(Photo by Christian J. Stewart, ISN, story by Jonathan Hodgson)
As 2015 has faded into 2016, Griffin Andreychuk has lofty goals after a breakout 2015 that saw him turn heads during the collegiate season, and with the Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League (WCL) during the summer.
Andreychuk became an everyday player at Seattle University (NCAA Div. 1; WAC) as a sophomore in 2015, starting 57 games, after playing in 40 as a freshman.
He has always swung the bat well, hitting .297 in his freshman season, before asserting himself as an impact offensive threat for head coach Donny Harrel and the Redhawks this past season, when he posted a .306 average with four home runs and 42 RBIs while starting at shortstop.
Those offensive exploits earned Andreychuk Second Team shortstop honours on the annual CBN All-Canadian Team.
It’s been a similar story in the summers for the former member of the BCPBL’s Langley Blaze and Nanaimo Pirates. Andreychuk has returned to Vancouver Island after each of his first two collegiate seasons, to suit up for the WCL’s Victoria HarbourCats at Royal Athletic Park (RAP), less than two hours south of his home in Nanaimo.
Andreychuk relishes the opportunity to play in Victoria, and enjoys helping put a spotlight on the baseball talent that Vancouver Island is producing. He also points out that seeing family and the occasional home-cooked meal are privileges that many players do not enjoy in the summer.
In the summer of 2014 for the HarbourCats, Andreychuk hit a solid .271 with a home run and 14 RBI’s while playing in 41 games. The team finished 25-29, good for second in the WCL West division and a three game improvement from their inaugural campaign in 2013.
The following summer, Griffin was fresh off of his breakout sophomore season at Seattle U, and assumed a leadership role in Victoria as one of the more potent offensive threats in the league.
Although limited to 30 games due to arriving late due to final exams at Seattle U, Griffin was second on head coach Graig Merritt’s squad with five home runs, and third with 25 RBIs. Equally impressive was Andreychuk’s .385 average, which led the HarbourCats, and with another forty at-bats would have earned him the WCL batting title.
Defensively, Andreychuk was rock solid, committing just two errors in 30 games at second base.
With that kind of immediate success, one could say it was like he knew what was coming, and that’s because, in a way he did, after playing alongside older brother Cody with the Kelowna Falcons briefly in 2013.
Cody hit .298 with a home run and 17 RBIs in 33 games that summer. The third baseman and outfielder began his college career starring with Vancouver Island Baseball Institute in Nanaimo before transferring to Tusculum College (NCAA Div. 2) in Tennessee.
Recently after graduating high school from Dover Bay Secondary in Nanaimo, Griffin joined his brother, suiting up in a pair of games for the Falcons near the end of the season.
Andreychuk says that experience gave him a preview of what to expect in the WCL,
“WCL competition is tough,” says Andreychuk. “Most players come from good programs and can all show why they are in WCL. The league is littered with NCAA Division 1 guys and the pitching is very similar to what you would get at college. Getting the extra at-bats and reps on the field is great for development.”
Andreychuk’s increased offensive output correlated with another improved HarbourCats squad, which finished with a franchise-best 29 wins and missed the playoffs by just two games.
Though narrowly missing the postseason, the season continued the upward trend for a HarbourCats club that has seen steady growth on and off the field every year since their inception in 2013, with increased win totals each year along with new high water marks for attendance.
The HarbourCats averaged 1,910 fans per game at RAP in 2015, leading the WCL for the second consecutive year.
“RAP is the best place to play in the WCL by far.” Andreychuk says of HarbourCats fans. “The biggest reason is because of the atmosphere the fans create. They make playing home games something special.”
As with any infielder, Griffin always appreciates a good playing surface. He says the turf at RAP in Victoria is the best in the entire WCL, a league that boasts first class facilities like Goss Stadium in Corvallis, WA; home to the WCL’s Corvallis Knights in the summer, and Oregon State University, one of the premier programs in college baseball the rest of the year.
The 2015 Harbourcats’ 29-24 record becomes that much more impressive when you factor in the early season struggles that saw the team sitting at 8-16 entering play on July 6th. A three-game home sweep of the Kitsap Blue Jackets kick started a nine-game winning streak that brought them above .500 to 17-16 and resurrected hopes.
The midseason surge created thrilling baseball the rest of the season for HarbourCats fans, with playoff implications riding on virtually every game.
Andreychuk says the team really settled in during the second half that saw the HarbourCats post a league-best 21-8 record after July 5th.
“I think we got comfortable as a team and we developed a steady line up that produced each night,” he says. “Once the lineup clicked we went on a roll. Guys got hot at the plate as well as on the mound and it really showed in our results in the second half.”
Currently, it looks as if there will be plenty of veteran content on the 2016 team, with a strong core slated to return to Victoria, including key names like outfielders AJ Alcantara (UC Irvine) and PJ Floyd (Sacramento St.), along with pitchers Austin Dondanville (Cal Poly) and Andreychuk’s fellow Nanaimo native, Alex Rogers (North Dakota St.).
Come June, mission number one will be securing that first playoff berth in franchise history, and thanks to a change in the WCL playoff format for 2016, it looks like playoff positions will be on the line virtually from the outset next season, creating even more playoff style baseball for the fans of Victoria.
In 2015, the WCL operated under a three-division alignment in which the three division winners plus the league’s next best record after the full 54-game regular season schedule advanced to the playoffs.
Now in a two-division alignment for the coming season, the schedule will be divided into two 27-game segments, with each division winner of the first half, and then the second half, qualifying for the playoffs.
If one team wins both halves, overall record will be factored in to determine playoff participants.
Now a junior at Seattle University, Andreychuk will be relied upon heavily to help the Redhawks get over a similar hump next spring, after finishing the 2015 season second in the Western Athletic Conference regular season with a 19-8 conference record (31-27 overall), and then losing to Cal St. Bakersfield in the conference championship game by one run.
With another strong spring, Andreychuk could attract interest for the MLB’s June draft, but that is not the focus.
Right now, he has eyes set on returning to Victoria to help make his third summer at RAP a banner year for the HarbourCats.