Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Position Breakdowns: Pitchers (by Zach Bigley)

            The Sweets bring an almost entirely new set of faces to the mound in the 2016 season after the staff struggled last year.
            It was a staff that saw a strong starting rotation last season, but the bullpen was shaky at times. It ended the year with a 4.15 team ERA, but the Sweets saw great performances by Joe DeMers (Washington) with a 2.07 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 30 and a third innings pitched and Easton Lucas (Pepperdine) with 2.43 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched.
            “After last season was completed we took a good look at where we could get better,” manager Frank Mutz said. “We would get through most of our games with a lead or in every game if we fell behind. I feel great about all the arms we have signed for the 2016 season.”
            “I believe we did a great job last year keeping starters in reasonable pitch counts and this coming summer it should be the same,” Mutz added.
            While there is no clear direction as to who will start or pitch in the bullpen, Mutz is confident about the back end of the ‘pen as compared to last season.  
            “You never knew what to expect when one of the relievers took the mound [last season],” Mutz said. “We had some great relief appearances throughout the summer but it was not consistent enough to help us hold leads. We lost over 15 games last summer late with the lead. I'm very excited to have the arms we have coming out of the pen this summer.”
            It will be a diverse pitching staff this summer as well. As the roster currently stands, Mutz and pitching coach Michael Dingilian will have five lefties and seven right-handers to work with.
            There is also a large range of ages on the squad, but most are young. There are seven pitchers who will be a freshman in college next year and three who are currently in their first year of college. The staff in anchored age-wise by senior returners Clayten Ayers (Georgia College and State) and AJ Carkner (Pikeville). This youth did not escape Mutz’ concerns, but he is looking at the positives of the situation.
            “I'm excited to see the young high school arms we have signed for this summer,” Mutz said. “Last year’s arms Demers, Molnar, and Lucas were incredible. My hope is we are better overall this coming summer.”
            The duties of controlling these talented pitchers fall not only on Mutz, but mostly on the shoulders of Dingilian. Mutz feels good about was Dingilian can do with the arms. He is just in his second season of coaching, but he and Mutz work well together as Dingilian played for the Sweets’ manager back in high school.
            “Michael is a very intelligent baseball guy and is becoming a fast study rather quickly,” Mutz said. “Michael will handle the majority of dealing with the pitchers during pre-game and bullpen sessions. My responsibility will be to work with the catchers calling the games, setting up the rotation and helping pitchers with the mental part of pitching.”
            Mutz said he is not sure who will start game one against Victoria, or who will fill in at the other roles in the bullpen.

            He and the rest of us will find out on June 3 when the HarbourCats come to Walla Walla for the season opener.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Position Breakdowns: Catchers (By Zach Bigley)

            The most important position on the field may be behind the dish. Whether or not that is the case, the Sweets are set to have an excellent platoon of players at the catcher position in 2016.
            The three catchers that will be wearing the red, white and blue this summer are Willie MacIver (Washington), Hayden Duer (Cal State Monterey Bay) and Griffin Mazur (UC Irvine). Each bring their own traits to field and the batter’s box.
            “All three catchers either start or play significant innings for their teams,” Head Coach Frank Mutz said. “All three catchers can really throw and are offensive. It's a strong catching core and they are interchangeable. It's also possible there will be games all three are in the lineup at the same time. Duer is the most offensive, MacIver is the most athletic and Mazur has a great balance of offense and defense.”
            MacIver returns for his second season with the Sweets. In his first West Coast League campaign, he hit .215 in 32 games where he played catcher, designated hitter and also played a game at second base. He added four doubles and eight RBIs, but he led all Sweets’ catchers with a .984 fielding percentage and was one of the more consistent catchers defensively with his lateral movement. 
            “MacIver returning not only brings leadership to the catching core but leadership for the entire team,” Mutz said. “He is a very talented player, is well liked by his teammates and wants to win!”
            “You will see his [offensive] numbers jump up,” Mutz added. “He's facing Pac 12 pitching on a regular basis and he won't have to catch 60% of the games this summer. With injuries to a couple of catchers last summer we had to over extend Willie which was tough for any player coming straight out of High School.”
            One of the most important focuses for any catcher is to handle a pitching staff and wood bat league catchers must handle a young, sometimes wild and frustrated group of pitchers.
            The Sweets last year saw a pitching rotation that finished ninth out of 12 teams in ERA (4.15) in the West Coast League. Those numbers were elevated because of struggles down the stretch in the season, but there were some instances that the pitching staff did not perform up to the standards that Coach Mutz and company had set for them. Mutz is confident that this group of catchers can handle the pitchers that will be in Walla Walla this summer.
            “I believe all three catchers are intelligent and will surely be able to handle the pitching staff” Mutz said. “MacIver and Mazur both have played for me and understand my expectations and how I call a game. Duer is a seasoned catcher who plays for a quality program and will definitely be able to handle a pitching staff.”
            At the beginning of the season, Hayden Duer will be the starting catcher for the Sweets because both MacIver and Mazur will be in school in early June. He has shown his offensive capabilities so far this season at CSUMB. Through April 10th, he is hitting .292 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 32 games.
            Duer will be behind the plate on June 3rd when the Sweets welcome in the Victoria HarborCats to Borleske Stadium for opening day. To purchase tickets, you can go to wallawallasweets.com or check out the Sweets Shoppe in downtown Walla Walla.

            Check out the blog in a couple weeks for when we breakdown the pitching staff that these catchers will be relaying the signs to!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Position Breakdown Announcement 2016 (by Zach Bigley)

While 2016 is bound to be a great year for the Walla Walla Sweets, it is going to take special performances at different positions for the Sweets to make it truly memorable. To get you as a fan more excited for this season and to get to know the positions a little bit better, I am going to break down this team position group by position group.

Every other week, I will release a breakdown and here is the schedule:
April 12: Catchers
April 26: Pitchers
May 10: Infielders
May 24: Outfielders

These breakdown will include quotes from coaches and analysis of what they have done in their careers and their possible impacts on the Sweets this summer.

If you have an idea of what you want to see in these recaps or any other videos, interviews or previews you want to see, feel free to email me at zach@wallawallasweets.com.