All-WCL catcher Ronnie Shaeffer of Wenatchee looks to lead pre-season #8 ranked UC Irvine to Omaha

Defending Big West champion UC Irvine was ranked #8 in Baseball America’s college baseball preview issue (Feb. 22-Mar. 7, 2010).

The Anteaters send many of its players to the West Coast League.

2009 Big West Pitcher of the Year Daniel Bibona (pictured) developed his superb changeup in the summer of 2007 with the Corvallis Knights.

Bibona, a senior, went 12-1 and posted a 2.63 ERA while striking out 108 over 106 innings pitched last spring. He is rated the #6 senior pro prospect by Baseball America and was selected in the 16th round of the 2009 June MLB draft by St. Louis.

Last summer, the West Coast League champion Wenatchee AppleSox were led by a trio of frosh Anteaters including infielders DJ Crumlich and Tommy Reyes and freshman All-American catcher Ronnie Shaeffer.

“I’ve been a fan of the West Coast League for several years and my observation is that the WCL has continued to get even better each year,” said University of California, Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie.

“The opportunity for college players to compete at a high level in great towns, in great facilities, play for outstanding coaches in front of great crowds, and have the experience to meet and live for two months with marvelous families is rare, indeed. Clearly, the WCL is on the shortest list of the best summer opportunities anywhere in the nation for the college player. At UC, Irvine, we feel fortunate when we have players who are capable of playing for a WCL team and will always encourage our players to take advantage of an invitation to play in the Northwest. We know from experience that our players come back from the WCL as better players and who appreciate the time spent with their teams and summer families.”

Ronnie Shaeffer spent last summer working on his catching for the Wenatchee AppleSox after hitting .388 with 4 HR and 36 RBI as a frosh at UCI to earn freshman All-American honors.

Ronnie was kind enough to grant westcoastleague.com an online interview between classes and preparation for the upcoming college baseball season that gets started on Friday, February 19. Check it out below.

westcoastleague.com: What was your fondest memory from last spring?

Shaeffer: I would probably have to say that my fondest memory and something that I will remember for the rest of my life is hitting a home run on the very first swing I ever took in a college game. It was actually in the second game I played in, but in the first game I had a walk and a sacrifice bunt before being taken out for a pinch hitter.

westcoastleague.com: What makes the Anteaters such a great program, UCI appeared in the College World Series in 2007 and was ranked #1 much of last spring?

Shaeffer: I think we are as successful as we are because we play for each other and for the team as a whole instead of for ourselves. We have a group of guys that understand the idea of a team, play unselfish baseball, and work hard day in and day out.

westcoastleague.com: How did summer ball prepare you for this season?

Shaeffer: Playing competitive games all summer helped simply by getting a lot of at bats off of many very good pitchers. When you stop playing for a whole summer it is difficult to keep your timing against live pitchers and playing all summer helped me keep this. I feel that it helped the defensive part of my game even more. Most of last year I was the DH at UCI so being able to catch on a regular basis helped me to get in a rhythm in a way. I started to feel comfortable behind the plate which was hard to do during the college season when I only caught a few games and I carried that feeling into this fall and winter.

westcoastleague.com: What was your impression of the West Coast League?

Shaeffer: I came into last summer never hearing about the West Coast League prior to being told I was going to play there so I had no idea of what to expect. I quickly realized that the competition was very good and the league had a lot of support from the communities the teams played in.

westcoastleague.com: Who was the toughest pitcher you faced last spring and last summer?

Shaeffer: We faced a lot of very tough pitchers this spring and none of them are standing out in my mind at this time. The toughest pitcher I faced this summer probably had to be Matt Andriese from the Corvallis Knights. He shut down our offense in the game we played in Wenatchee early in the summer with a very good split finger pitch.

westcoastleague.com: How would you rate your summer experience in Wenatchee? How was the atmosphere and would you recommend the AppleSox to future UCI student-athletes?

Shaeffer: I don’t have anything to compare Wenatchee to as a summer ball atmosphere since it was my first experience with something like this, but I definitely enjoyed my time there. The fans were awesome and showed up to every game in huge numbers. I met some great people including players, coaches, and people in the community. For all of these reasons I would definitely recommend the Applesox to other UCI players and already have as there are a few players from our team that will play in Wenatchee this summer.

Oregon State of the Pac-10 was ranked #25 in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings and head coach Pat Casey was voted top Coach of the 2000s.

Casey also places many of his players in the WCL.

“The West Coast League has been a great collegiate league for our players to compete in during the summer. When you have such great summer organizations close to Corvallis, it gives our players a great opportunity to play in great environments. The quality of play is really quite beneficial for our student-athletes,” said OSU baseball head coach Pat Casey.

West Coast League alums recognized in Baseball America’s college baseball preview issue:

College Top 100 Prospects – #21 James Paxton (Kelowna Falcons, 2007) of Kentucky and #53 Dixon Anderson (Kelowna Falcons, 2008) of Cal

Top 50 Freshman Prospects – #14 Andrew Susac (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Oregon State and #44 Cody Keefer (Wenatchee AppleSox, 2009) of UCLA

Top 50 Sophomore Prospects – #37 Dixon Anderson (Kelowna Falcons, 2008) of Cal

Top 50 Senior Prospects – #1 James Paxton (Kelowna Falcons, 2007) of Kentucky; #6 Daniel Bibona (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of UC Irvine; #18 Steven Sultzbaugh (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of Rice; and #49 Drew Heid (Bend Elks, 2008) of Gonzaga

Conference USA Top Prospects, 2010 Draft – #9 Steven Sultzbaugh (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of Rice

Sun Belt Conference Top Newcomers – #2 Ross Humes (Kitsap BlueJackets, 2006-2007) of Arkansas State

Pac-10 All-Conference Team – C, Andrew Susac (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Oregon State

Pac-10 Top Newcomers – #3 Andrew Susac (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Oregon State and #9 Cody Keefer (Wenatchee AppleSox, 2009) of UCLA

Pac-10 Top Prospects, 2010 Draft – #4 Dixon Anderson (Kelowna Falcons, 2008) of Cal and #9 Josh Osich (Corvallis Knights, 2008) of Oregon State

Pac-10 Top Prospects, 2011 Draft – #6 Andrew Susac (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Oregon State

Pac-10 Best Defensive Catcher and Catcher/Best Arm – Andrew Susac (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Oregon State

Big West All-Conference Team – 1B, Steve Tinoco (Moses Lake Pirates, 2007) of Long Beach State; 3B, Ryan Goetz (Kelowna Falcons, 2007) of UC Riverside; OF, Michael Hur (Spokane RiverHawks, 2007) of UC Riverside; and SP, Daniel Bibona (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of UC Irvine

Big West Pitcher of the Year – Daniel Bibona (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of UC Irvine

Big West Top Prospects, 2010 Draft – #7 Daniel Bibona (Corvallis Knights, 2007) of UC Irvine

Big West Top Prospects, 2011 Draft – #3 Bobby Crocker (Bend Elks, 2009) of Cal Poly

West Coast Conference All-Conference Team – 2B, Riley Henricks (Kelowna Falcons, 2008) of University of Portland; 3B, Stephen Yarrow (Wenatchee AppleSox, 2008) of University of San Francisco; SS, Derek Poppert (Bend Elks, 2007) of University of San Francisco; and OF, Drew Heid (Bend Elks, 2008) of Gonzaga

West Coast Conference Top Newcomers – #4 Matt Moynihan (Wenatchee AppleSox, 2009) of University of San Diego

Western Athletic Conference All-Conference Team – 3B, Corey Valine (Bend Elks, 2009) of San Jose State

Division II Players to Watch – 3B, Chris Casazza (Moses Lake Pirates, 2009) of Tarleton State

Division II Top Prospects, 2010 Draft – #7 Chris Casazza (Moses Lake Pirates, 2009) of Tarleton State

Junior Colleges Players to Watch – 1B, Taylor Ard (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Mt. Hood CC

Junior Colleges Top Prospects, 2010 Draft – #5 Taylor Ard (Corvallis Knights, 2009) of Mt. Hood CC