By Chris Teale (File photo)
The sounds of summer — the clink of an aluminum bat, the thud of a ball entering a glove — are set to return to Frank Mann Field, as the Alexandria Aces get ready for another season in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
Having missed the playoffs last year with a final record of 19-21, the Aces are determined to make up for that disappointment and have filled up their roster accordingly.
The season gets underway on June 7 at Frank Mann Field at home against the Gaithersburg Giants. The team is slated to play 40 games, including 20 on its home diamond near Cora Kelly Elementary School.
Before things got underway, Aces head coach David DeSilva took some time to look ahead to the 2016 campaign.
Alexandria Times: How did you go about compiling this year’s roster?
David DeSilva: Last year, we had 35 guys signed, and within a month we lost 12 players from that original roster that ended up not showing up for one reason or another. This year, I made sure I set expectations up front with their coaches. We have 22 different conferences represented on this year’s roster.
It’s a Division I-dominated roster; I think 32 of the 35 guys are Division I guys. Eleven schools are represented for the first time, and it’s a good mix of some returning guys who already have relationships with the coaches and then a good mix of new universities that will be represented in Alexandria.
Given the big proportion of Division I players, do you expect a high standard?
I do, for sure. I’m feeling really good about the product that we can put on the field. I think my biggest hurdle is going to be how I ensure that all the position players get ample at-bats and that I’m able to balance enough innings for all the pitchers. We have 19 arms coming in, which is quite a few. I think 15 to 16 pitchers is probably the right number, but I over-recruited a little bit to make sure that when guys get hurt, guys get shut down for innings, guys don’t show up, I still have that right amount.
As it stands today, they’re all showing up, so my biggest challenge is going to be to make sure everybody gets ample time and experience out there.
Is it tricky to balance all that and make it worth players’ while to come here?
Summer baseball is really about experience and exposure. I want to send the kids back to their coaches better than when they came to me, so the only way for me to do that, since we don’t have any practices, is to make sure they get on the field, they see their at-bats, they get their innings, they have an opportunity to play multiple defensive positions.
It’s going to be a challenge to make sure everybody gets in, but what I tell the players and coaches is that everybody on the roster is going to get an opportunity early in the year. I like to force a little bit of competition between everybody, so they’ll earn their opportunities late in the year.
Are there any areas you’re particularly excited about on this year’s roster? Any individuals that really we should be looking out for?
I would say that two of the most promising arms are two freshman pitchers. A.J. Spencer of Middle Tennessee State is one. He’s a freshman, and he worked his way into the weekend rotation about halfway through the year. He tops out at 92-93 mph, but he probably averages 89-90 mph. The other is Nate Ocker; he’s from the College of Charleston. He’s also seen some time in the weekend rotation, and he’s probably been their best freshman arm. I expect both of those guys to play a big part in our rotation.
Any position players you’re particularly excited about?
We’ve got a really talented and experienced group of catchers. I’ve got four catchers coming in, and three of them are rising juniors and one is a rising senior. The experience and the opportunity to handle a pitching staff who mostly is coming off their freshman year, that’s going to be big for us from a position standpoint.
Looking back to last year’s campaign, you guys didn’t quite make the playoffs. How do you build off that?
Last year was definitely a disappointing year. I attribute that to a lot of different reasons, No. 1 being the roster I recruited to Alexandria didn’t actually show up. We had 12 guys, most of which were Division I, not show up. I had to pull in guys that I didn’t necessarily recruit from the beginning to come and fill some of those gaps.
But we’ve got Alex Stephens and Billy Lescher who were both on last year’s club; they’re both returning. Both played big parts last year for us, and they’re going to do the same for us this year. I think both of them can walk in with a bit of a chip on their shoulder in Alexandria. Alex has already told me he’s looking forward to winning a championship this year, so I think those guys want to come in and do some good things after a bit of a disappointing season last year.