EDINBURG — When the novel coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of NCAA spring sports in March, the UTRGV Vaqueros, winners of eight straight games at the time, were one of college baseball’s hottest teams.
This summer, five Vaqueros have picked up right where they left off, competing in collegiate summer leagues across the country, sharpening their skills on the diamond and upping their draft stock while preparing for the 2020-21 season with UTRGV.
Each summer, college baseball players journey to different cities in several states for a chance to compete in summer leagues. These leagues are designed to prepare players for the professional ranks as they gain experience using wooden baseball bats, a stark difference compared to the aluminum ones used by the NCAA.
“It’s a different level of competition. There’s a lot of guys that go to different schools in different conferences — ACC, SEC, Big 10, the WAC — there’s a lot of players that are very good, very talented, and we all come together and feed off each other and learn how to play the game,” UTRGV senior Christian Sepulveda said.
Sepulveda, along with Edinburg Vela alum Aaron Galvan, Mercedes alum Oliver Closner IV, PSJA High alum Trey Guajardo and Corpus Christi Carroll product Jacob Flores, are UTRGV’s five players competing in summer leagues across the US.
A New York City native, Sepulveda is making his fourth go-round playing collegiate summer league baseball as he’s suiting up for the Wisconsin Rapid Rafters in the Northwoods League, comprised of teams in the upper Midwest of the country. Sepulveda’s previous summer league stops have taken him to Colorado, New Jersey and Texas.
“It’s really nice because you get to see places you’ve never seen before. I never thought I’d be in Wisconsin, but here I am and it’s a nice place,” he said. “Everybody is nice, they have great food and you get to experience different cultures and see the world, as well.”
Through 13 Northwoods League games, Sepulveda has recorded nine hits, eight RBIs, seven runs scored, four stolen bases and two home runs. Sepulveda and the Rapid Rafters are leading the Wisconsin-Illinois West Division with a 9-4 record.
For UTRGV this past season, Sepulveda was hitting .297 with a .382 on-base percentage, six doubles, 13 RBIs and 11 runs scored while starting all 18 games at shortstop. He ranked 81st in the NCAA and fourth in the WAC in doubles. In 2019, Sepulveda played both shortstop and third base, hitting .274 with 11 doubles, nine home runs, 40 RBIs and 44 runs scored in 53 games en route to All-WAC Second Team honors.
Guajardo, a PSJA High alum who just wrapped up his freshman year with UTRGV, is getting his first taste of collegiate summer league with the Badlands Big Sticks, an Expedition League team based in Dickinson, North Dakota. It’s also the first time he’s been on his own.
“I’m enjoying it up here. The main reason I wanted to come up here was to improve myself as a player because the sky’s the limit and I really want to improve,” Guajardo said. “This is exactly what I want to do with my future, with my career. Being out here, being able to play with guys from across the country, it’s a cool experience.”
Guajardo is hitting .222 with four hits, two runs, three walks and one RBI in four games with the Big Sticks. As a freshman this past season, Guajardo made two starts in right field while playing in five games, going 2-for-9 with two walks, three RBIs and two runs scored for UTRGV.
Flores and Galvan are also playing their summer ball in the Expedition League, which features teams from the Great Plains region. Flores is batting .294 with five hits, four runs, two home runs and five RBIs in four games with the Badlands Big Sticks. As a freshman in 2019, Flores hit .244 with six doubles, two triples, 16 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 39 games.
Vela alum Galvan is playing with the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs. In five games, Galvan has posted six hits, three runs and one RBI. This past season with the Vaqueros, Galvan posted a .526 on-base percentage while hitting .308 in nine games. As a freshman last year, Galvan hit .234 with five doubles, one triple, 29 RBI and 20 runs scored. He reached base at a .400 clip in 45 games.
Closner, a catcher and Mercedes alum, is competing in the Coastal Plains League with the Wilson Tobs, a team based in Wilson, North Carolina. The league features teams from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, as Closner has two walks and two runs in three at bats for the Tobs.
For UTRGV in 2019, Closner hit .284 with five doubles, one home run, 14 RBIs and 21 runs scored while reaching base at a .419 clip in 37 games.