Turnover in summer-league college baseball is nothing new.
Each season, the large majority of players from the previous season do not return to their club from the previous summer. Teams are left to pick up the pieces and assemble a brand-new team seemingly each year.
That hunt for new talent is crucial.
New pitching coach Tyler VonDracek may be the biggest addition that the AppleSox make in terms of compiling their coaching staff and roster for the 2019 season.
The AppleSox have a history of producing above-average pitchers. Of the 11 players in team history to appear in a major-league game, eight of them have been pitchers.
VonDracek joins his fellow coaches from Yakima Valley College, head coach Kyle Krustangel and assistant coach Cash Ulrich, who have been with the AppleSox since 2017. It’s a tight-knit trio that is excited to continue coaching together in the summer.
“I know Cash and Kyle so well,” VonDracek said. “We work on the baseball scheme of things so well. We’re true friends with being in each other’s weddings and all.”
The AppleSox, winners of six league championships, five of which have come in the 15-year lifespan of the West Coast League, have been absent of the postseason since 2014. Making it back this year is something Krustangel has been talking about since last season ended.
Krustangel is hoping to mimic the success that his coaching staff has had a Yakima Valley, where the Yaks have appeared in the NWAC Championship three times and won it once, in 2016.
“I’m fired up about continuing to coach alongside Tyler essentially year-round now between the Yaks and the Sox,” Krustangel said. “I think that the three of us coach similarly and are all on the same page. We’re eager to get the Sox back into the playoffs.”
VonDracek brings prior West Coast League coaching experience to the table this summer. Last year, he was an assistant pitching coach for the Cowlitz Black Bears, but essentially served as the head pitching coach since regular pitching coach Jason Mackey missed time due to health complications.
Though he’d only expected a light burden of responsibilities, VonDracek was pushed into a bigger role with more baggage. It served him well in that he was also moving from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach in the spring with Yakima Valley. This summer will be the third different team in a year that VonDracek has been the pitching coach for.
The man who Ulrich and Krustangel affectionately call “Vondy” is open to any ways that can improve his pitchers. Instead of sticking to one ineffable approach, VonDracek determines how to handle a pitcher based on their own capabilities and personality.
“I’d say I’m a good combination of ‘new school’ and ‘old school,’” VonDracek said. “I can agree with a lot of things and will definitely be seen doing some new age things, but also, I wanna see my guys pitching with some fire and emotion, kinda Nolan Ryan-esque.”
During AppleSox home games, fans will often notice Sox catchers looking to their left. They will be looking to VonDracek in the dugout to get the signs for which pitch to signal to the pitcher. Most catchers at the college level do not call their own game in the way that most major-leaguers do (except for AppleSox catcher Cory Meyer, who will return to the Sox this summer).
In-between flashing signals from the dugout, VonDracek hopes to see noted growth from his players as athletes and as people. Like Krustangel and Ulrich, he knows that the summer experience is about more than just improving their players on the field. It’s an approach that’s served them well at Yakima Valley and that has perfectly played in line with the AppleSox legacy of fielding both sensational ballplayers and human beings at the same time since 2000.
“Even though they come from different colleges,” VonDracek said, “the summer will be something that they can draw on when they go back to their team. They can improve not only as baseball players, but also as men and as a students.”