COUGARS #6 IN PRESEASON BASEBALL POLL-

Begin WSC Title Defense Next Week

 

SAN LUIS OBISPO (March 1, 2017)— The Cuesta Baseball team began the season ranked #6 in the CCCBCA rankings, however the Cougars’ tough early season schedule, with only two returning starters, led to a slow start.   The Cougars are in their 15th season under Coach Bob Miller (358-228-2/15th), and fresh off the program’s 13th playoff berth and eighth Western State Conference title of his tenure.  Coach Miller always schedules the toughest non-conference opponents to kick of the season and this year the Cougars’ 17-game pre-conference schedule consists of 15 games versus ranked teams, including ten against Top 10 programs. The Cougars were ranked #6 in the pre-season poll, but dropped out of the polls this week after only three victories since January.  Coach Miller says, “We haven’t shown our best baseball yet.  We have to close the gap on our potential.”    Cuesta returns six players from last season and the roster boasts eleven players with a season of collegiate baseball under their belt.  The Cougars are once again loaded with talent and hope to hit their stride during conference play. Coach Miller says, “We are looking to build on last year and take a step forward,” he continued, “We need to find an identity on offense.  We need to show consistency.”  Coach Miller says, “We hope to be in a position to compete for a (Western State) conference title (by the end of the year).”

The Cougars complete their pre-conference schedule this week with road games against #5 Fresno on Wednesday (5 PM) and unranked LA Valley on Saturday (1 PM).  They also sandwich a home game against #16 Sequoias on Thursday (2 PM).     

 

Pitchers

Cuesta boasted three All-WSC First Team Starting Pitchers in 2016 and all three have moved on to NCAA DI programs, which leaves the Cougars with an untested rotation.   Redshirt Sophomores Cayce Rocco (Santa Maria: Righetti HS) and Cody Luther (Discovery Bay) are slated to lead the staff.  Rocco began his college career as an outfielder in 2015, but was injured after just six games and granted a Medical Redshirt.  He split last season between the bullpen and the outfield and should anchor the Cougars’ staff this year.  The Southpaw posted a 1.59 ERA and whiffed 13 batters in 11.1 innings of work last year.  He is also 12-for-67 (.179) at the plate, yet with 19 walks he owns a solid .368 on-base percentage.  Luther spent the 2015 campaign at Los Medanos College and posted a 2-3 record with a 5.76 ERA over 45.1 innings, which included nine starts.  Miller says of both pitchers, “They need to grow.  They both hit 90 (miles per hour).”   The Cougars also hope Oklahoma State transfer Bryce Verplank (Flower Mound, TX) or UC Davis transfer Jed Moscot (Pacific Palisades) will claim the third spot in the rotation.  Verplank was a highly recruited all-Region pick at Marcus High School, but just transferred in at the semester break. Moscot enjoyed a standout career as two-time All-CIF City selection before redshirting for the Aggies.   His brother Jon Moscot pitched fro the Cougars in 2010 and is in his third season with the Cincinnati Reds.  The Cougars are also waiting on the development of former All-San Joaquin Section First Teamer Connor Davis (El Dorado Hills) and see him as a potential member of the starting rotation. 

Bullpen

The Cougars’ bullpen is staffed with first year players and is one of the team’s big question marks.  Coach Miller says, “We have talent on this staff.”  All SouthWest Yosemite League First Team selection Cole Tucker (Bakersfield) is slated to be the Cougars’ Closer, but will also play part-time in the infield.  Redshirt Freshmen Mitch Maynes (Lake Oswego, OR) and Kyle McCormick (Thousand Oaks) join All San Joaquin Section pick Kris Prince (Davis HS) as the Cougars’ set-up and middle relievers.  McCormick and Prince will also be used as “spot starters’.  Southpaw Walter Bolle (Davis HS) is the Cougars’ lefty specialist and could see spot action in every game.  The crafty lefty is a tough match for left-handed batsmen. Former South Sequoia League MVP Mario Lopez (Delano) and Infielder John Nejedly (Concord) will get innings in long and short inning stints, respectively.  Freshmen Cameron Ziegler (Littleton, CO), Justin Goodwin (Hollister) and, Cole Steverson (Arroyo Grande HS) shall provide depth out of the bullpen.

Catcher

The Cougars have a lot of depth and talent behind the plate this season.  Sophomore Jake Ryan (Santa Clarita) is renowned for his defensive prowess and started 33 games for College of the Canyons in 2015.  Ryan batted only .124 in 113 at bats that season, but has the potential to move up in the order after using his redshirt season.  Coach Miller says, “He is smart and high energy.  He is a nice defensive catcher and will get stronger. He plays hard and can should hit for power.”  Freshman Aidan Nagle (Santa Rosa) is one of the Cougars’ top prospects. Miller says, “He is a good hitter and a good receiver.”  Nagle is expected to bring power from the leftside of the plate.  Freshman Dante Peretti (Danville) is a big-bodied backstop with potential to earn a spot behind the plate or as a designated hitter.  Utility player Stephen Chipman (Pleasanton) also served as the Cougars’ emergency backstop last season. 

 

First Base

Coach Miller says of Sophomore Robbie Silva (Arroyo Grande HS), “He is an anchor for this club.  He provides leadership both verbally and by example.”  Silva redshirted in 2015 and did not see his first action for Cuesta until March 5 last season.  Silva took over as the Cougars’ regular First Baseman on April 21 and spurred them to a 5-1 finish in the regular season.  His play helped lead Cuesta to the WSC title and a playoff berth.  He batted .288 in 52 at bats on the season and drove in ten runs on the season.  Left-handed Nik Pagan (San Bernardino) adds power to the Cougars’ batting order and will be used as a designated hitter and occasional platoon with Silva.   Sophomores Kyle McKean (Danville) and Hunter Reade (Yucaipa HS) can also play first base.    

Second Base

The Cougars do not have a natural second baseman, however Sophomore Stephen Chipman (Pleasanton) earned the spot and begins the season as half of the Cougars’ double-play combination.  Chipman played second base, outfield and, catcher last season, while hitting .250 in a dozen at bats.  Coach Miller says, “He can play anywhere. He is a scrappy-type player.”  The Cougars will also use Utility player John Nejedly (Concord) at any infield spot.  Nejedly batted .269 in 26 at bats last season, while splitting time between second and third base.  Relief Pitcher Cole Tucker (Bakersfield) can also step out of the bullpen to play infield. 

Third Base                            

Sophomore Hunter Reade (Yucaipa HS) was the Cougars’ starting Third Baseman in 2016 and can play either corner infield spot. He batted .258 in 97 at bats last season, but also led the Cougars with 17 walks. Sophomore John Nejedly (Concord) will vie for playing time at the “Hot Corner”. 

Shortstop 

Two-time All Inland Valley League selection Andrew Navigato (Riverside) is the Cougars’ Shortstop and will lead the team on offense and defense.  Navigato will bat towards the top of the line-up and is expected to hit for power and average, while also stealing bases.  Coach Miller says of his multi-talented infielder, “He is very capable.  He has good hands, a strong arm and, speed.” 

Centerfield                 

Sophomore Will Ruiz (Delano) moves into centerfield this season, but Coach Miller says, “He can play all three (positions).”   The Cougars expect Ruiz to anchor the outfield and be a catalyst on offense.  He batted only .228 in 78 at bats last season, but is adept at getting on base, as shown by his respectable .337 on-base percentage.  Former All Fort Range League selection Zack Berohn (Lafayette, CO) should add power to the batting order and has a lot of potential in the field and the at the plate.   College of the Canyons transfer Tyler Ryan (Santa Clarita), Oklahoma State transfer Bryce Verplank (Flower Mound, TX) and All Santa Cruz County selection Alex Smith (Santa Cruz) all add depth in the outfield.  Ryan, who is a twin brother of Catcher Jake Ryan (Santa Clarita), also Redshirted in 2016, after playing for Canyons in 2015.  Ryan smacked three home runs and drove in 21 runs, while batting .235, for Canyons.  Coach Mlller says, “He will add power to the line-up.”  Miller is still learning about what he has with newcomer Verplank, but noted, “Verplank can chase the ball and has offensive potential.”  Smith is recovering from an injury during “Fall Ball” and Miller says, “He is recovering from a broken leg and may be a month late.  He does have a nice swing.” 

Rightfield                 

Freshman Justin Wear (Loma Linda) has the tools to be a standout player for the Cougars.  Coach Miller says, “He is a good outfielder and has speed.  He will stay in the mix.”   Palomar transfer Kyle McKean (Danville) was part of the Comets’ team that fell to the Cougars in the playoff last season.  He did not play in the series and batted .077 in 13 at bats in 2016.  College of the Canyons transfer Tyler Ryan (Santa Clarita), Oklahoma State transfer Bryce Verplank (Flower Mound, TX) and All Santa Cruz County selection Alex Smith (Santa Cruz) all add depth in the outfield. 

Leftfield                  

Moorpark transfer Jeff Wilson (Thousand Oaks HS) and two-time All State Small School selection George Sammon (Petaluma) both figure heavily in the Cougars’ plans for 2017.  Miller says of Wilson, “He is a line drive hitter and very solid.”  Wilson saw limited action for the Raiders last season, but is another former foe now wearing the black and green.  He batted .133 in 30 at bats on the season, but also added a 1-for-2 day against the Cougars on April 16.  Sammon has earned himself a spot in the line-up with a strong start to the season.  He attended a high school with less than 400 students and Coach Miller has been pleased with his development.  Miller says, “He has given us nice production.  He has made real progress.”  College of the Canyons transfer Tyler Ryan (Santa Clarita), Oklahoma State transfer Bryce Verplank (Flower Mound, TX) and All Santa Cruz County selection Alex Smith (Santa Cruz) all add depth in the outfield.