Tuesday, December 30, 2014

33 Vancouver Islanders playing U.S. college baseball

Griffin Andreychuk
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post after stumbling upon the fact that there were 24 athletes from Greater Victoria playing collegiate baseball in the United States. Since my exposure to college baseball was fairly limited at the time, I was taken aback by the number of local players at this level. However, after watching two seasons of West Coast League baseball, I’m no longer surprised by the success of ballplayers from our neck of the woods. For instance, both Ty Russell and Daryl Blaskovich, a pair of ex-HarbourCats from the Victoria area, recently received Honourable Mentions for the All-Canadian College Baseball Team from the Canadian Baseball Network.

Bob Elliott, the driving force behind the Canadian Baseball Network, compiles an annual list of the Canadians who play collegiate baseball in the United States (or in Canada if that school competes largely against American institutions). By combining Elliott’s tentative “master” list with the docket of players who have signed a Letter of Intent, we can get a pretty good idea of the Canucks who will be playing college baseball south of the border this season. As has been the case in recent years, it looks like the total number of such Canadians will be close to 700.

As of today, there are 21 players from Greater Victoria and 33 from Vancouver Island who will likely play collegiate baseball in the 2014-15 season. In addition, a whopping 140 British Columbians are expected to suit up. Using Elliott’s lists, I have compiled the following directory of collegiate baseball players who hail from Vancouver Island. Those with an asterisk (*) beside their name have previously appeared in at least one game for the Victoria HarbourCats (a double asterisk indicates that the player was signed to a 10-day contract by the 'Cats but did not see any game action). A plus sign (+) indicates that the player has been signed by the HarbourCats for the summer of 2015. It is worth noting that college seniors are not eligible to play in the West Coast League.
NCAA Division I 
Griffin Andreychuk*+, 2B/SS, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Seattle University (WA)
Kelly Norris-Jones*, C, Victoria BC, Senior, University of Illinois (IL)
Ty Russell*, 1B, Victoria BC, Junior, Alabama A&M University (AL)
NCAA Division II 
Cody Andreychuk, OF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Tusculum College (TN)
Brendan McCarthy, OF-1B, Nanaimo BC, Junior, Lubbock Christian University (TX)
Zane Takhar, INF, Victoria BC, Freshman, Northeastern State University (OK)
Evan Willow**, C, Victoria BC, Freshman, McPherson College (KS)
NCAA Division III
Alex Hendra-Brown, INF, Victoria BC, Freshman, Linfield College (OR)
Ryan Adkins*, INF, Victoria BC, Senior, Jamestown College (ND)
Kevin Biro, SS, Deep Bay BC, Senior, University of British Columbia (BC)
Daryl Blaskovich*, 2B, Brentwood Bay BC, Junior, Lindsay Wilson College (KY)
Liam Goodall, OF, Nanaimo BC, Junior, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (FL)
Darren Kolk, OF, Duncan BC, Junior, Lewis-Clark State University (ID)
Vinny Martin, INF, Pender Island BC, Sophomore, University of British Columbia (BC)
Mackenzie Parlow, C, Parksville BC, Sophomore, University of British Columbia (BC)
Bryan Pawlina**, RHP, Courtenay BC, Junior, University of British Columbia (BC)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division I
Justin Clarkson, INF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Midland College (TX)
Nick Dawson, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Salt Lake City Community College (UT)
Riley Edmunds*, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Otero Jr. College (CO)
Brandon Feldman*, 1B-RHP, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Otero Jr. College (CO)
Chris Fougner+, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Salt Lake Community College (UT)
Eric Hegadoren*, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Yapavai College (AZ)
Brett Hull, RHP, North Saanich BC, Freshman, Otero Jr. College (CA)
Alex Rogers*+, RHP, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Trinidad State Junior College (CO)
Brady Rogers, INF, Nanaimo BC, Sophomore, Trinidad State Junior College (CO)
Brendan Somers, OF, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Southwestern Oregon Community College (OR)
Sam Stevenson, C, Victoria BC, Freshman, Linn-Benton Community College (OR)
Colton Wood, RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Cochise College (AZ)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division II
Cody Newberry, INF, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Dakota College at Bottineau (ND)
Jesse Turner, C-1B, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Dakota College at Bottineau (ND)
Junior / Community Colleges - Division III
Will Aesoph, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Freshman, Rainy River College (MN)
Kris Barber, LHP, North Saanich BC, Sophomore, Rainy River College (MN)
Jake Schulte, OF-RHP, Victoria BC, Sophomore, Rainy River College (MN)
One aspect of this list that jumps out at me is that 20 of the 33 Vancouver Islanders are playing either NAIA or Division I baseball at a junior / community college. This is high caliber baseball -- not quite at the NCAA Division I level, but a very impressive brand of baseball nonetheless. Vancouver Islanders who play at an NAIA school or a Division I college can be very productive players in the West Coast League when given the chance, as was shown by both Alex Rogers and Darren Kolk. Rogers posted a 3.09 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for the HarbourCats last summer, while Kolk hit .327 in 171 at-bats for the Kelowna Falcons in 2013. Both players were named to the WCL All-Star team.

Another striking feature of this list is that 24 of the 33 players are either a freshman or a sophomore, a fact that bodes well for the future. With the pipeline of local baseball talent continuing to flow freely, the HarbourCats certainly won’t have any trouble finding Vancouver Island players to feature on their roster in the coming years.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shedding some light on the current HarbourCats owner

Matthew Stoudt
Cleve Dheensaw wrote an excellent article in Wednesday’s Times-Colonist that shed a bit of light on the current owner of the HarbourCats. Earlier in the week, we found out that the holding company Bhootan LLC had taken over the club in October as a result of a civil suit. Dheensaw reported that the key figure behind Bhooton LLC is Matthew Stoudt, although there are other minority partners involved with B.C. connections. It is unclear from Dheensaw’s piece as to whether Bhootan LLC would run the team in 2015 or sell it, but Stoudt was quoted as saying “We’re trying to figure out the best way to a successful solution.”

Stoudt grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana and earned a BA at Northwestern University with a dual degree in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences and Economics. He then went on to get his MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Stoudt held the position of Entrepreneur-in-Residence in the New Ventures Group of McDonald’s Corporation, and he also has extensive private equity and investment banking experience.

In 2008, Bhootan LLC merged with Fuelcast, a company that had a someone familiar as its CEO: John McLean. The two organizations merged to become Outcast, with McLean taking up the post as chairman and Stoudt becoming Outcast’s CEO. In January of this year, Outcast Media was acquired by Gilbarco Veeder-Root, with Outcast operating as the media business unit of Gilbarco. Then in August of 2014, Gilbarco partnered with VeriFone Systems, resulting in the merging of Outcast with VeriFone Media to create VeriFone Digital Network (VNET). Got all that? Yikes, that’s quite the web of business dealings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Cats sign UNM slugger and a pair of outfielders

The Victoria HarbourCats announced today that they have signed three more NCAA Division I athletes for the 2015 season, bringing their confirmed roster up to a total of 18 players.

Carl Stajduhar
Perhaps the biggest signing of the three was freshman third baseman Carl Stajduhar from the University of New Mexico. Stajduhar is the third UNM Lobo to be inked for next season, joining returning HarbourCat pitchers Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan. The 6-1, 210 lb. right-handed slugger was drafted by the Atlanta Braves as a first baseman in the 27th round of the 2014 draft, but he chose to join the Lobos instead of signing professionally.

Stajduhar, who can also fill in at catcher, graduated in the spring from Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, which has one of the top high school baseball programs in the United States. In addition to being a First Team High School All-American, he also led his team to the Class 5A state title last season. Stajduhar hit .489 with 13 homers and 51 RBI in only 88 at-bats in his senior year, and the thirteen home runs set a new school record. His power is something to behold -- Stajduhar posted a stunning 1.590 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in his final year of high school. To put that in perspective, Barry Bonds set the single-season MLB record for OPS in 2004 with a 1.422 mark. I’m expecting Pembroke Street to be littered with balls off the bat of Mr. Stajduhar next summer.

A.J. Alcantara
The HarbourCats also signed Adam (A.J.) Alcantara and Evan Cassolato, a pair of outfielders from the UC Irvine Anteaters and a couple of former Wenatchee AppleSox. Not only have these guys already made the adjustment to WCL baseball, but they also picked up a wealth of experience in the 2014 College World Series. UC Irvine squeaked into the NCAA tournament in May but then proceeded to knock off No. 1 national seed Oregon State (featuring our own Gabe Clark) and sweep a Super Regional at Oklahoma State to qualify for the College World Series. Unfortunately, the Cinderella story came to an end after three games in the double-elimination CWS tournament.

Alcantara is a sophomore outfielder from Alta Loma, California. He hit .323 (all singles) with no homers and 9 RBI in 62 at-bats with the Anteaters in his debut season, and he posted a solid .408 on-base percentage. Alcantara played in left field for all three UCI games in the College World Series, going 3-for-8 with two runs scored and an RBI (squeeze bunt) -- quite an accomplishment for a freshman. He continued that success in the summer of 2014 with the AppleSox, hitting an impressive .360 with no homers and 11 RBI in 86 at-bats. His seven doubles with Wenatchee boosted his slugging percentage to a healthy .442 mark. Alcantara graduated from Bishop Amat High School, the same school attended by ex-HarbourCat Alex Garcia.

Evan Cassolato
Cassolato is a redshirt sophomore with the Anteaters who hits from the left side of the plate. The 6-0, 190 lb. outfielder from Encinitas, California hit .238 with no homers and eight RBI in 105 at-bats in his freshman year. The AppleSox used him primarily as an outfielder last summer, but he also played eight games at second base. Cassolato posted a tidy .300 batting average with no homers and eight RBI in 90 at-bats with Wenatchee, and he notched a .375 on-base percentage. Although he is reported to have good speed, he was only 5-for-9 in stolen base attempts with the AppleSox.

Of the 18 players currently under contract with the HarbourCats, a whopping 72% are upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors in the context of most summer collegiate leagues). This is starting to look like a team with significantly more experience than last year's group, which only had 36% upperclassmen. I have written about this before, but one of the most important aspects in building a winning West Coast League team is the number of veteran players that are recruited, so the 2015 version of the HarbourCats is likely going to be the best squad in franchise history.

The HarbourCats have commitments from approximately 41 players for next summer, so you can expect further announcements in the next few weeks as the signed contracts arrive in the team’s front office.

Monday, December 8, 2014

HarbourCats ownership issues revealed

The HarbourCats were the lead story on today's 5:00 CHEK News, but unfortunately it wasn't exactly a positive story on the team. While I was made aware of some of the high-level details just before the segment aired, I was surprised to see it presented as the lead story (slow news day?) with the over-the-top tagline “HarbourCats Crisis.” In addition to CHEK Sports Director Jeff King's piece, Mike Walker also filed a report on the situation. Let me summarize the most relevant information (for fans) that was revealed in the reports.

John McLean in June 2012
John McLean is no longer the owner of the Victoria HarbourCats. In fact, he hasn't owned the team since October, when a BC Supreme Court civil suit resulted in the transfer of team ownership to Bhootan LLC, a company that is based in Dover, Delaware. McLean is in the venture capital business, an area that I must admit I know very little about. However, it appears that Bhootan has little interest in owning the HarbourCats, but simply acquired the asset through a civil suit that was not related to the baseball business. As Jeff King reported today, Bhootan will run the team (in 2015) if no new ownership comes forward. The company does not want to be in the business for the long haul and they are hoping to sell to local owners sooner rather than later. Whoever this mysterious company is, I'm comforted by the fact that they aren't likely to do anything that might devalue their newly-acquired asset.

The other key players in this drama are saying all the right things. In King’s report, WCL President Dennis Koho was quoted as saying “Our top priority is to make sure the HarbourCats are playing next season in Victoria with no interruption.” GM Jim Swanson insists that the HarbourCats will be on the field next summer as planned. Swanson also said that “There are some people locally who are interested in being part of an ownership group”, although it is unclear at this point who those people might be.

What I do know is that investing money in a West Coast League franchise is a pretty smart thing to do, especially in a vibrant baseball market like Victoria. The WCL is an extremely stable league with a solid business model, so hopefully one or more local business people realize just how great of an opportunity this is. Only two teams in the league’s 10-year history, the Spokane RiverHawks and Moses Lake Pirates, have ever ceased operations. With a reasonably small geographic footprint, the league is able to keep costs down by busing players between cities. Add in the fact that college players aren't paid in order to maintain their amateur status and it becomes pretty tough not to turn a profit over the long term in any reasonable WCL market. All of the startup costs associated with a new franchise have already been paid by the HarbourCats and they’re coming off a season in which they led the league in attendance in spite of posting their second consecutive losing season. Swanson and his new coaching staff have assembled what is likely a winning team for 2015. For potential owners, what’s not to like about this scenario?

Victoria baseball fans have been burned twice in the last dozen years, first losing the Capitals and then the Seals. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the Victoria teams were near the top in league attendance, so I can understand a bit of angst from local fans with the announcement of this latest ownership issue. I must admit that I am a bit of a worrier myself, so I do have a few nagging doubts that things will work out, especially since there is probably more to this story than we currently know. Being the realist that I am, I’m not going to breathe easily until I see a WCL schedule released with Victoria’s name on it. Last year’s schedule was released on November 14th, so I wouldn't expect it to be much longer before that happens. No matter how this plays out, the next few weeks will indeed be interesting for local baseball fans.