One thing coach Carlos James believes about his third Arkansas-Pine Bluff baseball team is that the talent level is better.
“I guess, to be expected, in our third year, we got — what most coaches would say — your own players in that you recruited,” James said. “This will be the first year for that. The talent level is much better. The baseball IQ is a lot higher.”
That could help the Golden Lions get over the hump after a season of many close calls against bigger-name teams and a disappointing run in the SWAC. UAPB finished 8-38-1 last season, dropping three games to Power-Six conference teams by two runs or less and finishing the year on a six-game losing streak.
“Not only do I think the talent level we have is better this year, the team as a whole has a better chemistry than last year’s team,” senior second baseman Cody DeMera said.
James also cited a “drop-off” in talent from one player to another as a factor in the Lions’ struggles. The leading hitter last year, Sean Samsa, batted .297, and only eight Lions hit better than .200.
DeMera, one of only five returnees from last year’s team, is the Golden Lions’ returning leading hitter (.241 batting average with three home runs and 17 RBI). He and Jacob Whitney, a senior first baseman/outfielder, started in each of their appearances last year.
Redmond Floyd, now a junior right-hander, had the best ERA among UAPB pitchers who made 10 or more appearances (3.69), but was 1-3. The next best ERA was a 5.04 from a player with the only winning record (4-3).
James loaded up this year’s roster with 16 junior-college transfers and only three freshmen. He has three players from Arkansas, juniors Grant Glass and Patrick Phillips of Taylor (who both came from North Arkansas College) and freshman Mike Ludwig of Heber Springs. He’s had to build his team with only four scholarships to divide up, while other SWAC teams, he said, have more than 10 to work with.
Now UAPB is deeper in the pitching staff with 12. Junior transfers Kyle Schwartz, Jim Pfloeger, Jaron Gold and Mikey Ramirez are expected to be the top three pitchers in the rotation, with returning senior lefty Stanten Jones possibly looking at the No. 5 starting role, according to James.
The coach is high on Pfloeger and another junior transfer, shortstop Isias Alcantar, both of whom will play summer ball in the prestigious Cape Cod League in Massachusetts. Pfloeger, from the Netherlands, was the player of the year in his conference last year while at Laney College in California. Alcantar, from Alameda, Calif., was his teammate at Laney.
Ramirez, from Pico Rivera, Calif., was considered the top player in the rotation, but suffered a stress fracture in his foot and is not expected to be available until after the opening series.
James said his probable starting lineup for opening day, which is Feb. 15 at home against North Dakota State, includes: junior center fielder Dwayne Hysmith of Mesquite, Texas; freshman Dylan Calhoun of Pell City, Ala.; junior outfielder Warren Stehn of Fort Worth; senior Whitney of Alamo, Calif.; senior DeMera of Pleasanton, Calif.; Alcantar; third baseman Phillips; and either junior Mike Weiland of Rock Island, Ill., or junior Tyler Oertle of San Jose, Calif., at catcher.
“We’re probably 11 or 12 deep as far as a starting lineup, which we haven’t had that luxury in quite a while,” James said.
UAPB will hold public intersquad scrimmages at 3:30 today, 1 p.m. Saturday and 2:05 p.m. Sunday at the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex. The season opener against North Dakota State will open a three-day, three-game series, followed by a pair of games at Oklahoma.
Other notable games on UAPB’s schedule includes: Feb. 27 at Ole Miss, March 12 at Central Arkansas, March 13 at home against Arkansas-Monticello, March 19 at home against UCA, and April 9 and 10 at Memphis.