GLENDALE — The Glendale Community College baseball team had a taste of what it was like to win last season.
This season, the Vaqueros want to savor more of the same.
Last season’s 23-21 record was the winningest mark thus far in Coach Chris Cicuto’s four-year tenure and was a shot in the arm for a program that won just nine games the year before.
There’s still room for improvement, however, as the Vaqueros finished eight games below .500 in the Western State Conference and fell short of their playoff goal.
It’s also hard to gauge how readily last season’s progress will translate to this year’s squad, as its relatively small class of returning sophomores is outnumbered roughly 3-1 by newcomers.
“When you look at our team, we’ve got a lot of depth,” Cicuto said. “We’re carrying 31 guys this year, which is the most I’ve ever kept, and all of them can contribute.
“Everything’s going to be a platoon this year — a guy in and a guy out, and I don’t think we’ll skip a beat as far as that’s concerned.”
At least two spots in the infield are firmly set, with sophomores Danny Casey and Taylor Smale returning to man shortstop and first base, respectively.
Smale, a 2006 St. Francis High graduate, held down the first base job last season for the Vaqueros. With the departure of All-WSC first-team shortstop Brian Bistagne, Casey, a Bellarmine-Jefferson product, who was an All-WSC honorable mention at second base a year ago, takes over at short.
“[The infield] is going to be one of our great strengths because all of our infielders have had experience,” Smale said. “They know what to expect and I think they’re all going to get the job done.”
Two incoming freshmen from nearby high schools are competing for Casey’s former position, with Arcadia’s Jean-Carlo Fernandez and Temple City product Michael Mendoza both in the mix.
Bell-Jeff product Matt Magallon, a sophomore who transferred from Cal State Dominguez Hills, adds another reliable middle infielder to the roster.
There has also been some competition for the third base job over the fall with either returning sophomore Luis Rivas or freshman Will Gilmore emerging as the likely starter.
Rivas was one of the Vaqueros’ top options out of the bullpen a year ago, but will make the switch to a position player.
Gilmore is a 2007 graduate of Loyola and a veteran of the Cubs’ CIF Southern Section Division III championship squad last year.
“Competition within the team is good and it’s going to keep guys pushing hard,” Cicuto said. “Unfortunately, there’s only nine spots out there and guys have to stay patient.”
Sophomore Bryan Jackson, of Burroughs, who made the bulk of his plate appearances as the Vaqueros’ designated hitter last year, will start in left field.
Chris Arredondo, whose 2006 season at Glendale college was cut short by injury, will get another shot to be the starting center fielder.
Freshman Chris Johnson, a 2007 Crescenta Valley grad, was slated to be the starter in right field. He will yield that position to a platoon consisting of St. Francis grad Andrew Sember and Ellis Bowen while he spends the next couple weeks recovering from a back injury, though.
The pitching staff will be headed by returning sophomore Richard Barrett and freshman Kam Krise out of Crescenta Valley.
“Kam and Richard Barrett are definitely going to be our horses,” Cicuto said. “They’re going to set the tone as far as our games are concerned.”
Injuries to other members of the projected staff will give sophomore Ryan Perez and freshmen Byron Pacheco and Chris Turner a chance to start some games, but Cicuto said all three will likely flourish in a relief role.
Turner is a 2007 graduate of Hoover High.
John DeGomez, who started at third base for the Vaqueros last year, replaces Ben Torrie behind the plate.
“Everyone’s pitching in really great, even the freshmen are stepping up as leaders,” Smale said. “That’s what’s bringing the great team camaraderie that we have this year.”
Cicuto will look to Smale, DeGomez, Jackson and freshman designated hitter Kevin Ibarra to provide some power, but the small-ball approach that was effective last year will remain a priority.
“We try to talk about executing the game and doing the little things [offensively],” he said. “If we just move guys over, bunt, drag, steal bases — that’s how we’re gonna have to manufacture runs.”