Local pitchers & catchers report to spring training | TheUnion.com

Local pitchers & catchers report to spring training

Josh Roenicke has now played two seasons in the “bigs,” but like the rest of Nevada County’s young professional baseball players he’ll be trying to prove himself once again at spring training.

Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers report today.

Roenicke, the one western Nevada County prospect currently on a Major League roster, is one of five former area prep pitchers preparing for the upcoming season. Also working on the mound are Nevada Union grads Gary Daley, Jason Roenicke, Pete Ruiz and Justin Deme. And already in camp is former Bear River star catcher Robby Alcombrack, who recently signed a contract with the Texas Rangers.

Roenicke, a 2001 Nevada Union High School graduate and former UCLA star, had been pitching well for the Cincinnati Reds last season, but was packaged in a trade that brought former All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen to Cincy and sent Roenicke north of the border to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Nevada Union grad played football and baseball at NU, as well as at UCLA. Upon graduating from a UCLA, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 10th round and was awarded a signing bonus of $20,000, and in 2009 he signed a one-year deal with the same team worth $400,000.

The 6-foot, 3-inch right-handed reliever posted a 2.70 earned run average with 14 strikeouts against four walks in 13 1/3 innings with the Reds. But after he was traded to Toronto, he struggled to find similar success. He finished the season with an ERA of 7.13 in 17 innings of work, giving up 19 hits with no decisions as a Blue Jay.

He now looks forward to turning things around in Toronto, where he said 12 pitchers will be competing for what’s considered as four open spots this spring.

“I’m excited and it should be fun, but it was tough being traded in the middle of last season,” said Roenicke. “I had a lot of friends who I came up with on the Reds.

“I’m looking to make the team and then I will see where that takes me.”

Making a Major League roster is certainly the goal for the rest of Nevada County’s boys of summer, but perhaps not in the immediate future.

Robby Alcombrack

Alcombrack, a 2006 Bear River graduate, is in Surprise, Ariz.. He reported to early camp for the Texas Rangers organization, and is looking forward to getting behind the plate for Spring Training on March 7.

Alcombrack was a seventh round pick in the 2006 draft right out of Bear River High School. Going into the draft, he was a preseason Top 100 high school player according to Baseball America, and was ranked as a top five catching prospect.

“I got my first college letter when I was 13 years old,” Alcombrack said. “It was from Cal State Fullerton.”

The 6 foot, 205- pound catcher hit .557 with 43 RBIs and 12 home runs, while leading Bear River Bruins to a Pioneer Valley League championship and a 22-2 overall record. He signed quickly, which is not common for a high school player with such a lofty draft status and a full scholarship to Arizona State already in his back pocket. But he wanted to get his professional baseball career going right away.

“As a catcher you never know how long you can play,” he said. “If I were to get hurt and could not play anymore Cleveland would pay for my college education. In 2002 Major League Baseball implemented a new rule, if a high school player were drafted with a college scholarship, the drafting team would be required to pay for the players education when his career in baseball was over.”

He showed power potential in 2007 in the Gulf Coast League where he slugged seven home runs and 10 doubles for a .488 slugging percentage for the GCL Indians, but his power appeared to evaporate overnight as he hit just one home run in his last year at Mahoning Valley and had a .333 slugging percentage.

Alcombrack, still just 21 years old, spent three seasons in the minors with the Indians before coming to Traverse City, Mich. in 2009, where he hit .246 with 20 extra base hits in 183 at-bats. Despite some nagging injuries that limited him to just 57 games, Alcombrack’s 10 home runs would have tied a Beach Bums single season record if not for teammate John Alonso’s 15 homers. Defensively, Alcombrack ranked fourth amongst Frontier League catchers by throwing out 30 percent of runners attempting to steal.

His performance with the unaffiliated Beach Bums apparently caught the eye of a Texas Rangers scout.

“We are thrilled for Robby,” said Beach Bums’ Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wuerfel wrote on the team’s web site upon learning of Alcombrack’s new deal with the Rangers. “For everyone who is involved in independent baseball, this is why we do it – to get players like Robby a second chance at affiliated baseball, or in some cases, a first chance.

“Robby has all the tools to be a Major League catcher and the only thing I’m surprised about is that it took another organization this long to pick him up.”

Now he’s hard at work, hoping to impress the organization in a short amount of time.

“It is two weeks shorter than it has ever been,” Alcombrack said of spring training. “We play 12 games and then I will report to either Hickory North Carolina for low A ball or Bakersfield, California for high A. I would love to play in Bakerfield, I would be close to home for the first time in my career.”

Justin Deme

Another former area prep star is about to find himself a long ways from home, thanks in large part to Alcombrack. Justin Deme, a former Nevada Union pitcher who went on to throw at Sacramento State, is now looking at a second chance of sorts with Traverse City, where Alcombrack bounced back last year.

Deme has not pitched in a game since his final outing in 2006 with Sac State in 2006, where he finished the season with a 4.72 ERA and with a 3-6 record. The only time he’s been on a diamond is when he dominated every single offensive statistical category in the western Nevada County fastpitch softball league.

But Deme, a 6’3″ 210-pound righthander was recommended by to the Beach Bums by none other than Alcombrack.

“Robby gave us a call this offseason and said we needed to give Deme a look,” Wuerfel stated on the Bums’ web site. “He has been working out with Robby and clocked as high as 93 miles per hour. He has the type of undiscovered talent that makes the Frontier League popular, and we are going to give him a shot to make our squad in the spring.”

The Nevada Union graduate, Deme will take the mound when the Traverse City Beach Bums enter their fifth season of play in 2010, with the home opener scheduled for Friday, May 28 versus the Oakland County Cruisers.

Three other area pitching prospects will also continue their hopes of climbing the ranks of their respective organizations, today.

Jason Roenicke

Jason Roenicke finished 2009 with the Lansing Lugnuts. Originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 27th round of the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft and the Toronto Blue Jays in the 19th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft, the 25-year-old, 5-11, 200-pound righthander compiled a 2-5 record with a 4.13 ERA with the A-league Lugnuts.

He moved up after his rookie season with the Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Pennsylvania League, where he posted a 2.31 ERA in 11 innings of mound work.

Gary Daley

Gary Daley, another former Nevada Union standout, pitched for two teams in 2009, Quad Cities, a single A team, and Springfield, a Double-A ballclub. For Springfield, he finished the season with a record of 0-2 with an ERA of 4.76 in nine games.

The 6-foot-3 pitcher graduated in 2003 from Nevada Union, where starred in both basketball and baseball as a Miner. He drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft, after pitching for and graduation from Cal Poly.

Pete Ruiz

Pete Ruiz, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher was drafted in the 10th round in 2008 by the Boston Red Sox. The 6-foot-3 Ruiz was signed out of Santa Barbara City College. With the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, Ruiz pitched 65 2/3 innings between the rotation and the bullpen going 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA while striking out 59 and walking 38.

Contact Sports Writer Scott P. Hopper via e-mail at sphopper@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4231.

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