Well, it may not be much of a preview for you die-hards who made it out to the Pilots’ doubleheader against the Bucs yesterday, but since that was an exhibition game and the team has yet to log an official ABL inning, it’s still technically their pre-season. I do realize, though, that we’re cutting right down to the wire (isn’t that usually how I operate?) so I’ll just get right to it without a bunch of fluff as an intro.
Let’s get it started with the pitchers:
This Pilots pitching staff is led by two capable players from last year’s club: Bayless and Belleque. RHP Trevor Bayless, of U. San Diego, is following up on a strong 2011 ABL campaign in which he led the league in saves and earned an appearance in the inaugural All-Star Game. Christian Belleque, out of Fresno State and also a right-hander, logged a 1.62 ERA in 33.1 innings of work in 2011.
Of course, we should also be familiar with right-hander Zach Ziemer by now. He’s a local player, most recently of Golden West College, who played for South High prior to shipping off to college.
Other than the second-year ABL guys, I think some of the players most worthy of further observation would be their freshman, in particular Michael Benson, Kyle Freeland, and the redshirt fresh Trey Teakell.
Michael Benson, the righty out of Pacific, did something pretty impressive when he came onto the team and not only broke into the every-week starter role, but became the team’s most effective at the job as well. He ended the season with team-best stats in ERA (3.34) and IP (94.1) and threw two complete games. One of those was a shutout, for which he was named Big West Pitcher of the Week.
Another freshman who managed to crack the rotation, this time a southpaw, is Kyle Freeland of Evansville. He started 14 games in 2012, for a total of 91.0 innings on the mound. A signal that he’s a significant prospect; he was drafted by Philadelphia in 2011, in the 35th round.
Right-hander Trey Teakell played some 50th State Hardball last season. Sitting out 2011 with TCU on a redshirt, Teakell headed to that other state that doesn’t fit on a map where he pitched a league-high 59.1 innings, registered a 0.91 ERA and held opposing batters to an average of .181. He was impressive enough to be ranked the #1 prospect in the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League in 2011.
As for the batting, first baseman Nick Backlund has to be worth a mention here; I mean if Louisville Slugger felt he was worthy of first-team All-American selection he’s gotta be pretty decent. He’s hopefully bringing some power up to AK with him; how does 16 homers on the collegiate season in 2012 sound? If his swing adapts well to the wood that power should transfer from the BBCORerized bats, so it’ll be fun to watch him send some sailing.
Infielder Kevin Swick could also be valuable for the Pilots; in 2011 he was an everyday player for the Conejo Oaks in the California Collegiate League. Swick strikes me as a generally all-around good player who will get on base, steal a few, and hit a few homers.
Micah Green will be interesting to watch as an outfielder. Perfect Game touted him very highly back in 2009 but he seems like he’s been a little bit behind the curve. A lot of high-quality raw athleticism that is in the process of being molded into a ball player. But he’s seemingly coming around as he forced his way out of a platoon role with Wichita State and into the starting lineup this season. I see in him a guy that might have some speed, might have some power, and should hit for a good average. A good season in Alaska could make him as a prospect.
Of course, keep an eye out for our Alaska Grown guys. Adam Manzer, freshman catcher of Truman State, is a former West High ball player who won Gaterade Player of the Year in 2011.
Here’s my overall impressions:
Their pitching staff is going to depend a lot on some promising young arms. These guys are definitely talented but their success will be determined by their ability to hold their own against the cream of the crop outside of their conferences down south. As it stands now, Freeman is their lone lefty on the pitching staff; other than that, they’re straight-up right handers, so other teams with lots of lefty batters might an advantage over them.
If I had to take a stab at it, I think this is going to be an offensive team. They’re also a little mysterious to me — a lot of Freshmen and redshirt Freshmen, and almost all underclassmen with just one Junior — but there are hints that the pieces are there.
I haven’t noticed more than a handful of players on the Glacier Pilots roster with a lot of summer ball experience. It’s naturally easier for me to go out on a limb and make predictions about a guy if he’s got a history in another wood-bat summer league, and I’m hesitant to predict too much, one way or another, based on college stats, because it’s such a different animal. That being said, the fun will be in watching these guys get this new experience and seeing how well they adapt. That’s why they’re here, and that’s why I love to watch it.