2011 Season Preview
Bullseye on Bellevue Bulldog Baseball’s Back to Start 2011 Season; Strong Finish With Young Squad in 2010 Puts Bellevue Atop Pre-Season Poll
The good news heading into the upcoming 2011 season is the Bellevue College Bulldogs are ranked number one in the NWAACC Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll. The bad news is the same. “Everybody will come out gunning for us. You have nowhere to go but stay or go down when you’re ranked number one in pre-season, but it’s good to help our young guys develop a sense of pride,” says Mark Yoshino, now entering his thirteenth year as Head Coach for the Bulldogs. The position is nothing new to Bellevue, as the squad has been ranked one or two in the pre-season polls for three years in a row now. The program has done a fairly good job at maintaining that reputation; with two NWAACC titles (2007, 2009) and a third-place finish (2010). And in typical fashion, Bellevue will open up the season against the other club that has been right there atop the polls and is the defending NWAACC Champion; Lower Columbia College. Yoshino adds “I like Edmonds, Everett, Mt. Hood, and Yakima as clubs you have to put there at the top as well; they have a ton of guys back and all had good seasons last year. And by no coincidence, I’ve got all of them on our schedule for this year. Lane is another team who not only knocked us out last year, but should contend in 2011 as well; but we ran out of dates for scheduling; if all goes as planned, we may see them at the championships again”
Bellevue typically plays a tough pre-season schedule that includes a season opening set against the perennial contender in Longview, which is not only one of the toughest places to win on the road, but also the site of the end of the rainbow; the NWAACC Championships. This spring’s schedule is no exception and includes a trip to Arizona, where they will play eight games in a four-day stretch before returning home to square off in the league opener at their longtime rival; Edmonds.
Like every pre-season, the coaching staff will utilize it to mix and match and give everyone a good share of playing time. The goal is to get enough looks at each guy before heading into our league opener. With a lot of versatility in the lineup, the coaches are hoping to get as many games in as possible during pre-season. Offensively, “We’ve got a lot of options at the top and middle of the order,” says Coach Kevin Miller, who has been working with the hitters all fall along with the other assistants, Jesse Wight, Nate Santiago, and Mark Potoshnik. Miller summarized the hitters with “They’ve really
The key towards versatility and depth in the lineup this year are the hitters who have the tools to be both top- or middle-of-the order hitters. Players such as Nick Smith, Andy Smith, Cory Urquhart, Dan Schmidt, Chris
Guinn, Marc Dickerson, Zach Aaker, and Kyle Conwell are guys who can be RBI machines in the middle of the lineup or run well enough to be on top. Yoshino adds “Give the players credit; their hard work is what develops them into the multi-dimensional player.” The athleticism development is one of the many trademarks of the baseball program. “Nick Smith, Urquhart, and Schmidt are examples of how guys come in with certain strengths and leave with even more. Smith came in as a pure hitter and is now a 6.8 runner and our top returning base stealer. Urquhart and Schmidt have both been carded by multiple pro clubs when they weren’t even on anyone’s radar out of high school. Urquhart stole more bases last year than he has in his entire
career, and Schmidt’s body has had a complete metamorphosis; he’s lean, strong, and agile. He always had the bat, arm, and the glove. He can play anywhere in the infield now,” notes Yoshino.
Aaker and Conwell are part of the “Tahoma Trio” along with heralded freshman Jerad Casper. Although they are not flashy runners on the stopwatch, both Aaker and Conwell have the cagey mentality on the basepaths to be a threat at the top of the lineup. Given the fact that Conwell popped out six home runs with wood last year at his former college, he’ll likely be in the heart of the order as he was during his freshman campaign. Andy Smith, no relation to Nick Smith, is a prototype left-handed swinging speedster leadoff guy, but has good strength with wood and can also be looked at as an RBI guy. “He’s a physical guy with a squat of 455 pounds and has incredible maturity,” says Yoshino. Guinn and Dickerson are both gamers who seem to step it up in the heat of competition in a special way. “They’ve both been the go-to guys for their high school and summer teams. They thrive under the pressure,” notes Yoshino.
The Bulldogs have a plethora of pure hitters as well that could hit in the middle or even be as low as seventh or eighth in the order on a given day due to the depth of good runners higher in the lineup. Tyler Baumgartner, Colin Hering, and Will Minice are three left-handed bats who will figure prominently in this spring’s lineup. Baumgartner, who was tabbed as “a better pure hitter than his cousin (Drew Vettleston, a supplemental first round pick last year by the Rays)” by three anonymous pro scouts, will be a utility player at second base, left field, and designated hitter. Hering, who sat out last season to build strength after garnering all-state honors after leading Newport HS to the final four in ’09, is reaping the benefits of his physical growth and hard work. He was Bellevue’s most consistent hitter in the fall and played outstanding defense at his new position (first base). Minice, who was a part-timer at third last year, has now made the full transition to catcher and is coming off a hot summer and fall offensively. With a team-leading bench press of 335 lbs, Minice will be a physical presence from the left side in Bellevue’s lineup. Alex Ross, who displays one of the most polished swings from the left side, will be forced to sit out the entire 2011 season with a broken back. He is expected to return with full health in 2012.
Right-handed hitters Tyler Cox, Kyle Johnson, Emmett Niland, and Casper have proven numbers from last season as big-time contributors. Cox is one of the most dependable hitters in the NWAACC, coming off a stellar season. Although primarily a gap hitter with a low strikeout to at-bat ratio, Cox has the man strength to change a game in a hurry, as evidenced by the offensive show he put on at last year’s NWAACC Championships. Johnson, at one time, was the NWAACC leader in RBI’s before going down with a hamstring injury. He was slotted as the cleanup hitter for much of last year. Niland surprised many last year by not only hitting .290 but also by his clutch home run to help eliminate Edmonds in last year’s championships. Known primarily as just a catcher with an arm out of high school, Niland is now bench pressing almost 300 pounds and is showing strength in all facets of the game. Casper, although a freshman, has numbers that anyone needs to consider a fear factor. Popping out 13 home runs last year en route to a prolific senior season, Casper can drive the ball like no other, especially with wood. “The ball comes off the bat a little differently than others,” notes Miller.
Defensively, the Bulldogs’ greatest strength and depth area is where most teams have trouble; veteran catching. With three solid catchers who all have arms and show offensive prowess, the Bulldogs will have the luxury to rest and keep their catchers healthy, without sacrificing any part of the game. “We’ll need to utilize all of them, since two were pretty banged up in the fall season alone,” says Yoshino. “Most college programs have a good defense guy and an offense guy behind the plate. We’ve got good combinations of the two. Cox is a no-brainer to everyone in the league, he hits, he receives, he blocks, he throws, he’s a man amongst boys. Minice has blossomed into a guy with his improved throwing this fall. It’s a simple transfer without any forced effort and is now throwing guys out at second. And as noted earlier, Niland now has game offensively as well as a cannon arm who raises eyebrows with his throws before the game begins. Although he coached him in
high school where there’s limited one-on-one time to work on skills, (Kevin) Miller has done wonders improving Niland’s hitting in the college setting,” notes Yoshino.
The middle infield will feature the athletic Schmidt as the journeyman who is expected to be a regular in the lineup with his versatility at second, third, or shortstop. John Wall is the prototype lefty-swinging second baseman who can run. Baumgartner will play second as well as float to left field. Returning Gold Glove Award winner Urquhart returns at shortstop after floating in between second and short last spring. Johnson, last year’s regular third baseman, Schmidt, and Casper are all viable options at third base. Being in the mix as one of Bellevue’s top pitchers as well, Casper is the lone two-way player who will also pitch. The options at third will ease the ability to put Casper on the mound with his upper 80’s fastball.
The outfield will be anchored by Nick Smith, who has all the tools defensively to play any of the outfield positions at the four-year level, but will be in center field for the Bulldogs. Yoshino adds, “Smith’s value is huge defensively, especially with the departure of sophomores Ian McKay and Ryan Burnett, who covered a ton of ground for us last year.” Dickerson also showed the athleticism to play center field in the fall. Guinn and Aaker are candidates in right field while Andy Smith, Conwell, and Baumgartner will look to take on left field duties.
Pitching appears to be another strength in 2011. The two staples of Bellevue’s pitching staffs in the past; the development of the complete pitcher and bullpen depth, are evident once again in perhaps the most competitive spot on the team. Bellevue returns two starters from last year who are hungry after their final outings last season; right-handers Kyle Swannack and Jake Collier will lead the Bulldog staff this spring after a strong finish with stellar outings last May against eventual champion Lower Columbia. Both have already committed to schools for 2012. Swannack, who will pitch at Washington State University next year, fanned ten in a heartbreaking loss at the NWAACC Championships while Collier, who will pitch at the University of Hawaii next year, tossed a complete-game shutout against the same club two days later. They are both strike-throwers with incredible off-speed put-away pitches to go along with mid-upper 80 mph fast balls that can be spotted at will.
Bellevue returns three left-handers; although the services of Blake Fulghum will have to wait until next season. An all-league relief pitcher last spring, Fulghum is recovering from elbow surgery for an injury that began in his high school days. The other lefties, Casey Bohlmann and Tyler Manke, have escalated near the top of the Bulldog staff, but by different paths. Bohlmann was Bellevue’s go-to guy out of the bullpen last year. He led the team in appearances and had as many innings pitched as some of the starters. Manke, who saw limited action last year, has catapulted himself to a possible starting role after a standout fall season, striking out nearly every hitter he faced against outside and intrasquad competition.
Frank Tassara and Jake Reppert are the only two freshmen left-handers on this year’s staff. Tassara, a member of the prestigious Area Code team, is a competitive southpaw who is sneaky fast and has the ability to dominate at any given time. Reppert, nicknamed “tall drink”, coming in with dimensions of 6’ 5” and weighing only 180 lbs, may be a year or two away from a physical maturation standpoint, but has made tremendous strides mechanically and has enough now to be a winner in the NWAACC.
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