Identifying and successfully recruiting quality players has never been a problem for Marcus McKimmy and the Yakima Valley Pippins.
But there is a third, equally important, piece in that equation that the Pippins — and almost every other summer league team — have to deal with but is completely out of the their control.
Things like injuries and over-use in the college season or summer school also factor into how much a player will contribute, if at all.
Yakima Valley has, for the most part, avoided heavy damage in that regard, although last season was a good example of how it can impact a team, with several players the Pippins were counting on to play key roles being unable to do so or only in a limited capacity.
But McKimmy believes last summer was an “atypical dynamic” which is why he didn’t change his approach, still seeking out quality players from successful programs, even if they arrive after the season has started.
“We always seem to find ourselves in that predicament, but we usually end up with strength in numbers,” said McKimmy, adding there’s a pretty simple reason why he won’t change his philosophy.
“Those types of players are used to winning ... and don’t like to lose. That goes a long way in the clubhouse and in the dugout,” he said. “We could over-recruit, but I don’t want to do that, so we have to deal with these other challenges.”
As for this summer, McKimmy expressed confidence that the flow of players to the Pippins will be quicker and smoother than last season, although the numbers will be lighter these first couple of weeks as players finish up school or postseason play.
Yakima Valley took just 18 players to Ridgefield but McKimmy expects that to jump into the twenties for the home-opening series against Wenatchee starting Friday, and he expects to be at or close to full strength by the time the team returns home for a series against Kelowna starting on Monday, June 17.
One clear advantage Yakima Valley has over last summer is that there is already a solid core of players here that will be counted on to make an impact, McKimmy said.
“I’m very excited about this group,” he said.
Among the pitchers McKimmy spoke highly of on Monday, prior to YV’s season-opening series at the expansion Ridgefield Raptors, were two who had a big hand in the Pippins’ 4-3 win in the opener.
Left-hander Dylan Barkley threw six solid innings and righty Joe Magrisi struck out the side in the ninth to earn the save.
Others he mentioned include the only two returners from last season’s team — right-hander Hunter French and left-hander Jack Gonzales — along with Scott Youngbrandt and Darius Garcia.
“We have quite a few pitchers that haven’t thrown a lot of pitches this spring, so they’ll have their coming-out party here,” he said.
Offensively, two players McKimmy singled out have already had a quick impact — first baseman Daniel Cipriano, who won the GNAC Triple Crown this spring for Montana State Billings, and infielder Jack Lew.
In the first two games, Cipriano went 5 for 9 with a run and three RBI, including a go-ahead double in the opener and a go-ahead two-run homer the next night. Lew, meanwhile, went 4 for 9 with two doubles, a run and three RBI.
Also mentioned were Josh Hahn, a power hitter, infielder Owen Cobb, catcher Spencer Bramwell and, of course, Davis High product and Stanford-bound Henry Gargus, who is expected to be in uniform against Wenatchee.
“He (Gargus) has a ton of vision of what he wants to do with his baseball goals and his education,” McKimmy said, adding that it’s nice to have a local player on the roster. “I feel we’ve built a pretty strong brand in the community but without a shadow of a doubt, I know we’re more popular with Henry Gargus on the team. He’s a quality person and his parents are quality people.”
McKimmy added that he’s looking forward to coaching Gargus over the next couple of months, saying, “He pushes our staff. He knows this will be a challenge for him, facing better pitching, but he also knows this is a benefit for him moving forward. He relishes the opportunity to be pushed.”
That’s why those are the types of players McKimmy will continue to seek out — even if he ultimately has to wait a little longer to start working with some of them.
“I’m excited,” he said, “because these guys bring the juice and that motivates me and my coaching staff.”