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College  | Story  | 1/19/2021

CSN Tops JUCO Ranks to Start Year

Blake Dowson      Brian Sakowski     
Photo: Johnny Cuevas (CSN Athletics)
2021 Perfect Game Preseason JUCO Top 25 

Rk. School City State
1 College of Southern Nevada Las Vegas NV
2 Wabash Valley Mount Carmel IL
3 Central Arizona Coolidge AZ
4 McLennan Waco TX
5 Crowder Neosho MO
6 Grayson Denison TX
7 LSU-Eunice Eunice LA
8 Northwest Florida State Niceville FL
9 Walters State Morristown TN
10 Chipola Marianna FL
11 Eastern Oklahoma State Wilburton OK
12 College of Central Florida Ocala FL
13 John A. Logan Carterville IL
15 San Jacinto Houston TX
15 Johnson County Overland Park KS
16 Pearl River Poplarville MS
17 Iowa Western Council Bluffs IA
18 Cowley Arkansas City KS
19 Florida SouthWestern Fort Myers FL
20 State College of Florida Brandenton FL
21 Chattahoochee Valley Phenix City AL
22 Jefferson College Hillsboro MO
23 Parkland Champaign IL
24 Yavapai Prescott AZ
25 Kirkwood Cedar Rapids IA

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Don’t feel bad if you mistake the College of Southern Nevada’s baseball team as something other than a junior college roster. It doesn’t look much like one.

The amount of experience Head Coach Nick Garritano has hoarded on his roster for the upcoming spring season makes his squad look more like a veteran four-year team, rather than the usually-green rosters JUCOs typically possess.

It’s a big reason the Coyotes are the No. 1 team in Perfect Game’s Preseason JUCO Top-25.

“This is a very experienced, veteran club. We’re very old,” Garritano said in a recent interview with Perfect Game. “Our catcher is a COVID-sophomore, he was at UNLV two years ago starting as a true freshman. Justin Olson is a transfer from Kentucky, he’s a two-year guy, he’s 20, 21 years old…Dax Fellows will play either third or short for us, it’s his third year here. He’s committed to Oregon, he’s a 20, 21-year-old. Damiano Palmegiani, our third baseman, is a third-year bounce back guy out of Cal State Northridge…There’s a lot of older, experienced guys that we’re going to depend on to carry the load.”

There are unique circumstances that led to CSN being so veteran-laden, of course. With the 2020 season taken away from schools because of COVID, every collegiate player was awarded an extra year of eligibility. That’s why some of Garritano’s horses are back in the lineup this year.

The draft being shortened to just five rounds in 2020 also injected the JUCO ranks with even more talent than in typical years, with a number of high school players who would have likely signed pro contracts last year instead choosing the JUCO route to stay draft-eligible in 2021.

That’s how Josh Swales found his way to CSN, a talented right-handed freshman arm who is currently sitting 94-96 but who Garritano thinks will be flirting with triple digits by the time the spring season is in full swing.

Swales, an alumnus of the 2019 PG National Showcase, originally committed to play for Arizona. When the draft was shortened, he flipped to CSN.

The Porter Ranch, Calif. native now becomes a member of what’s likely the deepest and most talented pitching staff in the country. Swales, the No. 7 overall JUCO prospect for this year’s draft according to PG, is joined by right-handers Kris Bow (No. 5 overall JUCO prospect) and Johnny Cuevas (No. 20 overall JUCO prospect). Izzy Gutierrez, another third-year arm, will be the primary backend guy.

Josh Swales is a guy who if the draft is longer than five rounds there’s no doubt in my mind he goes on the second day,” Garritano said. “Without it going out to 10 rounds or anything, we end up with a 94-96 mph arm that’s got great pitchability and physical makeup. Johnny Cuevas, a kid we had here last year, if they have a normal draft, there’s not a chance Johnny Cuevas is back here with us.”

The lineup tells the same story. Joey Walls, Fellows, and Cole Schaefer have all been on campus for three years now. Austin Plante and Kyle Turner contributed last year before the stoppage. Palmegiani and Olson transferred in with a boatload of college ball under their belts.

Schaefer led the club with a .377 average through 23 games last season. Walls was right behind with a .354 average. Palmegiani (No. 24 overall JUCO prospect), Fellows (No. 40 prospect), and Plante (No. 55 prospect) are all very highly thought-of in the scouting community and just as productive on the field.

Trey Frahm, a first-year player out of Elkhorn, Neb., is another guy Garritano doesn’t believe would be wearing a CSN jersey this year if not for the shortened draft. Frahm, the No. 112 prospect in the 2020 class, was up to 96 mph on the mound in Jupiter in 2019. He’ll be a big contributor.

There’s no shying away from what’s in front of the Coyotes.

“We talk to the players about playing with a sense of urgency each and every year and each and every game,” Garritano said. “To be honest with you, we practice with a sense of urgency. But at the same time, this is a very talented club. I think there are a lot of very talented clubs around the country. Everyone’s ultimate goal is to wind up in Grand Junction, Colorado and hoist a trophy at the end of the year.

“With that being said, we feel like this is as talented a pitching staff as we’ve had since we’ve been here. It’s as athletic in the lineup as we’ve been, it’s as potent on offense as we’ve been since 2011, and we’re just hoping that everything falls into place.”

‘Everything’, as Garritano mentioned, of course, includes the ongoing COVID pandemic. Different schools in different states have different restrictions, and piecing together a schedule has been made more difficult than any previous season. As of now though, CSN has a full 56-game schedule lined up.

There might be stops and starts, Garritano acknowledged, and the team has prepped for that. A full routine of mobility exercises, band work, and heavy ball have been instituted to keep arms well-maintained if there were to be a stoppage in play.

“We’re going to do everything possible to keep the arms in game shape, but in the same breath, it is worrisome to us,” Garritano said. “When you have a guy who’s rounding into form in mid-March, in game shape, and then you pull games away for a week or two weeks, now you have to be a little bit careful coming back on pitch count.”

It’s another reason Garritano is happy to have a veteran club this year.

Those second- and third-year players are traversing a global pandemic for the first time just like everyone else, sure, but it’s one less thing to worry about when you have guys who can lean on past routines and experiences.

“Knowing that when we get a chance to get on the field and play for real, that we have a lot of older guys with lots of experience, is a very, very good feeling,” Garritano said. “You’ve got guys who have been between the lines in big-time situations…Having that experience helps you sleep at night, knowing that in those tight games at the end, we’ve got guys who have been through it.”

The hope, he said, is that states and stadiums start to open up by the end of February or the beginning of March. That way they can start to get people back in the stands, including scouting looks for his players.

For now, they’ll just roll with the punches. There’s no use trying to control what you can’t. Like he said, Garritano can sleep easy knowing his team stacks up extremely well against any other in the country.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun. We feel like this is going to be a year that we can take advantage of a very legitimate roster.”