THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Cal Lutheran baseball program welcomes back 18 players with an influx of 11 talented newcomers that include a trio of transfers and eight true freshmen for the spring campaign. For the last 24 years the Kingsmen have produced consecutive winning seasons and the 2013 squad is poised to increase that streak.
With a strong core of players back on the diamond, the experience both in the infield and outfield is aplenty.
“We are going to be very senior oriented and experienced in the field. I cannot even remember the last time we had all four infield guys back,” twentieth year head coach Marty Slimak shared. “We also return four outfielders who saw time last season. Our defense will be our strength this year,” he went on, “We have also added a couple of guys who came in late and will definitely add to our depth.”
Leading the group of returners is shortstop Trevor Koons, who garnered preseason All-America Honorable Mention by d3baseball.com after being named to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Third Team All-West Region and First Team All-SCIAC a year ago. Koons led the Kingsmen with a .395 batting average, hitting at a .442 clip in SCIAC play, second to only the 2012 SCIAC Player of the Year. Koons produced the team-lead in hits (58), including 14 doubles, RBIs (34) and runs (28). He hit for a .578 slugging percentage and struck out just eight times in 147 at-bats.
About Koons’ performance last season, Slimak said, “Trevor’s junior year was phenomenal and it is always tough to repeat that, but I am hoping he does it. If he just gives us the effort and consistency that he gave us last year, he will have a great season again.”
Manning the corners for CLU will be Nick Boggan and Nicho DellaValle at first and third, respectively. Boggan batted .284, with 38 hits, including 12 doubles and a team-high five homeruns, driving in 26 runs and scoring 24 times in 2012. He drew a team-leading 20 walks as well.
“Nick played with a serious knee injury all of last season and was not even close to 100 percent, but even still, he was a force” Slimak said. “Now that he has had the surgery, rehabbed and had a great fall, I expect him to have a great season.”
DellaValle was the primary third baseman last season, but filled in at first early in the season when Boggan was injured. He produced a .280 average with 23 hits and 17 runs scored. He was a threat on the base paths as he was 10-for-12 in stolen base attempts. The junior put down six sacrifice hits for CLU as a sophomore and was tough at the hot corner, recording 67 putouts with 41 assists for a .973 fielding percentage as one of the defensive leaders last season.
The second base job belongs to Garrett Smith who started there in all 24 games he played in a year ago. Smith led the team with eight sacrifice hits and was as much a base running threat as teammate DellaValle with seven steals in 10 chances. He hit .260, recording an equal number of RBIs and runs scored with 18 apiece.
When asked who to watch in the infield, Slimak noted, “I think they should be one of the strongest groups we have had here in a while.”
Just as there is familiarity in the infield, the same stands true for the outfield. With a lot of speed and a plethora of depth, the trio is sure to stand up to the expectations.
Returners competing for playing time roaming the grass for CLU will be John Leal, Kevin Leonard, Elon Goldman and Mike Vinyard.
Leal started 30 of the 35 games he played in as a junior. He batted .277 with 28 hits, including a team-leading four triples, while scoring 20 times and driving in 17 men. His speed showed by swiping eight of nine bases he attempted. Leonard made 14 starts in 23 appearances as he hit .259 with 15 hits and 14 RBIs last spring. Goldmanalso saw playing time last year with eight starts in 19 appearances. He batted .317 with 13 hits, which included a pair of triples and a homerun, while scoring 13 times.
Late in the season Vinyard moved from behind the plate to the outfield where he started six times in the last third of the season. Though he struggled at the plate during his first season at CLU, he was responsible for 12 hits, three for extra bases, and scored 11 times. More importantly, he proved to be consistent defensively at both positions. He finished with a team-leading .982 fielding percentage with 96 putouts and 16 assists.
Joining the Kingsmen in 2013 is senior transfer Ronnie Burton who will compete for playing time immediately and is expected to be an impact player.
“The outfield will be one of our strengths with a lot of competition for three spots,” Slimak added, “We welcome Ronnie who we hope will start and assume the leadoff role.”
The depth is certainly there. “Everybody [except Iggy Wagner ‘12] is back so it is kind of a fight out there to see who can be the starting three,” Slimak said.
Also returning with accolades from 2012 is primary designated hitter Nick DeLorenzo, who earned Third Team All-West Region recognition last season. The senior batted .336 with 43 hits, four homeruns and two doubles, 28 RBIs and 27 runs scored during his inaugural campaign with the Kingsmen.
While the fielding core is solid and experienced, the pitching staff presents a different story. With no starters back the big question mark for the season is on the hill.
“We are very young on the mound without a single senior on the pitching staff,” Slimak continued, “We like what we have but we are young. With that youth, it could work out well or it could wear on us a few games, but I think ultimately we will be OK.”
Junior transfer Jake Petersen has earned the opening day start after joining the Kingsmen from Cal State University, Northridge where he recorded a 5-1 record with the Matadors. He will not only be threat as a southpaw for CLU, but he may also see some time in the outfield as Slimak described the junior as a “Really good athlete.”
Graduating the majority of the pitching staff in 2012, juniors Aaron Roth and Tyler Hebda saw limited action, combining for 35 innings, striking out nine and 15, respectively, but the duo is prepared to assume larger roles in 2013.
“It was tough to get those guys inning last year with all the seniors we had, but I am confident they can step up and be productive for us.”
The pitching staff also includes junior transfer Jared Levin, sophomores Matthew Burden and Scott Peters and the freshman class of Cameron Adams, Morgan Garcia-Grisham, Matt Johnson and Mitchell Shields.
Doing the catching for that group will be another young group. With Vinyard moving to the outfield last year, it opened the door for junior Kevin Eto and sophomores Spencer DuBois and C.J. Picerni to step up and that they did.
Eto earned 11 starts, playing errorless baseball with 75 putouts and 10 assists while batting .302 with 16 hits and seven runs. Picerni started eight of the nine games he appeared in, also strong defensively without an error in 54 chances. DuBois followed suit without a miscue in his two starts while appearing behind the dish 11 times.
When asked about his catchers, Slimak noted, “We are young back there but Spencer and CJ filled in nicely for us last year getting some starts towards the end of the year and we still have Kevin who has been with us for three years. We are going to be pretty strong.”
Rounding out the roster for the Kingsmen are junior infielder Craig Jacobson, sophomore infielder Connor Manos, freshman outfielder Ramsey Abushahla and infielders Davis Casciola, Zach Cope and Atherton Kniseley, who was a member of the 2012 SCIAC Champion Kingsmen football team.
CLU starts off hot, boasting one of the most competitive schedules in more than a decade. Cal Lutheran opens against Whitworth, a team that made it to the World Series last year, with a three-game series. They come back a week later to host George Fox who is always a powerhouse in the Northwest League.
There is little time to prepare for SCIAC play, opening against Pomona-Pitzer, the favorite to win the league title as they return nearly everyone – pitching and hitting. The Kingsmen follow with back-to-back series against Chapman and Redlands.
“I can’t remember a tougher schedule to start out with,” Slimak recalled. “Because of that, we will know what kind of team we have after the first third of the season. If we can hold on and stay above water, we will be a competitor for the rest.”
Cal Lutheran swings into the season Friday, Feb. 8. First pitch of 2013 against the Pirates is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on George “Sparky” Anderson Field at Ullman Stadium for the first of 20 home games this spring.