There are big debuts, and then there is what Chase Wehsener has done in his first week with the Victoria HarbourCats.
The Big 12 Conference Baylor Bears first-baseman went 12-for-28 with two home runs, four doubles, a triple, 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored to be named Monday as the West Coast League player of the week.
Wehsener had literally just stepped off the Clipper from Seattle the previous Monday and rushed to Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park and proceeded to hit a two-run homer on a two hit night in a 5-3 Victoria win over the Bend Elks.
“It’s been a whirlwind. But this [Royal Athletic Park] is a great venue and it’s been a lot of fun,” said Wehsener, that night.
To say it has continued would be the understatement of the WCL season. The six-foot-one native of San Diego hasn’t looked back and is hitting .429 in seven games played for Victoria.
That’s a noticeable shift to another gear from his NCAA season, in which Wehsener hit .291 in 53 games as a redshirt freshman with Baylor.
Wehsener’s torrid pace continued Sunday as he homered and doubled for three RBIs and two runs scored in a 7-5 victory for Victoria over the Pickles in Portland.
“Chase is an extremely talented and athletic first baseman,” said HabourCats head coach Todd Haney.
“He is so even-keeled and shows up to play every day. His repeated mechanics at the plate allow him to get the barrel of the bat on the ball. You know he’s going to have a quality at-bat every time because of the consistency of his approach.”
Wehsener’s batting outbursts have overshadowed those of Jason Willow, the hometown product who also joined the HarbourCats last Monday and is hitting .370 over seven games. In any other week, that would have been noticed, if not for teammate Wehsener’s even gaudier batting numbers.
The emerging partnership continued Sunday as Willow hit his second home run of the season and also doubled on a three-hit, two RBI and two runs scored afternoon as Victoria scored three runs in the top of the ninth to avoid the series sweep in Portland as the Pickles won the first two games with late rallies.
The Victoria Mariners graduate Willow is a draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles and former Canada U-18 World Cup captain. The sophomore centre-fielder was an all-conference honourable mention this season for the NCAA Big West Conference champion UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos.
“I grew up here and know this ballpark well and it’s great to be back,” said Willow, last week at Royal Athletic Park.
He is even more determined this year after his initial season in 2018 with the HarbourCats ended prematurely with a broken finger.
Willow didn’t sign with the Orioles out of Lambrick Park Secondary. He opted instead for UC-Santa Barbara, and will enter his second draft-eligibility year next season as an NCAA junior.
The Islander said he learned a lot by studying his fellow Gauchos teammates this season: “We had 10 [UC-Santa Barbara juniors] players taken in the MLB draft this year and the thing you learn is that guys do best when they put their heads down and work hard and not get caught up in where they will go in the draft and how much money they will get. So, I’ll just keep pushing.”
Willow’s play earned praise from HarbourCats skipper Haney, who played five seasons in the major leagues.
“He’s a projectable athlete and player [for pro ball] and one of our team leaders,” said Haney.
“Jason will find a way for his team to win a game.”
Victoria is 11-7 and a game behind leading Bellingham (12-6) in the North Division. The Pickles are 7-11 in the South Division.
The HarbourCats open a three-game set tonight at Royal Athletic Park against the Wenatchee AppleSox (7-8).