GLENDALE — This year’s Glendale Community College baseball team will feature some intriguing freshman talent, as well as some sophomore holdovers returning for their second year at Stengel Field.
But for Coach Chris Cicuto, much of the heart and soul and, ultimately, the success of the Vaqueros will rest on their core of third-year players.
Infielders Danny Casey from Bellarmine-Jefferson High, Burroughs’ Miguel Alvarez, outfielders Brian Ward and Chris Arredondo and pitcher Tony Banuelos, Jr. — another former Indian — all of whom have redshirted a year during their stint at Glendale college, are back for their final year of eligibility and all will be asked, to varying degrees, to take a leading role in the clubhouse and on the field.
“We’re lucky enough to have great guys who come back and just work hard for three years,” Cicuto said. “It just brings a sense of guys who know the program and can get things done without coaches even asking. That’s what good teams do, they teach themselves and they control themselves from within first, so I think we’ve got the making of a good ballclub if we stay healthy.”
Casey, who was an All-Western State Conference honorable mention in 2007 before suffering a season-ending ankle sprain early last year, will anchor the Vaqueros up the middle at shortstop and bat third in the lineup.
“Danny Casey should be one of the top players in our conference,” Cicuto said. “He physically can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Average-wise, he’ll take his base hits when need be and he’s really solid defensively.”
Arredondo, an all-conference second-team selection a year ago, will return to his spots in center field and atop the batting order, where he led the Vaqueros last season with 29 steals.
To Casey’s left will be second baseman Michael Mendoza, also a returning all-conference second- teamer.
“Up the middle, we are very, very strong,” Cicuto said. “Our shortstop’s outstanding, Mendoza’s very good offensively and defensively and our mainstay is Chris Arredondo in center field.”
Mendoza, a prototypical two-hole hitter with great bat control, according to Cicuto, will be sandwiched between Arredondo and Casey in the batting order and sophomore first baseman Laz Fonta is slated to bat fourth.
“We feel very confident in the top of our lineup producing some runs,” Cicuto said, “and in everybody else stepping up and getting on base when they have to in order to set the table for the top of the lineup.”
There is still competition for the remaining infield spots, with Alvarez a leading candidate to play third base and an early season platoon forming behind the plate.
Sophomores Brenton Wunner and Kevin Dultz, a transfer from Pasadena City College, will split time catching over the busy first two weeks of the season.
“Guys are still in the hunt for starting jobs,” Cicuto said.
That goes for the remaining outfield spots, as well.
Andrew Sember, a St. Francis High graduate, is in the running to play left field and designated hitter, while Ward, deemed a strong five-tool player by Cicuto, could play either right or left.
Injuries hit the Vaqueros’ pitching staff hard last year, both in the rotation and the bullpen, a big factor in the team’s 16-24 finish (11-15 in WSC South Division).
But with 17 capable arms by Cicuto’s count on board this season, the team looks better prepared for the long grind.
Kam Krise, a Crescenta Valley High graduate, will head up the starting staff after losing his freshman season to shoulder surgery.
He will be followed in the rotation by freshman Gustavo Garcia and sophomore Chris Turner, a Hoover graduate.
Freshman Juan Sanchez and sophomore Patrick Vandehey will fill a setup role ahead of sophomore, and Burroughs grad Byron Pacheco, whom Cicuto hopes to establish as the closer.
“It’s all about trial and error in the first half of the season to see what we can be in conference,” Cicuto said.
Hoover grads Oscar Aguirre and Jason Ochart and Glendale graduate Hong Ahn have joined the team, but like most freshmen on the squad, they will be limited to roles as backups and spot contributors.
“We’re very sophomore-dominated,” Cicuto said. “Our freshmen understand their role and they accept it.”
Health will be the key, but with more pitchers on the roster and veterans at some key positions, the Vaqueros appear to have significantly improved their chances to compete in conference.
“Every year I’m optimistic,” Cicuto said, “but if Krise and Garcia can come back healthy, we have more talent than we’ve had in the past.”