PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Lefties hope to end their pandemic-induced hibernation period next summer.
When they do, they’ll have some bears hungry for baseball at their disposal. University of California Golden Bears, that is.
Three current Cal players and a highly-touted Golden Bears commitment from the 2021 high school class are expected to the join the West Coast League summer wood-bat collegiate baseball team at Civic Field in 2021.
Lefties owner Matt Acker also will serve as manager for the team in 2021 and in constructing the team’s roster he tapped into a long-term baseball friendship with Golden Bears head coach Mike Neu.
“I’ve known him through coaching and recruiting for probably 15 years,” Acker said.
Acker is hopeful the first batch of Cal Bears cements the foundation of a formation of a pipeline between Port Angeles and the Pac-12 Conference member.
WCL teams haven’t fielded Cal players on their rosters with many getting their summer-league play in on the other side of the country.
“That’s a school that this league has not seen in recent years,” Acker said. “I know the coach well and he’s always been a Cape Cod [League] or North Woods [League] guy. We’ve been bugging him about it and with the fact that I am going to coach the team, and the standards that we will hold the guys to, he got on board.”
Here are the four Golden Bears expected to play in Port Angeles:
• Ben Lake, right-handed pitcher: The 6-foot-2, 191-pounder made an appearance for Cal as a freshman earlier this year, throwing 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief and striking out three against UC Santa Barbara in February before the pandemic shut down college sports. Lake also was his high school salutatorian.
“The fact that they had him throwing at the end of games as a freshman says something,” Acker said. “He’s got a big arm, he’s [throwing] between 89 and 92 [miles per hour]. And the fact that he’s going to be in the back-end role as a closer, he has that mentality.
• Jake Skipworth, right-handed third baseman: Skipworth is expected to staff the hot corner at third base for the Bears and the Lefties. The 6-3, 230-pounder has athletic genes as his mom played softball at the University of Miami and his uncle Kyle Skipworth was a 2008 MLB first-round draft pick who played in the big leagues for the Miami Marlins.
Skipworth had an RBI double in his lone at-bat as a freshman with Cal.
“He’s a right-handed swinger with power and a tough kid,” Acker said. “He’ll be a pro player. Mike really liked him.
• Trevor Tishenkel, left-handed outfielder: The 6-1, 180-pound Tishenkel is a true freshman with the Bears this fall.
“He’s got some pop in his bat,” Acker said. “Cal really thinks he will be a middle-of-the-order guy for them, hitting four through six in the lineup, maybe even a three-hitter.”
• Christian Becerra, right-handed pitcher: Becerra is a senior at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake school in Los Angeles, a school that has two grads on current Major League Baseball rosters. “Being the No. 1 starter at Harvard-Westlake is a big deal,” Acker said. “The fact that he knows how to pitch, throws multiple pitches for strikes.”
Acker said all four are high-achieving academically and he believes they will be good fits with the Port Angeles community.
“We are looking for a good player, looking for a player that is excited and wants to be here to get work in but also appreciates what we can provide and what the community provides,” Acker said.
“And this will be a test for the Cal players. There haven’t been a ton of Cal guys in the WCL, and it’s a big deal to have them for us, and it will be a test for them.”
On the whole, Acker expects WCL teams will collectively field deeper and more talented rosters in 2021 and future seasons due to COVID’s impact on college rosters, continued reductions in the length and number of players taken in the MLB Draft, which is related to MLB’s pre-pandemic plan to contract 42 minor league franchises around the country.
“We’ve got a couple of potential high-round draft picks, but with MLB teams drafting so many fewer players, minor league contracting, the college baseball system backed up, I think they’ll play here instead of sign [pro contracts],” Acker said.
NCAA spring sport student-athletes were granted an additional season of competition and an extension of their eligibility period back in March.
“It’s a logjam of players. The level of play in college baseball will improve and the top college players that come out for the draft will be like Double-A players,” Acker said. “It’s going to be such an elite group and ridiculously competitive this year.
“There are players that would have been drafted 10 out of the last 10 years that won’t be drafted in the 2021 draft,” Acker said.
With no minor league baseball this season, MLB cut the 2020 draft, which routinely went 40 rounds and many times into the high 50s or low 60s, to five rounds.
The 2021 draft will be a minimum of 20 rounds and a maximum of 30 rounds, a result of minor league contraction plans.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].