Victoria Eagles Manager Anthony Pluta is aware that winning back-to-back BC Premier Baseball League Championships is going to be a tough challenge, but one that his young 2014 Premier Eagles squad will be more than up to facing.
"Last year will certainly be a tough act to follow," notes Pluta, " but I think this year is going to be lots of fun. We have four of what I feel are the best Grade 10s in the city, plus some key returning guys, and they all have a ton of confidence."
Much to Pluta's pleasure, that confidence, especially among his pitching staff, came through during the Eagle's first pre-season games of 2014, when they held a hard-hitting visiting Calgary Blues squad to just a single run in 14 innings of play, winning by scores of 4-1 and 1-0 back on March 22nd.
For Pluta, seeing all of his pitchers work effectively so early in the season was an optimistic sign, especially given the turnover from his 2013 BCPBL Championship winning team. No less than 12 players have now moved on, including key hurlers Brett Hull, Kurt Horne, Jason Heckl, Brandon Feldman, Eric Hegadoren and Tony Ebbs-Canavan, not to mention the slick fielding Vinny Martin and fellow infielder Mitch Hawkins, outfielders Will Wild, Kyle Murai and RJ Forbes and catcher / third baseman Gobind Sall.
As such, Pluta will be counting on the likes of returning ace Riley Edmonds, as well as Ethan Skuija and the highly touted Martin Eckard to be big performers on the mound for the club this season. "Riley and Ethan, who started the Championship game for us last season, will likely by my #1 and #2 starters this year, with Eckard and Adam Bontkes, who was in the pen last year, also seeing their fair share of starts. We have a bunch of other players who can take the mound as well, so I have a lot of confidence in my pitching staff this season."
Those other arms in the Eagles bullpen include the likes of Kobe Morris, Tyler DeMan, Stephen Thorton, Karsten Waters, Dallas Patterson, Drew Davidoff, Brendan Turcotte, Noah Brasset and Evan Smith. All will benefit from the tutelage of Pluta – a former pro pitcher himself – as well as that of Pitching Coach Roy Moretti who joins the Eagles this season after spending the last few years in the Nanaimo Pirates organization.
The Eagles will also be buoyed this season by the return of Sam Stevenson who missed all of last season after an injury to his knee. "Sam will bring some power to our lineup and he will be our main guy at catcher and bring some stability there for us, especially with our young pitching staff," noted Pluta. Taking some of the load off Stevenson behind the plate will be Tyson Abbott, who moves up to the Premier team after spending 2013 with the Junior squad.
Other defensive positions are up for grabs this season notes Pluta, especially second and first. "Those spots are open and we are going to have a few guys compete for those spots." Alex Hendra-Brown played a few games at second thus far this spring and has acquitted himself nicely in that spot, although it is anticipated he will see also see a fair share of time in centrefield, a spot he has played well in the past.
At first, Karsten Waters, Cade King and Stephen Thorton shared the first base duties early in the pre-season and are all expected to see time there early in the season, as will Brendan Turcotte until a number one candidate emerges.
On the other side of the infield, it looks like Zane Takhar will be the starting shortstop as he played there regularly in 2013, and has seen regular duty there in the 2014 pre-season. Pluta will have a number of choices for third base as well, given that Kobe Morris and Brasset both saw time there in pre-season play.
In the outfield, the speed of Ben Goertzen and Alex Hendra-Brown will be definite assets, while others like Kieran Waters, DeMan, Patterson, Tyler Duncan, Davidoff, Turcotte and Karsten Waters will be more than capable to fill in as needed.
Offensively the 2014 Eagles will be hard pressed to match the power numbers put up last season by the likes of 2013 PBL leading hitter Brandon Feldman and hard-hitting Vinny Martin, but the bat of a healthy Stevenson in the middle of the line-up should make up for some of that and a trio of left-handed hitters like Tyler Duncan, Kobe Morris and Kieran Waters, plus speedsters like Goertzen, Hendra-Brown and Takhar will certainly provide some challenges for opposing pitchers and defences to contend with.
Pluta and his coaching staff – Jay Longpre, Jesse Blackstock, Charlie Strandlund, Moretti, Justin Gibson and Mitch Davidoff – are looking forward to working with this young team this season.
" I'm excited and I know we are ready to go," said Pluta. "Our guys have lots of potential and they are all great athletes. We are deep in pitching, with lots of speed, and I think that gives us a great chance to win back to back titles."