Juco : : Rankings
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Junior College Top 50: CAC No. 1

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game
Deep Crop of Division I Transfers
Has Central Arizona in Top Spot

Central Arizona College coach Jon Wente knows from experience the hazards of getting too excited about a team with legitimate national-championship aspirations.

In 2001, we had three future big leaguers (Ian Kinsler, Scott Hairston and Rich Harden) on our club, and we didn’t even make it out of district play,” Wente related. “A year later, with all three players gone, we won a national championship.”

This year’s Central Arizona squad, which opens its season Friday, appears to have all the ingredients to make another run at a national title and has been ranked No. 1 in Perfect Game’s pre-season look at the nation’s Top 50 Junior College Teams. And while Wente acknowledges that this might be his most talented team yet, he is quick to downplay his team’s chances of potentially winning another championship.

We should be good, as good as any team we’ve had here,” Wente says. “Our pitching staff, in particular, should be as deep as any. But you never know for sure what you’ve got when you’re dealing with junior-college players with various levels of experience, and it’s also very difficult just getting out of our district and advancing to the World Series with so many other quality teams in the area.”

Wente began coaching at CAC 15 years ago—first as an assistant from 1998-2002, during which time the Vaqueros went 228-86. After a three-year hiatus, he returned to the program in 2006 as head coach and, not counting a sub-.500 record in his debut, has led the Vaqueros to a sterling 289-85 record the last six seasons. His teams have won 10 Region I (Arizona) championships in the last 11 years that he has been associated with the program and made four appearances in the Junior College World Series, winning in 2002 while finishing second in 2011.

The Vaqueros have no returning position players from last year’s 47-15 club, but welcome back four key pitchers in projected starters Jordan Kipper (9-3, 2.78), a Texas Christian recruit, and Brandon Zywicki (8-2, 1.57), a University of San Francisco signee, along with ace closer Junior Zepeda (2-1, 2.01, 16 saves). Righthander Tatum Hendrix (9-1, 1.75) also returns.

The real strength of the team, though, is a banner crop of transfers from as many as 13 prominent NCAA Division I programs, including the likes of Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Miami, New Mexico, Oregon, Oregon State (two), Texas, Vanderbilt and Wichita State.

The Vaqueros are so deep and talented that they could conceivably have as many as eight players taken in the first 20-25 rounds of this year’s draft, including the likes of sophomore righthander Ricky Jacquez, a transfer from Texas whose fastball has been clocked up to 94 mph. Jacquez, a 2011 draft pick of the Chicago Cubs who went 2-1, 5.79 in 14 appearances (9 starts) as a freshman for the Longhorns, is slated to move into the No. 1 spot in the CAC rotation, supplanting Kipper.

Other potential early- to mid-round selections on the Vaqueros roster expected to make an immediate impact this spring include outfielders Jordan Dunatov (Oregon State transfer), Spencer O’Neil (Oregon) and Sean Hurley (Miami), shortstop David Masters (Arkansas) and lefthander Cameron Booser (Oregon State).

Freshman righthander Tony Blanford, a local product and one of the team’s few high-school recruits, should also be in demand again after being one Arizona’s top prep recruits a year ago, but he may fine meaningful innings tough to come by on CAC’s deep, talented pitching staff.

Though Central Arizona is located in remote Coolidge (pop. 9,570), situated roughly midway between Phoenix and Tucson in the Arizona desert, it has little trouble enticing high-level prospects from established D-I programs attending school there.

It’s pretty much all baseball here; there’s not a whole lot of anything else to do,” Wente said. “But the environment here enables our kids to concentrate on baseball, while also spending time in the classroom and weight room. Our kids usually just hang out with the same type of people, other athletes that are here for the same reasons. There are no real distractions for them.”

With no position players from last year’s club slated to return in 2013 and the June draft exacting a heavy toll on the team’s recruiting class, CAC coaches had little choice last summer but to go into overdrive to not only fill out a depleted roster, but attract significant high-end talent in the process.

We were essentially left without a roster, and had little choice but to go the transfer route for this year,” Wente said. “We ended up with a lot of quality players, and it’s a credit to our entire coaching staff that we’ve developed the relationships that we have with four-year programs, with scouts and other college coaches, that we were able to find out the names of players that were looking to transfer and bring them in here.”

CAC’s recent success and ability to churn out a steady dose of high-end talent also has done nothing but aid the recruitment process.

College players that are looking for increased playing time, or are struggling with grades or simply have a desire to become eligible for the draft a year early generally end up in junior college,” Wente said. “With prominent draft picks like Keenan Walker (supplemental first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2011) and Fernando Perez (Padres/third round, 2012) the last couple of years, and others that have moved on to prominent Division I programs, it gets noticed by players that might be looking to transfer that we are a viable option, that we have something significant to offer here.”

It’s safe to say that a national championship in 2013 would do nothing but facilitate the team’s cause.

Perfect Game's preseason top 50 Junior College teams:

RK Team ST 2012 Record Top Prospect (Commitment)
1 Central Arizona      
AZ 47-15 Ricky Jacquez, rhp (none)
2 Grayson County
TX 44-18
Jacob Rhame, rhp (Texas State)
3 Seminole State OK 41-15
Teddy Stankiewicz, rhp (Arkansas)
4 Spartanburg Methodist
SC 45-18 Elliott Caldwell, of (South Carolina)
5 Howard TX 45-12 David Gates, rhp (none)
6 Santa Fe
FL 37-13 Dylan Barrow, rhp (Florida)
7 San Mateo
CA 32-12      Alex Palsha, rhp (none)
8 *Iowa Western IA 62-6 Grant Kay, 2b/3b (Louisville)
9 Feather River CA 32-8 Jake Bray, ss/rhp (none/freshman)
10 **LSU-Eunice LA 57-5 Chad Reeves, lhp (none/freshman)
11 Southern Nevada NV 34-24 Kayden Porter, rhp/1b (none/freshman)
12 Miami-Dade FL 35-21 Victor Caratini, c/3b (none/freshman)
13 State College of Florida-Manatee
FL 33-17 Conner Hale, 3b (Louisiana State)
14 Wabash Valley IL 48-13 Spencer Drake, rhp (Cincinnati)
15 Middle Georgia GA 46-13 Javier Reynoso (none)
16 Rio Hondo CA 40-5 Paul Paez, lhp (none)
17 Navarro TX 38-17 Lukas Schiraldi, rhp (Texas)
18 Walters State TN 52-11 Will Carter, rhp/ss (Tennessee)
19 Polk State FL 46-12
Daniel Sweet, of (none/freshman)
20 San Jacinto
TX 41-25 Taylor Hearn, lhp (none/freshman)
21 Chipola FL 39-17 Carlos Misell, rhp (none/freshman)
22 Riverside
CA 20-21 Kenny Matthews, lhp (none)
23 Fresno CA 29-13 Christian Belleque, rhp (Long Beach State
24 Salt Lake
UT 45-10 Connor Williams, rhp/of (none/freshman)
25 Jefferson MO 53-12 Dane Gronewald, rhp (none)
26 Weatherford
TX 30-27 Hunter Lockwood, 1b/c (none)
27 New Mexico NM 35-18 Nic Pivetta, rhp (New Mexico)
28 Heartland
IL 54-8 David Stagg, lhp (Indiana State)
29 Orange Coast CA 36-7 Kyle Dowdy, rhp (Houston)
30 Santa Ana
CA 33-9 Bryan Clough, lhp (none)
31 Georgia Perimeter
GA 43-16      Sam Bragg, rhp (Auburn)
32 Wallace-Hanceville AL 41-17 Bret Marks, rhp (Tennessee)
33 Florence-Darlington SC 44-12 Jared Cheek, rhp/c (none/freshman)
34 Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
OK 33-12 Travis Remillard, rhp (Oklahoma)
35 Western Nevada NV 48-17 Brandon Show, rhp (San Diego)
36 Delgado LA 30-22 Christian Trent, lhp (none/freshman)
37 Yavapai
AZ 40-20 Michael Howard, lhp/of (none)
38 Louisburg NC 52-9 Joe McGillicuddy, rhp (Elon)
39 Cuesta CA 23-13 Andrew Nelson, rhp (none)
40 John A. Logan IL 41-22 Derek Thompson, lhp (Illinois State)
41 Crowder MO 44-17 Cody Jackson, rhp (none)
42 Seminole State FL 19-27 Garrett Nuss, rhp (none)
43 Gulf Coast FL 32-16
Tyler Dial, c/rhp (Columbus State, Ga.)
44 Eastern Oklahoma State
OK 38-22 Michael Freeman, lhp (none)
45 Bellevue WA 35-12 Aaron Stroosman, 1b/3b (none/freshman)
46 Indian River State
FL 28-19 Alex Rodriguez, lhp/1b (none/freshman)
47 Western Oklahoma OK 48-17 Sicnarf Loopstok, c (none)
48 USC Sumter
SC 37-19 Brad Johnson, 3b (none)
49 Lamar CO 47-12 Sam Wilson, lhp (none)
50 Connors State
OK 33-23

Jordan Romano, rhp (Oral Roberts)

*Defending NJCAA Division I champion
**Defending NJCAA Division II champion

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