First, the Saints coach has 11 starters and 18 lettermen returning off a team that won 20 games. Second, he has added two major-college transfers – Sean Meehan, who batted .275 and started at Washington last season, and Kyle Baskett, who hit .310 at Sacramento State.
“I like our chances,” said Garland, who begins his second season as SMU’s coach. “I think we’ve got enough talent to win the conference. Our expectations are high.”
The Saints begin their season today at Cal State Los Angeles, the first of six games in four days in the Los Angeles area.
Garland has hitting and pitching. The Saints averaged nearly seven runs a game last season, and they return four starting pitchers – led by 6-foot-10 Michael McIver. Baskett and Meehan will also pitch, strengthening one of the deepest staffs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
McIver, a senior and Capital graduate, had a team-leading 4.30 ERA and yet finished 2-7 last season.
“Michael is a strike-throwing guy,” Garland said. “All my pitchers are. We throw strikes.”
Saint Martin’s led the conference in giving up the fewest walks last season.
“We expect to be at the top again this year,” Garland said.
Meehan, a Centralia graduate, is expected to end up as the team’s top closer.
“He was predominately a position player at Washington,” Garland said. “He’ll play a position for us in the outfield. But his first priority is pitching. He’s a good athlete. He’ll pitch and play a position for us.”
Also back on the mound are Thomas DeBoer and Casey Mitchell, both Capital graduates. DeBoer had the conference’s sixth best ERA (4.44) and was 4-4 in 17 appearances. He walked just 13 in 71 innings.
Nate O’Brien, an Olympia graduate who won a gold glove award at Green River Community College, will throw out of the bullpen and give added depth on the mound.
“I like our pitching,” Garland said.
Four all-conference players return. First baseman Travis Jones and outfielder Andrew Elke were first-team selections. Elke batted .304 and led the GNAC with a .530 on-base percentage. Jones batted .333 with four home runs and drove in a team-high 45 runs.
Third baseman Josh Grenier, a junior out of Tumwater who hit .315 with one homer and 34 RBI, was second-team all-conference. McIver also was a second-team pick, after batting .295 with two home runs and 21 RBI a season ago.
Also back is slugger Aaron Johnson, who was leading the conference in hitting and RBI before getting hurt. He was hitting .398 with a .705 slugging percentage before a broken bone in his hand ended his season.
Three other returning starters are outfielder Blaine Evans, shortstop Cody Brooks and infielder-catcher Zach Leonard. Brooks, a senior and North Thurston graduate, batted .247 with a homer and 22 RBI in 2010.
Bobby Twedt returns after starting 16 games at second base and batting .239.
“Offensively, we can swing it,” Garland said. “That will take some of the pressure off our pitching.”