By: Jon Zaghloul
Crestwood, Ill. – May 20, 2019 – Following a last-place finish in the 2018 Midwest Collegiate League season, the Crestwood Panthers are approaching the upcoming year with a sense of optimism, anticipating substantial team improvement.
Manager Isaac Valdez, returning for his second year at the helm, believes that 2019 will entail a much different story in comparison to last season.
“Last year, I was hired in January, and quickly had to put together a roster before the season began,” Valdez said. “It was tough to find players and construct a talented team. Now, though, I’ve had a full year to recruit new players. Having 31 talented young men on our roster here in 2019 adds significant depth and gives us a great chance to compete.”
A lack of dependable depth proved to be the Panthers’ Achilles heel in 2018, as frequent injuries and ineffective in-game performances left the team shorthanded, particularly on the pitching staff. “I won’t be the first to tell you that we lacked pitching last season,” Valdez said. “But this year, we’ve already recruited 13 pitchers, and we’re still looking to add one or two more. I think that our pitching this year will tell a much different story than what happened last season.”
Offensively speaking, Valdez isn’t as concerned, and rightfully so. His lineup features a tandem of speed and power, headlined by 2018 MCL All-Star Reggie Brock (Chicago State / Chicago, Ill.), and outfielder, Brandon Simon (UA-Pine Bluff / Chicago, Ill.). Both players expressed excitement about returning to the newly-improved 2019 Panthers ballclub.
“I’m expecting a big improvement this season,” Simon said. “We have some returning players on the roster, and I know some of the newcomers. As a team, I believe that we have the talent necessary to make the playoffs.”
Brock echoed that sentiment, but also emphasized the importance of receiving the opportunity to play collegiate-level baseball over the summer.
“To me, playing with the Panthers is a great opportunity to get some extra reps, and continue to get better. If we all come together as a team, and take this seriously, I know that we can make a run this season.”
Earning a playoff spot, as Simon and Brock alluded to, would be quite a turnaround from last season. Then again, the Panthers’ current roster has undergone some significant changes. Only five players remain from last year’s team, two in Brock and Simon, and three in Blake Soria (Prairie State / Chicago, Ill.), Colton Rydlewski (Albion College / Schererville, Ind.) and Michael Jahnke (Coe College / Lansing, Ill.). Although seemingly alarming to some, the considerable roster overhaul has left behind a small, yet encouraging core, consisting of true leaders looking to guide the team to a successful season.
As for the team’s latest additions, pitching depth has become a primary emphasis. The Panthers have added a total of 13 pitchers to the roster since last season, with room available for two more if necessary. Key players include Noah Mathias (Roosevelt University / LaPorte, Ind.), Connor McCloskey (Beloit College / Chicago, Ill.) and Matthew Manous (University of Colorado / Munster, Ind.).
Thus, with a credible core, and reinforced pitching rotation, Valdez firmly believes in his team’s chances to make an immense impact in 2019.
“I have big expectations for us as a team, and I hope each and every player has big expectations for the team as well,” Valdez said.
The Panthers begin the 2019 season on Monday, May 27, hosting the Bloomington Bobcats at 6:15 p.m. All home games will take place at historic Howie Minas Field in Midlothian, Illinois.
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