When 6 p.m. rolls around today, San Luis Obispo Blues manager Chal Fanning will walk onto the field and take a breath.
The past few days have been a whirlwind of trying to fit together the pieces of a broken roster, as some athletes headed to San Luis Obispo for the summer are still in the final week of their Division I baseball seasons. Fanning has spent the better part of the past few weeks scheduling flights, working out agreements with host families and recruiting fill-in players.
But even with just seven to nine players of his original roster expected to head into town for this weekend’s opening series at SLO Stadium, Fanning insists the Blues are ready and poised to make a run for the top of the new-look California Collegiate League this season.
“We’re definitely going to have a target on our back, along with Santa Barbara,” Fanning said. “But the target keeps everything sharp and crisp, and we have to make sure we show up every day to play.”
At least for the first half of the season, showing up to play is going to be the Blues’ biggest problem. Because the season starts on Memorial Day Weekend, the first time it’s done so since 2008, getting players to San Luis Obispo has been a struggle, Fanning said. The Blues roster has morphed even before the season has started, and Fanning has reached out to many local players to fill in while others wrap up their collegiate seasons.
Cuesta College standout pitcher Lucas Martin will be one of the players leaving the Blues this summer, Fanning said. He finished fourth in the Western State Conference North Division in strikeouts with 73, while finishing third in wins with seven. He also tossed 109 innings and finished the season with a 3.22 ERA, earning all-Western State Conference first-team honors.
It’s a loss, but Fanning is convinced he has enough talent on the mound this season to make up for it. In fact, he’s calling this year’s group of pitchers potentially the best the Blues have ever had.
“They all look really good on paper, in terms of what they’re going to bring to the table,” Fanning said.
Joining that group of pitchers will be the late addition of Cal Poly’s Bryan Granger. The sophomore has gone 5-4 in 13 starts for Cal Poly this season. He’s tossed 57 innings and boasts 28 strikeouts with a 5.37 ERA. The Blues are also hoping to have Matt Krook, a dual-threat, left-handed pitcher headed to Oregon, and Kyle Serrano, a Tennessee commit, on the mound, but both are expected to go in the first or second round of this year’s MLB Draft, Fanning said.
As for the players who Fanning is expected to have in the dugout this weekend, those include: pitcher Drake Owenby (Tennessee), pitcher Eric Walbridge (Cal), catcher Daniel Garner (Mississippi State), catcher Alex Tucker (Nicholls State), first baseman Andrew Lee (Tennessee), outfielder Sean Ullrich (Missouri), outfielder Davis Aiken (Tennessee) and outfielder Kyle Johnson (Purdue).
That list also has Cuesta products Taylor Anderson (infielder) and Zack Domingues (infielder), who are both expected to participate for the full season. Arroyo Grande High’s Kyle Brown and Zack Brown will help fill in for players during the season, and Cuesta’s Andrew Nelson (3.01 ERA, 93 strikeouts) is expected to pitch this weekend.
The rest of the Blues’ permanent roster will trickle in as the season goes on, but with the NCAA regionals starting next Friday, the Blues could be without players for more than half the season. If a player’s team makes it to the College World Series, June 15-26, the Blues will be without those players for 27 games.
“I feel like our roster is a little bit like the Greyhound bus terminal, kind of a revolving door of players,” Fanning said. “It’s a challenge, but I just want to make sure I have nine bodies on the field, we stay healthy that way and we have enough pitching to get us through our first four games.”
The Blues have expectations beyond winning their first series, though. The team is rolling off two-straight shares of the CCL title and a 1-2 record in the National Baseball Congress World Series last season.
But they’ll have new competition this year, as the CCL has added three new teams — the Santa Paula Halos, the Bakersfield Sound and the Southern California Catch — and split its league into two divisions — North and South.
The new teams and divisions will bring a playoff system to the CCL, with the winner gaining a berth into the NBC World Series.
“The Blues and the CCL have continued to upgrade and improve,” Fanning said. “It should make for a fun summer.”
The SLO Rattlers will not field a team this season, Fanning said.