In the two-year history of the franchise, the ‘Cats sport an unimpressive winning percentage of .435, and they hold the distinction of being the only team out of the three recent expansion franchises that failed to make the playoffs in their inaugural season (Medford and Yakima Valley are the others). There are many reasons why Victoria hasn't had much on-field success so far, but this post will focus on one in particular: the composition of their roster.
In spite of that .435 winning percentage, the HarbourCats have featured plenty of talent in their first couple of seasons. There have been players with flashy skills. Guys who threw hard and had nasty stuff. Guys who had blinding speed. Guys who could rake. “Toolsy” guys who could make scouts drool. We have even seen guys on the team who will play in the big leagues one day. In short, skill hasn't been the problem.
We have also seen rosters full of talent from the top NCAA Division I programs. Players who have played key roles on highly-ranked teams have been sent our way. We have had players who have been mentored by some of the top head coaches in college baseball. Players who have been on teams that made the College World Series have worn the HarbourCats jersey -- one guy even played on the team that won the (Division I) national title. Getting players from the best programs hasn't been the problem.
So what has been the problem with the roster these past two seasons? Our team has quite simply been too young and too inexperienced to compete for a playoff spot in the West Coast League. As a point of reference, let’s compare the 2014 HarbourCats roster to the two teams that made this year’s WCL Championship Series. The graph below shows the percentage of players on each team, broken down by the school year completed just prior to the WCL season.
|2014 Roster Breakdown|
Victoria also had more incoming freshman (i.e. high school seniors) on their 2014 roster than the Knights and Bells combined. The WCL is a very good college wood-bat league, and it’s not easy for recent high school grads to perform well at this level -- especially for middle infielders and pitchers (the super-human Sean Watkins is the rare exception to the rule). In the future, the HarbourCats would be wise to minimize the risk of rookie meltdowns by taking only one or two incoming freshmen per season, and whenever possible only take an outfielder or a first baseman, who have an easier transition to the college game.
The other roster ingredient that we haven't had enough of, as compared to the playoff teams at least, has been desire. We need more players with a fire in their belly for summer baseball. Guys with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to their college coaches. A number of HarbourCats have had significant success in the last couple of seasons despite coming from lesser-known programs, and there are plenty of other examples throughout the WCL. Alex Fagalde, Austin Russell, Alex Rogers and Connor Russell are four such examples from the Victoria squad alone.
|The surprising Drew Davidoff|
Photo by Brian Hayes
This past season, I recall a couple of blog readers, a HarbourCats player and one of the player’s parents using a phrase that strikes me as odd. This puzzling phrase, usually used in defense of a player or group of players for some perceived slight, is that “... the players are giving up their summer…” I’m really surprised that some people consider it a sacrifice to travel to a foreign country, learn about another culture, get a taste of the minor-league experience, improve their skills and further their baseball career. The HarbourCats should be recruiting players who are thrilled to have this opportunity, instead of signing those who see the glass as being half empty. I realize that these players are in the minority, but the effect they have on their teammates cannot be underestimated.
Our new head coach, Graig Merritt, is already hard at work recruiting for next season. He’ll be building us a roster under the direction of GM Jim Swanson, who started in his job last December and largely (but not entirely) inherited the 2014 roster from the former head coach. Fortunately for HarbourCats fans, both Merritt and Swanson seem to have their heads around how to construct a winning WCL team. It’s likely that we’ll see a handful of returning players next summer, but look for a much different type of roster for year three of HarbourCats baseball… and possibly even that pennant race we have been waiting so long for.