Loaded Grand Street has experience on its side

His players have grown and they have added skills that weren’t there at this time last spring, but the biggest difference Melvin Martinez sees in his returners has nothing to do with velocity or how far they can hit a baseball.

It’s in the way the Wolves have reacted after several big preseason victories – or, in this case, haven’t.

“We just beat Morris this past Saturday, a very good team, and we did not celebrate whatsoever,” Martinez fondly recalled. “It was another day on the job. We’ll celebrate when we’re the last team standing and I like that type of talk.”

It isn’t just talk, either. Grand Street is deep, talented and no longer just full of potential. It returns its entire team minus ace Jose Zuniga. Junior right-hander Willie Santana, 7-0 last spring with a 0.74 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 47 innings pitched, will take Zuniga’s place and be followed in the rotation by southpaw Gerald Gonzalez, a speedy Xaverian transfer who will bat leadoff, and either Irving Galindez, Alex Cuas or Jason Aponte will be No. 3.

“I lost Jose Zuniga but in return I get Gerald Gonzalez – that’s unbelievable,” Martinez said of the talented junior.

Martinez spent much of a recent interview using the words “unbelievable,” “electric stuff” and “draftable” to describe his club. He couldn’t stop raving about senior center fielder Williams Jerez, a five-tool player he said scouts have told him will go in the top seven rounds in this June’s draft.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Jerez was listed as a freshman on Grand Street’s roster last spring only because his credits didn’t transfer. The fast 6-foot-3 senior obviously didn’t play like one, batting .519 with 21 RBIs, 26 runs scored, five home runs and 24 stolen bases.

“We’ve been averaging 12 scouts a game,” Martinez said. “He was a Preseason All-American by Rawlings and Perfect Game. He hits the daylights out of the ball, he has a great arm, can really run. He’s just phenomenal.”

Shortstop Jose Cuas (28 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, .531 average), now a junior, will bat third and may not even have to close – Martinez would rather leave him at shortstop – because Grand Street has so much pitching depth. Speedster Basael McDonald, a sophomore second baseman, is back and will hit fifth after scoring 25 runs and stealing 46 bases as a freshman, catcher Ernesto Lopez, a junior, is slotted into the fourth spot and senior first baseman Aponte and senior third baseman Angel Nunez are also back.

“We have a lot of speed, we can steal second and third and get guys in on a fly ball,” Martinez said. “That’s gonna be the key for us. We have great defense, great pitching, I just hope that we continue to hit and do the little basics. That’s a big equalizer. All the good teams have great defense, great pitching, but you need that little edge.”

The group had a wildly successful year last season, going 16-0 in Queens A West and reaching the quarterfinals before losing to George Washington, 8-0. Martinez felt his team’s youth factored into the loss, especially after falling behind early.

“With a young team, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Martinez said. “It’s hard to tell young guys who don’t have that playoff experience, ‘Don’t worry, you have a chance.’ Now that they do have that playoff experience, I’m hoping that will be the difference.”

Getting to the final four isn’t enough. The Wolves want a city title.

“That’s everybody’s goal,” Jose Cuas said. “We’re always talking about winning a ring.”

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