The Leadoff: Vasquez Vital to Success


Jan. 30, 2014

Editor's note: UCF baseball insider Bryan Levine is proud to bring you his all-new blog, The Leadoff. This blog is dedicated to giving Knights fans an inside look at the UCF baseball program. Levine, who recently began his second second season working with UCF baseball audio broadcasts, will offer his unique perspectives on "Orlando's Baseball Team" with multiple updates throughout each week of the season.

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By Bryan Levine
UCFKnights.com

Thursday, January 30

Before James Vasquez left the UCF baseball complex at the end of May he sat down with head coach Terry Rooney for his exit meeting. Rooney already knew his 2014 roster would be filled with a majority of fresh faces, so he wanted to stress the importance of the role Vasquez would play in the future.

Now, on a 35-man roster, Vasquez is one of just 11 returning players from 2013.

“Coach Rooney told me we needed to be ‘the guys’,” Vasquez said of himself and fellow veteran teammates. “He said this was our team now, and that we needed to help all the new guys adjust well to the system.”

While Rooney will rely on other veterans like JoMarcos Woods or Tommy Williams, Vasquez is arguably the most important position player to the UCF baseball team because of his ability to drive in runs. Last season, Vasquez had 36 RBI, which was third on the team behind now graduated seniors Chris Taladay and Erik Hempe. He also tied for the team lead in home runs last year, and accounts for eight of the 12 home runs remaining from the 2013 roster.

The Palm City native also has the added benefit of now having an entire year under his belt playing first base. As a sophomore, Vasquez struggled early in the first few series to get a firm grasp at first base. But he quickly adjusted and looked like an entirely different player about 15 games into the season.

“I’m definitely more comfortable this year,” Vasquez said. “I now know what it takes to be successful every day. You can’t go out there and over-think things. You just have to play your game.”

Though UCF will rely on his bat in 2014, that’s also an aspect of his game Vasquez knew he needed to improve on during the offseason. In 210 at-bats last year, Vasquez hit .248 — a slight decline from a .276 batting average in 98 at-bats his freshman year.

“I used the summer to work on hitting,” said Vasquez, who spent his time playing for the Staunton Braves in the prestigious Valley Summer Baseball League. “I worked on seeing the ball better, and recognizing the pitches I should take out of the zone.”

Vasquez actually saw more action with the Braves than he did for the Knights in 2013, and saw his numbers rise with the increased experience. He hit .307 in 153 at-bats, while driving in 43 runs in 41 games over the summer.

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