DAY 17 (Aug. 17): Baseball’s Talent Remains
2012 has seen an unprecedented amount of success for the Azusa Pacific baseball program and its alums. The team won the Golden State Athletic Conference and registered a 47-12 record and earning the right to host the GSAC postseason tournament and NAIA Opening Round.
At the professional ranks the Cougars saw Stephen Vogt and Kirk Nieuwenhuis make their MLB debuts for the Tampa Rays and New York Mets respectively. In the month of August a trio of Cougar hurlers (Brandon Sisk, Jason Ray, and Scott Hodsdon) has been lights out, giving up just a combined two earned runs in 36.1 innings. Sisk hasn’t given up a run since July 22, and has allowed just three hits to go with 13 strikeouts in his last eight innings, while Hodson is coming off a complete game shutout for the El Paso Diablos. There are currently four Azusa Pacific players sitting on the doorstep of the MLB on Triple-A rosters, and 10 Cougars on professional rosters.
“All those guys are players that we’re certainly excited for and fond of. We’re excited for them personally,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “To see them have that level of success is great. It’s a grind, and to be able to compete at that level is a testament to them as players and men.”
The latest editions of the Cougars’ professional pipelines were Alan Garcia and Jordan Leyland, who were selected in in the MLB Draft in June. Garcia, whose 15 saves were an Azusa Pacific record, was chosen by the Dodgers in the 22nd round, while Leyland was the highest drafted Cougar since Nieuwenhuis (3rd round, ’08), being taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 9th round. And while the loss of those two guys will sting, Azusa Pacific’s cupboard is far from empty for the upcoming season.
A year ago Matt Kimmel put together one of the most impressive sophomore campaigns in program history. The center fielder recorded a .438 batting average, while registering a team-high 20 doubles and an Azusa Pacific record 72 singles. He made numerous highlight reel catches in the outfield and finished second on the team in RBIs with 60. His 11 stolen bases paced the team, as did his seven outfield assists, good enough for first team NAIA all-American honors.
“It’s great to know you’re returning a first team all-American in your lineup. It’ll be a great opportunity for the guys hitting around him. He really exceeded expectations and did a great job last year,” said Svagdis.
Last fall Michael Finnigan was a back of the rotation starter, on the fringe of being used out of the bullpen. He, however, solidified himself a spot in the rotation by the season opener and for the first few weeks was the final pitcher in a deep rotation. He eventually became the staff ace, and was the only Azusa Pacific starter named to the all-GSAC team.
Finnigan, who was drafted in 2011 but opted to continue with his education and development, had his decision validated last season. He recorded a 3.07 ERA and a team-high three complete games to go with one of the Cougars’ two shutouts. He compiled a 7-1 record in 85 innings of work, tallied 52 strikeouts and held opposing hitters to a .216 average. This year he comes in as the staff ace, alongside a group of talented pitchers in Jacob Cage, Zach Hedges, and Jason Plowman.
“We’re excited to have him back. He was the ace of the staff and we feel confident every time we give him the ball,” said Svagdis. “He’s succeeded at this level before and hopefully he comes in with a lot of confidence. I think he realizes that each year you have a chance to improve. It’s a great opportunity for him to take the next step.”
Next year Azusa Pacific begins play in the PacWest, in which there will be 10 baseball programs. The 2013 schedule will be released later this fall.