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• Eight developing skills, giving team variety, depth//



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Joey Sanchez gets to the ball in time to make the catch in center field for the Portland Pickles.Few positions in sports combined the level of tedium and pressure that go with being an outfielder.

And eight Portland Pickles outfielders have showed this summer just how valuable depth and consistency can be to a ballclub.

The Pickles outfield consists of Matt Hardy (UC Riverside), Marcus Doi (Hawaii), Denis Shanagher (Vassar), Joey Sanchez (Long Beach State), Joey Cooper (Palomar), Jordan Prendiz (UCLA), Stefan Panayiotou (Lamar) and converted first baseman Zander Clarke (UCLA).

This group has committed just seven errors in 42 games, and the Pickles are 23-19, good enough for fourth place in the six-team Great West League, a half-game behind both the Marysville Gold Sox and Chico Heat at the All-Star break.

Pickles manager J.J. Altobelli says the defensive play of his outfield has been “pretty even” across the board.

“I don’t have a problem throwing any of them out there on any given day,” Altobelli says. “I know they’re all pretty good defensively, so we don’t really lose much there. It’s all about who’s hot right now with the bat, and that’s who we usually play.”

That interchangeability has been an immense asset for Altobelli, given the size (26 players) of his roster.

Doi says the outfield is “strong” overall and has a “next man up” mentality.

“It helps that we have so many outfielders in case one of us goes down,” Doi says. “We always have someone ready to go right in there.”

That situation applied to Doi recently when he injured a shoulder from jumping over the fence in pursuit of a home-run ball. Thankfully for Doi and the Pickles, it was just a minor sprain, and he returned to action against Lodi last weekend.

Doi is one of just three outfielders to appear in more than 25 games this season (Cooper, Shanagher are the others), and that’s not by accident. Plays like the one that got him hurt are exemplary of Doi’s willingness to sell out for fly balls and put in the extra effort.

Cooper, a speedster in his own right with a strong arm and razor-sharp focus, says having playmakers in the outfield sets the Pickles apart.

“We have guys all around that can go and chase down a baseball,” Cooper says. “If you’ve got guys that sell out and go get it, then you’ve got a good outfield, in my opinion.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Zander Clarke (top) began the season at first base for the Portland Pickles, but the 6-5 UCLA Bruin has stood out in right field. One of the playmakers who has been a pleasant surprise for the Pickles is Clarke, who moved from first base to right field and has been fantastic on the defensive side while continuing to provide power at the plate.

Clarke calls the transition “smooth,” but points to a lot of early work that prepared him to play in right field full-time. Altobelli says Clarke was eager to get some reps at a position he doesn’t normally play as a Pac-12 Bruin.

“We threw him out there, and he’s made some of the best plays I’ve seen all summer,” Altobelli says. “That just speaks to his athletic ability.”

Clarke is a 6-4 power hitter who takes hearty cuts at the plate and has 18 strikeouts this season — tied for third on a Pickles team that isn’t exactly stacked with sluggers. He’s hitting .267, though, and is second on the team with seven doubles.

The Pickles have exploded offensively at times of late, though, and the outfielders have been right at the heart of that. In games against both Lodi and Sacramento, the Pickles put up 19 runs.

Hardy is leading Pickles outfielders with a .288 average and is tied for first in the GWL with five home runs in just 18 games played. He and Clarke were picked to participate in the home-run derby at the GWL all-star festivities Monday in Medford.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Marcus Doi, a left fielder from Honolulu and the University of Hawaii, has been steady and productive this summer for the Portland Pickles.Six Pickles were selected to the North squad for Tuesday’s All-Star game: Clarke and Doi in the outfield, pitchers Jacob Allbee and Declan Kearney, shortstop Sahid Valenzuela and catcher Andrew Garcia.

Clarke, Doi and Cooper agree that the biggest takeaway from this summer has been their individual improvement. They acknowledge and display the camaraderie they’ve developed over the summer in Portland, but their development on the field stands out the most.

“Getting good reads in the outfield is almost as important as getting good at-bats at the plate,” Clarke says. “The experience is valuable.”

Cooper, who missed a year due to an arm injury, says this summer has been huge for his confidence and health.

“For me, being here this summer was really important as far as making the most out of at-bats and live reads,” Cooper says. “I feel like I’m doing well and really working, and I’m just trying to get back to where I was before.”

rcl[email protected]ne.com

Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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