Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Willie Mays Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). In this blog post, we present our ballot for the Willie Mays Award, which is given by the BBA to the top rookie in each league. Similar to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the alliance is organized into different chapters. Gus, the founder of the VHCBB, is President of the alliance's Other Baseball Chapter.

National League

Jacob deGrom
There was no standout candidate for the Willie Mays Award in the NL, but we’re going with the feel-good story of underdog Jacob deGrom. Besides, it’s nice to finally have some good news to report on the mediocre NY Mets, who stumbled through their sixth consecutive losing season in 2014. deGrom posted a 9-6 record with a 2.63 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his rookie campaign, striking out 144 batters in 140 ⅓ innings pitched. He came into the season with little fanfare, although he was ranked as the Mets’ 10th-best prospect by Baseball America. In three levels of minor-league baseball in 2013, deGrom had a 4.51 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, so the Mets were quite happy to cash in their winnings on the last week of the season and shut him down for the year after he reached a career-high 178 ⅔ innings pitched.

deGrom’s main competitor in the National League was Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds, but we decided to give the edge to the Mets hurler after noticing Hamilton’s steal percentage. The speedy outfielder was caught stealing in 29% of his attempts, which means that Hamilton’s stolen bases were worth very little to the Reds in terms of net runs scored. He’s an exceptional outfielder, but his defense isn’t enough of a reason to give him the nod, especially after considering his anemic .250 BA / .292 OBP / .355 SLG slash line.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wright and a pair of Hornets signed for 2015

Mikey Wright
And then there were seven. Earlier today the HarbourCats announced that they have re-signed a seventh member of last summer’s squad for the 2015 season: pitcher Mikey Wright. They also signed a pair of Nathan Lukes’ teammates at Sacramento State, veteran catcher Dane Fujinaka and freshman infielder PJ Floyd.

Wright was the best-performing pitcher on the team last summer in spite of his (meaningless) 4-5 won-loss record. The big right-hander posted the ninth-best ERA in the entire West Coast League (2.96) and held opponents to a paltry .213 batting average. We had him fourth in our team MVP voting this year, so this is clearly a big addition to the pitching staff. Wright may not have the reputation of some other highly-touted Division I players, but all that really matters is results. A sub-3.00 ERA and 50+ innings pitched? We’ll take that any day of the week.

Dane Fujinaka
Fujinaka, the starting catcher for Sacramento State last season, was backed up by none other than former HarbourCats receiver Gunner Pollman. The 5-foot-8-inch Hawaiian is entering his junior season with the Hornets, so he should be able provide some veteran leadership behind the plate for the ‘Cats. Fujinaka hit .283 with no homers and 19 RBI in 159 at-bats with Sacramento State in 2014, and he threw out 12.6% of stolen base attempts. He’s primarily a singles hitter at this stage of his development, but he has consistently shown good strike-zone judgement and an ability to get on base. 

PJ Floyd
Floyd is entering his freshman season with the Hornets. The native of Rocklin, California (37 kilometres northeast of Sacramento) was a standout shortstop for Whitney High School. In his senior year with the Wildcats, Floyd hit .424 with two homers and 22 RBI in 85 at-bats. He obviously has some pop in his bat, as 17 of his 36 hits were for extra bases. "He can really run and has the ability to play all three infield positions," Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen was quoted as saying.

The 2015 roster for Victoria now stands at 13 players. After playing the first two seasons of their existence with a relatively inexperienced team, the HarbourCats now have a whopping 85% of upperclassmen on their squad. If this trend continues -- and we have every reason to believe that it will -- look for the 'Cats to easily surpass their 25-29 record from last season.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Connie Mack Awards

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. As a member of the alliance, we have the honour of casting a ballot for each of the five awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. The first award for 2014 is the Connie Mack Award, presented to the top manager in each league.

National League

Clint Hurdle
In April, the Pirates rewarded manager Clint Hurdle with a three-year contract extension, a move that looks better with each passing day. Hurdle, who won the 2013 Connie Mack Award, seems destined to win it again after leading Pittsburgh to their second consecutive playoff appearance. That feat is especially impressive considering that the Pirates hadn’t made the post-season -- or even had a winning record -- since 1992. To top it all off, the Pirates had the 5th-lowest payroll in baseball this year and they still made the playoffs.

Mike Matheny is in his third year as manager of the Cardinals and he has led St. Louis to the playoffs in each of those three seasons. Even with a middle-of-the-road payroll, the Cardinals continue to be the model of consistency in the National League. Early this season the Cardinals fell behind the Brewers in the NL Central race and then lost Yadier Molina to injury for six weeks. Under Matheny’s guidance, the Cardinals weathered the storm and went on a late run to nail down the NL Central title.

Bruce Bochy is now the winningest active manager in Major League Baseball. Just recently, Bochy moved past both Tommy Lasorda and Fred Clarke into 18th spot for wins on the all-time managerial list and he’s likely heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame. All he did in 2014 was lead the Giants to the playoffs and keep them close on the heels of the powerful Dodgers -- with almost $100M less in payroll.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Schneider and Ryan re-sign with HarbourCats for 2015

Preston Ryan
Photo by Brian Hayes
The HarbourCats announced early this morning that three new recruits have been signed and that two key relievers from their 2014 squad, Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan, will be coming back next summer. The pair of University of New Mexico relievers, along with Gabe Clark, Griffin Andreychuk, Alex Fagalde and Alex Rogers, brings the total number of returning players to six. The new players signed today are pitcher Henry Baker and catcher Zach Bonneau from the University of Washington Huskies, along with hurler Josh Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh.

Schneider and Ryan are entering their sophomore year with the UNM Lobos. Schneider, a southpaw, went 1-1 with two saves this past summer. He posted a solid 3.37 ERA and 1.31 WHIP and walked only four batters in his 29 ⅓ innings with the HarbourCats. Ryan had a respectable 4.29 ERA and two saves with the 'Cats, although one cause for concern was his control: he walked a whopping 6.1 batters per nine innings. Ryan’s summer was highlighted by an epic 83-pitch relief appearance on August 2nd against the powerful Bellingham Bells in which he threw six scoreless innings and picked up the win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Ryan and Schneider take a big step forward in 2015 -- not only will they have another year of experience under their belt, but they’ll greatly benefit from the tutelage of new pitching coach Alec Adame.

Henry Baker
Baker is a sophomore starting pitcher with the Washington Huskies who went 1-0 with a 7.31 ERA and 1.44 WHIP last spring. In spite of his inflated ERA, the underlying numbers for the left-hander from Agoura, California were quite positive: 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.4 walks per nine. Although Baker only had six appearances (five starts) last season with UW, he is expected to play a more prominent role this spring. Baker had a 1.18 ERA in his senior year of high school and struck out close to 11 batters per nine innings, so there is plenty to like in this signing.

Josh Mitchell
Mitchell is yet another southpaw pitcher and he’s also the first HarbourCat in franchise history to be signed from the University of Pittsburgh. He was ranked as one of the best lefties in the state of Pennsylvania in his senior year of high school in 2013, and he features a good moving fastball that is regularly clocked in the high 80’s and can touch 90. Mitchell also possesses a good change-up. He didn't pitch last spring in his freshman year and he’s coming off of shoulder surgery, so we’ll be keeping close tabs on him once the Panthers' season starts (February 13th) to get a read on how he is progressing. 

Zach Bonneau
Bonneau, a left-handed hitting catcher, is a UW teammate of Baker’s and another guy who is entering his sophomore year. He played his freshman season for Palomar Junior College in San Diego County last spring before accepting a scholarship at the University of Washington.  Although he only had 24 at-bats with Palomar JC, Bonneau had a .292 batting average (all hits were singles) and he posted a solid .414 on-base percentage. He’s a graduate of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington. Unfortunately. Bonneau’s high school stats aren’t readily available.

The current Victoria roster now stands at ten players. As we explained in a previous post, veteran experience is key to a team’s success in the tough West Coast League. Of the ten players already signed by the 'Cats for the 2015 season, there are two juniors, seven sophomores, one freshman and no high schoolers (seniors are not eligible to be signed to a WCL contract). When all is said and done, it’s likely that the roster will contain a majority of upperclassmen (defined as sophomores and juniors in college wood-bat leagues), so you can expect the HarbourCats to feature both skill and experience when the season opens up on June 5th.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pivetta and Real continue on MLB trail

Nick Pivetta
After only two seasons of HarbourCats baseball, the franchise has already produced a pair of professional ballplayers and that figure that will surely climb with each passing year. To keep track of things, we have created a permanent page on the blog that lists the HarbourCats alumni that have gone on to play professionally and shows their progress as they climb the ladder towards the big leagues. It has been a while since we last checked in on ex-HarbourCats Nick Pivetta and Alex Real, so let’s get you caught up on their respective summers.

Pivetta, a Victoria native, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft and he followed up a successful professional debut with a very solid 2014 season. He spent the entire year in the South Atlantic League (‘A’ ball) with the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns and was the ace of the pitching staff, leading the team in wins, starts and innings pitched. Pivetta's regular-season highlights included being named to the South Atlantic League (SAL) All-Star team and winning SAL Pitcher of the Week honours on June 23rd. Earlier tonight, he had the privilege of starting the first game of the SAL Championship Series against the mighty Asheville Tourists, but Pivetta didn't get the result he was looking for, giving up six hits and four earned runs in 2 ⅓ innings. There was no shame in that performance, because not only are the Tourists the best hitting team in the history of the South Atlantic League, but Asheville went on to score 16 runs in a lopsided affair.

Pivetta went 13-8 in the regular season with a 4.22 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Although those numbers were slightly less impressive than what he posted in Rookie and Short Season ‘A’ ball in 2013, he did improve upon his control (from 3.4 to 2.7 walks per nine innings), while continuing to strike out batters at a reasonable pace (6.7 K’s per nine innings). With those numbers, I wouldn't be surprised to see the 21-year-old start the 2015 season with the Potomac Nationals in the Carolina League (Advanced ‘A’ ball).

Alex Real
Alex Real was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in June of this year after his junior season at the University of New Mexico. Real, who wasn't drafted until the 24th round, surprised many onlookers when he chose to sign with the Twins instead of completing his senior year with the Lobos. The highly-skilled catcher was named a semifinalist this spring for the prestigious Johnny Bench Award and he seemed destined to become an All-American with the University of New Mexico, but he was clearly eager to get his professional career started.

Real was assigned to the Elizabethon (Tenessee) Twins in the Appalachian League shortly after signing and he put up unremarkable numbers in Rookie ball after starring with the Lobos in the tough Mountain West Conference. Real posted a .284 batting average and .323 on-base percentage to go along with one homer and 11 runs batted for Elizabethon, although he only had 88 at-bats in his 28 games played. The most troubling aspect of his numbers was a big drop-off in plate discipline, as Real walked just four times and struck out on 23 occasions in those 88 at-bats. This uncharacteristic lack of strike-zone judgement can likely be chalked up to an overeagerness to succeed at the professional level, and I wouldn't be surprised to see those numbers return to normal levels (for him) in 2015. He is only 21 years old, so he has time to get back on the fast track to the big leagues.

The new Victoria coaching staff, led by Graig Merritt and Alec Adame, have been busy recruiting the next crop of HarbourCats players. You can be sure that next year’s Victoria squad -- and almost every visiting team at Royal Athletic Park -- will include a number of future pro players, so you’ll be getting your money’s worth when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for a HarbourCats ticket. Only 270 days until Opening Day...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Clark to return to 'Cats in 2015

Clark in action at Royal Athletic Park
What’s more Canadian than having a Beaver on your baseball team? Having two Beavers on your baseball team, of course. On Wednesday morning the HarbourCats announced that they are bringing back slugger Gabe Clark next season and that they have also signed one of his Oregon State University teammates, Michael Gretler.

Clark is already the fourth player from the 2014 HarbourCats to commit to returning with the team next season. The junior from Riverside, California hit .291 with 8 homers and 31 RBI this past summer and finished third in team MVP voting. Although the WCL All-Star Game in Klamath Falls was rained out, Clark still represented the HarbourCats in fine fashion, as he won the Home Run Derby before the skies opened up and made the field unplayable. In the feel good story of the summer, his Dad, Jim Clark, served up the pitches that Gabe hammered in his home run assault. The scribes at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog were pleased to learn of Clark’s 2015 return, especially since we’ll be treated to another season of witty (and frequently pointed) observations from Mama Clark.

Gretler was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round of this year’s MLB draft, but he chose to go to Oregon State instead of turning pro. Gretler played shortstop at Bonney Lake High School and put up some big offensive numbers in his senior year: a .459 batting average with six homers and 22 RBI. He has some serious pop in his bat and a strong throwing arm. With the Beavers entering a rebuilding year, Gretler has a chance to earn more playing time than a freshman would typically receive at OSU, and he may see some action at third base, shortstop or even second base. He projects as a third baseman in the long term, so we may see him manning the hot corner for the HarbourCats next summer.

The signings bring the (announced) roster for next season up to a total of five players. Stay tuned for more roster details as they are released. From what we have seen so far, 2015 is shaping up to be a great season of HarbourCats baseball.