Felipe Gonzalez, Clayton Espino, Trent Davis, Hunter Leavitt and Carter Pennington are the top returners for the Napa Valley College baseball team, which opens its 2019 season with a nonconference game on Friday, Jan. 25 at home against Ohlone-Fremont at 2 p.m.
It’s the first of 14 games in January and into mid-February for the Storm as it prepares for the upcoming Bay Valley Conference season starting in early March.
Official practices for Napa Valley began on Monday. The Storm had a fall program last year.
“It’s just a matter of getting out on a dry field,” said Dan Parker, who is in his third season as Napa Valley’s head coach.
This week’s weather forecast is not the best for baseball practices. Accuweather.com calls for rain, becoming heavy at times, on Wednesday. The outlook for Thursday is mostly cloudy with spotty showers. It will be mostly cloudy with a little rain on Friday.
Parker is anticipating a big season for Napa Valley, a program that for years has had to deal with wet field conditions due to the winter rains.
“It should be a good year,” he said last week. “The depth of our pitching, we’re like 14 deep in arms. The pitching staff is solid. We’ve got so many arms and top arms, that it’s kind of by committee. We’ll see who kind of steps forward.
“Our hitting has always been great. It’s never been a problem. We always score runs. The freshman class that came in is really good.”
Last year’s team went 15-24 overall and finished in sixth place in the Bay Valley Conference with a 9-12 mark. The Storm was 6-4 over the last 10 games of its season. The Storm had a .270 team batting average, .383 on-base percentage, .351 slugging percentage, and had 11 home runs.
Gonzalez, a right-hander out of Napa High School, will lead the staff. Gonzalez was 5-6 with two saves and a 6.50 earned run average last season. Gonzalez appeared in 14 games and made 12 starts.
“Everybody expects a lot from him, for sure,” said Parker. “He’ll be the ace for sure. There’s a huge upside to this kid. He’s just super competitive. You give him the ball on the mound, and if you take him out, he’s going to bite your arm off.
“He’s like that kid that you hope your son turns out to be in terms of competitiveness on the mound.”
Gonzalez was the Player of the Year on the Napa Valley Register’s 2017 All-Napa County baseball team.
He was 5-2 with a 1.83 earned run average in 68 2/3 innings for Napa High, which went 18-11 overall and reached the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Espino played in 30 games, a combination at catcher and designated hitter, last year. He batted .345 with seven doubles, a home run and 24 RBIs.
“He’ll lead us as our catcher, which is nice, to have a catcher that caught half the games last year,” said Parker.
Pennington makes the move from designated hitter to first base. He batted .263 with a home run, three doubles and 11 RBIs last year.
Davis moves to shortstop after playing third base last year. He batted .218 with a home run, six doubles and 10 RBIs.
Leavitt plays third base and batted .167 with two doubles and five RBIs last year.
The outfield is led by two new players, Antonio Diaz in center field, and Tyler Peters in left field.
Stefan Raeth is also new to the team. Raeth is out of Acalanes-Lafayette and pitches and plays shortstop.
“He’s the real deal. He’s really good,” said Parker.
Jose Lima Jr., a pitcher and the son of former major league pitcher Jose Lima, is new to the NVC team.
Jose Lima pitched 13 seasons in the majors, and was with Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
Jose Lima Jr., has a bright future in the game, said Parker.
“I’d love to see him do really good things,” the coach said. “He’s a really good kid. The upside for him in the future is going to be really good.”
Twelve players signed national letters of intent and transferred to four-year colleges following the 2018 season for Napa Valley.
“We really pride ourselves on getting guys scholarships and making sure that academically and athletically, they have a future, after the junior college,” Parker explained. “If all our sophomores can move on, our kids can graduate, that’s really what kind of drives us as a staff.
“At this level, you’ve got to make sure kids are doing what they need to be doing athletically and academically and move on, and that’s really what our goal is. We’re always trying to place them. There’s a fit for a lot of kids, and you need to find that fit.”
Parker’s background in baseball
Parker was named as the East Bay Athletic League’s Player of the Year and was the MVP as a pitcher and outfielder for Monte Vista High-Danville.
Parker played for Diablo Valley College-Pleasant Hill from 1997-99, earning All-Golden Gate Conference honors for the Vikings both seasons.
He was set to go to Fresno State to play both football and baseball, but after being drafted in the 16th round of the 1999 Major League draft by Houston, elected to sign with the Astros rather than continue his college career.
He had three years in the Astros’ minor league organization, pitching as a right-hander in the Class A Gulf Coast League, New York-Penn League and the Appalachian League. He was released in 2002.
Parker then played three years of independent ball, finishing in 2005.
Parker began his coaching career as the head coach for Tamalpais High School-Mill Valley (2005-06) and St. Helena High School (2007-08). He was an assistant coach at Justin-Siena High School (2009-10) and Napa Valley College (2011-12).
Parker served as associate head coach for Diablo Valley College (2013-14).
He was an as assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator for Academy of Art University, a private school in San Francisco.
He was the head coach of the Napa Aces Baseball Club, a program for players ages 13 to 18.
Parker took over as the manager of the Martinez Clippers in July of last year.
The Clippers play in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. It’s a Northern California-based summer independent league that was founded in 2013 and consists of six teams, including the Napa Silverados, an expansion team.
The league is not affiliated with major league teams.