Pickles return with deep roster, high hopes
Ole Arntson has wanted to play for the Portland Pickles since his high school days at La Salle Prep.
Gabe Skoro is a Lincoln High grad beginning his fourth summer playing for the collegiate wood-bat baseball team.
Arntson and Skoro are two of many players with local ties on a deep roster that the Pickles believe can compete with traditional West Coast League power Corvallis for the championship.
Justin Barchus, the Pickles' fourth-year manager, said this team on paper is deeper than his first season in 2018, when the Pickles posted a league-best 37-17 record before losing to Corvallis in the division playoffs. Barchus cautions that building a talented roster doesn't guarantee success in a the highly-competitive West Coast League. And, he added, it will take some time to sort out the best roles for players.
"It'll be a fun summer," said Barchus, of the Pickles' season that started this past weekend. "I'll be excited and to see what we have."
The Pickles were 2-2 in league play entering a June 9 road game against the Ridgefield Raptors, the WCL team in Clark County, Washington.
Arntson, a Gresham native coming off a productive spring at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, is excited for the opportunity to play as a corner infielder and be a factor in the middle of the Pickles' order. He carries confidence into the summer after hitting .316 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI this season at SIUE.
That production came after Arntson shortened his stride in the batters' box a few weeks before the start of the college season, a routine he hopes to fine-tune this summer.
"The big thing for me is seeing balls in the (strike) zone," Arntson said. "When I see the ball great in the zone, I make good contact."
Arntson's journey after La Salle — where he was co-player of the year in the Northwest Oregon Conference as a senior in 2017 — began at Wabash Valley College on the Illinois-Indiana border, where he played two seasons before heading to SIUE, where he will be a redshirt junior in 2022. He was going to play at Pacific, but after a coaching change at the Stockton, California school, Arntson went the junior college route.
He played at Walker Stadium for the Gresham GreyWolves in 2018 and the Ridgefield Raptors in 2019, but is happy to be on the home roster.
Skoro, who just completed his fourth season at the University of Portland and at this point plans to return to the Pilots for one more year, is the most veteran Pickle.
Once Skoro got consistent playing time this spring, he became one of the Pilots' most consistent hitters. Skoro capped the West Coast Conference season going 5 for 11 in the final series and finished batting .305.
Skoro said his emphasis this summer is cutting down strikeouts, hitting the ball into the gaps and improving his mental approach to hitting.
Skoro was one of a few current Pickles who played for the team last summer when the club formed the Wild Wild West League that put on games exclusively at Stayton High. In 12 games last summer, Skoro hit a WWWL best .543.
One of the few leagues to happen during the pandemic summer of 2020, the Wild Wild West League was a unique opportunity, a season that Pickles manager Barchus described as having a "'Field of Dreams' kind of feel."
But returning to Walker Stadium, and the celebratory atmosphere at Pickles games, has everyone dreaming of a special 2021 summer.
"Being back at Walker Stadium, the best place in the West Coast League, it's something special," Skoro said. "Certainly, I don't take it for granted."
Skoro is one of four Pilots on the Pickles roster, joined by left-handed pitcher Bradley McVay (Milwaukie High), right-handed pitcher/catcher KJ Ruffo (Putnam High) and right-handed pitcher Nick Brink (Cleveland High). Brink threw nine innings over five appearances for the Pilots as a true freshman.
Thirteen of the 30 pitchers on the Pickles roster are from the greater Portland area. While 30 seems like a high number of hurlers, Barchus said that pitching coach Brian Grant needs a deep staff because some pitchers come to Portland on limited pitch counts, and sometimes pitchers don't show up because of injuries or heavy workloads during their college season.
"You can't be in a position where you're punishing the few pitchers you have by overusing them," Barchus said.
Alex Giroux was the starter and winning pitcher in the June 4 WCL opener. A 2019 Lake Oswego High grad, Giroux spent one season at Washington and is headed to the University of San Diego as a sophomore.
Among players expected to arrive at the conclusion of their college seasons are Oregon State infielder Kyle Dernedde and OSU pitcher Ian Lawson, each a freshman for the Beavers this spring. Dernedde, from Tualatin, tied a OSU record on June 5 with six RBIs in a win over McNeese State at the Fort Worth Regional. Lawson, a Century High grad, appeared in seven games, throwing nine innings in relief this spring.
Two of the higher profile players on the roster are Lakeridge High senior shortstop Cameron Clayton and UCLA-bound pitcher Alonso Tredwell, a pair who might be selected in July's Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Clayton is headed to the University of Washington and played second base and third base for the Pickles opening weekend, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs in his WCL debut.
Tredwell is coming off of Tommy John surgery and is a power-hitting corner infielder in addition to being a pitching prospect. Tredwell, expected to arrive this week, is one of 26 Californians on this season's Pickles roster.
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