The semester at school is over, May is on the downhill road and we’re rushing headlong toward June. The grass in Alaska is turning green, the sun isn’t going down until nearly midnight, and there’s only one thing missing in my summer besides a full-time job: baseball! It’s getting close, though. So close I can almost smell the reindeer dogs at Mulcahy field. So for those of you who have been waiting with bated breath since my long-ago preview of the 2011 AIA Fire, here’s a look at one of the aforementioned-stadium’s tenants, the 2011 Anchorage Bucs.
I’ll kick it off with the usual disclaimer: this is a pre-season roster, these things are subject, and likely, to change before opening day and beyond, so let’s not get too excited about any of this. But, with the season kicking off here in just a few weeks, we’re getting pretty close so I would expect most of these guys to make the trip.
Starting things off, let’s look at the familiar faces. As the roster stands now the lone returning player, according to my sometimes not-superb memory of every player to come through the team in the past few years, is junior right-hander Ty Griffith out of Blackhawk College. This is no surprise as Griffith is a local product from Eagle River and will be coming back up to pitch for his hometown team as he did last year. As far as familiar names go, RHP Andrew Benak, the redshirt soph out of Rice, may ring a bell. He was scratched from the Bucs’ roster before opening day last year; he faced five batters during the 2010 NCAA season before he went down for the year with injury. Benak logged 11 innings over six appearances (five in relief and one start) over the conference season and it’s great to see him making the long-awaited trip north. I would imagine this will change as the summer progresses, but the other local player on the Bucs’ roster at this point is one Eric Zimmerman, a lefty from Anchorage who’s signed on to UNLV. Any relation to Colin? I’m not sure but if anyone knows, drop a comment below to confirm/deny.
So, who am I thinking might be good for the Bucs this year? How about Brian McIlhenny of Pepperdine. The sophomore southpaw has done some impressive work in the past, nailing down a 1.80 ERA in the Cal Ripken league last summer with 17 strikeouts in 15 innings of relief. In conference play for Pepperdine this season his ERA was an inflated 5.34 but he held opponents to a .245 average, surrendering 26 H and 14 BB over 28.2 which I consider to be in the “not bad” range, especially for an underclassman in the realm of baseball with the bats that turn infants into Mark McGwire. The Bucs’ pitching crew looks pretty young without many proven, experienced front-line pitchers. Some of these guys are going to have to step up and take the leadership roles, and as one of the team’s few lefties, and being a tall kid standing 6’6″ (tied for tallest on the club with Benak), I think McIlhenny is as good a candidate as any to break out and make an impact.
The Bucs this season don’t appear to have a “Casey Hauptman” type, a front-line workhorse pitcher with a familiar name and a track record of logging a lot of starts and eating up innings. Beside home-towner Griffith, I’d expect Brad Drust of Southern Illinois and Andrew Walter of Yavapai to bear the bulk of the workload. Drust was Southern Illinois’ spot starter this past collegiate season, logging 46.1 innings in 14 appearances, 8 of which were starts. Walter put some outstanding numbers for Yavapai this past season — 9 hits and 32 walks over 75.1 IP for a 0.544 WHIP, plus 66 strikeouts — so he has a reputation for putting some innings in the books and doing it well. But then there is the question of how JuCo success translates to Alaska League ball, so we will see. He should prove durable nonetheless.
Three catchers are currently slated to come up with the junior Anchorage club this summer, and the front-runner as far as I can predict will be Austin Wynns of Fresno State. The sophomore put up some great numbers for the Bulldogs this year (47 starts/48 games, .331 average, .428 OBP) and is the biggest of the three physically. Beyond the stats, he came up big in several games this past collegiate season. However, I wouldn’t expect Joe Winterburn or Bryan Santy to be warming the pine all summer, either; junior Santy of Washington is the more experienced player from the big-name school while Winterburn is an up-and-comer from UC Santa Barbara who is expected to mature into someone with a lot of talent.
On the infield, I’m looking for good stuff out of the pair of Davis’: Logan Davis (fr., Hofstra) and Davis Morgan (jr., Tennessee). Utility infielder Logan Davis was selected in the 38th round of last year’s draft by the Colorado Rockies and started most of Hofstra’s games as an underclassman this past season. His versatility on defense and left-handed bat at the plate should factor big into the Bucs’ game plans this season. First-bagger Davis Morgan had a stellar junior college career, being chosen NJCAA All-American in 2010 as a member of the Johnson County CC club before moving up to Tenn, where has continued to be productive. He’ll bring some pop in his bat to Anchorage this summer. Rounding second and third we can find some considerable talent in Jake Valdez and Ryan Palermo; Valdez started 44 games with San Jose State this year as a Freshman and posted a .304 BA & .402 OBP; and Palermo of UCSB hit three homers in the esteemed Northwoods league last summer.
Continuing on into the outfield, Dallas Baptist’s Landon Anderson could be a potent all-around guy for the Bucs. He hit .293 with 3 homers for Waterloo of the Northwoods League last season; for DII DBU this year he hit for a .335 average, .982 OPS, and drove in 51 RBI in 54 games (all starts). On top of that he stole 19 bases of 22 attempts and made just one error in the field. As a junior he should step up and be at the forefront of this team’s efforts.
Finally, wrapping things up with Boomer Collins. I have no idea if this guy is any good, so sorry to Boomer and mom and dad Collins if you’re hoping I’m going to say something more flattering, but he is an early front-runner for Best Name in the ABL for 2011 by virtue of the fact that his name is “Boomer”. If he can hit as well as his name suggests I will be glad to hype him up all season long, and if not, I’ll still be biased toward him because I like typing his handle.
So there it is, Bucs fans and other interested parties. Hopefully these names and info bites will give you a little something to tide you over for the next couple weeks until the season finally kicks off! What do you think of the Bucs roster? Have a different take on anyone? Someone I left off? Drop me a comment below to let me hear your opinion. And stay hooked up as I intend to crank out some more good articles leading up to the 2011 MLB draft and the opening of the Alaska Baseball League season.