Next year, the California Collegiate League will expand from a five-team league to a seven-team league. The league voted to add two new teams—the San Luis Obispo Blues and another team that isn’t even based in California.
The second new team will be the Las Vegas Summer Baseball Club, a team that will be composed mostly of players from the Four Corners area that includes Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
The team will be coached by Buck Thomas, a coach and part-time Angels scout from Las Vegas. Thomas started the Las Vegas Summer Baseball Club last year, and the team played independently, going 27-10.
Being on the team will provide players in the Four Corners the chance to get acclimated with the rigors of Division I or professional baseball—something Thomas felt wasn’t previously available in that area of the country.
"I just felt there were so many guys that were not getting the opportunity to prepare for the next level in Vegas, so I just went out and put that team together and put that schedule together," Thomas said. "It’s a great opportunity for those Four-Corners kids to get out. They get stuck playing (American) Legion and beating up on the same kids for four years, and then they go out to Arizona and (the University of San Diego) and whatnot and they’re not as prepared as they could be, so I think it’s a good thing."
Thomas believes the players will gain new experiences and be more prepared for different situations. They will learn what it’s like to play nearly every day in an extended summer schedule with a lot of travel involved. There will be morning workouts and players from outside the area will stay with host families.
"Your SoCal guys and your Florida guys get that opportunity, but I don’t think your Four Corners guys get that," Thomas said. "I had guys last year who had never seen the beach, so it’s good for kids to get out there and experience some of that."
Thomas has plenty of previous coaching experience. After playing college baseball at Victor Valley (Calif.) CC and the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State-Pueblo), Thomas played one year of professional baseball in the independent Frontier League. After his playing career came to an end, he stayed involved with baseball and has some impressive achievements on his resume. Thomas served as the bullpen catcher for two years with the high Class A High Desert Mavericks, who were then part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. After that, he was a coach for Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas—a team that won back-to-back state championships in 2006 and 2007. In the summer of 2008, he coached the Utah Marshals summer travel team to a 31-11 record and in the fall, he’s a coach for the Angels Elite Scout Team. He also provides one-on-one instruction at the Bat-R-Up baseball training facility in Las Vegas.
Last year’s team was made up mostly of players heading into their freshman year of college or their senior year of high school. The team featured righthander/shortstop Sam Wolff, who was drafted by the Angels but did not sign and will be a freshman next year at San Diego. It also featured third baseman Kris Bryant, one of the best high school prospects in this year’s class. Next year’s team will feature two more top players from this year’s class, righthander Kevin Gausman from Colorado and shortstop Marcus Littlewood from Utah. Both are likely to be high picks, but plan on playing in the league during the summer before they either turn pro or head off to school.
"I’m going to stay young because I’m confident with that group," Thomas said. "The league had no issue with me staying young and those guys play the game right and play the game hard."
It’s been a busy offseason for a handful of summer college leagues around the country. Here are a few others that will be bigger in 2010:
• The Northwoods League will also be adding a new team in Willmar, Minn., a town of around 19,000 people that is located about 90 miles west of Minneapolis.
• The West Coast League will feature two new franchises next season, expanding the league to nine teams. The Cowlitz Black Bears (who will play in Kelso/Longview, Wash.) and a yet-to-be-named franchise in Walla Walla, Wash., will join the league. There are also plans in place for an additional two teams—in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Klamath Falls, Ore.—in 2011.
• The Morehead City Marlins will become the newest franchise in the Coastal Plain League, and will be managed next year by former Central Florida head coach Jay Bergman. Bergman was fired in 2008 after 26 years with the program.
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