By John Philip Wyllie
Having compiled a winning (7-5) record in the early going against some tough out-of- league opponents, the Otay Ranch Mustangs look ready to compete for what would be their first Mesa League baseball banner. Senior pitcher and first baseman, Juan Taboada is one of several players that coach, Robert McCurdy will be counting on.
“Juan is a sparkplug. He can hit with power when we need it. He’s hitting fourth in the lineup right now and people try to pitch around him, but he has been getting us timely hits. Last year, he pitched and played first base for us, but he can also play in the outfield. He’s the kind of player that you need to find a position for.”
The good news for McCurdy is that Taboada is just one of several highly skilled players at his disposal.
“Third baseman and pitcher, Ricky Alvarez is the best player on our team,” according to McCurdy. “If anyone from the South Bay is going to be drafted in June it will be him. Second baseman Chris Canedo has a super glove and a very solid bat. And junior Luis Marchena is our leadoff hitter as well as a very fine shortstop.”
These players along with Taboada and some others make the Mustangs among the favorites to capture a league banner.
During his junior campaign, Taboada developed into a highly effective left-handed pitcher, but he injured his rotator cuff while playing winter ball in Tijuana and had to back off.
“Rather than push it, I decided to rest it for league. My coaches had me doing exercises for my bicep and tricep and some conditioning. Now it feels good again and I am going get some games on the mound. I think I am going to pitch on Friday,” Taboada said.
Taboada’s return could be a key for the Mustangs. While they are a strong hitting team, the Mustangs Achilles heal has been their lack of depth on the mound. If Taboada can regain the form that he showed as a junior, the Mustangs will be that much tougher to beat.
Taboada has been interested in baseball for as long as he can remember.
“When I was little my dad was always talking about baseball. He took me to some Padres games and we used to watch them in Tijuana on T.V. I started playing down there when I was five and I have been playing ever since. In middle school I played baseball and basketball at the same time, but it got to the point where I had to decide and I picked baseball.”
He has never regretted it. For him baseball has become a year round sport. He hopes to continue playing after he graduates in June.
“Last year, I was selected as a San Diego Union-Tribune scholar-athlete. I haven’t pitched yet this year, so I am still waiting for a school to call me, but I am thinking that with the league season about to begin I will get a chance (to show what he can do on the mound).”
Taboada believes that his pitching might be his ticket into the college ranks.
“I would like to get a degree in international business and I have heard that San Diego State has a really good program for that.”
SDSU also has a competitive baseball team managed by former Padre and San Diego Sports icon, Tony Gwynn. Playing for the man that he idolized as a youth would be just about “perfect” for Taboada.