension by the league office because disciplinary action automatically results whenever a team official other than the head coach is ejected from a game. Since Miller handed in the lineup card that day, the umpire considered him to be the head coach, but the suspension was overturned upon appeal by the HarbourCats. You can be sure that a similar type of misunderstanding won’t happen this year, because the person running the show will be readily apparent.

Ben Jackson will also be returning as the HarbourCats’ pitching coach and an additional coach will be named in the near future. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the many capable local coaches brought on to round out the staff.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Gaucho Marks - March 24th edition

UCSB's new lead off hitter - Andrew Calica
It was quite a weekend for future 'Cat and UCSB Gauchos centre fielder Andrew Calica who was recognized for his recent hot streak by being named the Big West Field Player of the Week. The Gauchos completed a four game sweep of Wagner College last weekend with Calica building on his solid start to the season by absolutely feasting on the WC pitching by going a combined 10 for 17, scoring five runs and knocking in five himself.

This scorching pace has seen our future centre fielder move up in the order to the lead off spot and he hasn't missed a beat. In fact, he really got into the "Rickey Henderson" mentality in the final game, swiping three bases as well. Rumour has it he was selling popcorn in between games of the previous day's double header too (OK...maybe not...but I bet he'd be salesman of the week if he did)! And remember, this guy is a just a (redshirt) freshman. Calica's average now sits at a lofty .437 which is good enough for 11th in the entire country and third in the Big West.

As well as the big stick, it seems he is patrolling center field like no one's business. He is making difficult catches while showing off the same quickness that he has shown on the bases. I know it's a small sample size, and I'm sure he'll come come back down to earth, but this guy seems like the "real deal" and I cannot wait to see him play here in Victoria. But he needs a nickname, don't you think?

  • Gabe Clark of the number 6th ranked Oregon State Beavers had a rough time at the plate this weekend, going a combined one for eleven while striking out 4 times and walking twice. He is currently hitting in the six spot in the order - twice as the DH and once playing first base. This is most likely just a lull in what started off as an excellent season for Clark and even with that, he is still hitting .321 with an OPS over .900. As well, he drove in two of the four runs in the series opener against Arizona State, setting the tone for the 4-0 victory (the only win of the 3-game set)
  • Here is a nice article from a couple of weeks ago on our boy Gabe "the Babe" Clark
  • Utah Utes Bret Helton had a solid outing against a strong (ranked number 11) Oregon side, pitching six scoreless innings before giving up the ball after allowing two hits to lead off the seventh. The Utes eventually lost 3-1 but Helton, who drops to 2-2, struck out five while walking only one while surrendering a Scrooge-like five hits. He also filled in at DH in a win over Utah Valley, going one for five batting cleanup. Looking forward to that Nesovic-like versatility.
  • Utes teammate, centre fielder Wyler Smith, had a nice week at the plate going a combined five for ten, working his way up the prestigious cleanup spot. Smith hit safely in all four Utes games, knocking out two of the three Utah hits in a heartbereaking 1-0 loss to Oregon on Friday.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

HarbourCanucks Corner - March 23rd edition

This is our latest installment of HarbourCanucks Corner, our weekly update on the Canadians signed to full-season contracts by the Victoria HarbourCats for the summer of 2014.

Unfortunately, the four Canadians who have been inked to full-season deals continue to under-perform this spring. It will be interesting to see what happens in June, because the Cats have signed some quality players to 10-day contracts who could end up taking playing time away from the “full-season” guys if they don't turn it up a notch. No matter what happens, competition on any team is always a good thing.
Brandon Feldman

Brandon Feldman of Otero Junior College got into three games in right field against McCook (Nebraska) Community College on March 15-16 and went two-for-eight with a walk and a run scored. He’s only hitting .167 over 24 at-bats on the season, but he still sports a solid .355 on-base percentage. Feldman hasn't pitched recently and his ERA for the season remains at 0.00, although he has only pitched two innings of relief so far. It has been tough to follow his progress this season, as Otero Junior College box scores seem to take at least a week to get posted online. The Rattlers are 13-14 overall and 7-11 in conference play.

Left fielder Nick Rutckyj went 2-for-12 with two RBI and a run scored for Cuesta College this week. The freshman is hitting .167 on the season with two homers and 9 RBI in 72 at-bats. The Cougars, who are a very young squad, now hold a 5-17 record, including a 1-8 mark in conference play. With a team batting average of .212 and a team ERA of 4.63, it’s unlikely that the team will be playing much past the end of their regular season on April 24th.

After playing their first 16 games on the road, the University of Illinois finally had their home opener this past Tuesday. The Fighting Illini won four of their five home games this week to raise their overall record to 11-10. Kelly Norris-Jones caught one of the five games and went 0-for-5 at the plate to lower his batting average to .150 on the season. The University of Illinois play Purdue next weekend in their first conference games of the year.  

The University of Seattle Redhawks had the week off for final exams, but they resume play on Tuesday. Nanaimo’s Griffin Andreychuk is hitting .160 with 4 RBI in 25 at-bats so far this season. The Redhawks play their first conference games of 2014 next weekend against Texas Pan-American.

  • Freshman Hunter Mercado-Hood has earned more playing time in right field for the USD Toreros of late. Mercado-Hood went 3-for-11 with three walks this week and was even slotted into the leadoff position for a game. The sweet-swinging HarbourCat is now hitting .358 with no homers and eight RBI in 53 at-bats. He also has an impressive .469 on-base percentage.
  • Although he is normally an infielder, Bryce Greager has been getting spot starts in right field recently with the University of Nevada. In the last couple of weeks Greager has gone 4-for-11 with two RBI to raise his batting average to .261. He also has a homer and four RBI in his 23 at-bats.
  • The expansion Yakima Valley Pippins announced that former HarbourCats broadcaster Ryan Rouillard will be the voice of the Pippins this summer. Rouillard did a great job last summer in the Cats’ inaugural season. The bloggers at the VHCBB wish him all the best in his new job. The HarbourCats are expected to name their broadcaster in the near future and they have the good fortune of being able to hire from a talented pool of local candidates.

Friday, March 21, 2014

3600 miles of HarbourCat updates

We’re another week closer to the start of the 2014 WCL season, and our boys playing Div-1 ball this spring are putting up some fabulous numbers. Let’s take a road trip around the south-west and check in on a few...

We start our journey in beautiful San Jose California. The SJ State Spartans aren't having a great year. Currently ranked #148 in the nation, they are struggling through a 6-16 season (3-6 in Mountain West Play). We’re here to watch RHP Mikey Wright. Originally a starter, Mikey has been sent to the bullpen and has seen limited action in the last couple of weeks. His 11.57 ERA and 4 losses are both team highs. Perhaps rushed into a starter role to start the season, he’s getting plenty of opportunities to work on his stuff out of the pen – he leads the Spartans with 8 appearances.

Heading down the coast to Malibu, located along a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway just minutes from some of the best surfing beaches in the world, we find Pepperdine University. Pepperdine has produced a fair number of MLB players over the years – and an even more impressive number of Miss America/USA contestants!

The baseball program is currently ranked #48, and we’re here looking in on freshman catcher Aaron Barnett, and on sophomore outfielder Devin Carter. Barnett’s torrid pace to start the season tapered off this week – he’s currently in a 2-18 slump, but still sits second on the Waves with a .342 batting average on 26 hits. All but 2 of his hits have been singles. Carter is seeing very little playing time, going 1-2 in a couple of pinch hit appearances this week. He sits at .267 for the season.

Heading East to Albuquerque New Mexico, we find the team currently ranked #41 at 14-7 (4-2 in Mountain West). The UNM Lobos are riding a five game winning streak and are tied for second in their conference. Ex-HarbourCat Alex Real continues to impress, sitting fourth in team average at .325, while still maintaining a 1.000 fielding percentage in 20 games behind the plate. Current HarbourCat outfielder Danny Collier is building on his remarkable freshman year, although he slowed the pace this week going 5-23. He continues to hit .306 while also maintaining a perfect fielding percentage. Pitcher Carson Schneider saw limited action this week, giving up a hit against the only batter he faced, (luckily the runner was stranded). He is still sporting a 0.00 ERA, with one save.

If you want to whet your appetite for ball further, the Lobos stream each game live on the web here.

Done on the mainland, lets swing offshore to Honolulu to visit the #90 ranked Hawaii Warriors. Outfielder Alan Bladwin played in only one game this week, going 1-4, raising his average to .139. Pitcher Quintin Torres-Costa had his first mound appearance of the season, picking up a win while giving up a hit and two walks in a single inning of work. Ex HarbourCat Scott Kuzminsky continues to be solid on the mound for the Warriors, this week pitching an absolute gem 2-hit shutout against the Nevada Wolfpack.

That’s it from the road for this week. Hope you enjoyed the scenery!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

RAP ballyard to be named Sports Traders Diamond

The Victoria HarbourCats announced the signing of a four-year sponsorship agreement with Sports Traders, a local sporting goods business. The landmark deal includes naming rights to the RAP ballpark, exclusive and prominent signage in centre field, the Sports Traders logo painted on the field and the production of HarbourCats merchandise.

The deal appears to be a win for everyone involved -- the team, the local business, the city and even the fans. The HarbourCats should be commended for sourcing merchandise locally -- it helps keep profits in the community and it can only help the economy in this city. Unlike last year we might actually have have the option of buying a HarbourCats shirt that doesn't include a Nike swoosh. Most sports fans love that logo, but there are quite a few baseball fans in this town who aren't a supporter of the corporate giant, and appealing to the widest possible range of customers is always is good idea.

The deal is another feather in the cap for new GM Jim Swanson and Director of Marketing Brad Norris-Jones and another big step forward for the franchise. The naming rights component could not have been sealed without approval from the City of Victoria, and it proves once again that HarbourCats management works well with a wide range of stakeholders on southern Vancouver Island.

On a lighter note, the name Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park is an unexpected gift to bloggers and anyone with the sense of humour of a 13-year-old boy. I’m guessing that the home of the HarbourCats will soon be referred to as the “STD at RAP” by many. Maybe that’s just me, but it seems to be a catchy acronym that just might spread (like, well... you get it). Hey, is it too late to call it Sports Traders Field?!?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gaucho Marks - March 18th edition

Andrew Calica smacks a walk off single in 2-1 win over Pepperdine
It has been an eventful couple of weeks for UC Santa Barbara outfielder Andrew Calica. Starting with an exhibition game against Waseda University (Japan), Calica was put in as a pinch runner in the ninth inning and eventually scored the winning run, on a walk off RBI single by teammate Tyler Kuresa. And it went uphill from there.

Over the next eight games, Calica was an impressive 11 for 29 (.379) at the dish, hitting safely in all but one of those games and in that one, he ended up collecting three walks. In a dramatic 2-1 win over Pepperdine where he was rewarded by moving up to number two in the order, this future 'Cat smashed a two-out, bases-loaded walk off single to break the 1-1 tie and secure the win.

But wait, there's more! The heroics continued a few games later against the Shockers (best nickname in college athletics!) when Calica led off the ninth with a single up the middle and eventually scored the wining run again in another Gaucho walk off victory. Rumour had it that he almost didn't make it up to bat as he got his cape caught in the phone booth on the way to the plate.

As well as upping his on-base percentage to .515 and maintaining a perfect fielding record, Calica sits at number three on the team with a lofty .389 batting average. In the past few games, he seems to have settled in at number five in the order after starting deep and jumping up to number two for the game against Pepperdine. So it seems the spotlight has not negatively affected this freshman lad as he sees the first sustained action of his collegiate career. It's nice to know that this sure-handed fielder will be patrolling the cool night air at the RAP in just a couple of months.

As for team accomplishments, after the Waseda win, the Gauchos swept two from ranked opponent Mississippi State, then split with Arizona, beat Pepperdine and took two of three from Wichita State. Interestingly enough (to me anyway), two of those teams are #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament that starts on Thursday - Wichita State is #1 in the Midwest and Arizona is #1 in the West.

Thanks to this nice little run, UCSB has jumped into the number 19 spot in the Baseball America college rankings, up from number 23 last week. And as you can see, Mr. Calica has been a top contributor and looks to continue his impressive run as the Gauchos now play eight games in ten days, starting this Friday.

  • Gabe Clark cooled off a bit last week, going one for twelve over three games and settling his average down to a terrestrial .356. He has been bumped down to number six in the order (from cleanup) but his Oregon State Beavers didn't miss a beat and are currently riding a ten game winning streak.
  • These ten games included a three game sweep of the Utah squad, home of another future 'Cat teammate, pitcher Bret Helton. Clark did not face Helton in the one game that he pitched. Helton collected his first loss against the Beavers, going four innings and giving up all five runs (four earned) while striking out four of the 19 batters he faced, and walking three. Helton also DH'ed in a couple of games over this stretch but didn't have much luck, going hitless in ten at bats while batting cleanup.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Four British Columbians signed to 10-day contracts

Matt Bryan
The HarbourCats announced on Saturday that they have signed four players to 10-day contracts, two of whom are Victoria natives.  The four include Victoria Eagles product Eric Hegadoren, a towering 6-10 pitcher, and Matt Bryan, a solid two-way outfielder and a former Victoria Mariner.

The signings bring the total number of players under 10-day contracts to five, as Mike Gershman was also inked to a short-term deal in early March. The 10-day players are:

2013-14 School
Previous Team
Alex Rogers
Nanaimo, BC
Trinidad State Junior College
Nanaimo Pirates (BCPBL)
Eric Hegadoren
Victoria, BC
College of the Canyons
Victoria Eagles (BCPBL)
Matt Bryan
Victoria, BC
Treasure Valley CC
Victoria Mariners (BCPBL)
Darren Honeysett
Port Coquitlam, BC
Monterey Peninsula College
Coquitlam Reds (BCPBL)
Mike Gershman
Beausejour, MB
Valley City State University
Carillon Sultans (MJBL)

Additional information on each of the four players just signed can be found on the team's official web site.

Eric Hegadoren
For those new to the West Coast League brand of ball, most teams rely heavily on players signed to 10-day contracts in the early part of the season. That’s because NCAA Division I playoffs don't conclude until late June, and players who participate in a regional tournament (or beyond) are going to be late reporting for Opening Day (June 6th). In fact, any player who competes deep into the College World Series tournament likely won’t be able to report until after Canada Day and will probably miss close to 40% of the WCL season. Players likely to report late this year include those from Oregon State (Gabe Clark), UCSB (Andrew Calica), Pepperdine (Aaron Barnett and Devin Carter), University of San Diego (Hunter Mercado-Hood) and the University of New Mexico (Carson Schneider and Danny Collier).

Last season, 10-day players such as Ty Russell were instrumental in allowing the HarbourCats to get out of the gate with a surprising 10-4 record. Hopefully a number of the latest super-subs will make similar contributions in the early going this year. With a good showing, one (or more) of the 10-day players could be around for a lot longer than 10 days and possibly even earn themselves a reserve spot on the team for the remainder of the season.

  • Cal Poly pitcher Cameron Cotton has sustained a serious elbow injury and he will not be able to pitch for the HarbourCats this summer.
  • The current 28-man roster can be found on our 2014 HarbourCats Roster page.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

HarbourCanucks Corner - March 16th edition

This is our latest installment of HarbourCanucks Corner, our weekly update on the Canadians signed to full-season contracts by the Victoria HarbourCats for the summer of 2014.

Brandon Feldman made his first two appearances on the mound for the Otero Junior College Rattlers over the last week and the Victoria Eagles product threw a scoreless inning of relief in each outing. He gave up two hits and two walks, while striking out two batters. Feldman has also played some right field this season and he’s batting .125 with a .364 on-base percentage in 16 at-bats.

Cuesta College’s Nick Rutckyj went two-for-six with a walk and a run scored this week. The left fielder has appeared in 18 of his team’s 19 games and he’s hitting .167 with two homers and seven RBI on the season.

Kelly Norris-Jones started one of the University of Ilinois’ three games this week. Unfortunately, he went zero-for-four to lower his batting average to .200 in 15 at-bats this year. His on-base percentage is still a respectable .333.

Seattle U was scheduled to play a road series against Chicago State this weekend, but a snowstorm forced the postponement of all three games. Griffin Andreychuk started one of the two midweek games for the Redhawks, but he went zero-for-three at the plate to lower his batting average to the .160 mark. However, he did play errorless defense at second base, so hopefully his recent fielding issues are behind him.

  • Hunter Mercado-Hood went 5-for-12 this week with two RBI for the University of San Diego Toreros and the freshman right fielder is now hitting .381 with no homers and 8 RBI in 42 at-bats. Mercado-Hood will likely be one of the starting outfielders for the HarbourCats this summer.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Five former MLB stars coming to Victoria

The Shaker
The HarbourCats announced today that five former MLB stars, including Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, will be leading instructional camps for local youth players on July 2nd and 3rd at Royal Athletic Park. HarbourCats players and coaches will be providing instructional support for the camps, which are a partnership between the Toronto Blue Jays, the Greater Victoria Baseball Association (GVBA) and the ‘Cats.

Aside from Alomar, other lead instructors scheduled to attend include Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby (The Shaker!!), Duane Ward and Brian McRae. Barfield is probably best known as having the best outfield arm in Blue Jays history. He also had two phenomenal seasons in his career, especially the 1986 campaign in which he hit 40 homers and had 108 RBI. Moseby, perhaps one of the most underrated players in Blue Jays history, possessed a dynamic combination of speed and power and (in the first half of his career) was outstanding defensively. He also had a fun-loving personality that made him a favourite with many Jays fans in the mid-80’s. Ward notched a franchise-record 45 saves for the Jays on their way to the 1993 World Series title, but unfortunately injuries ended his career and he never saved another game in the big leagues after that championship run. McRae had some very good years with the Cubs and Mets before finishing his career with the Jays in 1999. The five players who will be lead instructors at the camp were named MLB All Stars a combined total of 15 times (Alomar was named 12 times, while Moseby, Barfield and Ward were each named once).
Two-thirds of the best outfield in Blue Jays history is coming to Victoria

These instructional camps are an incredibly good idea. Not only will Victoria youngsters benefit from learning new skills, but having five former big-league stars come to town will generate a significant media buzz that can only increase local interest in baseball. There’s no doubt that the extra attention will help boost attendance at HarbourCats games as well.

The ’Cats play a three-game series against the Kitsap BlueJackets at Royal Athletic Park from June 30th to July 2nd, highlighted by a much-anticipated Canada Day matinee. With the instructional camps scheduled for the 2nd and 3rd, it looks like the baseball season in Victoria will really take off in the first week of July. By the end of the Kitsap series, 13 of the remaining 15 home games will be on the weekend, so we should be in for a great second half of the season.

The full press release from the HarbourCats can be found on their official site. The Blue Jays press release can be found on their site. It's worth noting that the Jays will be running similar camps in Nanaimo (July 4th-5th) and Vancouver (July 7th-9th).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Complete 2014 HarbourCats Stats - we do the work, so you don't have to!

With the college season officially through its first quarter, it's worth a look at how our future HarbourCats are fairing as a collective group. The following stats have been compiled through a scour of the college stat packages produced for each team to create a "what if" look at our boys as if they played as a single team.

N/S = No Stats available

Oregon Beaver Gabe Clark, hitting .464
So far, looks like hitting isn't an issue, with 5 players hitting over .300, 3 of them over .400! That's a team .259 batting average, and a .346 On base percentage. Good speed on the base paths as well, with 14 steals.

Pitching is lighter, with most of the HarbourCats pitchers seeing spot duty only. Bret Helton is throwing some serious heat with 16 Ks in 22.2 innings pitched though - and he's hitting .333 in 15 at bats. With those kind of stats, perhaps the HarbourCats decline the DH...

Keep in mind, this is not a full roster. There are still more players to be signed as we move toward opening day. Expect more pitching help and depth players to be added...

  • As the stats show, UNM's Danny Collier has had a standout week. Described by coach Ray Birmingham as one of the biggest surprises out of fall camp, Collier has started 6 straight games and is lighting it up, hitting .385 against some tough conference pitching. Fellow Lobo Carson Schneider earned his first save this past week, and has not allowed an earned run in 7 appearances.
  • And while we are on the Lobos, Last year's fan favourite Alex Real has been honoured as a player to watch for the 2014 Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the top college catcher. It's the Heisman trophy for catchers, the top award given at that position. Alex can thank his time in Victoria for giving him some great experience behind the plate!
  • Pepperdine catcher Aaron Barnett will look to fill Real's shoes in Victoria this summer, and he's showing he's up to the task. Starting all 15 games for the Waves this year, he's leading the team in batting average and hits while holding a .988 fielding percentage
Pepperdine's Aaron Barnett

Sunday, March 9, 2014

HarbourCanucks Corner - March 9th edition

Kelly Norris-Jones
This is our fourth installment of HarbourCanucks Corner, a weekly update on the Canadians who will play on the 2014 Victoria HarbourCats.

The University of Illinois baseball team came crashing back to earth this weekend, losing all three games to Western Kentucky University. Kelly Norris-Jones started behind the plate in Saturday’s game and went two-for-four with a double and a run scored. He’s hitting .273 with one RBI in 11 at-bats this season, but his most impressive statistic is his .429 on-base percentage, which is the second-best mark on the team. The Fighting Illini (6-7) are scheduled to play three games next weekend against Southern Illinois University.

Although he only had a pinch-hit appearance in the two midweek games against the Oregon Ducks, Seattle U’s Griffin Andreychuk played second base in two of the three weekend games against #11 Cal Poly. For the week, the Nanaimo native went two-for-seven at the plate, knocked in a pair of runs, scored a run and even chipped in with a stolen base. Unfortunately, he also committed his seventh error of the season to give him an .837 fielding percentage on the year. The Redhawks (6-10) play a pair of midweek games against the University of Portland and a three-game series against Chicago State next weekend.

Nick Rutckyj continues to play regularly in left field for the Cuesta College Cougars. He picked up a double in nine at-bats this week, as the Cougars dropped all three games and saw their record drop to 4-12. Rutckyj is hitting .148 with two homers and seven RBI in 54 at-bats on the season. Cuesta College plays three games this week, including a pair against Santa Barbara City College.

Once again we have no Brandon Feldman news to share this week, because the boxscores from this weekend’s four-game set against Northeastern Junior College aren't yet available. In Otero Junior College’s first 15 games, Feldman is hitting .133 (15 AB). Although Feldman is expected to pitch for the HarbourCats this summer, he has not made any appearances on the mound for the Rattlers.

  • Gabe Clark had a monster week for the 5th-ranked Oregon State Beavers. In five games, Clark went 9-for-21 with 9 RBI and five extra-base hits and he appears to have established himself as the team’s cleanup hitter. He now is hitting an incredible .464 with a .595 on-base percentage and a team-leading .750 slugging percentage. Keep in mind that he only has 28 at-bats under his belt so far in 2014, but we may be witnessing the beginning of a major breakout campaign for Gabe Clark.  
  • Bret Helton raised his record to 2-0 with the University of Utah by pitching a gem against Missouri State on Sunday. Helton threw six strong innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits while walking two and striking out eight batters. He now sports a 1.59 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in his 22 ⅔ innings pitched this year.
  • Newly signed HarbourCats infielder Bryce Greager hit his first homer for the University of Nevada on Friday, a two-run shot to help lead the Wolf Pack to their only victory on the weekend. He has a .167 batting average and a .375 on-base percentage in 12 at-bats this season.
  • Will Dennis ran into some difficulties this week after starting the season in a dominant fashion. The lefty sidearmer gave up a run in 1 ⅔ innings pitched and took the loss against the University of Oregon on Tuesday. In Saturday’s wild 15-14 win over Cal Poly, he gave up four earned runs on four hits, a walk and three consecutive hit batsmen in 2 ⅔ innings on the hill. In spite of getting knocked around, he still picked up the win thanks to four timely Seattle U runs in the bottom of the seventh. Dennis is now 2-1 with a 4.76 ERA and two saves in seven appearances.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Road to Omaha - The NCAA Div-1 baseball season explained

While we here at the blog spend time reporting on the progress of our future HarbourCats, it’s worth a lesson on how exactly the NCAA Division 1 baseball season works – if for no other reason than the fact that it’s much different from what we up here North of the border are used to. I spoke with New Mexico’s PR guy Terry Kelly who gave me some good insight I thought I’d pass along. Where needed, I’ll use the UNM Lobos to explain the process...
First off, like most other NCAA sports teams are put into conferences. There are 32 conferences in Div 1 baseball – most on a strictly geographic basis (Northeast, Southern, Ohio Valley), but some on other traditional groupings (Ivy League, Big 10). Regardless of the grouping a team is in however, the goal is the same – win your conference, and make it to the NCAA Regional.
To win the conference, as one would suspect, you play games against the other teams in the same one. The Lobos will play 30 games this season against the six other Mountain West conference teams in nine 3-game series. Their record in those 30 games will determine their conference position. If they finish first, as they have the past 4 years, they will be given the automatic berth in their Regional tournament.
So with all conferences doing the same, that puts 32 teams in the Regional tournaments. The Regionals however, are a 64 team tournament - so queue the crazy college sport playoff model! The remaining 32 spots are determined using a complicated ranking system based on the results of all games played by every NCAA school during the year - and that mean more than just conference games... The Lobos play an additional 25 games this season against non-conference teams. These games are set up prior to the season like exhibition games – by coaches simply calling each other to set up games. It’s a bit more involved than that though: you want to play top quality teams that will help rank you higher, but not teams so tough you end up losing them all and find yourself at the bottom of the rankings. In the end, the ranking system adds 32 additional teams to the regional tournaments to make a 64 team pool.
Regional tournaments are hosted by (typically) the top ranked schools in each of 16 geographic regions. Each Regional is played as a 4-team double-knockout elimination tournament.
With Regionals complete, the remaining 16 teams are ranked once again and placed into 8 Super Regional groupings of two teams each. Typically the top-ranked team hosts, and a best-of-three series sees the winners advance to the College World Series tournament.
The Big Show - TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha NB
Now in the “Big Show”, those 8 teams travel to Omaha Nebraska and are placed into two 4-team groupings based on rankings, and another double-knockout tournament is played. The two group winners – finally – will play for the College World Series in a best-of-3 series. If you've been following along this far, you see what makes the baseball tournament unique in NCAA sport - you can lose a total of 4 games in your journey - and still win the championship.
And you thought the NHL playoffs were complicated...
For a college ballplayer, the Road to Omaha is a season-long journey. No dogging it through the regular season, no bad games. Each at-bat, every pitch, and every ball hit in your direction may make the difference in a ranking that moves your team forward to the round of 64, or out of the picture. Unlike most professional sports we are accustomed to following, these kids play to win every game. Considering most of these players are just barely out of high school, the pressures to perform (and maintain grades, and manage the social aspects of college life) is extraordinary.
No doubt a summer playing ball up here in Victoria in front of a laid-back and appreciative home crowd is something these boys are looking forward to - almost as much as we are! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cats roster up to 25 players with six more signings

Bryce Greager
The HarbourCats announced the signing of six more players this week, three of whom were selected in the MLB draft out of high school. The latest additions bring the total roster up to 25 players.

Bryce Greager (2B/SS/3B) is a highly-touted sophomore with the University of Nevada Wolf Pack who was selected in the 37th round of the 2011 draft by the Texas Rangers. The 6-1, 195 lb. infielder had probably the best season of high school baseball that is humanly possible in his senior year. Not only did Greager hit .594, but he set single-season Arizona prep records in home runs (17), RBI (75), slugging percentage (1.366 -- that’s not a typo!) and runs scored (60). Not surprisingly, he was named the 3A Arizona State Player of the Year in 2011. Greager was red-shirted by Saint Mary’s College in 2012 and last year he suffered a bit of a power outage playing for Chandler-Gilbert Community College, hitting .268 with one homer and 26 RBI in 153 at-bats. He still demonstrated very good strike zone judgement (28 walks versus 35 strikeouts) and a .389 on-base percentage, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Greager take a big step forward offensively in 2014. He hasn't played much with the Wolf Pack so far this season, but he does have a double in eight at-bats and a .417 on-base percentage.

Hunter Mercado-Hood
The Oakland A’s selected 6-0, 190 lb. Hunter Mercado-Hood in the 38th round of the 2013 draft -- and it's not difficult to understand why. The freshman outfielder at the University of San Diego hits from the left side, and his smooth swing reminds me a little bit of Ken Griffey Jr’s stroke. Mercado-Hood played for Team USA (16U) in 2011 and as a senior at De La Salle High School in Concord, California hit .495 with a .905 slugging percentage. He also had five homers, 18 RBI and 13 steals in only 85 at-bats that season and he was named a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American. Mercado-Hood’s raw power combined with a knack for completely controlling the strike zone gives him a very high ceiling as a ballplayer. He managed to get into four games with the Wenatchee Applesox last summer (0-for-7), so he’s already had a taste of WCL action. With the Toreros in 2014, Mercado-Hood is hitting .500 with three RBI and a stolen base in 16 at-bats. Don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance in this summer’s West Coast League All Star Game. 
Michael Wright

Michael “Mikey” Wright is a freshman pitcher with San Jose State who hails from Elk Grove, California. The 6-4, 195 lb. hurler went 7-0 in his senior year of high school and posted a 1.69 ERA to go along with a tidy 1.09 WHIP in 62 innings on the mound. He also struck out 55 and walked 24 batters. Wright has had a rough start to his college career, as he currently sports a 14.04 ERA in his 8 ⅓ innings pitched for the Spartans.

Alan Baldwin
The third drafted player in this group of signees is Alan Baldwin, a redshirt sophomore with the University of Hawaii. The 6-1, 195 lb. catcher, who can also play some outfield and first base, is a teammate of current HarbourCat Quintin Torres-Costa and ex-HarbourCat Scott Kuzminsky. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Baldwin hit .211 with no homers and two RBI in 38 at-bats. As a senior at Kailua High School in 2011, he hit .361 with a pair of homers before getting taken in the 49th round of the MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. Baldwin has started seven of the Rainbow Warriors’ first 12 games at catcher and he’s hitting .111 with three RBI in 27 at-bats.

Wyler Smith
Wyler Smith is a 6-2, 205 lb. sophomore outfielder with the University of Utah and a teammate of Bret Helton. As a freshman, Smith hit .277 with one homer and 12 RBI in 112 at-bats and so far this season he’s hitting .233 with no homers and two RBI in 43 at-bats as the Utes' starting centre fielder. Smith, a business management major, plans to open a brewery if a career in professional baseball doesn't work out. Who knows, maybe he’ll end up opening one right here in the beer capital of Canada.
Mike Gershman

Mike Gershman is the fifth Canadian signed by the HarbourCats for the 2014 season, although he is the first player signed to a 10-day contract. Gershman is a junior at Valley City State University in North Dakota (NAIA Division I). The native of Beausejour, Manitoba plays right field and pitches, but he’ll probably be used out of the bullpen with the HarbourCats. In 2013 at Valley City State, Gershman hit .287 with three homers and 13 RBI in 101 at-bats and had a 7.04 ERA in 7 ⅔ innings on the mound. He played in the WMBL last summer for the Weyburn Beavers, hitting .204 with four RBI in 54 at-bats. He did not make any appearances on the hill for the Beavers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Gaucho Marks - March 4th edition

Andrew Calica
The University of California Santa Barbara Gauchos had a stellar week last week, upsetting a ranked opponent (UCLA) in their own house, and then sweeping a three game home set against Princeton. Our soon-to-be very own Andrew Calica was once again a solid contributor as he maintained his .400 batting average by going a combined four for ten, collecting five walks against three strikeouts and scoring six runs. He also had a number of firsts for the season - first extra base hit, first stolen base and first caught stealing.

These lofty numbers reflect the Gauchos offensive explosion against Princeton where they put up 38 runs in three games, while allowing only eleven. Calica's big numbers are only good enough for fifth - second among regulars - on a team that is just hammering the ball right now.

(not that) Venus Flytrap
Calica maintained his perfect fielding percentage and is now error-free in 20 chances, also notching two assists since the start of the season. I know it is early, but so far Mr. Calica looks like a solid outfielder who should fit in nicely at the friendly confines of Royal Athletic Park. It will be interesting to watch as the season progresses to see if he can maintain a decent average, while hopefully increasing his power numbers a bit and continuing to play the role of Venus flytrap (not the WKRP one...the one that catches anything near it) as he patrols the outfield in Santa Barbara.

The Gauchos have an interesting event later today as they host the Waseda University team from Japan for a rare in-season exhibition game. To make it even more interesting, the teams will put the aluminum down and use wooden bats. Given this is a rarity for NCAA baseball, the players are supposedly pretty excited to truly bring out the heavy lumber. Stay tuned to see how our own lad handles the change in a sneak preview of what he will experience this summer.

  • Hunting for other 'Cats across the NCAA, Gabe Clark over at Oregon State is hitting a lofty .462 in seven games so far this season. Clark has an other-worldly OPS of over 1.200 while playing DH and spotting at 1B
  • Another future HarbourCat - the 6'3", 215 RHP Bret Helton - is also off to a fine start on the bump, having pitched 16 and 2/3 innings so far and allowing only two earned runs off eight hits while collecting seven K's and walking nine. In the Robby Nesovic mold, Helton also plays LF and DH, most recently going two for three on March second. I am sensing a "starter with benefits"
    • As you may already know, Helton has a fine athletic pedigree as his dad - Barry Helton - was a member of two Superbowl winning teams while punting for the '49ers
  • Speaking of Nesovic, the ex-HarbourCat who also plays for the Gauchos...he is off to a good start as well, sitting in a tie with Calica in the batting race sporting a .400 average
  • Also on the Gauchos, ex-Cats Joe Record and David Schuknecht have yet to see any action, but we'll keep you posted

Sunday, March 2, 2014

HarbourCanucks Corner - bobblehead edition

Bobbleheads have come a long way
since this classic design
The most exciting bit of news to report in this version of HarbourCanucks Corner is that the ‘Cats are holding a Kelly Norris-Jones Bobblehead Night on Tuesday June 17th. The Victoria native will have his likeness reproduced on a bobblehead and the first 1,000 fans through the gates that night will get one for free. The promotion is a winner from many different angles. First off, what's not to love about a bobblehead? Even the most cold-hearted cynic can appreciate their hokey charm. Bobblehead giveaways are always popular with fans and the promotion should give a noticeable boost to attendance on a night when small crowds are the norm (the club averaged 1,102 fans on the three Tuesday home games in 2013). Purchasing 1,000 bobbleheads is more expensive than you might think, so hats off to local businessman Jeff Fisher for making this event possible. Hopefully the HarbourCats front-office staff can find another local business to step forward and sponsor the tentatively planned Harvey the HarbourCat Bobblehead Night, because that one would be an even bigger hit, especially with the kids. But back to the player updates...

Kelly Norris-Jones
Norris-Jones’ team, the University of Illinois, swept all four games they played in Gainesville, Florida this weekend, including a pair of wins against the 23rd-ranked Florida Gators. Kelly had one plate appearance in the four games (a fly-out) and caught only two innings. He’s one-for-seven on the season with a .400 on-base percentage. With the current starting catcher (Jason Goldstein) hitting .367, playing time with the Fighting Illini could be tough to come by for our hometown boy. Illinois travels to Bowling Green next weekend to face Western Kentucky University in a three-game series.

Griffin Andreychuk and his Seattle U squad dropped all three games to BYU this weekend. In a possible attempt to kick-start his defense, Andreychuk started at second base instead of shortstop in the middle game of the BYU series. He went one-for-three with an RBI, but unfortunately made his sixth error of the season. In the series finale, Andreychuk pinch ran and played the last two innings at second base without committing an error and he is now hitting .133 with two RBI in 15 at-bats this season. The Redhawks have a very tough week coming up with a pair of midweek games against the 9th-ranked Oregon Ducks and a three-game set against the 13th-ranked Cal Poly Mustangs next weekend.

Brandon Feldman’s freshman season with the Otero Junior College continues to be stuck in neutral. Feldman went 0-for-6 in the 9 games played by the Rattlers between the 17th and 28th of February. The right fielder has appeared in seven games and is hitting only .133 in his 15 at-bats, but he sports a more respectable on-base percentage of .316. The Rattlers, who are 7-8 on the season, play two doubleheaders next weekend against a struggling Northeastern Junior College.

There isn’t any Nick Rutckyj news to report, as Cuesta College’s only scheduled game this week was rained out. The Cougars (4-9) play a pair of games against Allan Hancock College and one against L.A. Pierce College in the next week.

  • Seattle U didn't have a lead at any point in their series with BYU, so it was tough to find innings for lefty closer Will Dennis this weekend. He did appear in the final game of the series, giving up only one hit in 1 ⅓ scoreless innings to lower his ERA to a sparkling 1.29.