By Karen Boehler
Pecos League writer
HOUSTON — Ask anyone who’s been involved with the Pecos Spring League the past three weeks — coaches, players, maybe even a few fans — and you’ll get an enthusiastic thumbs up regarding its success.
“I’m seeing a lot of talent in this league,” said Sea Lions (and Trinidad) manager J.D. Droddy. “Just far and away more than last year. There are really good pitchers in this league. There are probably eight, nine pitchers in this league who are going to be playing for somebody. And there’s position players. So this is just an excellent league.”
Vaqueros (and expansion Las Vegas) manager Casey Dill is even more passionate.
“I worked this league last year, and I can tell you this is night and day between last year and this year,” he said. “I came here this year not really knowing what to expect, and I think that you’re going to see legitimately 20 to 30 guys get an opportunity to stick throughout the entire season in the Pecos League. And you’ve got a few guys, Edison Alvarez, who’s a legitimate major-league baseball prospect. So you’re looking at us maybe getting a guy in the Spring League who’s going to be in a major league organization once the Pecos League is over. And to say that we’re able to do that out of a four-team spring league in Houston, Texas, I think it’s great for all of us.”
The weather has been good for most of the league — no rainouts, and maybe only two or three days with big winds — and there have been fans stopping by to cheer on the players almost every game.
Those players are just as happy with what they’re seeing.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Sea Lion catcher Phillip Roscoe. “Everybody’s playing real hard and it’s a good time for us to get some work and see some live pitches before the actual season starts. Hopefully get picked up.”
“All these guys who are here are playing their hearts out,” agreed Garden of Gears outfielder Phil Grondin. “These people, they grew up with baseball. They love baseball and obviously they came here to further their interests or further their careers. And every single member of this league is absolutely dedicated to this sport.”
The pitching in the league has been very good. The top pitchers in the Pecos Spring League are better than some top pitchers in the regular Pecos League. Brett Kinsle, Jusef Frias, Edison Alvarez are clearly number one starters in the Pecos League. Jermiah Steinart was in Santa Fe's Rotation last year. The Pecos Spring League is the by far the closest option a free agent player has to playing pro ball. The conditions in this league are very comparable to the actual Pecos League. The actual Pecos League has better hitters and deeper bullpens.
Alpine coach Ryan Stevens could only come to the league for a short time — during spring break — but he also saw solid talent.
“The talent level is pretty high here,” he said. “I’ve zeroed in on about five or six guys that I’d like to take in the draft. I know a couple of guys that I’ve known for a long time. Some of them are very talented. Joe Hicks and I go way back. All the way back to 2008, actually, and I’m very fond of his talents. But regardless, there’s a lot of talent out here and I think Andrew did a great job putting this all together. I think all the coaches have had a great time getting to know each other; getting closer. We’ve all enjoyed spending some time together out here on the field, and we’re ready for the season to start.”
Matt Hunt, who came all the way from Michigan to pitch for the Apollos, said he was glad to get out of the snow and face the competition.
“It’s good. It’s really good,” he said. “I was impressed by it. The first couple of days I thought it was OK, but as the league’s gone on, it’s been really competitive.”
“It’s been good so far,” agreed Vaqueros pitcher Austin Cardin. “I’ve faced ample good hitters out here, and I hope to keep throwing well against them.”
Noting that the coaches are trying to find ways to rig the draft — which is expected to take place shortly after Tuesday’s final games — Pecos League commissioner and Apollo manager Dunn is not surprisingly happy.
“This is not even close to the same event (as 2012),” he said. “Our facilities are better, both at Coastal and South Houston. Our players are better. Everything’s just better. Bigger, stronger, faster. It’s just a better situation and we’ll continue in 2014 as a valiant chance for free agent, undrafted players to get professional jobs and start their careers. And that’s what it’s intended to do.”
And the word “absolutely” is heard again and again when players and managers are asked if they would recommend the league.
“If they’re looking to play in the Pecos League, I absolutely would,” Roscoe said.
“Absolutely. Any opportunity is a good opportunity,” Stevens said. “You want to play professional baseball, you need to go wherever you can.”
“If anybody is serious about pursuing some form of baseball career, some form of baseball beyond the college level, the Pecos League is absolutely where they need to go,” Grondin said. “Obviously, a lot of people get passed over by the big scouts and they just don’t get looked at. If you come to the Pecos League, guaranteed, hands down, from what I’ve seen so far, if this is how the league is actually running, this is professional baseball. It’s a phenomenal experience for any young man who’s looking for a challenge, but is also looking to grow. Because the Pecos League is all about growing and moving to the next level.”
The Pecos Spring League will wrap up with a pair of games at Coastal Ballpark Saturday, games Monday at Coastal and Cristy Field, and a final pair Tuesday at Coastal.