The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Spring baseball preview
Panthers starting pitcher Nate Berumen throws a fastball during the second inning of an intrasquad game Jan. 30. Jake Patrick Donahue | Sports Editor | [email protected]
City College’s Matt Caselli lays down a bunt during an intrasquad game Jan. 30. Jake Patrick Donahue | Sports Editor | [email protected]

With a new season of Panther baseball getting underway this month, Panther fans can expect considerable improvements in the batter’s box while a depleted pitching staff and a young infield leave questions about the team’s prospects, according to head coach Derek Sullivan.

With all three members of last year’s starting rotation—Dan Sayles, Mat Maher, Ben Brooks— having moved on to four-year schools, young players in some key positions and a head coach going in to his second year, City College’s baseball team is in a transition period, but has managed to put a team together that is strong enough to be ranked No. 11 in the state in pre-season polls.

Head coach and former Panther infielder Derek Sullivan took over last year for former head coach Andy McKay—now with the Colorado Rockies organization—who coached the team for the previous 14 seasons. Sullivan had been an assistant under McKay for eight of those years and a player for three.

“It’s a great opportunity for me [to be the head coach],” said Sullivan. “It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do.”

A graduate of St. John’s University in New York, Sullivan describes himself as intense but said he also likes to allow players their individuality and not be overly authoritarian in his coaching style.

“I’m fairly relaxed, I like to let guys do their thing and allow guys to be who they are, I think that’s a very important piece in this day and age,” said Sullivan. “But we have certain expectations; you’re here to work and be prepared and be committed while you’re here.”

Last year’s season ended in disappointment for the Panthers, who—after a late-season run earned them a playoff berth—were eliminated after just two games in the post-season. Sullivan is optimistic about his team’s chances to improve on last season’s shortcomings.

“We have higher standards here, and we expect to go deep [in to the playoffs],” said Sullivan. “If we avoid injury and stay healthy, we’ll be in the hunt at the end.”

The Panthers will likely fill this year’s rotation with the top performers from last year’s bullpen. Grant Yost was the team’s best reliever last season with a 3.75 ERA and a 4-3 record in 20 appearances. Nate Berumen figures to take the top spot in the rotation though, according to Sullivan, who said he likes what he’s seen from the right-handed sophomore so far this winter.
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With an entirely new starting rotation on the mound, the Panthers will rely on the offense to take some of the pressure off the pitching staff. Last year’s three, four and five hitters—Jerrod Bravo, Jared James, and Robby Link—will all return to the lineup this year, which Sullivan says will allow the Panthers to become a very potent team on offense.

“We’re going to be more offensive, and we’re going to score more runs,” said Sullivan. “I think [the offense] will be able to carry us at times this year.” Bravo, who batted .375 last season, was named a pre-season all-American and will look to improve on a solid year in which he led the team in batting average and RBIs (25).

James, whose father was a major leaguer, was also named to the pre-season all-American team and looks primed for a breakout season in 2014, according to Sullivan. James hit .340 with 16 RBIs in 2013.

“He enjoys playing the game, he’s got a nice swing, and he runs fast. He’s an exciting player to watch,” said Sullivan.

While the Panthers offense looks poised for a productive year, defensive play seems a potential Achilles’ heel for the team, with freshmen infielders a specific concern.

“We’re young at some key positions in the infield,” said Sullivan. “I would say defense would be our biggest question mark right now.”

As a former player and assistant coach at City College, Sullivan said he knows the school and fan base have high expectations for this team coming off a disappointing season last year.

“[Last year] was subpar for Sac City standards,” said Sullivan. “This is a great program, and it always has been. It has a high level of success and very high standards and expectations.”

The Panthers start off the season with four games on the road, including a three-game series with Fresno City College. Their home opener will feature a match-up against the Butte College Roadrunners on Feb. 20 with first pitch coming at 5 p.m. from Union Stadium.

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