Bevy of arms lead Sweets into new season

The onion hats are back, with J.C. Biagi again at the helm of the Walla Walla Sweets as he talks with his players on the field at Borleske Stadium during practice Tuesday.  Opening day will be against the Bend Elks on Wednesday.

The onion hats are back, with J.C. Biagi again at the helm of the Walla Walla Sweets as he talks with his players on the field at Borleske Stadium during practice Tuesday. Opening day will be against the Bend Elks on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff Horner.

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Walla Walla Sweets media day

The Walla Walla Sweets baseball club held its annual media day Tuesday at Borleske Stadium.

The Walla Walla Sweets baseball club held its annual media day Tuesday at Borleske Stadium.

WALLA WALLA — Early June is always a busy time for the Walla Walla Sweets organization.

With the West Coast League college wood-bat baseball season beginning tonight when the Bend Elks come to Borleske Stadium, Sweets manager JC Biagi and his coaching staff got their first real look at their 2013 players Sunday night.

They had a full-fledged practice Monday, got together Tuesday, and it’s time for the new season.

While the Sweets have a large group in town ready for the start of the season, Biagi is still trying to determine just what those players can do.

“We’ll have 24 guys on opening night, plus or minus one or two,” Biagi said Tuesday. “So numbers-wise, we’re in good shape.”

This opening week, with six or seven players still occupied playing college ball, will go a long way in allowing Biagi to set his lineup.

“We got the opportunity to see guys’ bats off live pitching and evaluate what we’ve got,” Biagi said of the practices. “This time of year, you’re basing everything off what you see on paper and a couple practices. As the season moves forward, we’ll get into games and see where guys fit within the team. We’re excited to get it fired up!”

Biagi does have his starters on the mound for the opening series against Bend identified. Tonight, fans will see Jonathan Harris, a 6-foot, 4-inch right hander from Missouri State.

“He looks good,” Biagi said. “He’s going to be a low-90s guy. He’s got a good slider and breaking ball, and had a great start this spring.”

On Thursday, expect to see Ball State’s Chris Lovejoy on the mound. The 6-6 lefty “didn’t throw a ton during the spring, but comes from a good program,” Biagi said.

And Friday, Gonzaga’s Taylor Jones brings all 6-foot-7 of himself to the Sweets’ mound.

“He’s got all the stuff you look for in a quality pitcher,” Biagi said.

After those three pitchers, Biagi said this weekend’s non-league games against the Seals from San Francisco will help determine the rest of the rotation.

“Pitching is going to be a strength,” he said. “We have depth and quality. As we kind of get through this series with Bend and the two non-leaguers, we’ll assess where we’re at and see where we are.”

The Sweets then have a couple days off before they begin a six-game road trip to Klamath Falls and Medford next Wednesday.

“When we get back at it in Klamath Falls, we’ll have a little better idea of what our rotation will look like,” Biagi said.

Walla Walla products on the roster include pitchers Drew Christina and Jake Campeau.

In the field, Biagi says he still has many options, but mentioned Walla Walla Community College product Jarod Gonzales and Washington State’s Matt Mendenhall as fighting it out at first base.

In the outfield, a young group is led by WCL veteran Spencer O’Neil, who returns for his third season in the league and is coming off a 2012 season when he hit .259 with eight doubles, a triple and led the Sweets with five home runs and 34 RBIs in 170 at-bats. He was selected by fans to play in the WCL All-Star game.

“He had a great season last year,” Biagi said. “He has a little bit of power, and is very familiar with the league.”

The Sweets’ skipper said this time of year is always exciting.

“We spend the spring keeping an eye on incoming players,” Biagi said. “And finally they’re here, and some are bigger, some are faster (than on paper), and it’s good to put faces to the numbers you’ve been following through the spring. That’s always a really good thing for us.”

And optimism always abounds as the new season approaches.

“It’s a well-rounded group,” Biagi said of the 2013 Sweets. “We have some versatility, and we haven’t had this kind of speed. But where they fit in the lineup, we’re not sure yet.

“The staff has put a lot of effort into getting ready to go for the season, and fans are ready to show up at the ballpark and cheer the boys on,” he said. “It’s always an exciting time of year!”

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