The Arkansas-Pine Bluff baseball team has three goals for this season: 1.) Win the West; 2.) Win the SWAC conference championship; 3.) Get to a regional.
“There is a lot of work to be done through out the year and there is a building process to that,” UAPB head coach Carlos James said. “… Some days we are going to be successful, and some days we are not.”
James said as long as they learn from those losses, he believes the team can be successful.
“We are expecting to win, learn to get better and be cohesive as a team,” James said.
James said if the Lions want to achieve these goals, it all starts with their pitching staff.
“We have to continue to pitch well,” James said. “Last year, we led the conference in pitching. But our goal this year is to be in the top 50 in the nation.”
Kyle Schwartz, who had a 3.74 ERA last year in 13 appearances, is slated to be UAPB’s No. 1 starter.
“He was a two-time SWAC pitcher of the week and is a returning senior from New York,” James said. “We are counting on him to start every series.”
James described Schwartz as a “bulldog” type pitcher.
He threw 79.1 innings last year, allowing 46 runs (33 earned) on 80 hits with an opponent batting average of .260. He also had 55 strikeouts and 21 walks.
Projected for the No. 2 slot, is newcomer Felix Baez Pool, a redshirt sophomore from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“We want him to be cleared by the NCAA,” James said. “He’s a hard thrower and has three pitches.
“He reminds me of Bartolo Colon with his build and stature and he has a lot of zip on his fastball.”
Returning senior Mikey Ramirez will fill the No. 3 slot. Last season, he had a 4.22 ERA with a 3-3 record in 14 appearances. He allowed 37 runs (33 earned) on 79 hits with 48 strikeouts and 15 walks.
“(Ramirez) is one of those guys who knows how to pitch,” James said. “Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he still gives you a chance to win.”
Dixon Marble, a junior college transfer from North Tremonton, Utah, will fill the No. 4 slot for the Lions.
“He’s a guy who probably throws three pitches very well,” James said. “Not a high velocity guy but has pin-point accuracy.”
James described him as a Greg Maddux type with his ability to “expand the strike zone.”
Closing out the rotation, is returning senior Redmond Floyd.
“Everything he throws has movement on it,” James said. “Hopefully, he can fill that slot.”
Last year, Floyd had an ERA of 2.72 in 29 appearances. In 36.1 innings, he allowed 21 runs (11 earned) on 28 hits with 38 strikeouts and 22 walks.
Also returning this season is preseason All-SWAC second-team pitcher Jim Ploeger. Ploeger, who was 5-4 with a 4.11 ERA last season, will be moved into the bullpen as the team’s closer.
On Monday, UAPB was picked to finish third in the West. Isias Alcantar, who is the returning SWAC Player of the Year, was named first-team All-SWAC.
Last year, Alcantar had a batting average of .345, with six home runs and 44 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .421 with a slugging percentage of .495.
James said he was disappointed by the prediction, but he also sees it as a motivational tool.
“We want to prove them wrong,” he said.
UAPB leaves today to begin a weeklong road trip starting with four games against New Orleans-based Tulane.
“We can keep our program going,” James said. “It is not a big guarantee, but it is money that we need to keep us afloat throughout the year.
“But also we will get the experience we are looking for. Because if you don’t play the best teams, you can’t get any better.”
Originally scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start on Friday, the game was moved up to 1 p.m. due to some light issues at Tulane’s Greer Field at Turchin Stadium. Saturday’s doubleheader will begin at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday’s game will remain at 1 p.m.
From there, UAPB will leave for Oklahoma for a two-game series against the Sooners on Tuesday and Wednesday. UAPB then travels to Auburn for a three-day tournament, which includes the host Tigers, East Tennessee State and California.
“It is about building a program and establishing something better than ourselves,” James said. “We are going to play those teams, try to beat them and hopefully people start to give to the program and see baseball grow in Pine Bluff.”
The Lions first home game is a doubleheader scheduled for March 1 against Prairie View A&M.