The fifth-year franchise in the Florida Collegiate Summer League has five players with local ties and is hoping this will be the summer it competes for a league title.
The season has just begun for the Winter Garden Squeeze — the team has played four games, dropping three in-a-row after winning its opener — and, already, Jay Welsh has seen plenty from his roster.
“I’ve seen good, bad and ugly,” Welsh joked after Winter Garden’s home-opener June 2.
Welsh’s ballclub started the season June 1 with a 5-1 win on the road against Seminole County before turning around and being soundly defeated at home by the Scorpions June 2, 9-4. This week, on June 4 and June 5, Squeeze (1-3) dropped consecutive games to Leesburg.
It is Welsh’s third year at the helm for Winter Garden, and this season already has a different feel.
As opposed to his first two seasons, when the roster featured a heavy concentration of players with roots in the West Orange area, there is less of that connection now. While there are five players with direct ties to the area, the Squeeze have welcomed in more players who do not have local ties and will be staying with host families.
“This is the first year where I don’t know a lot of the kids,” Welsh said. “The first two weeks is a feeling-out process, seeing what they can and can’t do.”
Accordingly, Welsh — a pitching coach during the collegiate regular season at Lake-Sumter — has rolled out a new “platoon” format for his position players to make sure each position player sees playing time in each game.
“The 13 position players, I’ll do a five (inning) and four (inning split), and I’ll rotate that,” Welsh said. “I like when a kid knows that he’s going to come to the ballpark and ... he’s going to be in the game.”
In addition to getting each player some action and keeping with the spirit of the Florida Collegiate Summer League — helping players improve for their college programs and get them exposure in front of scouts — the format has allowed Welsh to evaluate nearly every player in a short amount of time.
“These first two games — everybody has played,” Welsh said. “I’ve seen every arm except for the kids (who) aren’t here.”
This is the fifth season for the Squeeze in the FCSL, and Welsh and General Manager Adam Bates are hopeful that in addition to providing a good experience for the players they have brought to Winter Garden, the ballclub can make a little noise in the postseason — and perhaps make it to the championship game for the first time.
“Overall, we have enough pieces to have another solid year and hopefully make a run at the end,” Welsh said.