New faces give hope

There is a lot of energy, drive and competition in the Vanguard University baseball dugout this season. One thing there is not a lot of is reminiscing.

The Lions lost 22 lettermen, including 14 seniors from last season's unit that finished 22-26 and missed the postseason. Only two players remain from the 2010 team that finished 34-10 and made the program's first appearance in the NAIA Tournament since 1985.

But fourth-year coach Ralph Grajeda said a full-scale recruiting effort has produced a roster that boasts as much potential as novelty.

"We were very depleted, so we pounded [the recruiting trail] pretty good during the summer," said Grajeda, who has compiled a pitching staff that may prohibit opposing teams from doing much pounding.

The Lions, who play host to Oregon Institute of Technology in a nonconference doubleheader Saturday beginning at 11 a.m., have opened the season 2-1 with a staff earned-run average of 1.44. Those two wins included a 10-0 shutout that featured seven strong innings from returning All-Golden State Athletic Conference left-hander Gabe Garcia, and a 9-3 triumph in which starter Scott Simmons surrendered no hits in his six innings.

Simmons, a junior transfer from Mt. San Jacinto Community College, is a diamond in the rough, Grajeda believes. He is the brother of James Simmons, a right-handed pitcher drafted in the first round (26th overall) by the Oakland A's in 2007, who is working his way into prospect status.

Ruben Orosco, a junior left-hander who played at Santa Ana College last season after pitching at UC Irvine in 2010, is another projected starter, as is senior right-hander J.R. Bromberg, a Cal State Los Angeles transfer who has been drafted twice.

Garcia was 7-5 with a 2.00 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 85 1/3 innings last season and Grajeda believes the 5-foot-11 lefty has professional potential.

"He's a bulldog," Grajeda said. "If he were 6-foot-1 or 6-2, he'd be in the weekend rotation for a Division I school."

Kevin Ponzo, a junior right-handed transfer from Rio Hondo Community College, is expected to anchor the bullpen that also includes senior left-handed specialist Tucker Woods, junior Cody Green, as well as freshmen Nik Klungreseter and Spencer Wells.

No everyday position players return from the 2011 unit, but Brandon Young, a senior outfielder, was a starter in 2010, when he earned GSAC Gold Glove honors in right field.

Young, who hit .343 with six homers and 38 runs batted in as a junior, before redshirting last season due to a hamstring problem, is starting in left field.

J.R. Truhett, a senior left-hander who transferred from Bluefield College in Virginia, has great range in center field, said Grajeda, who will count upon junior Hank Yates, a transfer from the University of Delaware, to play right field and be a middle-of-the-order power presence.

"He's a find," Grajeda said of Yates, who landed in the Lions' lap by virtue of playing summer ball with a few Vanguard recruits on the Palm Springs Power.

Bryce Arroyo, Matthew Avery and Eric Sanchez all started between 21 and 24 games for the Lions last season, though all three struggled offensively.

Sanchez is starting at third base and Arroyo is playing shortstop, but that could change when junior David Kiriakos, a transfer from Riverside City College, is cleared to play by the NAIA, which Grajeda expects to happen next week.

"[Kiriakos] is a West Coast prospect to be drafted in 2012," Grajeda said.

Adonis Tountas, a junior from a community college in Arizona, will contribute at second base, where Sanchez may eventually share playing time, as Arroyo shifts to third base to make room for Kiriakos.

Alec Rosales, who had four RBIs in the first two games this season, is playing first base, though the senior switch-hitting transfer from Northwest Missouri State could also play outfield, Grajeda said.

Jordan Mould, a junior transfer from Modesto Community College, is another potential contributor at first base, where Arroyo may also see time, Grajeda said.

Nikko Tountas, a junior transfer from Grand Canyon University and Adam Salazar, a junior transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma State, are vying for playing time behind the plate, where community college transfers John Collins, a sophomore, and Michael Costello, a junior, are also in the mix.

Cal Baptist, which won the GSAC title the last two seasons, has shifted to NCAA Division II, but the 10-team alliance is still challenging. Defending national champion Concordia was ranked No. 2 in the national preseason poll, while Biola was No. 10 and Fresno Pacific was No. 17.

Vanguard's first 12 conference games will be against the aforementioned trio, providing as big an opportunity as it is a challenge.

Vanguard played 22 one-run games last season, finishing 11-11 in those contests. The Lions will look to grind out a better record in those games this season.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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