When the Patriots open their season this Friday, it will mark the 13th season opener for Luther Bramblett as the head coach at St. Catharine College. And, this 13th winter here has left a lot of questions to how Bramblett thinks his Pats will do.
"I like our team a lot," stated Bramblett. "The guys have worked extremely hard this fall and so far in January, but we've been on the field just three times. This weather has been the worst since I've been here and it has made it tough to prepare the way we'd like to."
With the weather being an issue, it's not the only one the Patriot mentor sees. The Patriots have a lack of experience in MSC play, only returning three position players with 80 or more at bats. Leading the way is Adrian Garcia (Anaheim, CA), a NAIA Player to Watch, who will compete for time at third and in the outfield. Garcia batted .341 with 10 doubles and 31 RBI's last year as the shortstop. A pair of first basemen/DH candidates returns for the Pats as well, in Josh Whitmer (Taylorsville, KY) and Eric Standafer (Shelbyville, KY). Whitmer had 9 doubles and 3 homeruns last year, while hitting .229. Standafer had a .289 average with 6 doubles and a homer.
"We dont return a lot offensively," noted Bramblett. "We lost quite a bit off of last year's squad, but we did a good job of replacing those guys. We did however, return quality guys on the mound and thats where most games are won and lost."
The Patriots return 18 wins from last year with Andrew Nelson (Eureka, CA) leading the way. Nelson went 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 61 innings. Trenton Claunch (Burgin, KY) also returns with his 4-0 mark out of the pen. He had a 2.37 ERA in 15 appearances last year. Bruce Tolliver (Whittier, CA) also returns, after going 5-5 with a 3.09 ERA in 55 innings. Cory Klinger (Rushsylvania, OH) led the Pats with 18 appearances last year and went 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
"We have quality experience returning on the mound, both as starters and relievers out of the pen. With what we've brought in, we are excited to see how it goes this spring."
Looking at the new additions to the pitching staff, one could see why Bramblett is optmistic about the Patriots staff. John Werner (Anaheim, CA), Jake McCoy (Mesa, AZ) and Steven Borkowski (San Diego, CA) will all compete for weekend innings. All three of these guys compete well, are durable and throw a lot of strikes. Alex Knowles (Huntington Beach, CA), along with returners Cody Alvey (Upton, KY) and CJ Gant (Louisville, KY) will toss out of the Patriot pen. The wildcard could be lefty Rich Corrente (Chatham, ON), who is coming off Tommy John surgery has has looked good in his pen work.
Behind those guys, Bramblett is excited about the defensive talent they've put together. "I feel like we are more athletic than we ever have been. We run well, have range and strong arms at most every position. We are experienced at most positions and believe that this is the most talent we've had since we went 4-year."
On the infield, the Patriots will rely on red-shirt junior Francisco Gonzalez (San Diego, CA) and Marc Mason (Tehama, CA) at shortstop. Both guys are tranfers and make routine plays. At second base, transfer Alfredo Bohorquez (Maracaibo, Venezuela) will get the first nod. He's the fastest Patriot and may have the best hands on the infield.
Transfer Ty Broady (Greenville, KY) will compete with Garcia at third base. Both guys are athletic, have strong arms and run well. At first base, newcomers Danny Jimenez (Fountain Valley, CA) and Dominique Guevara (Oxnard, CA) will compete with Standafer and Whitmer. Any of those guys may find their way into the DH spot as well. Sophomore Tyler Devine (Harrodsburg, KY) led the Pats in hitting this fall, will fight for time as well.
Behind the plate, the Patriots lack the most experience. Sophomore Drew Kissel (Jeffersonville, IN) will start out as the number one guy. Kissel has worked extremely hard and has earned that spot. Freshman Tyler Steiner (Coral Glades, FL) will be the number two guy and has improved vastly since the fall started. Transfer Eric Walker (Rockford, IL) will compete for time as well.
In the outfield, transfer Nick Rosso (Santa Barbara, CA) leads the way and should start in center field. For the other two positions, a number of guys will compete for time. Garcia and Jimenez could see some time out there. Returner Lamont Calloway (Louisville, KY) played some last year and has improved a lot over the last year. Transfer Harold Diaz (Gurabo, PR) put up good numbers last year and is a possible starter. Eric Donnelly (Coral Springs, FL) and Cody Kollenberg (PeeWee Valley, KY) both have improved and could see some time.
"We have a lot of question marks, but really like the make-up of our team," explained Bramblett. "We have talent, but so does everyone else in our league and on our schedule. With that said, I like the way we've prepared, worked and got along as a team, despite the adverse weather so far this spring."
The Patriots open up on the road for the first two weekends of their season at University of Mobile in Alabama and at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, TN. They open up at home on February 14th.