There have been big changes with three of the four local baseball teams this season.
Burroughs will try and get its program back on track with a new coach. The Indians are hoping to put a 2011 season in which its year was ended because of an underage drinking scandal behind them.
Bell-Jeff also has a new skipper after longtime coach Hector Perez was laid off at the school after leading the Guards to a stint of nine consecutive CIF Southern Section playoff appearances, the longest streak in the city.
After a disappointing and winless season in 2011, Providence has decided to opt out of the Liberty League until the program gets back on its feat.
Burbank is the lone squad that has remained constant. The Bulldogs will be trying to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs by one game a year ago.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
The Guards (11-9) were the only area group to make it to the playoffs last season. Although the numbers have been down in the program, new Coach Kiko Garcia is hoping a core of returning players will lead the way this season.
“The kids have been pretty receptive to what I’ve been doing and I’ve come in and tried to change as little as possible,” he said. “We’ve had six guys out at our practices at times. But before the season, we technically had 12 players on the team.”
The core that Garcia hopes will led the squad are senior shortstop-catcher Matt Landini, junior catcher-shortstop Mitch Kellogg, junior first baseman-third baseman Ryan Okiishi and senior third baseman Sam Kachikian.
Kellogg and Landini were both first-team all-league honorees last season. Kellogg had a .362 batting average (21 for 58), .449 on-base percentage, scored 18 times, collected 15 RBI and stole five bases. In addition, he caught 10 runners stealing from behind the plate. Landini posted a .355 batting average (22 for 62) and .406 on-base and .532 slugging percentage. He also scored 24 runs, drove in 14 and led the team on the mound with a 3.15 earned-run average.
“That will be our main group,” Garcia said. “I also told the guys that everyone is going to be a pitcher this season, so they have to be ready.”
Bell-Jeff placed second in the Santa Fe League last season.
Former Indians player and 2003 graduate Kiel Holmes takes over a program that has faced its share of struggles during the past year.
Burroughs fired coach Eddie Alvarez on Oct. 30 after spending less than five months heading the program.
Alvarez was hired following a well-publicized incident that occurred last season involving the Indians. The school fired the varsity baseball coach and three assistants and canceled the remainder of the season in April after discovering an assistant coach allegedly served players beer during a tournament trip to Arizona.
Indians Coach J.R. Schwer and the assistants, who were all at the mid-March tournament, were fired April 18. The coach, who said he learned about the incident just three days before he was let go, acknowledged that a large number of players were served alcohol by an assistant coach.
Initially, 11 players who drank were suspended five days. Seven athletes who were aware of the incident but failed to come forward were given two-day suspensions. However, the suspensions of the seven players who did not participate were later rescinded.
Burroughs had a 9-7-1 record and was in contention for a playoff spot when the season was halted.
Holmes said he hopes his team will move past the struggles it had and concentrate on playing baseball.
“It this point, we view it as something that everyone else is going to be talking about, and we try and put it in the past in our program,” Holmes said. “We don’t want to focus on what our program was but we want to focus on what this program could be. Every time we step on the field, make the conversation about Burroughs’ baseball ability.
“We can’t change what happened last year, but we can definitely put all of our efforts into what is happening this year.”
Holmes, who will field a team of 14 to 15 seniors, said he feels he has a talented group of players who should put the program back on solid footing. There also has been a lot of competition on the team, with players fighting for starting spots.
The Indians will have senior Christian Garia at first base, after an arm injury forced him from the catching position. Junior Luis Pereyra will play second base and shortstop, junior Brian Pozos will be at shortstop and third and junior Miles Haddad will be a utility infielder who can also play in the outfield.
“Our middle infield is kind of rotating right now,” Holmes said. “We’ve got some players who can play at different spots.”
Taking over the catching duties are juniors Chris Peale and Chris Davies.
The outfield will consist of Davies, senior Dylan Goldsack, senior Eli Peppmuller and senior Ryan Gordon.
“We have three spots for six guys in the outfield,” Holmes said. “It’s going come down to who wants it more and who is playing better at the time. The best part of this outfield is that I feel I can go with the hot bat and not lose anything defensively.”
On the hill for Burroughs will be Pereyra, junior Daniel Barraza and senior Dillon Disiere — who will also play third base.
In the Pacific League race, Holmes said he expects a great deal of competition.
“On paper, you have to give it to Crescenta Valley,” he said. “They return a few starters and they have a couple of pitchers throwing 90 miles per hour. So, they are definitely going to be tough.”
The Bulldogs (10-16) fell to Hoover in the final Pacific League game of the season last year and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Coach Bob Hart returns to guide a squad that is playing a tough preseason schedule that includes the Easton Tournament.
“We only have a few returners, so we’re going to be varsity inexperienced to a degree,” Hart said. “We have a primarily junior infield, so we have some time with them and I think they’ll get better.”
Burbank does have a standout returner in junior catcher Paul Frias. He was the team’s lone first-team all-league recipient in 2011, batting .481 (38 for 79) with a .772 slugging percentage. Along with driving in 25 runs, he also scored 28 runs and had eight doubles and three home runs.
Also returning is junior shortstop Dylan Mersola, a second-team all-league pick who hit .325, drove in 17 runs and scored 21 runs.
Also back is junior first baseman Harrison Hernendaz, senior pitchers Daniel Starkand and Andrew Hernandez. Battling for the second base spot will be juniors Chris Okimoto and Nate Zavala. At third will be juniors Angel Villagran, John White and Angel Roman, a transfer from Burroughs.
The outfield will consist of senior Colson Cripps, junior Ian McKinnon and junior Ricky Perez.
In league, Hart echoed Holmes’ sentiments.
“We know CV is going to be tough,” Hart said. “I know Burroughs is always tough and Arcadia is coming off a tremendous year. Our goal is always to win league; but maybe more realistic for us is to finish high in the league and make the playoffs.”
The Pioneers are coming off a season in which the program went 0-12. The team took its lumps in the Liberty League which was frustrating for the players. The prompted Providence to take a break from league play temporarily.
“We will be independent for I think a year or two, until be get the program back to where it needs to be,” Pioneers Coach Steven Knez said. “We won’t have that league pressure, so hopefully we can just go out and play and get back on the winning track. Once we get our act together we plan on jumping right back into league.”
Returning to lead the Pioneers is senior pitcher Anthony Galvan, who is the squad’s lone returning all-league player. Also returning is junior shortstop Aaron Zeigler.
The team is also hoping to eventually get AJ Jaspe out for the team. Currently, Jaspe is playing for the Pioneers boys’ basketball team that is in the state playoffs.
“That should be our key players,” Knez said. “We have a lot of kids who have not played a lot before or who have very limited experience, so we’re just trying to get through year and hopefully win a few games.”