Thursday, March 12, 2015

HarbourCats roster built to win

At the conclusion of the (disappointing) 2014 season, we compared the HarbourCats roster to the ones fielded by Bellingham and Corvallis, the two participants in last year’s West Coast League Championship Series. As we highlighted in that post, last summer’s group of HarbourCats was significantly younger than the Bells and Knights, and we suggested that veteran rosters have a greater chance of success in the tough West Coast League. That really shouldn't have come as a surprise, because that fact is self-evident in every college baseball conference each spring.

Now that the overwhelming majority of Victoria's 2015 roster has been announced, we thought that it would be a good idea to compare it to the rosters used in our previous analysis. As you can see from the bar chart below, the 2015 HarbourCats will feature a lower percentage of high school seniors and college freshmen than was the case last season. The team has also signed a significantly higher proportion of sophomores than it did last season (39% versus 25%). So far so good. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats have signed a slightly lower percentage of juniors than they did last summer (8% versus 11%) and the 8% figure for juniors pales in comparison to last summer’s veteran Corvallis (45%) and Bellingham (21%) rosters.
Another way to compare the experience levels of the four rosters in question is to combine the high school seniors and college freshmen into one group and the upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors) into another. Here’s what the bar chart looks like when we do that:
It's clear that HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson and his new coaching staff (Graig Merritt and Alec Adame) have done a pretty darn good job of recruiting an older, more experienced group than last season. Is the roster makeup perfect? Not quite. Roughly 47% of the 2015 roster is comprised of upperclassmen, and although that figure is up from 36% last summer, it still trails last year’s veteran rosters in Corvallis (65%) and Bellingham (59%) by a fair bit. The main thing is that the numbers are headed in the right direction and the tradition of bringing players back for multiple seasons is starting to take hold. This summer we’ll have seven returning players (Gabe Clark, Mikey Wright, Alex Fagalde, Alex Rogers, Griffin Andreychuk, Carson Schneider and Preston Ryan) and the 14 sophomores currently on our roster can't hurt our chances of increasing the percentage of juniors on the team in 2016.

Another change in the composition of the roster is a slightly reduced reliance on NCAA Division I players. Last year’s team was comprised of approximately 88% Division I players, but that number has been scaled back to a more moderate 67% this season. The infusion of capable players from community/city colleges, junior colleges and Division II baseball should make for a more diverse and motivated team. Although I’d still prefer to see one or two more fired-up British Columbians on the team, I give the organization a solid “A” grade in putting together this year’s roster.

The franchise may have an all-time winning percentage of only .435, but the HarbourCats roster wasn't short on skill in the past two seasons -- and it certainly isn't this year either. While we’ll save our detailed season outlook for another day, let's just say that the 2015 version of the ‘Cats will easily be the best that we have ever seen. I’m confident that we’ll see our first bona fide pennant race in franchise history this summer and possibly much more than that. Only 84 more days until Opening Day... now bring on the Bells!

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