Pair of Bulldogs, Coyotes Sign With Pippins

Zags pitcher Graham and commit Melchione join Graves and Garcia from CSUSB

YAKIMA, Wash. – Two pitchers, a catcher and a corner infielder are the latest additions to the Pippins this year.

Right-hander Ryan Graves and infielder Danny Garcia join the squad from Cal State University San Bernardino, which also is sending Jake Borst back to Yakima this summer. In addition, right-hander Payton Graham and incoming freshman catcher Gio Melchione from Gonzaga are headed to Yakima.

The relationship between both school and the Pippins has been potent over the past few years, and Pippins manager Kyle Krustangel is ready to add another chapter to that relationship.

“Both Coach Machtolf (Gonzaga) and Coach Nadeau (CSUSB) have had players passing through this league for 7-8 years now,” Krustangel said. “Coach Nadeau makes it easy to rely on his players to help us win right out of the gate. I’m excited to see what Graves and Garcia will add to our roster.

“Gonzaga is usually a top 25 team in the country, and we have had a handful of Zags throughout the years that have been huge for the Pippins. Graham and Melchione shouldn’t be much different.”

Garcia is in his junior year at CSUSB. The Yucaipa, California, resident plays in his own backyard collegiately, and it has translated to on the field success. So far this season, Garcia has started in 15 of the 18 games, hitting .304 with two home runs and nine RBIs.

Before transferring this year, Garcia played last season at Riverside CC, finishing with a .266 average along with helping the Tigers to a 38-12 record — the most wins since 2002 for the program.

Garcia’s college teammate, Graves, is also a community college transfer. Graves started his collegiate career at Pasadena CC, appearing in 15 games and finishing the year throwing 56 innings last year. He also had 39 strikeouts and just eight walks in that span.

The La Cañada, California, native is still adapting to new roles with his new team. However, Graves does want to make sure the everyday grind is being done the right way in order to better himself both on and off the mound.

“I’m looking to refine my routine,” Graves said. “Being put into different roles has presented challenges when it comes to what routines provide the highest level of performance. Finding the strongest routine is going to be big for me.”

Graham, from Richland, Washington, is entering his first year at Gonzaga. The right-handed pitcher was the No. 5-ranked player in Baseball Northwest’s rankings in 2022. A two-sport athlete at Kamiakin High School, Graham won the 2021 MCC player of the year and was an All-League nominee at both third base and on the mound.

As a freshman with the Zags, Graham has appeared in five contests and thrown 10.1 innings. Graham had the opportunity to play his college ball in his home state, and getting the call to play summer ball in Washington also was just as special.

“It’s pretty amazing to have this opportunity to play ball in my home state and so close to my hometown. I am excited to get to Yakima this summer and get it going,” Graham said.

Melchione, from Gilbert, Arizona, has yet to scratch the surface collegiately. The Gonzaga commit is entering his senior season at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Arizona. A three-year starter at Desert Ridge, last year Melchione hit .304 with four doubles and seven RBIs. This season, he is doubling down on those stats.

In about half the at-bats so far in 2023, Melchione is batting .350 — with four doubles and seven RBIs. Even with the sustained success so far in 2023, he is still aiming to become a better student athlete, both on and off the field.

“I’m working on my mentality in the box, making sure I am selective and doing damage when I see my pitch,” Melchione said. “In the classroom, I think my organizational skills can be better, especially entering my first year of college.”

The Pipps are slated to open the 2023 WCL season on the road for a three-game series in Longview against the Cowlitz Black Bears. The Pippins’ first home series will be at The Orchard against the defending champion Corvallis Knights, starting June 6.

By Jeff Garretson

March 21, 2023