Tuesday, December 18, 2012

HarbourCats announce first six player signings

The baseball season seems a lot closer now that the HarbourCats have started to unveil their roster. On Tuesday morning at Lambrick Park Secondary School, the team announced the signing of six players, three of whom are from Victoria. I must say that Lambrick Park was an excellent choice as a site for the press conference, since it's the home of the highly successful Diamond for Excellence Program.

(L-R) Austin Russell, Nick Pivetta and Connor Russell sign their contracts
The three local players signed by the HarbourCats are Nick Pivetta, Austin Russell and Connor Russell (no relation). All three played premier baseball in the city: Austin and Connor Russell were teammates on the Victoria Mariners and Pivetta played for the Victoria Eagles. These guys are not token local content either -- they can all play the game.

Pivetta is a flame-throwing right-hander who will pitch for New Mexico Junior College this season. He was recently awarded a full scholarship at the University of New Mexico, so he'll suit up for that NCAA Division I school beginning in September of 2013. According to the scouting service Perfect Game USA, Pivetta's fastball was 88-92 MPH last season but recently jumped into the 95-97 MPH range. If that's the case, he could have a monster 2012-13 season and be a high draft pick in next June's MLB draft.

Austin Russell is a speedy outfielder who played two seasons at Colby Community College (Kansas) before recently transferring to Southern Polytechnical State University (NAIA Division I). He hit .402 last season at Colby CC and received first-team all conference and first-team all region honours. You may see Austin hitting near the top of the HarbourCats batting order and stealing more than his share of bases at RAP next June.

Connor Russell is a right-handed starting pitcher in his third season with the Vancouver Island Baseball Institute (VIBI) Mariners, a team that plays in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC). Last season, Connor broke school records for innings pitched (77), strikeouts (76) and ERA (0.90). He pitched for the Okotoks Dawgs in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) during the last couple of summers, registering a 1.88 ERA in 2011 and a 5.25 ERA in 2012. Fans of the defunct Victoria Seals may remember that Jeff Duda also played for the Okotoks Dawgs just prior to becoming a solid pitcher with the Seals.

The HarbourCats also announced the signing of three American players who were recently drafted by MLB clubs out of high school. In all three cases, the players did not sign a professional contract and chose to play college baseball instead. However, they will be eligible to re-enter the draft in the future.

David Schuknecht is a left-handed hitting catcher who was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the 12th round of the 2011 draft. The Rockies offered Schuknecht $500,000 to sign with them, but he chose to attend the University of Arizona instead (the Arizona Wildcats are the fourth-ranked Division I team in the country). Unfortunately, Schuknecht tore his labrum early in his freshman year and had to shut it down for the season. He now attends Riverside City College and will be coached by Dennis Rogers, head coach of the HarbourCats.
Casey Schroeder

Casey Schroeder, a switch-hitting catcher from Ohio, was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft. Schroeder is a freshman at the University of Kentucky, a solid Division I school that is currently ranked 18th in the country.

Connor Baits is a freshman right-handed pitcher at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), another NCAA Division I school. Baits was taken by the New York Mets in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft after being named as a Rawlings 2nd Team All-American. He was one of the top-ranked high school pitchers in California and he can throw in the low to mid 90's.

I would expect that we'll learn of additional signings periodically over the next few months, but for now it's good to know at least some of the players who will be wearing a HarbourCats uniform in the team's inaugural season. The college baseball season begins in February, so we'll be able to post updates on the progress of our HarbourCats as we get closer to opening day. Only one hundred and sixty-eight more days...

For additional information on the signings, check out the official HarbourCats site.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

HarbourCats ticket policies are the cat's meow

Lost in the shuffle in the last couple of weeks of HarbourCats news was the release of the team's ticket policies. I recently went through the details listed on the HarbourCats web site and as a long-time sports fan and a current Victoria Royals Season Ticket holder, my reaction was very positive. Check out some of these gems:
  • "Season Ticket holders will be able to manage their tickets online, including e-mailing tickets to friends or donating them to charity."  As a Royals Season Ticket holder, it’s a real pain to schlep paper tickets across town when I want to give away or swap tickets. This online ticket management feature will definitely save HarbourCats Season Ticket holders a fair bit of time. On top of that, charities will receive more tickets than they would otherwise. As a volunteer Big Brother, I really appreciate this option.
  • “The Flex Pass can be managed online or at the box office to select your seats and send tickets to friends or charity.”  I’m impressed that Flex Pass holders are also granted this feature. That's a nice touch.
  • Yellow Reserved Flex Pass holders will be able to, subject to availability, upgrade their seats to Blue Reserved for $2, or Grandstand for $4 per ticket, per game.  In my opinion, the Yellow Reserved Flex Pass is a steal of a deal. For only $99 (all in) you get 10 person-games of entertainment (e.g. a pair of tickets for five games) and the ability to upgrade your seats for a nominal fee. This is a great entry point for fans new to Royal Athletic Park who aren't sure where they want to sit. Insiders Tip: The Yellow Reserved seats along the first base line are the sunniest reserved seats in the park, so if you're going on a cool June evening make sure to sit in section 6, 7 or 8 (the further away from home plate you sit, the longer you bask in the sun).    
  • “A ‘No Ticket Left Behind’ policy means an unused ticket can be exchanged for a future game ticket of the same level subject to availability.”  This straightforward statement sounds like common sense, but it’s actually a step up from the convoluted exchange policy of the Victoria Royals.
The HarbourCats front-office is in the process of getting their ticketing system up and running and they hope to have it operational by early in the New Year. The system will not be run by Select Your Tickets -- a successful company with a solid background in minor-league baseball will have that responsibility instead.  On top of a whack of extra features, the new ticketing system is rumoured to have lower service charges than Select Your Tickets. For instance, I recently paid $8 in service charges to buy a pair of Royals tickets valued at $16.50 each – the equivalent of a 24.2% surcharge.
The Victoria Royals and the folks at Select Your Tickets will have some serious catching up to do once sports fans in Victoria get used to buying (and managing) HarbourCats tickets on a state-of-the-art ticketing system.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top 5 HarbourCats home dates to circle on your calendar

The return of elite baseball to Royal Athletic Park seems a lot closer to reality now that the HarbourCats regular-season schedule has been released.

Overall, the schedule for the Victoria squad looks quite good. Local fans will get to see a wide variety of teams and there are plenty of weekend games. The 27-game home schedule sees every team in the league other than the Kitsap BlueJackets and the Cowlitz Black Bears pay a visit to RAP, and 15 out of 27 home games are on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Fans of the defunct Victoria Seals will remember a seemingly endless number of home games against the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals, but the West Coast League can almost play a balanced schedule thanks to the close proximity of its teams. My only quibble with the schedule -- and it's a minor one -- is that the HarbourCats aren't playing at home on either Canada Day or BC Day.

There are less than six months to opening day, so it's time to start planning your trips to the ballpark. With that in mind, we present our Top 5 Home Dates to Circle on the HarbourCats Schedule:
  1. Wednesday June 5th vs Kelowna Falcons
    This one is a no-brainer. The HarbourCats play their inaugural game on June 5th and you won't want to miss it. Come on out and celebrate baseball's return to Royal Athletic Park and witness the West Coast League's first-ever "Battle of British Columbia".
  2. Tuesday July 23 - West Coast League All Star Game
    This is a great chance to see the top prospects in the WCL in action. A few years from now, you'll likely see a number of players from this game playing in the big leagues. Then you can turn to your buddy and say "I remember seeing him play at Royal Athletic when he was in college..."
  3. Friday July 19 vs Wenatchee AppleSox
    The AppleSox are the New York Yankees of the West Coast League. The defending WCL champions make their first visit to Victoria on July 19th and they will likely be near the top of the standings once again. Wenatchee has won five championships in the league's eight-year history and have only failed to appear in the Championship Series on two occasions. Have I mentioned how much I hate the New York Yankees?
  4. Sunday August 11 vs Bellingham Bells
    This is the last regular-season home game of the year and possibly the last HarbourCats game of 2013. Unless of course Dennis Rogers works some magic and takes an expansion team to the playoffs...
  5. Friday June 21 vs Bend Elks
    What better way to celebrate the Summer Solstice than by coming out to RAP and watching the HarbourCats and Elks square off? With the sun setting at 9:19 that night, there's even a chance that the last out could be made before sundown. If the HarbourCats decide to start night games at 6:30 instead of 7:00 then you're almost guaranteed to be leaving the park in sunshine.
If you're a hardcore fan, our top pick for making a road trip to watch the HarbourCats in 2013 is the June 28-30 weekend series against the Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview, Washington. Not only is it the Canada Day long weekend, but the drive to Longview is less than 3 1/2 hours once you get off the Coho Ferry in Port Angeles. Story Field, home of the Black Bears, looks like a very cute ballpark and I'd love to spend an evening sitting in the Party Deck or Home Plate Club. Who's in?!?

  • Six games is the length of both the longest homestand and the longest road trip for the HarbourCats.
  • With an odd number of teams in the league, the HarbourCats have consecutive off days on three separate occasions (excluding the two-day All Star break). The team does not currently have any scheduled games from June 8-10, June 24-27 or July 11-12. I wouldn't be surprised to see exhibition game(s) scheduled during the season to keep the players in game shape, especially during the four-day layoff in late June.
  • The divisional alignment for the 2013 season is as follows:
North Division
  • Bellingham Bells
  • Kelowna Falcons
  • Victoria HarbourCats
  • Wenatchee AppleSox
  • Walla Walla Sweets
South Division
  • Bend Elks
  • Corvallis Knights
  • Cowlitz Black Bears
  • Kitsap BlueJackets
  • Klamath Falls Gems
  • Medford Rogues

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HarbourCats roster likely to have Canadian flavour

Here's a trivia question for you: True or False? There are more Canadians playing college baseball in the United States than there are playing college hockey.

If you said "False" you are... wrong! According to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, there were over 700 Canadians playing American college baseball in the 2011-12 season, but fewer than 500 Canucks were lacing up their skates south of the 49th to play college hockey. Those 700 Canadian ballplayers are spread across schools that are part of the NCAA, NAIA or NJCAA and all of these institutions are potentially a supplier of talent for our HarbourCats. Given those numbers, we can expect a number of Canadians on the HarbourCats roster and likely a few local boys.

Kelly Norris-Jones
The HarbourCats have not announced any player signings so far, but I'm guessing that the roster is pretty close to being finalized. Rumour has it that we'll be learning of at least some of the player signings before the end of the month, but it's not too early to speculate on who we might see donning a HarbourCats jersey in June.

So who are some of the Canadians that might appear on our roster? A quick scan of Bob Elliot's list of Canadians playing U.S. college baseball yields a slew of possibilities. Much to my amazement, there are 24 ballplayers from Victoria on the list. The Garden City has been considered a Canadian baseball mecca for some time now, but that number puts it all in perspective.

One name that that immediately jumps out at you is Kelly Norris-Jones, a Victoria native who is the starting catcher for the University of Illinois. He was selected by the Blue Jays in the 50th round of the 2010 draft, but opted to go the NCAA route and did not sign with Toronto. Norris-Jones is a Victoria Mariners alumnus who suited up for the WCL's Kelowna Falcons in 2011 in preparation for his debut with the Fighting Illini. He hit .266 with no homers and 14 RBI in 46 games last season and was solid defensively. Incidentally, his father Brad is the owner of M.V.P. Sports Collectibles on Douglas Street.

Chase Cuckovich
Another possible local boy for the HarbourCats is Chase Cuckovich, an outfielder who used to play for the Victoria Eagles. He now attends Riverside City College (RCC) and is coached by -- you guessed it -- HarbourCats head coach Dennis Rogers. As a freshman at RCC last year, Cuckovich saw minimal playing time and went 3-for-12 with 4 RBI. Chase's older brother Nic also played at RCC and he was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 17th round of the 2011 draft.

Cuckovich won't be the only Canadian under the tutelage of Dennis Rogers this season. Toronto-native Bryan Saucedo is a redshirt freshman who is also attending Riverside City College. He was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 29th round of the 2012 draft, but chose to play for Rogers instead of signing with the Brew Crew. The first baseman / outfielder has impressive power and a very high ceiling.

Below is a list of the 24 Victorians playing college baseball in the United States. I'm sure there are a few errors and omissions, but it's a pretty impressive list nonetheless -- and I didn't even attempt to compile a list of other Vancouver Islanders playing down south.

NCAA Division I
Kelly Norris-Jones
University of Illinois (IL)

Jason Gibson
McNeese State University (LA)

Jagit Gordaya
Texas Southern University (TX)
NCAA Division II
Connor Moughtin
Minot State University (ND)

Dustin Robirtis
Colorado Mesa State University (CO)

Connor McDougall
Concordia University-St. Paul (MN)

Duncan Blades
Abilene Christian University (TX)
NCAA Division III
Dallen Russell
Principia College (IL)

Mike Turcotte
Minot State University (ND)

Ryan Adkins
Jamestown College ND
Nick Kearley
Dickinson State College (ND)

Brendan Magee
Jamestown College (ND)

Dustin Sandberg
Clarke University (IA)

Adam Wilson
University of Science and Art of Oklahoma (OK)

Ricky Alvernaz
Mayville State University (ND)

Sam Lawless
Jamestown College (ND)
Junior/CC Division I
Chase Cuckovich
Riverside City Community College (CA)

Cole Holt
Colby Comunity College (KS)

Colton Lindsay
Volunteer State Community College (TN)

Daniel Peakman
Trinidad State Junior College (CO)

Nick Pivetta
New Mexico Jr. College (NM)

Cooper Skjeie
Cloud County Community College (KS)

Scott Jones
Colby Community College (KS)

Austin Russell
Colby Community College (KS)

With that big of a pipeline, I doubt we'll be lacking local talent on the HarbourCats anytime soon.