Budget cuts have pared Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli’s staff to the point that he is sometimes the only non-player in uniform at a Pirates’ practice.
But if he is looking for familiar companionship in his 21st season at the OCC helm, the 2012 Orange Empire Conference Coach of the Year may have only his four remaining veteran assistant coaches with whom to turn.
That is because the wave of success that included the Pirates’ first outright OEC title since 1987, a 37-7-1 record that forged the program’s best winning percentage since 1957, and a trip to the four-team state championship tournament in 2012, also washed away all but four roster holdovers.
Five of last year’s players went on to the professional ranks, while more than a handful of others are now competing at four-year college programs.
In addition to an appreciative nostalgia about last year, in which OCC held the No. 1 ranking in one national poll for most of the season, the personnel void creates confusion about this year’s lineup, let alone the team’s overall prospects in a 2013 season that begins Friday at Cuesta College.
“It’s a whole new group and it has been interesting, to say the least, trying to get that trust going on,” said Altobelli, who was also named the Orange Empire Conference Male Coach of the Year for all sports in 2011-12. “These guys are testing me and I’m testing them. Hopefully, they will figure it out sooner than later.”
Altobelli identifies pitching as the key to success this season and while Dallas Draveczki is the only returner from last year’s mound corps, Altobelli said he believes the Pirates boast superior pitching depth to a staff that crafted a cumulative 1.87 earned-run average last spring.
“Last year we had four or five really quality guys, then we had a big drop-off,” Altobelli said. “This year, we have depth.”
Draviczki was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 31 2/3 innings as a freshman, when he made six starts and nine appearances. He is slated to be the No. 3 starter this season, as Hawaii bounce-back Kyle Dowdy and Evan Porcella, a freshman out of El Modena High, open the season as Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, Altobelli said.
Draviczki (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and Dowdy (6-2, 220) are typical specimens on a pitching staff that averages nearly 6-3 and has seven players who weigh more than 200 pounds.
“We look good in the uniform getting off the bus,” Altobelli said with a smile. “I know size doesn’t really matter in baseball, but I think it helps a little bit.”
Altobelli said David Longville, a 6-3, 220-pound sophomore bounce-back from Hawaii, sophomore Vanguard University transfer Spencer Moran, freshman lefty Jason Broussard (6-4, 215) and freshman Sean Leary (6-3, 215) are additional options on the bump.
Garrett Hartwell (6-4, 195), who played at OCC in 2011, adds left-handed punch to fellow southpaws Porcella and Broussard, while Brian Bass (6-4, 190), a freshman who redshirted last season at Saddleback College, is a side-arming reliever who just might give hitters fits.
Hartwell was 3-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings in 2011, while sophomore Cory Davis (2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 innings in 2011) has also returned.
Moran was 1-2 with an 8.78 ERA in 13 1/3 innings at Vanguard last season, while Leary pitched just one inning at Pepperdine in 2012.
Altobelli also mentioned freshman Joe Reta and freshman two-way player Jacob Hill as others who could contribute from the rubber.
“If we want to be successful, we have to keep the [opponents’] runs down, because I don’t know how many runs we’re going to score,” said Altobelli, whose team hit .302 and averaged nearly seven runs per game last season.
Danny Jiminez, a sophomore transfer from Irvine Valley College, is the most proven offensive commodity in the infield. The starting first baseman hit .302 with one home run, 18 runs batted in and 12 extra-base hits as a freshman for the Lasers. Altobelli said Jiminez, who posted a .986 fielding percentage in 2012, is also valuable with the glove.
Sophomores Ricky Navarro and Manny Argomaniz, both returners, are set to open at second base and shortstop, respectively. Navarro hit .184 with two RBIs in 38 at-bats last season, while Argomaniz hit .208 with three RBIs in 24 at-bats.
Andrew Alvarez, a sophomore transfer from Pepperdine, was slated to start at third base, but a nagging ailment in his throwing shoulder threatens to sideline him for the season, Altobelli said. With Alvarez unable to throw the ball across the diamond, Altobelli said he will turn to freshman Anthony Virgen at the hot corner.
Justin Broussard, who hit .310 with 11 RBIs and 13 extra-base hits in 116 at-bats as a freshman infielder, is academically ineligible, Altobelli said.
Altobelli said four outfielders have all distinguished themselves, though he will likely open Friday with sophomore returner Zack Nehrir in left field, freshman Cody Bruder in center and freshman Austin Saenz, who redshirted at Cal State Fullerton last season, in right.
Nehrir hit .209 with four RBIS in 43 at-bats as a freshman last season, while Bruder prepped at Santiago High in Corona.
Freshman Christian Salina is also in the outfield mix after hitting .338 with three homers and 21 RBIs as a senior at Capistrano Valley High in 2012.
Saenz hit .495 with 51 hits, three homers and 25 RBIs as a senior at Mission Viejo High in 2011. He also had 12 doubles and a slugged .699.
There’s a four-player logjam behind the plate, where Wichita State bounce-back Tucker Chadd is among three freshmen contending for playing time.
Sophomore Steve Pollakov is a transfer from Rochester University where he hit .179 with six RBIs in 39 at-bats last season.
Freshmen Jake Toll-McKillop and Christian Fillingame are also in the catching mix. Toll-McKillop hit .478 in 67 at-bats with 17 RBIs last season at Terra Linda High in San Rafael.
Altobelli said infield backups include freshman Greg Espinosa (shortstop), freshmen Cooper Michelson and Taylor Grace (second base), as well as freshman Chris Iriart and Hill (first base, designated hitter).
Espinosa hit .400 in 90 at-bats last season at Yucaipa High. He had 10 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 10 doubles.
OCC’s home opener is Feb. 9 against Long Beach City College, while the Pirates begin conference play at home against Golden West on Feb. 28.