The Corvallis Knights have found plenty of success in the West Coast League over past seasons and will be among the favorites this summer as they chase their fourth consecutive league title.
While the Knights aren’t loaded with returning talent from last year’s title-winning team, expect them to boast one of their most athletic squads in recent memory.
“Position player-wise, when it comes to true athleticism and versatility, this team has five or six guys who can kind of play anywhere and can really run,” Corvallis coach Brooke Knight said. “Our catch and throw is going to be really good with (Zack Moller) and our catching core. We’ll really be able to go get it in the outfield and we should be able to stay aggressive on the bases like we always have.”
The Knights will kick off their 2019 WCL home schedule Friday when they begin a three-game set with the Cowlitz Black Bears at Goss Stadium at 7:15 p.m.
“It’s different than any summer ball team I’ve played on,” Andy Atwood, a redshirt senior for Texas Rio Grande Valley, said. “The culture is different. We’re really detail oriented and we come out each day with a purpose to get better and when we leave here after the summer we end up better players.”
Corvallis won’t quite be firing all cylinders to start the weekend — players from schools that operate on the quarter system are not eligible to start playing until Saturday. Which means the Knights will be without players from Oregon State, as well as many of the California schools.
The Knights are 2-4 on the WCL season with a pair of road series in the books, but will get some serious reinforcements next week; Andrew Wallings, Jake Harvey, Matthew Grettler and Elliot Willy are all Beavers who will play for the Knights this season.
The Knights will also get one of the top high school players in the nation in Brooks Lee, a shortstop from San Luis Obispo High. Lee was a projected first-round pick in last week’s Major League Baseball draft, but turned down millions of dollars in bonus money to play collegiately at Cal Poly, where his father, Larry Lee, is the head coach.
Michael Curialle, an infielders from JSerra Catholic High, who will play at UCLA next season, will also be in the mix for Corvallis. Curialle was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the 31st round of the draft, but was projected to go much higher before it was made apparent that he was set on playing for the Bruins next spring.
“Really talented,” Knight said. “Was supposed to go in the top rounds and probably backed himself out of the draft.”
Curialle comes from a JSerra program that has continuously produced stellar baseball talent — Royce Lewis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft and also spent his prep career there.
“All in this league, there are a bunch of (UCLA) commits who are in my class and I’m friends with, so it’s going to be fun playing them,” Curialle said. “This is one of the best teams in the league and it’s going to be a really fun summer.”
Corvallis will be looking for breakout candidates in the starting rotation — the Knights don’t return a plethora of arms from last season’s rotation but will have Portland University junior Connor Knutson back in the bullpen.
Knight noted Brodie Vassalakis (Grand Canyon), Tevita Gerber (Dixie State), and Timothy Josten (Cal State Fullerton) as pitchers who could emerge early, but also admitted that he doesn’t want to set anything in stone this early as he is still getting to know his players.
“We have an opportunity to find out who is gonna give us, not just innings, but quality innings and be a guys we can trust on the mound,” Knight said. “That will work itself out through performance. I like our pitching staff, though.”