In his second season as Bobcat coach, Robert Valdez likes his team’s chances of repeating as a playoff team in 2010. He just needs a few no-name guys to become name players before the year is through.
Edinburg lost a handful of great kids to graduation, foremost among them the pitching/OF duo of Bubba Anthony and Austin Casas, who combined to win 17 games and fan 165 hitters in 2009. So as Valdez surveys the scene for the latest campaign, he knows that the half-dozen people he has been running out to the mound in pre-season are going to have big shoes to fill.
“These guys will have chances to show what they can do before we get into district,” he said Wednesday night. “We need some pitching after losing two really good ones from last year, but I think we have some guys who are going to help in that area.”
The Cats lost their first scrimmage to Edcouch-Elsa, pounded McAllen Memorial 10-5 next, and then were bested by a very fine McAllen High outfit. They scrimmaged at Hidalgo against the Pirates and Rio Grande City Saturday as the baseball season got rolling earnest.
At the front of the long line of applicants seeking steady mound work, one can find a sophomore, Sammy Alvarado, who comes to the team from Econ where he was one of the Jags’ most promising hurlers in some time.
“Sammy’s biggest thing is, last year he was The Man over with the Jags,” explained Valdez. “Now, with us, I think he has a little more support behind him, so we want him to relax…he doesn’t have to take everything on himself.”
Another ex-Jag, Lee Rios, could be one of the keys to the year for Edinburg; he hit .380 in 50 at-bats as a junior part-timer, and logged 27 innings on the hill. He’ll play second base when not pitching and the ‘Cats are hoping for a big year from him.
Another senior infield starter, J.J. Balderas, worked on his pitching during the summer and fall leagues, and will attempt to fill a rotation slot. He hit .225 last year but was a good fielder at the hot corner. A wild card in the pitching situation could be Mario Lamas, yet another Econ transfer who is vying for innings as an athletic left-handed option.
In 2010, the ‘Cats will have a bunch of ‘Cats shuttling back and forth between positions on the diamond. A pair of former JV stars will man outfield posts and also pitch. In juniors Ricky Vazquez and Joe Munoz, Valdez has two kids who are looking to make the grade on the highest level.
“A lot of our guys have struggled in the outfield because they lack varsity experience,” the coach said. “The ball comes at you a lot faster than they’re used to. But both those guys, well, they were No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers on the JV, so we expect them to come up and help us.”
In that young outfield, the veteran hand is Christian Alvarado, a potent lefty swinger who batted .356 with 19 RBI for the club last year. He has been hampered by an ankle injury, however, and has not yet been cleared to play.
“He’s going to be behind when he comes back,” Valdez admitted. “God willing we get him cleared toward the end of the month so he can work his way back in. Christian is a real offensive catalyst for us and he’s a good defensive player. We really need him in there but we don’t want him to rush it and end up having that ankle be a lingering thing all year long.”
The Bobcats should be set at first base, with seasoned Carlos Pena, and short, with returning starting second baseman Derrick Soza (.333 in 2009) moving over a spot. Those two will seek to take a more vocal role as team leaders this season.
Look for football star Jeremy Salinas in the outfield mix, though he has not played the game in two years. Valdez says he could be a pleasant surprise. EHS will debut a couple of catchers to replace departed team sparkplug Spanky Rodriguez, including Aldo Zamora and last year’s backup Jacob Rodriguez. The man who hits best in the tournaments should forge ahead in the battle for playing time.
Right now, the Bobcats are learning their new personnel and trying to find team chemistry. Valdez has stressed that his new guys have a lot to live up to, and he feels this is a good thing.
“I am telling them about the tradition and the expectations around here, they are always high,” commented the skipper. “If we can embrace that and continue to get better game by game, we should be right in there as far as the district race is concerned.”