The Visalia Rawhide are looking for a trifecta–hoping to win their Division title again for the third consecutive year.
Head Coach JR House returns this season following last year’s 84-56 record, the best in the California League. The former major league catcher found coaching a natural fit for him and looks forward to another successful year in Visalia.
“There’s a little familiarity, so I can go right into it and pick up here where I left off,” he said.
The team has a lot more Latin flavor this year, House said, including returning player Domingo Leyba, who the D-Back organization picked up in December, 2014 from the Detroit Tigers. The 20-year-old second baseman is an early run leader for the team.
There are a few other returning players, but for the most part, it is a young team, House said.
“It is their first time at this level,” he said, “but I am familiar with most of them.”
House has worked with many of the players either in other divisions or forms of training, including this year’s spring training.
“There is a lot of chemistry in the clubhouse,” he added.
And the team is off to a good start, earning many come-from-behind wins, putting many numbers up in the winning column and few in the loss category.
“You never have to recover from a good start,” House said. “These guys are very comfortable being comebackers – now, if we can just get runs off their starters.”
To date, the Rawhide have only played Bakersfield, San Jose and Stockton. They begin play in Rancho Cucamonga Thursday, and play Modesto at home starting on Tuesday, April 26.
Three of last year’s players are now with Big League teams, he said. Some of this year’s team could be called up through the ranks this year, or by next season.
“We try to help influence for that direction,” he said.
That is the position of the minor leagues.
“We have a lot of talent,” he added.
Included in that talent are many pitchers on staff. Not everyone is a starter, but at this level coaches try to help them develop more pitches, providing more potential and talent. Starters should have at least three pitches, House said, many in the bullpen only currently have two.
This year’s starters thus far include first-year starter Ethan Elias, returning pitchers Lucas Irvine, Miller Diaz and Blake Perry, and new to the team this year, Josh Taylor.
Coach House returns with three new coaches accompanying him this year. The addition of a fourth coach for all affiliated teams is new. The coaching staff includes former D-Back and Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Bajenaru as pitching coach, Vince Harrison as batting coach and bench coach Javier Colina. All worked with D-back affiliated teams last year.
Having a fourth coach is a great addition, House said, especially with Colina, a native of Venezuela, who is a great role model and has developed a great bond with the Latin players, House said.
“The great thing about Visalia is that the community takes in all of the players,” House said.
And some of the staff as well, as House again this year is living with a host family.
“The affiliates here have really done a good job of preparing for us,” House said, with new carpeting and fresh paint in the clubhouse. “They do a good job.”
But one thing about Visalia, while comfortable so far, the temperatures are bound to heat up.
“Then we back down on the work load,” House said.
Batting practice may take place under the cover in the cages, instead of on the field, and the time spent there may be cut down to conserve energy. But, it all depends on where the team is at and who needs to put in work.
The Rawhide open at home against the Modesto Nuts on Tuesday, April 26 at 6pm. For tickets and more information, see rawhidebaseball.com or call 732-4433.