Friday, October 10, 2014

Pair of righties added to HarbourCats pitching staff

Zander Clouse
The HarbourCats announced yesterday that they have signed two right-handed pitchers from the Pacific Northwest, Victoria’s Chris Fougner and Zander Clouse from Everett, Washington. Both were inked to full-season contracts.

His full name is Zander McClain Clouse, but he stands out for more reasons than simply having a colourful moniker. The sophomore from Bellevue College throws a fastball that tops out at 93 MPH and he’s coming off of a successful summer pitching for the Watertown (NY) Rams in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Although this league is a slightly below the tough West Coast League in terms of competition level, it’s no slouch in its own right, as league alumni include Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants. Clouse was a workhorse this summer for the Rams, logging 58 innings on the hill in nine starts and posting a solid 3.72 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. After playing for a summer team that averaged only 643 fans per game, I'm guessing that he’ll love playing in front of the much larger crowds here in Victoria.

Clouse struggled mightily with his control in non-conference games during his freshman season at Bellevue College, but he settled down nicely in conference games. His combined totals with the Bulldogs were unimpressive: a 4.74 ERA and a whopping 1.66 WHIP to go along with 4.5 walks per nine innings (although he did strike out a healthy 7.4 batters per nine innings). Given that his walk rate in Watertown was consistent with his senior year at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, his control troubles in non-conference games were likely a one-time blip. He should be able to make a smooth transition to the West Coast League with another season at Bellevue College under his belt.   

Chris Fougner
Fougner, a freshman at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, was both a star pitcher and right fielder for the Victoria Mariners. On the mound he posted an outstanding 1.71 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 11 regular-season and playoff appearances (8 starts). He struck out an amazing 11 batters per nine innings, but he struggled with his control and issued a generous 5.1 walks per nine. His best outing of the year was a nine-inning no-hitter in June against the Okanagan Athletics (BCPBL games are normally seven innings in length).

Fougner faced the HarbourCats in the June 5th exhibition game at Royal Athletic Park, giving up a run on two hits and three walks in ⅔ of an inning. The highlight of an otherwise disappointing outing was retiring John Grimsley on strikes, so he can already claim to have a WCL punch-out on his resumé. However, if Fougner is to make the big step up to becoming an effective pitcher in the West Coast League, he’s going to have to cut down substantially on his walk rate. I'm sure he’ll improve significantly after a season of tough competition at Salt Lake CC, so hopefully he’ll have better control by the time next June rolls around.

This signings bring the HarbourCats roster up to 15 players for next season. In an odd twist, none of the 15 players signed so far are outfielders. No, the ‘Cats aren't planning on deploying seven infielders arranged in some ground-breaking (and bizarre) defensive shift -- it’s just the luck of the draw. Players are announced as signed contracts are received, so you can expect a well-balanced roster to take shape in the upcoming months.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Stan Musial Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). The VHCBB once again has the honour of casting a ballot for the BBA awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we reveal our ballots for the Stan Musial Award, which will be presented to the MVP in each league.

The BBA’s Stan “The Man” Musial Award recognizes the best all-around player in each league. The award is not based solely on offensive contributions, so the defensive abilities of each candidate must be considered. On my ballot that means that defensive standouts such as Alex Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward and Jonathan Lucroy may be ranked higher than some baseball fans might expect. Conversely, guys like Jose Abreu, Jose Bautista and Michael Brantley, who are below average defensively, drop lower on my ballot -- or as in Abreu’s case, drop off the ballot entirely.

National League

Mr. Pirate, Andrew McCutchen
The trendy pick in the National League is to go with Clayton Kershaw, but his season -- as great as it was -- just falls short for my top pick for the Stan Musial Award. The numbers for Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen are both worthy of a first-place vote, but I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the guy who is in the lineup every day. Kershaw’s numbers are outstanding, but I just can’t give my first-place vote to a guy who trots out there every fifth day -- especially since he missed the entire month of April with a back injury and only made 27 starts this season.

McCutchen, who made 648 plate appearances in 2014, finished third in the batting race with a .314 mark, swatted 25 homers and knocked in 83 runs. The Pittsburgh centrefielder also stole 18 bases and was caught in only three attempts -- a solid 86% success rate. Most impressively, he led all of MLB in on-base percentage (.410) and he topped the National League in OPS (.952). His excellent all-around play was one of major reasons why the small-market Pirates qualified for the postseason in spite of having the fifth-lowest payroll in the big leagues.

The third and fourth spots on my ballots go to two of the most underrated players in the senior circuit: Anthony Rendon and Jonathan Lucroy. Rendon led the league in runs scored with 111 and hit .287 with 21 homers and 83 RBI. Lucroy, who is ranked as one of the top defensive catchers in the NL, hit .301 with 13 homers and 69 RBI.

Our full National League ballot is:
  1. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
  4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
  5. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  6. Buster Posey. Giants
  7. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  8. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
  9. Jason Heyward, Braves
  10. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
American League

Mike Trout
Mike Trout has clearly been the best player in the American League for the past three seasons, although the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) was asleep at the wheel when they gave the MVP Award to the defensively-challenged Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013. The analytics-friendly Baseball Bloggers Alliance is likely to give Mike Trout his third consecutive Stan Musial Award this year and it appears that the BBWAA is finally ready to see the light (hallelujah!!). Ironically, Trout is coming off the weakest season of his short MLB career -- he “only” hit .287 with 35 homers and 111 RBI. In addition to leading the league in RBI, Trout also was tops in the AL in runs scored (115) and total bases (338). That’s good enough to earn my first-place vote.

Michael Brantley had a breakout season in 2014, becoming just the fourth Cleveland player in the last 60 years to register 200 hits (Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Joe Carter were the others). Brantley hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBI, to go along with 23 steals in 24 attempts. A pair of slick-fielding players, Alex Gordon and Josh Donaldson, finished third and fourth on my ballot, respectively. Gordon hit .266 with 19 homers and 74 RBI, and he posted a solid .351 on-base percentage. Donaldson got on base at .342 clip and slammed 29 homers with 98 runs batted in. Here is my full ballot for the junior circuit:
  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Michael Brantley, Indians
  3. Alex Gordon, Royals
  4. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
  5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  6. Corey Kluber, Indians
  7. David Price, Tigers / Rays
  8. Phil Hughes, Twins
  9. Jon Lester, Athletics / Red Sox 
  10. Jose Bautista, Jays

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Walter Johnson Award

The Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog (VHCBB) is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). Once again this year, the VHCBB has the honour of casting ballots for the BBA awards given to players and managers in both the National and American Leagues. Today we give you our ballots for the Walter Johnson Award, which is presented to the top pitcher (starter or reliever) in each league.

National League

Clayton Kershaw
The top spot on my NL ballot for the Walter Johnson Award is an obvious choice -- the one and only Clayton Kershaw. He has put up gaudy numbers his entire career, but 2014 was spectacular by even Kershaw’s lofty standards. He notched a 21-3 record along with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 198 ⅓ innings pitched. His WHIP was the lowest in the big leagues since Pedro Martinez set the all-time record of 0.74 in 2000, and only four pitchers have posted a lower ERA since 1979. Clayton Kershaw's 2014 season was truly one for the ages.

Kershaw would be in line for his fourth consecutive title were it not for a voting glitch in 2012. He won both the Walter Johnson and Cy Young awards in 2011 and 2013, but he was denied each of the awards in 2012 when voters got seduced by R.A. Dickey’s 20-6 record (Kershaw went 14-9 but clearly out-pitched Dickey that year).

Mr. Consistency, Adam Wainwright, gets our runner-up vote. The St. Louis Cardinals stalwart went 20-9 with a career-best 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66 ERA), Johnny Cueto (20-9, 2.25 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA) round out our National League ballot.
  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  3. Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
  4. Johnny Cueto, Reds
  5. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
American League

Felix Hernandez
The choice for the top pitcher in the American League is much tougher than in the senior circuit, but the decision comes down to either Felix Hernandez or Corey Kluber.

A pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t always an accurate measurement of his effectiveness, since there are many factors that a pitcher can’t control that go into determining the winning and losing pitchers in a game. Setting aside this dubious statistic, it becomes clear that King Felix deserves my first-place vote. Hernandez posted a better ERA (2.14 vs. 2.44) and WHIP (0.92 vs 1.09) than Kluber, although their strikeout-to-walk ratios were similar (Hernandez edged Kluber 5.4 to 5.3). It will be interesting to see how this one plays out with the other voters, since Kluber went 18-9 and Hernandez "only" posted a 15-6 record for the punchless Mariners.

Many Yankees fans were probably scratching their head trying to figure out why Phil Hughes had a breakout season in 2014 with the Twins after spending the first seven years of his big-league career with the Bronx Bombers. The answer is actually quite simple: Hughes is a fly ball pitcher who gave up a lot of cheap homers in Yankee Stadium. In a different ballpark, he could finally attack the strike zone without worry and so his walk rate dropped significantly. The result? A 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and the all-time MLB record for strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.6!!).

A pair of pitching studs dealt at this summer’s trading deadline, David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA) and Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46), round out our ballot.
  1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  2. Corey Kluber, Indians
  3. Phil Hughes, Twins
  4. David Price, Tigers / Rays
  5. Jon Lester, Athletics / Red Sox

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.

Ender Inciarte of the Diamondbacks rounds out our ballot. The speedy Venezuelan is already one of the best defensive outfielders in the league, although he’s no Jason Heyward in the field -- yet. His offensive contributions were modest (.278 BA, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 19 steals), but Inciarte earned our vote based on his spectacular defense alone. After all, a run prevented is as valuable as a run produced.

Our National League ballot is therefore:
  1. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
  2. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
  3. Ender Inciarte, Arizona Diamondbacks
American League

Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu is a slam dunk to win the Willie Mays Award in the AL. In spite of being one of the worst-fielding first baseman in baseball, his offensive numbers are so outstanding that he’s the obvious choice for being the rookie of the year in the junior circuit. The 27-year-old Cuban slugger hit .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBI this season and he likely has quite a few more years like that in front of him. Sure, it may be as a Designated Hitter, but there is no doubt that Abreu is an offensive force.

Another feel-good story is Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays. The speedy outfielder was drafted in the 31st-round of the 2010 draft, but Kiermaier moved up the ladder with ease and made his major-league debut at the end of the 2013 season. This year he hit .263 with 10 homers, 35 RBI and 5 steals in 331 at-bats, but it was his outstanding defensive work that got him noticed. Other than Jason Heyward, Kiermaier is simply the best defensive right fielder in the game.

Astros pitcher Collin McHugh rounds out our ballot. McHugh was drafted by the Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 draft and he made his major-league debut with New York in 2012. After being traded to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr. in June of 2013, McHugh was claimed off of waivers last December by Houston. The pickup proved to be a stroke of genius, as McHugh went 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA and sparkling 1.02 WHIP in 25 starts for the Astros this season.

Our American League ballot is as follows:
  1. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
  3. Collin McHugh, Houston Astros

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.

My National League ballot is therefore:
  1. Clint Hurdle
  2. Mike Matheny
  3. Bruce Bochy
American League

Ned Yost
The last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs, this classic tune by Simple Minds was near the top of the Billboard charts (that was way back in 1985). Their return to the post-season this year is even more remarkable considering the fact that the Royals finished dead last in the majors in both home runs and walks. Their current manager, Ned Yost, has been regularly vilified by bloggers and Twitter users for some of his managerial decisions, but he must have done something right to help manufacture all of the those runs. The Royals barely had half of the payroll of the mighty Tigers, but they somehow managed to finish only a game behind Detroit. That fact alone gives Ned Yost my vote for the Connie Mack Award.

Bob Melvin has been managing Oakland for three full seasons and the A’s have made the playoffs in each of those years. Coincidence? I think not. In spite of having the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball, Oakland made it into the post-season once again in 2014. They may have just squeaked in after an incredible first half, but they qualified -- and that’s all that matters.

The Baltimore Orioles have been dealt some tough cards this year, including serious injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but Buck Showalter did a fine job of leading his squad over those hurdles to the AL East title. Considering that they are in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox and that they have the 14th-highest payroll in baseball, winning the division was no easy feat. Hats off to Mr. Showalter and the rest of the O’s.

My American League ballot is therefore:
  1. Ned Yost
  2. Bob Melvin
  3. Buck Showalter

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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fagalde, Rogers and Andreychuk to return in 2015

One of the great aspects of baseball is that fans can follow their favourite players on a daily basis and get to know their personalities, tendencies and even some of their idiosyncrasies. The familiarity that we have with the players on the home team adds to the enjoyment of ballgames, so it’s important that there be some sort of continuity from year to year on a baseball roster -- especially in college wood-bat leagues that may be prone to high turnover.

The HarbourCats took a big step forward today in ensuring that roster continuity by announcing that three key players from this year's team will be returning to Victoria for the 2015 West Coast League season. Pitchers Alex Fagalde and Alex Rogers, along with second baseman Griffin Andreychuk, will be back next summer in a HarbourCats uniform. Additional returning players may be announced in the coming weeks, so Victoria may feature more returnees than it did in 2014, when only Alex DeGoti, Logan Lombana and Ryan Keller came back for a second season.

Alex Fagalde
Fagalde was one of the most effective pitchers on the HarbourCats staff in 2014, compiling an impressive 1.85 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 34 innings on the hill. His underlying numbers prove that his season was no fluke -- his strikeout to walk ratio was greater than 3:1 and he struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings pitched. Although he finished fifth in team MVP voting conducted by the bloggers at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog, he would have surely finished higher had he been given a more prominent role in the first half of the year. Fagalde earned the win in his last three appearances of the summer -- his only three starts of the season.

Fagalde was injured this past spring and did not get into any games for the Cuesta College Cougars, but his accomplishments this summer weren't that much of a surprise based on his past performance at the collegiate level. In his dominant freshman campaign in 2013, he put up eerily similar numbers to those with Victoria: a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He is a potential staff ace for the ‘Cats next year.

Rogers was a huge surprise for the HarbourCats in 2014. The freshman from Trinidad State Junior College was only signed initially to a 10-day contract, but the former Nanaimo Pirate made the most of his opportunities and earned a full-season role with the club. Rogers posted a solid 3.09 ERA in 10 appearances (9 starts) and he tied Fagalde for the second-best WHIP on the staff -- a tidy 1.18 mark. Rogers should be even better next summer with another year of experience at Trinidad State under his belt.

As expected, Andreychuk had a solid season with the HarbourCats, notching a .271 batting average with one homer and 14 RBI in 140 at-bats. His .407 on base-percentage was fifth-best on the team and he was one of only three HarbourCats who walked more than he struck out (Nathan Lukes and Aaron Barnett were the others). The Nanaimo native will be returning for his sophomore season at Seattle U this fall.

Stay tuned for further roster announcements as coaches Graig Merritt and Alec Adame continue their recruiting efforts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mercado-Hood and DeGoti named First-Team All-WCL

Mercado-Hood ASG snub a distant memory
Photo by Brian Hayes
The West Coast League announced their end-of-season awards earlier today and both Hunter Mercado-Hood and Alex DeGoti of the HarbourCats were named First-Team All-WCL. The pair join former HarbourCat Alex Real as the only Victoria players to make the First All-Star team in the franchise’s brief history. Gabe Clark, Nathan Lukes and Mikey Wright received honourable mentions.

Mercado-Hood led the entire league in hits with 77, finished second in the batting race with a remarkable .385 mark and trailed only Vince Fernandez of the Pippins in RBI with 46. He also posted a slow-pitch like .452 on-base percentage, the fourth-best OBP in the WCL. Mercado-Hood also set new single-season team records for batting average, at-bats (200), hits and RBI.

DeGoti notched a .296 batting average and .373 on-base percentage to go along with four homers and 34 RBI in 49 games played at shortstop. The sophomore from Long Beach State anchored the HarbourCats middle infield and led all WCL shortstops in total chances (258), putouts (110) and double plays (35). His .953 fielding percentage was seventh-best among WCL shortstops with at least 20 games played at that position.

Yakima Valley’s Vince Fernandez was named league MVP after he set new single-season WCL records for home runs (10) and RBI (51). Pitcher of the Year went to Seth Martinez of the Bellingham Bells. Martinez posted a 6-0 record with a league-leading 2.07 ERA and an outrageously low WHIP of 0.79. He also held opponents to a feeble .147 batting average. Not surprisingly, Bellingham’s head coach Jeff James earned Coach of the Year honours after leading the Bells to their first WCL Championship in team history.

Congratulations to the winners, especially all of our HarbourCats!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

HarbourCats hire Adame as pitching coach

The HarbourCats have announced that they have hired Alec Adame as their pitching coach, exactly one week after introducing Graig Merritt as the team’s new head coach. Adame will look to improve a HarbourCats pitching staff that finished with a 4.50 team ERA, which was 8th best in the 12-team West Coast League.

Alec Adame
Adame has a very impressive baseball resumé, to say the least. On top of a master’s degree in Physical Education, Adame is a Health and Kinesiology Instructor at East LA College (ELAC), a community college with almost 35,000 students in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park. He is the head assistant baseball coach of the ELAC Huskies, a team that plays in the California Community College Athletic Association. Last year the Huskies posted a 15-6 record in conference play and earned a berth in the State playoffs, largely because of their strong pitching. With Adame in charge of ELAC’s pitching staff, the Huskies notched a miserly 2.02 team ERA in conference games.

After spending eight years as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres, Adame knows a thing or two about evaluating players. Prior to becoming a scout, he was the head baseball coach at Los Angeles City College for three years and he was also an assistant coach at California State University (CSU), Chico in 2000-2001.

There’s a very good reason that HarbourCats head coach Graig Merritt tapped Adame to be his right-hand man on the HarbourCats coaching staff. Adame was a pitcher and a teammate of Merritt’s at CSU Chico. The pair were battery mates on the 1999 team that won the Division II national championship, so I’m guessing that it won’t be difficult for them to be on the same page next summer. In their 1999 championship run, Adame went a perfect 5-0 in 23 relief appearances.

Adame and Merritt are already busy recruiting the next generation of HarbourCats for next summer’s squad. Adame brings a wealth of contacts in college baseball to his new job, so don’t be surprised to see more HarbourCats players from community colleges in California, Oregon and Washington state.

Although he is “just” the new pitching coach, it’s not a stretch to conclude that Adame also has the credentials to be a head coach in the WCL. With an embarrassment of riches in the coaching department, the HarbourCats’ future looks a heckuva lot brighter than it did just a few short weeks ago. It’s safe to say that Victoria’s team ERA should be well south of 4.50 in the summer of 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bells ring up their first WCL championship

Monday night at Joe Martin field in Bellingham, the Bells proved that perhaps the most important key to building a winning franchise is team chemistry. All season long the Bells have proven they have what it takes to win in this league - dominating opponents with clutch hitting, stellar defence, and intimidating pitching. They did so again Monday beating the Corvalis Knights 3-2 in the final game of the three-game set to claim their first WCL title.

Bellingham's Walker Olis hoists the WCL Champion's Trophy
It wasn't an easy victory at all... The Bells got lucky in the third inning, scoring a run on a throwing error by Knights right fielder Tim Rausch, who bounced a ball past third base allowing the run to score and a runner to advance to second. A walk, a balk, a wild pitch to score another run, and a bloop single off Corvalis starter Chris Haddeland gave the Bells their three runs. They would get only two more hits the rest of the game. Corvalis clawed back two runs in the 4th, but the Bellingham relief core shut the door after that and the Knights never threatened again. Over the last 5 innings, Bellingham pitchers gave up only 3 hits, only allowing one runner to second base. Bells reliever Moises Ceja was credited with the win, retiring all 4 batters he faced after replacing a shaky Gabe Cramer who got the final game start for the Bells.

Demolition of the field at Joe Martin can begin in earnest this morning. After a week-long delay while the Bells went through the playoffs, the turf field will be pulled up starting this morning. It's a 90 day task to replace the field with a new 1.7 Million dollar FieldTurf surface, and it should still be able to complete by the November 30th deadline.

And that's a wrap on the 2014 WCL season! Congratulations to the Bellingham Bells.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Building a successful WCL roster

The HarbourCats finished their second year in the WCL with a disappointing 25-29 record, a three-game improvement in the win column over the previous season. While they crept closer to the .500 mark, the ‘Cats did benefit from a fairly easy schedule and they racked up a combined 12-6 record against the weak Kitsap BlueJackets and Cowlitz Black Bears. If you take away those 18 games, the HarbourCats had a record of 13-23 (.361) against the rest of the league -- hardly the mark of a playoff contender.

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
As you can see, the HarbourCats roster was structured very differently from the Corvallis and Bellingham rosters. Only 36% of the HarbourCats were upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors in the context of summer college leagues), as opposed to 65% of the Knights players and 59% of the Bells. This experience gap between Victoria and the other two clubs was massive, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the HarbourCats only took four of the 12 games played against those teams in 2014. By the way, only 29% of Victoria players were upperclassmen in the team's inaugural season.

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
The surprising success of the three graduating Victoria Eagles who were signed to 10-day contracts for the last week of this past season is another case in point. Riley Edmonds, Dallas Patterson and Drew Davidoff were high school pitchers who were in tough against experienced WCL competition, but each player was the best HarbourCats pitcher in one of the final (meaningless) games down the stretch. How did they do it? A big factor was desire. These guys were fired up to be given the opportunity and they made the most of it. Their ERAs for the week? Only 0.00 (Davidoff), 3.85 (Edmonds) and 3.85 (Patterson).

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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

HarbourCats look forward to 2015, sign Graig Merritt as Head Coach

With the 2014 HarbourCat season barely in the books, GM Jim Swanson is wasting no time at all getting ready for 2015.

Hot on the heels of Sunday's departure of coach Bob Miller, the Cats met with media and fans today to announce and introduce 2015's new head coach, Canadian Graig Merritt. 
GM Jim Swanson (L) and Owner John McLean (R) introduce 'Cats new Head Coach Graig Merritt

Merritt is a Canadian from Maple Ridge BC with Div 2 college plying experience. He was twice drafted by the LA Dodgers in 1996 and 1997, and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2001. Graig made it as far as AA in his playing career before becoming a scout for the Rays.

A catcher by trade, Graig's strengths as a coach comes from his ability to manage a pitching staff and understand the defensive side of the game. He sees himself as a players coach first and foremost, someone the players can relate to, respect, and learn from. He is an energetic guy with loads of baseball experience - one of those guys who doesn't seem to have an off switch.

While not his full-time job (none of the WCL teams have full-time coaching staff), Graig will have more time to dedicate to the Cats than Bob Miller did. Craig's focus will be on the North West area, where he will be doing work for the PBL as well - work that nicely dovetails with his HarbourCat scouting and recruiting.

In addition to Merritt, the search is on for a new pitching coach. Offers are on the table, looking at someone from the Southern California area who can assist with recruiting from that part of the country. Whomever it is, Ben Jackson will not be back.

Merritt will take the reigns immediately, beginning to look at team composition for next season. That work started "about two weeks ago" say GM Jim Swanson, with a priority being to re-sign some of the core group from this year. A tall order, that means working with both player and school to confirm intentions. Confidence is high that we will be in luck - perhaps as many as eight players may return. No names yet, but expect some announcements soon.

Merritt's full career stats can be found here, and the official press release can be found here.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Walk-offs, errors bring an end to both first round series

Neither of the two WCL first round series will be going to a game three after two walk-off victories Wednesday night by both Bellingham and Corvalis.

The Bells, who won Tuesday's first game on the road in Yakima 4-1, came home to play a near perfect game two. The Bells jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning before giving two back in the third. Yakima tied it in the top of the 8th after error by Bells shortstop Chris baker to lead of the inning came around to score on a sacrifice fly. Yakima gave the game back in the bottom of the ninth with two errors of their own. Closer Kenny Rosenberg threw a ball away at first to start the inning, and second baseman Ryan Yamane made a costly two-out error to prolong the inning. Bells pinch hitter Danny Miller - who's been killing teams all season - did the same to the Pippens, driving a single to left center to win the game for the Bells in walk-off fashion.

With the win, the Bells advance to play the Corvalis Knights. The Knights win on Wednesday makes Bellingham's victory seem boring. Baffled all night by Bend pitchers - starter Kevin Hamann and reliever Louis Cohen - the Knights went to the bottom of the ninth trailing 1-0.With one out, Bend's Brock Carpenter couldn't field a routine ground ball to third, bringing DH Kevin Kline to the plate with a man on. Kline who was 1-3 with 2 K's on the night launched the first pitch he saw over the wall in left center for a two-run home run walk-off shot.

The WCL final should start Saturday in Bellingham but it has not been announced if the Bells will be able to host one more game at home before their field is demolished. Wednesday's game was played at Joe Martin field on special considerations from the city, who had delayed closure of the facility in order for the game to proceed. Most concessions were closed already, but the team was helped out by local food trucks who set up outside the stadium prior to the game.

The Bells and Knights met only three times this season, in a series in Bellingham in mid-July. Corvalis won two of the games, but both teams scored only five total runs in the pitcher's duels. The Knight are of course, defending WCL champions who are looking to repeat, and win their third championship in the last four years. Good luck to both teams!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mercado-Hood named HarbourCats 2014 MVP

We raved about him in March when the HarbourCats announced that he had signed. We regularly described his accomplishments during the season in glowing terms. We named him the HarbourCats’ first-half MVP and then mocked the WCL All-Star selection process that snubbed him. If the season went on any longer, we’d be accused of having a full-on bromance with the guy. So it’s no surprise whatsoever that…

Photo and graphic by Brian Hayes
The scribes at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog are pleased to announce that they have named Hunter Mercado-Hood as the team MVP for the 2014 season. HMH led the HarbourCats in games played (51), batting average (.385), at-bats (200), hits (77) and RBI (46). He also set new single-season team records in all of these categories with the exception of games played, and he tied that team record, originally set in 2013 by Chris Lewis and Alex DeGoti.

Mercado-Hood came within 9 percentage points of winning the WCL batting title, trailing only Klamath Falls’ Steven Packard (.394), who is about to enter his senior year at the University of Oregon. HMH also finished second in the league in runs batted in, behind only Vince Fernandez of the Yakima Valley Pippins, who knocked in 51 runs. Mercado-Hood’s achievements are even more impressive when you consider that he just completed his freshman season at the University of San Diego and only received 75 at-bats this spring with the Toreros.

In a more informal poll, the bloggers also named Mercado-Hood the player on the HarbourCats' 2014 roster that is most likely to reach the big leagues. The Oakland A's know a thing or two about scouting and player development, so it's no surprise that they drafted him in 2013. Maybe we'll get lucky and Seattle will select Mercado-Hood when he re-enters the draft, giving us the opportunity to watch him climb through the Mariners' system in Everett and Tacoma before reaching the Emerald City. Ah, to dream...

Nathan Lukes finished second in voting on the basis of an outstanding season that saw him hit .343 and tie Gabe Clark for the team lead in runs scored with 35 -- the new single-season team record. He was also the team’s best defensive outfielder, leading the HarbourCats with six outfield assists.

Gabe Clark came third in team MVP voting.  He finished in a tie for second in the WCL in homers with eight, alongside Kevin Kline of the Corvallis Knights. Vince Fernandez of the Pippins set a new league record this summer with 10 round-trippers.

The full voting results are as follows:
  1. Hunter Mercado-Hood - 21 points
  2. Nathan Lukes - 16 points
  3. Gabe Clark - 13 points
  4. Mikey Wright - 9 points
  5. Alex Fagalde - 7 points
  6. Sean Watkins - 6 points
  7. Alex Rogers - 5 points
  8. Griffin Andreychuk - 5 points
  9. Mr. HarbourCat, Alex DeGoti - 2 points
HarbourCatNip
  • It has been a pretty good week for HMH, since he was also named the WCL Player of the Week earlier today.
  • The HarbourCats finished the season with an average attendance of 1,576 fans, the most in the WCL and 159 fans per game more than the second-place Bend Elks. Victoria's attendance was 9.7% higher than in 2013.
  • The first round of the WCL playoffs begin on Tuesday night with Corvallis (35-19) facing Bend (31-23) and Bellingham (37-17) going up against Yakima Valley (35-19). All matchups are a best-of-three series.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's not goodbye, it's see you later...

Sunday at RAP we watched the 2014 HarbourCats leave the field for the last time as a group. The way they did it was spectacular - a ninth inning come from behind 7-6 victory, perfectly encapsulating the season. Kelly Norris-Jones led off with a hit - a rocket to third base that raised his season average to an even .300! Kelly has been on fire - remember a few weeks ago he was hitting .053. After that, John Grimsley and Griffin Andreychuck set the table, and Alex Degoti - the freshly dubbed "Mr. Harbourcat" - drove them both in with a double. Hunter Mercado-Hood then played the hero he has been all season long, driving in Alex for the game winning and season ending run. The team poured onto the field to mob Hunter, and every fan in the place stood for the full handshake line applauding their home-town heroes. It doesn't get any better than that at the end does it?
The final handshake of 2014

Many of the appreciative crowd gathered on the field after the game to say goodbye to the young men who have brightened our summer, and have given us something to cheer and jeer. Home town heroes, fan favourites, and new found friends said goodbye to their fans and teammates, starting in style with a heartfelt thank you to all of the host families. 

Alex Rogers helps Danny Collier stay cool on the bench Sunday
To a person, the 2014 Cats speak nothing but positives about the city, the fans, the organization. One gets the impression that they will miss us as much as we will miss them. Many leave tomorrow for their homes to spend a couple weeks with family before school starts. Several more are spending an extra day here to enjoy time with their host families, and another day in the paradise we get to call home every day. 

Sunday put a bow on a season that excelled at bringing a community out to the park. Victoria easily won the attendance race in the WCL this year, getting over 42,000 bodies to the park this year. The organization stepped it up big-time this year, and brought a more professional presentation and welcoming experience to life at RAP, even games that were not great games to watch, were fun to experience. 

There will be the usual dissecting of the season, and GM Jim Swan is already planning for next year - including negotiating with players and placement coaches to get some favourite players back, and working with the city on more park improvements. 

Bob Miller says goodbye to Victoria
After the game, a press conference was held to announce that head coach Bob Miller would not be returning. Reasons cited included his needing to dedicate more time this year to his "job number one" at Cuesta College, due to some staff changes in that program. Coaching a WCL team doesn't start in June on day 1 of the season, but all year long as he works with college placement reps and players to get us on-field talent. The HarbourCats will begin immediately looking for a new head coach, at which time they will likely evaluate the rest of the coaching staff. If I was a betting man, I'd say we will see a whole new staff next year. 

So although the season has officially ended, the fun seems to be starting all over again.  Keep the blog in your favourites - we will have season wrap ups, news on the post-season conferences, coverage of the WCL playoffs, and maybe a couple of surprises in store. Thanks for reading us all season, keep reading through the summer! 

Only 306 days until opening night!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The best of times, the worst of times at RAP tonight

Saturday night at Sports Traders Diamond was both a wonderful fan experience, and a night at the ballpark I hope we don't see again...

First, the good:

Victoria Eagle and 10-day guy Drew Davidoff made a spectacular HarbourCat debut on the mound. Taking over the game in the sixth inning, and spinning a gem of a 2-hit, 2-walk, 4 inning masterpiece. His slightly side-arm delivery had the BlueJacket hitters swinging at balls moving in and out of the strike zone all night long. He started his Cat career in style, getting ahead of Kitsap catcher Natt Matranga 2-0, then let a fastball fly that went *behind* the startled catcher. Matranga launced a single two pitched later and the youngster looked rattled. Out came Aaron Barnett though, who gave him some words of encouragement, a pat of the back, and the ship was righted. Davidoff would never look back after that. The press box gang gave him the player-of-the-game nod, which he was excited to receive, waving to friends and family in the crowd.

Hunter Mercado-Hood continues to prove those all-star voters wrong, going 3-3 on the night, driving in 1. That raises his average to .383. In his last 11 games, HMH has hit safely in each, a combined 27-49, an amazing .551 - raising his average 51 points in the week and a half. Hunter is chasing Klamath Falls' Steven Packard for the overall batting title but Packard is keeping pace going 2-5 in his game Saturday, keeping him at .407. Playing with the possibilities, if Packard goes 0-5 tomorrow, and Hunter goes 4-4, he'll win the title... Lets go Hunter!
HMH and his first hit of the day, he would add two more and end 3-3

Forgotten Cats Ted Boeke and John Grimsley had great games. Boeke was on base all night going 2-3 with 2 walks, and Grimsley was 2-2 with a walk and 2 runs scored.

Not a single throw to second ended up in center field - and catcher Aaron Barnett actually threw a runner out at second!

The crowd! 2,592 strong, a great showing of Victorians out to the game. Many new fans in attendance who had not been out to a game this year. Lots of positive attitudes and friendly fans to take in the game. What's better, is that Victoria brought 1200 more fans in than the next closest rival in the race to win the attendance crown this year. The Bend Elks, who had 4,200 fans out Friday night, had only 1,400 Saturday, giving Victoria a 3,800 person lead with one game left each. It should be noted, last night's 4,200 fans - a complete sellout in Bend - was thanks to a "free gate" night...

More oooh, more ahhh.
Fireworks. Wallace Driving sponsored the big show to end the season, and man it was sweet. Each show seems to be better than the last and tonight's was no exception as 20 minutes of fireworks and many oooohs and ahhhs had fans forgetting they had just watched a losing baseball game. Cats know fireworks - and burgers - the players all headed up to Bin4 for an after-game burger before fireworks and were mingling with fans and Bluejacket Players on the concourse. A nice gesture for the boys for sure.

And now the Bad:

As good as HMH has been, Gabe Clark has been the opposite. Since hitting two home runs against Corvalis on July 26, he's gone ice cold, batting 9-47 over that time, a .191 average. Gabe seems to have lost his mid-season stroke that made him dangerous each time he came to the plate.

More poor umpiring, so it seemed. Replays showed Alex DeGoti safe at first in the 7th on a play that was called out. The Cats got two breaks in the 8th - HMH appeared to also be out getting back to first late on a Gabe Clark lineout, and then also seemed to be tagged out sealing second two pitches later. Kitsap Head Coach Ryan Parker was pissed, but showed enough restraint to stay in the game on the first call, and only waved in disgust at the second.

Andrew Nelson. Come on. I saw this as one of the most important games of the year. New fans in the stands, time to put on a show for the home crowd and set up the season for next year. Kind of like wearing your best clothes to Mom's house for Sunday dinner, it's expected you put on your best. But not on this night. Pitching coach Ben Jackson, from U of Kentucky trots out Andrew Nelson from - you guessed it, the U of Kentucky for the start. Nelson has been horrible in every start he's made for the HarbourCats this season. His 6.00 ERA going in ballooned to 7.16 after being lit up for all 9 runs. If it wasn't for two defensive outs made to end the first inning, it would have been worse.

Pitcher management. Keeping on the same theme, in a game you're trying to win, your starter is getting lit up in the first inning, and not a soul is warming up in the pen? In the 3rd, same guy gives up a 2-run shot. Nothing? In the 4th, 2 more runs, three hits, a walk, and nothing? Down 9-2, finally a pitching change. Maybe a win just wasn't that important to the coaching staff tonight as I thought it was...
"Yeah, I have no idea why I'm still in here either..."

Ah well, what can you do.

One game left folks, Sunday at 1:05. No starter announced, but look for another Eagle to take the mound. Lets hope to end the season on a high note - come on out and see the boys off in style!

Croix de Sports Traders Diamond

Back in the day, the San Francisco Giants would reward all fans who stayed for the duration of an extra-inning night game with the coveted Croix de Candlestick. The pin, which was worn proudly by almost all recipients, was a way of acknowledging the dedication of fans who braved the chilly temperatures at Candlestick Park.

After enduring the frigid temperatures of a 4 hour and 7 minute night game at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park (phew, that was a mouthful) last night, I'd like to suggest that the HarbourCats institute a similar mechanism for rewarding their die-hard fans. Although last night's attendance was a healthy 2,301, there couldn't have been more than 301 rugged fans in the ballpark when the game (mercifully) ended. These brave souls deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty, and a Croix de Sports Traders Diamond would be the perfect gesture.


Friday, August 8, 2014

HarbourCats defeat guarantees second consecutive losing season

Military Night meets Christmas in August!
I remember in school learning that the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales converge at -40 degrees. That is, -40°C is the same temperature as -40°F. While I have experienced -40°C temperatures in the middle of winter in Central Canada, I never thought that I'd have to endure those conditions in Victoria. In August. But that's exactly what happened on Friday night when the HarbourCats decided to combine Military Night with Christmas in August. The promotion was so thoroughly executed that the team even imported frigid temperatures for full effect. Thanks, HarbourCats!

Luckily Friday night's game, won 13-12 by Kitsap, was played in a brisk 4 hours and 7 minutes. That's right folks, a nine inning game took 4 hours and 7 minutes to play. Given the frigid conditions, it's no surprise that the players had trouble gripping the ball, leading to a total of 25 runs, 27 hits, 23 walks (!!) and 4 errors on the night.

The only Victoria pitchers who were even close to being effective were Dallas Patterson and Carson Schneider. Patterson, a Victoria native who was making his HarbourCats debut, held the BlueJackets to only one run on three hits and no walks in 2 1/3 innings and was headed for the win when he left the game. The soft-tossing junkballer threw an array of Frisbee tosses that baffled a number of Kitsap hitters, reminding more than one oldtimer in the crowd of Mark Eichorn in his prime. He was also the only Victoria pitcher who didn't issue a walk on the night (Lombana walked 4 in 2 2/3 IP, Peabody walked 4 in 2 IP, Ryan walked 3 in 1 1/3 IP and Schneider walked one in 2/3 IP). 

Preston Ryan was handed his sixth loss of the season in an outing that can charitably categorized as unfortunate. We don't need to go into the details, because Ryan has given us his all this summer and he deserves to be cut a little slack. Let's hope he has a short memory with respect to this particular outing. In case you are wondering, Ryan does not lead the league in losses -- that distinction belongs to Klamath Fall's Jordan Kron who has lost a staggering 8 of the Gems' 52 games. Carson Schneider came in and mopped up in the ninth with an effective 2/3 of an inning, but it was too little, too late.

Hunter Mercado-Hood
On the positive side, Hunter Mercado-Hood went four-for-six with three RBI to close in on the all-time WCL record for most RBI in a season. He now has 43 on the year, but he still trails Kevin Kline (45 RBI) and Vince Fernandez (44 RBI) with two games left to play. Mercado-Hood now has an astounding 15 RBI in his six games against Kitsap this season. HMH's four hits also pushed his batting up to the .373 mark, good for second place in the batting race. He trails Klamath Fall's Steven Packard by 34 percentage points, but given how HMH is hitting he still might have a shot at the batting title as well.

Gabe Clark went 0-for-6 on the night and he remains in a three-way tie with Kevin Kline and Andrew Mendenhall for the league lead in home runs with eight. The all-time WCL home run record is nine for one season.

Home plate umpire Dan Rogers had a rough game calling balls and strikes. His inconsistent strike zone angered many hitters and just about every bench jockey in the Kitsap dugout. Rogers ejected Kitsap head coach Ryan Parker in the top of the 5th inning and then tossed Kitsap coaches Kevin Frady and Bryan Kepner in the bottom of 8th inning. Both Frady and Kepner will be given automatic suspensions. In his usual post-game press release, HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson reported that Kitsap's bus driver Steve Cook took over the coaching duties in the bottom of the eighth. Yes, that's right: The BlueJackets' bus driver helped coach his team to a come-from-behind victory in the 9th inning.

Dan Rogers' movable strike zone even aggravated the mild-mannered Gabe Clark, although Clark's protestations we so polite that he might end up being granted Canadian citizenship automatically when he leaves the country on Monday. I think I even heard Clark use the words "sorry" and "please" while he "tore a strip" off the umpire.

The Kitsap bench was vocal for most of the evening, although the volume did increase with each ejection. The BlueJackets did seem pretty fired up for a relatively meaningless game, but that shouldn't be surprising given that Victoria has handed them their asses on a plate in their previous six meetings and were outscored by a margin of 63-13.

Andreychuk's 1st triple may have been lost in a snow drift
The night was full of odd occurrences, such as Griffin Andreychuk hitting a triple in two consecutive at-bats, Danny Collier diving for two balls that landed (what seemed like) 10 feet from his outstretched glove and Jake Lesinski throwing the ball into centre field on at least three stolen base attempts without being charged with a single throwing error. Some joker in the crowd quipped that Lesinski was trying to perfect the 2-8-5 putout on the runner at first base, but none of the basestealers would oblige by trying to advance to third.

The defeat guarantees that the HarbourCats will finish the summer with a losing season. With a mark of 24-28 this summer, the franchise now has an all-time record of 46-60 (.434). Let's hope that the organization is willing to make the changes necessary to turn things around in time for Opening Day next June. We certainly have our opinions on what those changes should be, so stay tuned to the blog in the upcoming weeks for more of our thoughts.

In the meantime, enjoy the last couple of games and the fireworks on Saturday night. The cold weather that rolled in at 7:30 PM on Friday will be gone by noon on Saturday, so conditions should be perfect for the rest of the weekend.