It’s a luxury for high school baseball coaches to have a deep roster where guys are pushing each other at nearly every position, and that’s exactly what Los Gatos manager Mike Minkel has with this year’s team.
The Wildcats have a talented 29-man roster and Minkel has the ability to mix and match and plug in players in different spots because of their athleticism and versatility.
“There’s never an instance where we feel we’re short in depth at any one position,” he said. “The best part of carrying a big roster is you’ve got a lot of guys fighting for positions and that competition brings out the best in players.
“The biggest asset of us having that depth is you’re not only able to plug in players even when you have injuries, but it also keeps guys hungry knowing there’s somebody potentially behind them that can take their spot in the next game. That competition brings out the best in all of us.”
Los Gatos entered this week’s play with a 3-4 record and to no one’s surprise Carter Johnstone has been fantastic. The junior shortstop who hits third in the lineup has earned the praise of Minkel for his professional approach and demeanor.
“I don’t know if I’ve met a high school player as even keel as he is,” Minkel said. “Staying even keel is one of the things we preach to players, but it’s challenging. A lot of times you get high with the highs and low with the lows. But Carter does everything you ask him to do. He’s a great kid, a good student [in the classroom], a good student of the game, and is passionate about the game.
“It’s hard to see that because he plays at that even keel with a minimal heart rate and the moment is never too big for him. Those are the qualities that the special players have. The great thing about him is his humility and work ethic.”
Senior pitcher and center fielder Jake Boyd has been terrific on the mound and defensively.
“Jake has athleticism oozing out of his ears,” Minkel said. “He gets a great read on balls, can go a long way to track them down and makes it look fairly effortless. He’s got that glide to him and that fearless approach, too, where he’s not afraid to lay out and save a run.
“He’s Mr. Reliable for us and is a fun player to coach. He’s extremely coachable, is receptive of everything we ask him to do with an open mind to change and picks things up well. He’s been rock solid on the mound for us and offensively he’s ready to get it going, too.”
Dylan Martinez is the team’s top returning relief pitcher and has a bulldog type attitude that serves him well.
“Dylan is pretty fearless in terms of not letting the moment or pressure get to him and staying within himself,” Minkel said. “He changes speeds and locations well, makes good pitches at good times and has really shown us a lot.”
AJ Minyard came up huge in a 1-0 loss to St. Francis on March 10, allowing just one run over the complete six innings against the Bay Area power. Minkel has several capable pitchers and as is the case with any team the ones who throw strikes, pound the zone and get the job done will get his name called more often. Minkel loves being surprised and junior Ryder Reid providing a scoreless inning of relief against Serra—a perennial Central Coast Section power—on March 7 provided an early season highlight.
Reid is coming off Tommy John surgery and in that situation it’s never clear what a pitcher can do as they’re in the process of returning. Reid needed just six pitches to get the three outs.
“Every year you go into it and have expectations for players, and there’s always one or two guys you don’t have any expectations for at all,” Minkel said. “And all of a sudden they show up and it’s obviously a shock but a welcome shock. It was good to see him obviously able to get through that, but also as efficiently as he did pounding the strike zone and being fearless in his approach as well.”
Early in the season, coaches mix and match to see which combinations work best while also getting a feel for players who tend to perform well once it’s game time. Some of the many players expected to contribute offensively include Drew Dillehay, Brayden Smith, Johnstone, Sebastian Buller, Donovan Freed, AJ Ljepava, Sage Romero, Mason Webb, Boyd, and Santino Nanez.
However, several other players have received playing time this season and it’ll be interesting to see who rises to the occasion as the season progresses. So far, the offense is ahead of the pitching as it has put up some big numbers this season, including a couple of six-run frames and an eight-run uprising.
However, Minkel said he would like to see the lineup get off to a faster start and improve on its situational hitting including in the all important two-strike and two-out categories. Los Gatos batters also struck out 38 times in the first five games which is a number Minkel would probably like to see go down as well.
The team has dealt with some key injuries early but Minkel is optimistic for most of them to return healthy at some point this season. Minkel and his assistant coaches are excited going forward.
“It’s a great group of kids who enjoy being around each other, and us coaches enjoy being around them,” he said. “We’re working toward a common goal and we’re getting there.”