2016 Opening Series (Walla Walla) Preview

2016 Series Preview - Walla2Are you kidding me right now – today is opening day of the 2016 WCL Regular season?

Indeed it is people… It’s June 3rd, a date we have been counting down to for months. Exactly 303 days ago we emptied the seats at Royal Athletic Park, bidding adieu to the 2015 HarbourCats as they pulled out of the first-base dugout for the last time. The long wait over, the newly minted 2016 model of the Victoria HarbourCats will assemble on the Borleske Stadium field in Walla Walla Washington to begin the 2016 campaign this afternoon.

Well, some of them will anyway. The HarbourCats have a whopping 44 players on the current team roster, and despite many subtractions in the last couple of weeks due to players pulling out, new players have been signed and 10-day contracts are in town to round out the lineup and begin the season. The team is travelling to this first series with exactly half of its signed roster, taking 22 players south to Walla Walla. A total of five 10-day players are with the team, each hoping to find a full-time summer placement in the process.

As for the rest of the roster, three HarbourCat players are participating in the ongoing NCAA Div 1 tournament – infielders Domenic Colacchio and Tommy Jew, and OF Matt Lautz. Lautz and Jew with UC Santa Barbara as the #2 ranked team in Nashville, while Colacchio is in Coral Gables Fl with the #3 ranked Long Beach State team (along with ex-Cat Ty Provencher). The rest of the 2016 squad are on their way to Victoria, likely delayed while they complete school year or personal commitments.

Ten of the 22 players currently with the team are members of the pitching staff, and only Ethan Skuija is of the 10-day variety. Expect to see starts from James Kannenberg (U of San Fran), Will McAffer (South Dakota State), and Casey Costello (Orange Coast College). Of the three, Kannenberg is likely the anchor of the early staff, going 7-5 in 16 games (12 starts) for the Dons during the college season. McAffer also had a good year, going 2-0 in 16 games (8 starts), while Costello went 2-3 in 11 games (5 starts). But previous stats do nothing for us now – it all starts new today. Gone are the dreaded aluminum bats, and here to stay are the brisk, moist, northwest evenings.

The first couple of series of the season are always tough to preview. Unlike major league squads, West Coast League teams are 95% different each season of course, and Walla2 is no different. The Sweets have only 4 returning players this season, including 2015 All-Star pitcher Easton Lucas. The biggest name on the roster for the Sweets though, is the WCL 2015 league MVP Hunter Villanueva who played last year with the Kelowna Falcons. Villanueva led the WCL in batting average at .378 last season, and was tops in almost every offensive category. He’s a difference-maker for sure. The Sweets are also filling roster spots while they await their full-time roster, with nine 10-day contract players in the lineup.

Due to scheduling constraints, Victoria did not travel to Walla Walla last year, playing them only three times in a series at RAP. The Sweets finished last season at 22-31, winning only 1 of the 3 games against Victoria last year.

A prediction? Let’s make a homer guess, and say the Cats take two of three down there on the strength of some solid starting pitching.

Last year, Victoria went 2-1 over the first three games, on route to a 4-6 start. I’ll track the 2016 season against last year’s numbers quite a bit this year, hoping we will end a couple ticks above that line (and with a spot in the playoffs) when it’s all said and done. Here’s a look at 2015 season based the team’s winning percentage…

2015 win percentage

2015’s rocky start and amazing mid-season comeback

HarbourCatNip

  • I mentioned that we have seen some significant changes over the past couple of weeks. As predicted, it’s been like a tornado around the Vancouver Street office as players get pulled back by their college teams for various reasons. The last “Around The Horn” post showed 43 players on the diamond, the opening-day version shows 44 – but there’s 12 new names on it. Here is the opening day depth chart, I’ve attempted to show everything in one picture here, so here’s what’s up:

Depth Chart 2016-06-02 v3

  • Players shown in red have not yet arrived in town (as of this writing). Players in black are expected to be on the first road-trip to Walla Walla. Players in bold (either red of black), are new signings since the last update.
  • There were two disappointing departures on the pitching side. As predicted in the  pitching preview a couple weeks ago, stud prospects Mason Hilty from Dixie State, and Brendan Hornung from the U of Hawaii have been shut down for the season. Reliever Chris Vargas from UC Irvine will also be skipping the season in Victoria.
  • Also tough to see, at one point there were 4 starting catchers on the team – in fact, the Cats had to turn away Michael Gretler (a hugely popular player last year) after he made the move behind the plate this year because the spots were full. Now only Joe Prior remains from those original four, and there’s plenty of room for Gretz. Hindsight…
  • One thing we haven’t touched on is the turnover in this year’s coaching staff… Pitching coach Alec Adame, who served as coach Merritt’s right-hand man is not joining the club this season due to personal reasons. Jerry Pena is also skipping the summer in Victoria. Adame and Pena were both vital cogs in the teaching crew last year and will be missed this season, we wish them all the best. Joe Meggs will serve as the only returning assistant to Merritt, and new additions Joe Fabri, Andrew Wilson, and fan favourite Kelly Norris Jones round out the bench staff.
  • PLAY BALL!
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About Brian

Avid baseball blogger since June 2012. Blogger, photographer, and graphics designer for both the defunct Victoria Seals Baseball Blog, and the first edition of the Victoria HarbourCats blog.
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