Loyola of Los Angeles looks loaded to contend for state’s top ranking in baseball, but we’re still starting the Cubs right behind league rival and 2013 State Team of the Year Harvard-Westlake in the State Top 20 for the preseason. Clovis teams are insanely strong this year as well.
Note: Once the regular weekly coverage begins on our site, we’ll provide the State Top 20 list for everyone. Writeups, analysis, team highlights and eventually the divisional state rankings will be for Gold Club members only. Please check out our Gold Club membership today. For details, CLICK HERE.
(All teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
(Thanks to Paul Muyskens for contributing to these rankings)
(Look for first regular season state rankings to begin later in March)
1. Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 28-4
When a team finishes No. 1 in the state from the previous season and returns the Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year, it’s going to be very difficult for that team to not start No. 1 in the state for the following season. It is baseball where picking teams is more of a guessing game than in any other sport, too. Those are the major reasons why we’re ranking the Wolverines as the No. 1 team in the preseason State Top 20. Jack Flaherty is that major returnee. He led last year’s squad to the CIF Southern Section Division I title and finished 13-0 on the mound with 112 strikeouts. He also was among the team leaders in hitting. Head coach Matt LaCour has some other key returnees, such as infielders Ezra Steinberg, Brian Ginsburg and Tyler Urback.
2. Loyola (Los Angeles) 22-11
It shouldn’t take Harvard-Westlake long to look for a worthy contender in Southern California. The Cubs, who are in the same Mission League, could have the best 1-2-3 pitching staff in the state and one of the best in the nation. The funny thing about Nathan Hadley (UCLA), Quinn Brodey (Stanford) and Kyle Beadles (Arizona) also is that the three could be pitching against each other very soon in college. Brodey also is among the team’s top returning hitters, but some other players offensively will need to step up if Loyola can stay this high in the rankings. Defensively, the team also is outstanding led by shortstop Angelo Armenta, a USC recruit.
3. Clovis North (Fresno) 27-6
Returning Fresno Bee Player of the Year Jack Labosky leads a strong group of returnees for the Broncos, who we are starting out on top in the section and above the other two main Clovis powerhouses for the same reason we have started Harvard-Westlake ahead of Loyola. Labosky went 11-0 last season and only gave up one or no runs in 11 starts. He had 81 strikeouts in 80 innings and had a 0.81 ERA. At the plate, Labosky batted .437 with three homers and 22 RBI. Catcher Braden Frankfurt, infielder Conner Fugman and outfielder Colby Cummings are other key returnees.
4. Clovis 24-9
It’s going to be an interesting season for the Patrick family. Clovis head coach James Patrick, the father of Clovis North head coach Chris Patrick as well as Clovis West head coach Kevin Patrick, will have a team that may end up among the best in school history. The Cougars will be led by USC-bound shortstop Jacob Gatewood, a uniquely talented player at his position. Think of an athlete like Darryl Strawberry at the plate with the skills to play on the infield. Gatewood could legitimately be chosen very high in the first round of the next MLB draft. Seven others who started last season also are back. The list includes 10-game pitching winner McCarthy Tatum (Fresno State), catcher/pitcher Alan Crowley and infielder R.J. Hartmann. Another reason we wanted to start Clovis this high is because the Cougars will be the highest-ranked of three California teams going to this year’s National High School Invitational in North Carolina.
5. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 30-5
The defending CIF San Diego Section Open Division champions are going to be very good once again, behind head coach Sam Blalock, the state’s third winningest coach ever, behind only the late John Stevenson of El Segundo and Cordova’s Guy Anderson. Blalock also will have yet another first-round MLB Draft pick barring some unforeseen injury or situation as catcher Alex Jackson is on every top 10 prospect list (including college players). Jackson, who hit 14 homers last season with 33 RBI and 50 runs scored, also is a big-time Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year candidate. The only reason he wasn’t the State Junior of the Year after winning the same for sophomores and freshmen is that junior Jack Flaherty of Harvard-Westlake basically stole it away by leading his team pitching and hitting to the CIFSS Division I crown. In addition to Jackson, the Broncos have some other notable veterans, including pitchers Casey Henderson (7-2, 1.52) and Alex Homick (6-1, 2.22). Another top hitter coming back is first baseman Niko Holm (.356, 31 RBI).
6. St. Francis (Mountain View) 30-4
Although there are some fairly strong graduation losses – including six players from last year that won the CIF Central Coast Section Division I 1 title who are now at major colleges – the Lancers still have enough back so that they should be considered No. 1 in the CCS and from the West Catholic Athletic League until they start suffering losses. With pitching strength being ultra-important, St. Francis has that covered due to the return of all-state left-hander John Gavin plus Arizona State-bound Richard Boe. Gavin looked great in the CCS final and ended the season 11-1 with a 1.28 ERA. Another key returnee is catcher Tim Susnara, who has signed with Oregon.
7. Valley Christian (San Jose) 18-12
For returning depth throughout the lineup, the Warriors have more than St. Francis but we aren’t going to rank them higher until results on the field this spring were to dictate that. There were just four seniors on last year’s team and the returning group is led by dominating pitcher Theron Kay, who has signed with Baylor and has a 0.98 career ERA. Also back are outfielder Bryson Brigman, a senior going to San Diego and who has USA 18U experience, and younger brother Keenan Brigman, and infielder headed to Pacific.
8. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 24-3
In staying consistent with this theme of ranking a defending champion from a super league higher than a team from the same league that may have more returning strength, we’re also going with the Monarchs from the Trinity League to be higher than Orange Lutheran. Last year’s team was No. 1 in the nation for much of the season, but couldn’t get through the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs (eventually won by Harvard-Westlake). There are some heavy graduation losses, but coach Burt Call does have two all-league returnees in third baseman Brandon Perez and outfielder Josh Stephen. Second baseman Bryan Call also is back after gaining all-tourney honors at the National High School Invitational. A phenom-filled freshman class also is coming in, led by freshman Nick Pratto. He has already committed to USC and he’s mentioned in our first e-book, California: The Baseball Capital of the World, because he was the top player on the 2011 Huntington Beach Little League team that won the Little League World Series.
9. Lutheran (Orange) 19-8
The Lancers came up short last year in knocking off Mater Dei atop the Trinity League, but they did win the Hard 9 National Classic. Coach Eric Borba’s club will be led by UCLA-bound infielder Josh Morgan, who was one of their top hitters as a junior. Also back is Long Beach State-bound outfielder Joey Sanchez and University of Pennsylvania-bound infielder Ryan Schroth. On the mound, Garett King is back and will play next at Nebraska.
10. Buchanan (Clovis) 26-6
With Clovis North and Clovis picked up at No. 3 and No. 4 in state to start, we certainly couldn’t wait to long for the Bears to be clearly in the mix as well. The Tri-River Athletic League may be that good this season and we’ll get a good idea of how good due to Clovis North going to San Diego for the annual Mike Morrow Lions tourney (the Broncos could play Rancho Bernardo there) and Clovis going to the NHSI. Don’t be surprised, though, if Buchanan ends up as the best in the section. The Bears have been No. 1 in the state before (in 2011) and they are going to be very good. Returning ace pitcher Jack Wheeless is back after recovering from a scary incident last fall when he was struck by a car. All-State Underclass outfielder Trenton Kemp also is back along with two transfers that head coach Tom Donald thinks will be outstanding – infielder Ross Dodds, who has signed with Fresno State, and pitcher/hitter Chandler Bengston.
11. Elk Grove 30-5
Our 2013 State Coach of the Year, Jeff Carlson, will have another strong team after his squad from last season won its sixth CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title in the last 15 years. Although standouts like Rowdy Tellez and Dom Nunez are gone, returning is outfielder Derek Hill, who batted .417 and had 27 RBI, and shortstop Nick Madrigal, who hit .374, scored 40 runs and is one of the most exciting base runners in the state. The pitching will need some help as well, but returnee Ty Madrigal was 5-0 last year and had a 2.15 ERA.
12. Fountain Valley 24-5
Some may find that the Barons being in front of Huntington Beach is curious since Huntington Beach was ranked No. 1 in the L.A. Times preseason rankings earlier this week. First, we’d never rank a team in the top 10 for the state in the preseason that was barely above .500 in its previous season unless transfers are involved. Second, Fountain Valley only had six seniors last year from a roster that went 24-5 and won the Sunset League (over Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos and others). We see why there are questions about the Barons – pitching being the main one since that part of the roster has been hit hard – but they also have a great cast of returnees at the plate and in the field. Long Beach State-bound Brock Lundquist was the Sunset League Player of the Year in 2013, shortstop Daniel Patzlaff made headlines when he homered in four straight at-bats, while junior Justin Cobb, senior Dillon Persinger (a catcher) and senior Justin Brand (an infielder) also are all returning with all-league honors.
13. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 20-12
It was difficult trying to come up with a No. 2 team for the preseason in San Diego behind Rancho Bernardo. We eventually settled on the Dons, who were No. 1 in the nation in the preseason last season only to blow up with losses and players getting bumped off the squad for violating team rules. This year, Cathedral Catholic once again has a pitcher with as much acclaim as any in the nation. That would be left-hander Brady Aiken, the No. 1 ranked Class of 2014 pitcher by Student Sports. His stats last year were modest (5-3, 0.92, 80 Ks in 53 innings) but he lit up the Area Code Games last summer and other showcase events. The Dons have another UCLA recruit coming back in Sean Bouchard, who plays infield and batted .316 as a junior. Another to watch is infielder Giovanni Garbella. He hit .321 and last summer was MVP at the European Junior U18 championships as a member of the Italian team.
14. Huntington Beach 15-14
There’s no doubt the Oilers are stacked to start 2014, but to move up really high in our state rankings will require a few big early season wins to overcome last season’s losses. Senior shortstop Jessie Kuet batted .391 last year with four homers and is headed to Stanford. The rest of the lineup will include senior pitcher Sean O’Toole (St. Mary’s), junior pitcher Noah Davis (UC Santa Barbara commit) and two younger players already committed to UCLA – sophomore Logan Poulesen and freshman Hagen Danner. Jake Brodt also is back after hitting .367 and is bound for Santa Clara.
15. Davis 22-8
The Blue Devils battled Elk Grove on fairly even terms in Delta Valley League games last season and should be one of the top teams in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. They will be led by one of the top players in Northern California as well in Matt Trask, a senior signed with UCLA. Trask went 7-2 on the mound in 2013 with a 1.52 ERA. He also batted .413 with 20 RBI. Davis also returns most of the lineup as well, including infielder Brett Broomfield (.338) and outfielder John Ariola (.341). Plus, watch out for sophomore infielder Ryan Kreidler, one of the top frosh in Northern California from last season. Kreidler, son of well-known Bay Area media personality Mark Kreidler, hit .304 as a varsity performer last spring.
16. Temecula Valley (Temecula) 23-6
When watching the Bears drop a 5-0 contest to Cypress in the CIFSS Division II final at Dodger Stadium, it was quick to go through the lineup and statistics and see that just about everyone was going to be back for 2014. It’s a squad that has returning strength on the mound and in the field. Leading the way should be UC Santa Barbara-bound Phil Plantier in the infield. He batted .400 last year and had 29 RBI. Junior David Maldonado was nearly a .400 hitter (.385 to be exact) and already has committed to San Diego State. Among pitchers, Burke Mitchell went 9-0 as a junior with a 2.10 ERA while Brandon Koch was 8-3 with a 1.39 ERA.
17. Serra (Gardena) 27-5
The Cavaliers probably would have been a few spots higher had 2013 pitching ace Solomon Bates not transferred to Oak Hills of Hesperia. If someone steps up on the mound, Serra has other pieces in place to make another run at a CIFSS title. Last year’s Division III crown was paced by graduated Dominic Smith (the first round MLB draft pick). Leading returnees include outfielder Marcus Wilson, who homered at Dodger Stadium last year and hit .383, and outfielder Denz’l Chapman, who batted .389 and scored 32 runs. There may not be a better leadoff hitting prospect in the state than the speedy Chapman. Two others to watch are sophomore shortstop Tommy Bothwell and junior infielder Morgan Lomax (.455).
18. Serra (San Mateo) 27-6
Head coach Craig Gianinno hopes the Padres can stay up there with St. Francis and Valley Christian in the WCAL and hold off Archbishop Mitty, which should be much stronger this season. Serra’s leading returnees are Sean Watkins (Loyola Marymount), Neil Sterling (Utah) and Matt Blais (UC Davis). Of the newcomers to watch, the Padres are counting on sophomore Angelo Bortolin and juniors James Outman, Scott Ota and Chris Papapietro.
19. College Park (Pleasant Hill) 22-6
The Falcons may still be a year away from being truly among the state’s elite, but they sure have a ton of returning talent from last year and ended up being the highest-ranked team in our preseason State Top 20 from the CIF North Coast Section. Junior Joe DeMers went 10-0 on the mound last season with a 1.00 ERA and batted .373. He has committed to Washington. A second pitcher will need to be developed, but the rest of the lineup rocks. The top returning hitter, junior Trevor Larnach, who hit .524 with 24 RBI, has committed to Oregon State. Junior outfielder Nick Oar (.432, 21 RBI) has committed to Stanford while junior Willie Maciver (.381) has committed to Washington.
20. Los Alamitos 19-11
Another squad that looks strong from the CIF Southern Section’s Sunset League is the Griffins. They’ll be a threat to knock off league rivals Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach whenever senior Jacob Nix is pitching since he’s regarded as one of the top right-handers in the nation. Nix, who has signed with UCLA, was reportedly reaching 92 to 95 mph on his fastball during the summer. Los Al has other strong returnees, especially on the mound, including Darren McCaughan, who has signed with Long Beach State.
NEXT 20 TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
•Alemany (Mission Hills) 19-11
•Aliso Niguel (Aliso Viejo) 21-12
•Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 20-13
•Campolindo (Moraga) 22-6
•Clovis West (Fresno) 17-14
•De La Salle (Concord) 19-8
•Granite Bay 17-10
•Grossmont (La Mesa) 27-8
•Hart (Newhall) 12-14
•JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 10-16
•Madison (San Diego) 24-9
•Mission Viejo 18-12-1
•Oak Hills (Hesperia) 26-7
•Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) 29-3-1
•San Fernando 33-3
•South Hills (West Covina) 22-7
•St. Mary’s (Stockton) 20-15
•Westlake (Westlake Village) 14-14