"The number one thing that trumps everything else in our our program over the summer is to improve from last year, developing and getting better" said head Coach Anthony Gilich when asked how summer recruiting went.
"We really do our homework in trying to get the right guys no matter how many we get. We have 37 and we feel those are the right 37. No need to look at any more. Our idea isn't about going out and getting 50 guys."
The 2017-18 Vaqueros return eight players from last year, much better than only five in 2016-17.
"We feel like we had a pretty good recruiting class going into the summer and the summer always throws you a little curve ball so to speak, you know, a little hiccup, and it's all because of the draft. We get hit in two ways because of the draft, the draft itself (players head right to the pros opting to pass up college), and also that the draft affects Division I so they adjust from taking from the junior colleges. So you really can't get a solid roster until about the first day of school."
Did you grab some fireballers this year?
"Yeah! We have a few guys that can run it up there. I don't think we'll be as hot as last year but we have some guys that can really pitch. Guys with ability and command. Last year we set a program record for strikeouts and I like that and this year we have pitchers that throw all pitches for strikes, more so than last year. Less velocity this year, more pitchability."
Any outright team leaders on this year's team?
"Yeah I think all eight returning players can lead and so far a guy that has stuck out is Nick Trogerlic-Iverson (just call him Iverson). Definitely a hard worker, performed well last year and he's not afraid to speak up. But all of them in their own way. Jake Vander Wal isn't afraid to speak up, Chris Diehl will speak up if he has to. Devin Ray and Alix Garcia. So all in their different way. It's Diehl, Garcia, Luis Tellechea and Jye Deeble who lead by going about their business in a professional way. They probably won't tell you all about it, they just go and do it."
In terms of the outlook for 2017-18, you have to read between the lines in these interviews when coaches surely err to caution because you just never really know until they get on that hill or in that box, or on that field, what these players are made of.
2017-18 Outlook (taken from raised eyebrows, confident smirks, and more rapid than usual diction during the annual season preview interview in the head coach's office)
I got a real sense of confidence in the pitching portion of the discussion. Confidence in crafty and smart pitchers who might not wing them in at 96 like Bradley Gonzales or Sati Santa Cruz from last year, but they'll still hit 89-92. The coach loves that Iverson and Deeble will have set-up pitcher help this year. Koa Eastlack was granted redshirt status from injuries last year, so he returns as a freshman. You should have seen the six innings he pitched last year before injuries. 13 punchouts and a tidy ERA of 0.00.
"Last year it was see how far the starter could go, then Iverson" said Gilich.
When asked about the projected starting rotation for spring 2018, Gilich said, "let's put it this way, I've got at least five." The team has a solid starting rotation and greatly improved their relief pitching. I WILL say greatly.
The impression was the 2017-18 team has more power. The coach will openly downplay the importance of power, and with good reason. Last year the Vaqueros advanced to the Western District finals (within one win of the College World Series) with only 21 homeruns. The year before, the Vaqueros hit 42 but didn't get nearly as far, even though they won the ACCAC regular season title. Gilich had "rapid diction" when speaking of this year's power. He also has Vander Wal, Garcia, Ray, and Diehl back, who combined to hit .306 last year. Gilich said that freshman Brennan Reback is the fastest runner on the team. But then added that possibly newbie Clayton Keyes could be the fastest. If this team can get the timely hits this year which plagued them last year, it will be exciting.
The head coach is not even worried about this years fielding team. Central has players that can play the infield and trot to the outfield when needed, and lots of good competition for the infield positions. The sure bets I was able to perceive were Garcia at first, Vander Wal in the outfield corners, more for Ray at second base (his natural position), and the fabulous catching rotation of at least three very strong defensive and hitting players, maybe even four. Gilich seemed very, very comfortable with this years defensive Vaqueros.
The fall baseball season has started.