Seven players from the Portland Pickles' inaugural season will be returning for 2017. The signings are presented to you by Columbia Bank.
Max Jones is a six-foot-five-inch sophomore left-handed pitcher from Hamilton College. Jones competed for the Pickles last season and appeared in 18 games in relief, where he pitched to a 3.43 ERA and a 3-0 record. Primarily pitching in the middle innings, Jones often bridged the gap between the starting pitcher and late-inning relievers. In a game against the Lodi Crushers on July 5, Jones threw three scoreless innings of relief between the sixth and eighth innings to help preserve a one-run lead and eventual 4-3 win. Originally from Whittier, CA, Jones graduated from Bishop Amat Memorial High School before venturing to New York to play for the Hamilton Continentals. In his freshmen campaign for Hamilton, Jones went 3-0 with a 3.53 ERA and threw two complete games in 35.2 innings pitched. This season, Jones increased his strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio from 2.27 to 5.45 and recorded a 4.76 ERA in 39.2 innings of work. Assistant Coach Garrett Lamborn said Jones "is a tough competitor that brings his best stuff in the biggest situations. His conference ERA this year was 2.13 over 25.1 innings. I expect he will bring that same energy, enthusiasm, and drive to the Pickles this summer."
Zander Clarke, a redshirt sophomore for UCLA, is set for his second season in Portland this summer. Last season with the Pickles, Clarke played in 27 games and batted .266 with 18 hits, seven doubles and two home runs while scoring 10 runs. A Newbury Park, CA, native, Clarke hits from the right side of the plate. Despite primarily playing first base at UCLA, Clarke is also expected to see time in the outfield at Walker Stadium this summer. Clarke has appeared in 30 games this season for the Bruins and has made eight starts. Clarke was a three-year letterman at Newbury Park High School, where he graduated in 2014.
Vassar College junior infielder Bobby Kinne returns to Portland this summer for his second go-around with the Pickles. Last summer, Kinne registered 11 hits and a .244 batting average for the Pickles in 11 games played. Kinne's season was cut short due to an arm injury, but he recorded four multi-hit games during his time in Portland. Batting from the left side of the plate, Kinne hit .316 with 13 RBIs and 25 hits for the Vassar Brewers this season. Kinne returned to the infield midway through the season after serving as the team's designated hitter to begin the year. Still gradually building up his arm strength, Kinne has primarily played second base for the Brewers. Jamie Chagnon, Vassar College Director of Athletic Communications, said returning to the infield and developing as a leader in the role of team captain has helped Kinne again feel like he's engaged since returning from injury. "I think just his body in general," Chagnon said of where he has seen Kinne develop the most. "He came in as a toolsy player, was good with his hands, but was a gap-to-gap hitter. Now he's put on weight and he's driving the ball to the gaps more than I've ever seen."
Hitting .333 with 31 hits and 18 RBIs for the Mt. San Antonio College Mounties, sophomore catcher Andrew Garcia returns to the Pickles this summer for his second campaign at Walker Stadium. Last season for Portland, Garcia flashed pop in his swing, driving in 26 runs on 34 hits in 133 plate appearances. Garcia hit .262 for the Pickles in 2016 and received an invitation to play in the Great West League All-Star Game. The six-foot catcher also hit six doubles and two home runs for the Pickles. Defensively for the Mounties this season, Garcia has converted 55 of 59 putouts, good enough for a fielding percentage of .966. Garcia has also struck out just six times in 103 plate appearances. "He is an offensive player who was one of our best hitters in average and RBIs even though he had to miss our first 11 games due to transferring," said Mt. SAC Head Coach John Knott. "He has a short compact swing and can hit the ball gap-to-gap Garcia is a native of San Dimas, CA, and graduated from Damien High School in 2015. He spent the 2016 season with the Orange Coast College Pirates.
Five-foot-10-inch outfielder Joey Cooper returns to the Pickles this summer after spending his sophomore campaign with Palomar College in San Marcos, CA. The Bakersfield, CA native was a threat on the base paths last season for the Pickles, as he stole 13 bases and drew as many walks in 40 games played. In the final game of the season against the Lodi Crushers on Aug. 11, Cooper recorded a hit and a base on balls in two plate appearances and subsequently stole three bases for the Pickles. This spring for the Comets, Cooper leads the team with a .434 batting average and has racked up 59 hits. Cooper has also scored 44 runs and hit 11 doubles in helping propel Palomar to a 31-8 overall record and the No. 9 seed in the Southern California Community College baseball regionals.
The Pickles bring back last season’s opening day starter in six-foot-three-inch right-handed pitcher Andrew Eppenbach. From Orange Coast College, Eppenbach has experience pitching out of the starting rotation and bullpen, as he made six starts in 11 appearances in Portland last year and has pitched in 10 games in relief for OCC this spring. The sophomore relied on pitching to contact with the Pickles in his first season, as he struck out 31 hitters in 42.2 innings pitched and held the opponent’s batting average to .210. Eppenbach’s best start with the Pickles last summer came in the team’s opening day and inaugural win over the Chico Heat on June 8, when he threw eight innings of shutout baseball and held Chico to just two hits to pace Portland to a 7-2 victory. The Claremont, CA native posted a 3-4 overall record and 3.37 ERA for the summer. In his second season with OCC, Eppenbach compiled 16 innings out of the bullpen for the Pirates, pitching to a 5.06 ERA and increasing his strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio from 6.19 to 8.53 in conference play.
Portland also brings back one of its more durable right-handed relief pitchers from last season’s roster in junior Joe Dahut of Drew University. Dahut tied fellow returnee Max Jones for the second most appearances on the mound last season with 18 and also made one start against Lodi in his final showing on the mound on Aug. 10, pitching a two-hit complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts. A Kensington, MD, native, Dahut recorded 33.2 innings pitched and a 4.54 ERA and also tallied one save for the Pickles last summer. This spring, Dahut has pitched in five games for Drew, striking out two and allowing five earned runs in 3.2 innings of work.