Jaguars hope to build off of breakout season

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Eight seniors graduated from the most successful baseball team in Valencia's four-year history. The Jags left every emotion on the field in the Class 4A semifinal loss to Miyamura.

But you won't see Jag coach Carlos Carrasco using the wrong 'r' word.

"This is not a rebuilding year," said Carrasco, noting that the cupboard is not bare. "We would like to say that we are doing the job throughout the program, and we are just reloading."

Valencia starts the season with a trip to Artesia for a doubleheader set to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 2. The Bulldogs were a state quarter-finalist last season.

The first home contest is against Class 5A power Cleveland under the new lights at the Jaguar home field. It will be the first game played at night in the Jags' history.

"It should be a great experience," said Carrasco. "We don't know how it will affect us until we get a game in under the lights. It is something we will have to adjust to."

Gadsden, Rio Grande, Moriarty and the Piedra Vista tournament are a part of Carrasco's attempt to beef up the Jaguars' schedule. The District 6-4A field of teams isn't too shabby, either.

Nowhere is the reloading more evident than the pitching staff. Jorge Venegas, Robert Carrasco, Cody Koontz and Joe Salas accounted for 20 pitching decisions last year.

But the Jags are not lacking for arms this year, although senior Cade Garcia (4-1 in 2012) will not be able to pitch due to an injury.

Garcia might be limited somewhat in the field due to the injury, but will see time at either first base or designated hitter. Garcia is the best returning hitter, with a .357 average, 13 runs and 14 RBI last season.

Junior Josh Baca (0-1) is the only returning pitcher with a decision in the previous year.

Junior Anthony Gonzales will help anchor the pitching staff, along with Baca and left-hander Landon Moya. When Gonzales is not on the mound, he will play a pivotal role in the infield at shortstop.

Carlos Ramirez, a speedy sophomore, is expected to start at third base and can play the outfield. He is also expected to challenge for a pitching slot, as is Cade's younger brother, Garret.

Tyler Klein, who is the returning second baseman, can also pitch. Klein hit .255 last year with four runs and six RBI.

Garret Garcia and Daniel Barela will vie for the catching duties and both can pitch. Both are sophomores.

Returning senior Chris Waltman will play one of the outfield positions. He caught last year, so he is ready to step in to that role, as well. Waltman hit .333 last year with nine runs and six RBI.

Ryan Garcia will play the outfield and returns a .349 average at the plate with 10 runs and seven RBI. He hit three triples, and homered in the Jags' emotional state quarterfinal win over St. Pius.

Sophomore Brice Proctor is a solid option at first base in his first year with the varsity.

The Jags will get a lot of help from several more sophomores. Moya, Jose Galaviz and Cade Guthrie are all contributing.

"We are young and we are going to rely on the running game and pitching," said Carrasco, the only varsity coach the program has ever had. "It is a good thing we are still using the wood bats. It helps a team like ours that plays small ball and does not rely on power and home runs to score."


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.