UCLA Commits, Gonzaga Arm Join Pippins

YAKIMA, Washington — A redshirt freshman from Gonzaga and two incoming freshmen to UCLA this fall are the latest additions to the 2024 Pippins roster.

Parker Smith hails from Liberty Lake, Washington, and was the No. 24 prospect in the 2022 Baseball Northwest recruiting class. He missed his true freshman season with an injury but is very excited to start to work back this summer with Yakima Valley.

“Last year I had elbow surgery, so I’ve been out of it for a while. This year will be the first year where I get some significant innings,” Smith said about finally being able to return to the diamond.

The Central Valley High School graduate, now at Gonzaga, grew up in Washington and has some baseball background in Yakima as well.

“I’ve been to Yakima a few times throughout my career to play youth baseball tournaments, so I’m familiar with the area a bit,” Smith said about his time growing up in the home state of the Pippins.

With it being so important to Smith to be able to return from injury in a significant way, this summer will be spent working on staying ready for all opportunities that will be thrown his way.

“Really for me I’m just going to focus on staying available. It’s the biggest thing for me,” he said.

“And then it’s just limiting free bases. So, commanding the zone with all three of my pitches, and hopefully just putting my best foot forward as far as the (West Coast League) goes.”

Justin Cuellar comes into the summer measuring at 6-foot-2, prior to his first season at UCLA. The California-native decided to stay home and attend UCLA because of the great coaching he plans on receiving.

“I’m excited to go to UCLA because of coach (John) Savage. I’ve heard a lot of great things about him – that he’s the greatest pitching coach,” Cuellar said about learning from one of the best.

Cuellar joins a Pippins bullpen that is a mixed bag of players. There are experienced arms who’ve played at the WCL level, and some, like Cuellar, who will be getting their first taste of summer ball in 2024.

“It’s going to be different than the high school season. So, I’m just getting prepared to play against great players and a higher level, so I think it’s going to be tough,” Cuellar said.

Another UCLA commit is catcher/first baseman Dylan Fien from Temecula, California. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is a switch-hitter and the No. 2-ranked catcher in his class in California. As a junior at Great Oak High School, Fien hit .487 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.

In six games so far this year, Fien is hitting .476 with four doubles, a triple and a home run, in addition to six RBIs.

The Pippins open their 10th anniversary season May 31 at The Orchard, hosting the Springfield Drifters in a 3-game set to get the 2024 summer season started. Single-game tickets for Yakima Valley’s 32 home games will go on sale in April.

By Jake Schrantz

March 4, 2024