The Sun Belt College League is more than six teams of college-age players who are honing their baseball skills before returning to their respective schools in the fall.
The opportunity to play in the league is a matter of baseball survival for some of the players who recently completed their high school careers.
“These guys are efficient as hell,” Vail Rebels assistant coach Ron Figueroa said. “All I hope is that they find a spot out there, college-wise, for a lot of these guys.”
Figueroa’s son, Catalina Foothills Class of 2022 pitching standout Alex Figueroa, is one of those players in search of a college destination while playing in the Sun Belt League for his dad and manager Josue Ortiz.
The Ochoa brothers — Angel and Roman — both Sahuarita graduates, are also playing for a college opportunity.
Angel has already played in college with Pima and Southeastern Oklahoma State and Roman is a Class of 2022 graduate.
“He’s trying to go DI over here, somwehere in Arizona, he said,” Roman mentioned about his brother.
Angel, who was three years at Pima College from 2019 to 2021 as an infielder, including during the COVID-19 year of 2020, has two years of eligibility remaining. He batted .265 with 13 doubles with Southeastern Oklahoma State this spring.
2rbi triple vs Aztecs 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/ZprML3zW1s
— Roman Ochoa (@roman8A_03) June 26, 2022
The Ochoas are two of 14 players on the Sun Belt College League All-Star rosters who are not committed or signed as of now with a college. The All-Star Game on Sunday (6:30 p.m., Kino Stadium) provides them another chance to be seen by college coaches and scouts.
“I just have to play my game and don’t do anything different,” said Roman, a third baseman and right-handed pitcher. “The way I play will be the right way to play.”
Roman is batting .429 with a triple and four RBIs with the Vail Rebels. Angel is batting .458 with eight doubles, two home runs and four RBIs.
Another player with college experience who is landing at a new program is right-hander Michael Bacica, who is enrolled at Arizona with the intention to walk on to Chip Hale’s program this fall.
Bacica, towering on the mound at 6-foot-4, has two years of eligibility remaining after playing at Stetson in 2019 and Maine in 2021.
He was out of baseball this spring after appearing in only seven innings of three games with Maine in 2021.
Pitching with the Northwest Nighthawks of the Sun Belt College League, Bacica has struck out 44 and walked 17 in 28 1/3 innings. His ERA is 5.08.
The All-Star Game will also feature 11 players with Division I programs, including Vail’s Isaiah Jackson, a Cienega Class of 2022 centerfield prospect who has signed with ASU.
“It’s great to have guys like Isaiah in this league because it gives these other guys a chance to be seen by scouts,” Ron Figueroa said. “They might see a Roman Ochoa or (former CDO pitcher) Marcus Degado and say, ‘Hey, you might want to pick up this guy, too.’ Sometimes, you hope that it works out.”
Roman Ochoa is a player to rally around. He’s softspoken. By all accounts from his coaches, he is a hard worker. He’s a sponge when it comes to being coached and taught, including by his brother. They are playing together for the first time since their Little League days with Copper Hills when Roman played up an age to be with him.
Roman has plenty of tools with pitching as a right-hander, hitting (.493 as a senior at Sahuarita) and his base-running ability with a 6-foot and 180-pound frame.
His nickname is “Big Cat” for his prowess on the basepaths.
“Based on my strengths, I’d be a good hitter in college,” Roman said. “I have good bat control and can place the ball wherever I want most of the time — find a hole and then use my base-running. I may look slow but I can be fast and take chances.”[table “182” not found /]
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.