Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Victoria, BC (ISN) – Coming off their best league record in franchise history with 31 wins and the hosting of the 2015 BC Premier Baseball League (BCPBL) Provincials last August, the Victoria Eagles kick-off their 2016 campaign Saturday at Lambrick Park, in the hopes of bettering their 2015 mark and ultimately competing once again for the 2016 BCPBL League Championship.
Second baseman Lenn Nakatsuka and the rest of the Victoria Eagles will have their eye on the ball in 2016, looking to better their 2015 BCPBL record and compete for their second BCPBL championship. They begin play Saturday at Noon at Lambrick Park against the Parksville Royals (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Eagles will be well poised to repeat their 2015 success, as they return a solid core of award winning players, including 2015 BCPBL Top Offensive Player, Most Valuable Player, First Team All-Star and Canadian Junior National team member Tyler Duncan, 2015 BCPBL Gold Glove Winner and First Team All-Star Kobe Morris, BCPBL Rookie-of-the-Year and First Team All-Star Fynn Chester and Kansas City Royals 2015 Area Code team catcher Lenn Nakatsuka.
2015 BCPBL Top Offensive Player Tyler Duncan will look to match or better his 2015 numbers for the Eagles this season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Also returning from 2015 are speedy lead-off hitter and outfielder Kieran Waters, starting pitcher and first baseman Martin Eckard, relief pitcher Stephen Wade and infielder Dan Rockwell, although Rockwell will be sidelined for the early part of the season as he recovers from ankle surgery.
An offensive threat and top pitcher, Fynn Chester returns to the Eagles for 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Eagles have nicely plugged the loss of ten 2015 graduates with some talented Juniors who make the move up to the big club this season. They include infielders Nate Postle and Parker Swinton, outfielders/pitchers Ethan Tremblay, Colton O’Brien and Brody Stark, catcher Cam Devlin and pitchers Justice Carter and Jacob Potter.
2015 Gold Glove winner Kobe Morris will be a regular feature for the Eagles at shortstop (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Also making the move to the Premier Eagles will be five players jumping up from Bantam AAA who will be double rostered on the Junior Premier Eagles, but will see plenty of time with the senior club. This includes catcher Jayden Wakeham, infielders Cole Mayhew and Andy Weir, pitcher Noah Doorschot and outfielder Luke Seginowich.
Andy Weir is one of a number of 2015 Bantam AAA players that will move up to both the Junior and Premier Eagles squads this season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Fourth-year Manager Anthony Pluta returns along his whole coaching staff, Jay Longpre, Jag Gordoya and Andrew Crowe, and will look to press the right buttons to develop these players, preparing them for the next level while working to get this team back to the Final Four and capture the second PBL Championship in Eagles’ history.
Parker Swinton joins seven other 2015 Junior players who make the jump to the Premier Eagles for 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Offensively, the Eagles hope that centre-fielder Duncan and shortstop Morris can repeat or better their offensive numbers from 2015. Duncan led the Eagles with a .371 average with five home runs, 31 RBIs and 40 runs scored, while Morris was close behind, hitting .316 with a single home run, 32 RBIs and 31 runs scored. Those kind of numbers give the Eagles a pretty solid three and four spot in the lineup and will no doubt score Waters and Nakatsuka, the probable number one and two hitters, quite often. Nakatsuka (with 36) and Waters (with 25) accounted for 61 runs combined last season and had on base percentages of .474 and .421 respectively. Nakatsuka, a .357 hitter in 2015, should also provide some pop at the top of the Eagles lineup.
Kobe Morris, with a .316 average, 32 RBIs and 31 runs scored in 2015, will once again be a formidable offensive threat at the top of the Eagles batting order (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
New additions that can provide some offensive muscle to the Eagles this season include Potter (.371, 13 RBI, 12 R), O’Brien (.355, 14 RBI, 21 R), Tremblay (.344, 19 RBI, 24 R), Carter (.339, 11 RBI, 13 R), Devlin (.338, 15 RBI 18 R) Swinton (.294, 13 RBI, 27 R), Stark (.257, 17 RBI, 18R) and Postle (.288, 5 RBI, 17R) who were the main offensive threats for the Junior Eagles last season, as well as newcomer Wakeham who has shown some promise at the plate so far in the pre-season.
Cam Devlin had a productive offesive year with the Juniors in 2015 and will look to contribute regularly to the Eagles offensive production in 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
On defense, look for Duncan and Waters to see the bulk of playing time in centre and left field respectively, while right field will be manned most likely by a platoon of the likes of Seginowich, Tremblay, O’Brien and Stark.
Look for Kobe Morris (left) and when he is not catching, Lenn Nakatsuka (right) to be mainstays in the middle infield for the Eagles in 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
On the infield, Gold Glove winner Morris looks to have locks on the shortstop position, while Nakatsuka and Rockwell (once he returns from injury) will anchor the second base spot. At the corners, look for Postle, Swinton, Weir and Chester to share time at third base, while Chester, Potter and Eckard are probable to share the bulk of the duties at first.
Three Eagle newcomers who should share time at the hot corner include Andy Weir (left), Parker Swinton (centre) and Nate Postle (right) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Eagles look very strong behind the plate this season and when he is not at second base, it is expected that Nakatsuka, will see the bulk of the playing time there. He will be complemented nicely by Devlin, as well as Wakeham, both of whom were solid in that position during the pre-season tournament two weekends ago.
Along with Lenn Nakatsuka (not pictured) the Eagles are strong behind the plate with the addition of Jayden Wakeham (left) and Cam Devlin (right) (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
On the mound, former pro pitcher Pluta and his bullpen coach Crowe, continue to develop exceptional talent. This season the Eagles will be led by the one-two punch of Chester and Eckard. In winning Rookie-of-the-Year honours in 2015, Chester finished on the hill with a 11-0 record (regular season and playoffs combined) and a 1.41 ERA, the highlight coming in his final game, a 1-hit shutout of Okanagan at the Provincials. Eckard also had a strong 2015, finishing with a 4-2 record and 2.40 ERA in the regular season.
On the mound the Eagles will have 2015 Rookie of the Year Fynn Chester (left) and Martin Eckard (right) as their #1 and #2 starters (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Looking for other spots in the rotation will be the likes of Carter (6-0, 2.50 ERA) or the hard throwing Potter (6-3, 3.03 ERA) who were the aces of the Junior squad last season. Tall left-hander Wade, who is heading to New Mexico Junior College in the fall, is another option, although it’s more likely he will come out of the bullpen, with newcomers O’Brien, Tremblay, Doorschot and Stark also expected to see their share of innings on the hill in various situations.
Hard throwing Jacob Potter, a workhorse for the Juniors in 2015, is a potential third starter for the 2016 Eagles (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The closer role per se is maybe up for grabs, but don’t be surprised to see Morris, who pitched in six games for the Eagles in 2015, step up and play a bigger role in that regard this season.
Justice Carter (left) and Colton O’Brien (right) are two young Eagles that should see their fair share of work on the mound in 2016 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Eagles opening double-header Saturday is against the Parksville Royals and is scheduled to get underway at 12 Noon at Lambrick Park. There will be pre-game festivities beforehand beginning around 11:00 am that include welcoming remarks from Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, BCPBL President Ted Hotzak and other dignitaries, as well as memorial dedications to Reid Kyfiuk, a Saanich youth who lost his life in a snowboarding accident last winter and Larry Feldman, father of former Eagle Brandon Feldman, who lost his battle with ALS in May of last year. Former major league and Victoria Sports Hall of Fame member Bob Burrows will throw out the first pitch and Delaney Marat will sing the National Anthem.
Lefthander Stephen Wade returns to the Premier Eagles for 2016 and should see his fair share of relief innings, but could also see action as a spot starter for the club (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Saturday’s game marks the first of a 48-game league schedule that will then see the Eagles hit the road for games in Abbotsford (Sunday), Langley (April 16th) and Coquitlam (April 17th), before returning home to face the Whalley Chiefs on Sat. April 23rd.
The Eagles will face their crosstown rivals, the Victoria Mariners on four occasions this season, the first at Royal Athletic Park on Thursday June 2nd, as a pre-cursor to the Victoria HarbourCats home opener on June 7th. The Eagles and Mariners then meet again on June 9th and 14th at Henderson Park and July 5th at Lambrick Park.
They will also travel to a number of tournaments, including their annual trip to the GSL College Showcase in Centralia, WA.
For more information on the 2016, visit their website at http://www.victoriaeagles.com