Yes, we know some have started playing, but College Park of Pleasant Hill tops the charts at the start of the 2015 season. It is a refreshing change from the usual schools in most sports that are No. 1 in the state. The Falcons have the returnees and will be moving up to Division I in the CIF North Coast Section.
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Here is a breakdown at this year’s preseason State Top 25 rankings for California baseball with 20 more teams on the bubble (all listed with win-loss records for this year and we apologize in advance if there are some early-season results from this year that have not yet been considered):
1. COLLEGE PARK (PLEASANT HILL) 27-3
Coach Andy Tarpley’s squad finished No. 2 overall in the state last season despite being a D2 team from the CIF North Coast Section. There was a phenomenal group of underclass players on that team, led by Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year Joe DeMers. The Falcons have already been pegged as a preseason No. 1 team for the nation by Baseball America and while we sometimes don’t go along with national rankings, it’s pretty hard to go against this one. It’s not like College Park isn’t playing a national schedule – including a trip to North Carolina to be in the National High School Invitational – and this year the team also is moving up to Division I in the NCS where local rival and defending champion (and also loaded for 2015) De La Salle awaits. DeMers, signed by Washington, had a 12-2 pitching record with a 0.65 ERA and also batted .371 with 32 RBI as a junior. Six others from last year are back who are headed to Division I colleges, including infielder/outfielder Trevor Larnach (Oregon State), outfielder/catcher Nick Oar (Stanford), outfielder Jeff Mitchell (Cal), catcher Noah Burnham (UC Santa Barbara), infielder Willie MacIver (Washington) and pitcher Chris Brown (UC Davis).
Note: The potential College Park-De La Salle NCS final would be live-streamed on the NFHS Network. To get 50 percent off a yearly subscription for EVERY CIF section event available all year on the NFHS Network, CLICK HERE.
The Lions are a contender for top state and national honors as well. They count eight returning starters and like College Park will be in the NHSI in North Carolina. They also will be co-hosting the Boras Classic once again and of course are in the perhaps the toughest league (Trinity) in the state and no doubt the toughest section playoff bracket (CIF Southern Section Division I) in the nation. Three JSerra players already have Team USA experience – junior outfielder Brady Shockey (USC commit), junior shortstop Chase Strumpf (UCLA) and sophomore utility Royce Lewis. Lefty Quentin Longrie is another headed to USC while outfielder/pitcher Jake Pries is another going to UCLA.
3. ELK GROVE 26-6
Although the Thundering Herd fell short in last year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 playoffs, they did win the Boras Baseball Classic and have just about everyone back, with the notable exception of MLB first-round draft pick Derek Hill. “This is the most experienced team I have had at Elk Grove with eight returning starters and all of the rotation coming back,” said 2013 State Coach of the Year Jeff Carlson. The returning pitchers – Chris Martin, Austin Del Chairo and Ty Madrigal – also will be joined by transfer Kevin Kyle, who is a D1 college commit. Top position players should be shortstop Nick Madrigal (Oregon State) and junior first baseman/pitcher Dylan Carlson (Cal State Fullerton commit).
4. HUNTINGTON BEACH 24-5
We could have just as easily had the Oilers in the No. 2 slot to start the year as JSerra. The L.A. Times, in fact, had them No. 1 in its preseason rankings. We also know, however, that Huntington Beach lost its opening game on Saturday, 7-4, to Aliso Niguel. They have just as loaded a lineup as the Lions or No. 1 College Park. Senior Noah Davis went 11-1 on the mound last year and is headed to UC Santa Barbara, but underclass teammates Logan Pouelson (a junior going to UCLA) and Hagen Danner (a sophomore also committed to the Bruins) are both throwing above 90 mph this spring, according to head coach Benji Medure. The Oilers also have almost all of their position players back and ready to roll, including centerfielder Daniel Amaral (UCLA), first baseman Cooper Moore (Utah), and outfielders Dominic Abbadessa (Long Beach State) and Landon Silver (UCSB).
5. ALEMANY (MISSION HILLS) 20-8-2
The Warriors are a solid choice as the preseason team to beat in the CIFSS’s Mission League (same one as Harvard-Westlake, Crespi, Notre Dame, etc.). Their pitching returns just about everyone, led by Brandon Ponticelli, who went 8-2 with a 1.69 ERA last season. Ponticelli will be joined by returning standout Kyle Merkel (4-2, 2.66). Like Ponticelli, returning infielder Ruben Cardenas (who hit .412 last season) has signed with Nevada. Also back is outfielder Alex McKenna (Cal Poly SLO) and outfielder Cristian Montes (hit .349 last year). Alemany won its opening game on Saturday, 16-1, over Palmdale.
6. BUCHANAN (CLOVIS) 26-8
Okay, we’re cheating a little bit with the Bears because they’ve already started 5-0 (including a 5-4 win on Friday over Fresno Edison). Still, there was an excellent core of younger players from last year’s team that lost a heart-breaking one-run title game to State Team of the Year Clovis in the CIF Central Section Division I playoffs. Key returnees for head coach Tom Donald include pitcher Chandler Bengsten, pitcher Conner Loeprich, third baseman Ross Dodds, junior Grant Gambrell and shortstop Levi Zosky.
One of the nation’s top pitching prospects, Justin Hooper, will lead the Spartans, who won the CIF NCS D1 title last season on a field nearby where College Park won it in D2. The two will be in the same division this season. Hooper, younger brother of NFL prospect TE Austin Hooper of Stanford, is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound lefty who could go in the top 10 of the next MLB draft. The top position player returnees are catcher/outfielder Andrew Schatz (.308), infielder Michael McAdoo (.297) and infielder Myles Colston, a Fresno State signee. There also are a number of players on the baseball team who played key roles for De La Salle’s State Team of the Year in football, including QB/INF Chris Vanderklugt.
8. ALISO NIGUEL (ALISO VIEJO) 23-10
The Wolverines were No. 9 in the nation in one preseason ranking, but haven’t been nearly as high in others and by the L.A. Times. They played No. 4 Huntington Beach in a great opener on Saturday and won 7-4, but we already knew we were going to put both fairly high in our preseason state rankings. We’ll adjust the rankings again in about 10 days. UCLA-bound Kyle Molnar leads a strong cast of returnees off a team that has lost in the CIFSS D2 finals the last two seasons. Molnar, a legit Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year candidate, batted .320 last season and had a 10-2 record on the mound. Third baseman Domenic Colacchio also is back after batting .368 as a junior with 27 runs scored and 29 RBI.
9. LA COSTA CANYON (CARLSBAD) 21-12
Headlining a more than solid group of players who were on last year’s team that went to the CIF San Diego Section Open Division finals is junior outfielder Mickey Moniak. He was the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year with a school record 53 hits plus 34 runs scored and a .461 batting average. Head coach Justin Machado also welcomes back Ethan Abrams, who was the top pitcher from last season at 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA. There wasn’t an easy-to-choose preseason No. 1 for San Diego this year, but LCC had the best combination of returning players with consistent success for a program.
10. BELLARMINE (SAN JOSE) 26-8
We always strive to put a team from NorCal’s famed West Catholic Athletic League fairly high in the preseason. This year, there’s no obvious preseason team to beat in the WCAL (like St. Francis last year) but we do like the group back at Bellarmine, which was second in the WCAL playoffs last year and was runner-up in the Central Coast Section D1 playoffs. Stanford-bound Nick Bellafronto is back to play third base. Also returning is first baseman John Helmers, pitcher Sid Iyer, infielder Antonio Garcia and infielder Troy Burg.
11. SAN CLEMENTE 22-11
Pitcher Kolby Allard only went 6-2 for the Tritons during the 2014 prep season, but since then the UCLA recruit has become known as one of the top 10 MLB prospects in the nation. At the 18U COPABE Pan American Championship last summer, he struck out seven of 11 batters he faced to the lead the U.S. past Cuba. Allard isn’t the only top player back for San Clemente, either. Catcher Lucas Herbert joined Allard on that USA title-winning team in the summer and also is headed to UCLA.
12. CLOVIS 33-5
This is where the Cougars start for 2015 after they ended 2014 with the state’s No. 1 ranking, their third State Team of the Year finish in the distinguished career of head coach James Patrick. This season, a stellar senior class led by All-American shortstop Jacob Gatewood, is gone. They have started out at 5-2 so far this year, but as the No. 1 from last year they get some leeway with that. Top returning players include infielder Tevin Mitchell and lefty pitcher Preston Mott.
13. CHATSWORTH 28-6-1
After a one-year absence to pursue college opportunities, Tom Muesborn is back to run the Chancellors. He returns with a 619-217-4 record, which according to our own Cal-Hi Sports state record book is the all-time best in the state for coaches on the all-time wins list. Muesborn will have an outstanding group of returning players as well. Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year Tommy Palomera is part of a potentially deep and dominant pitching staff that also includes junior Josh Garcia and senior John Cashman. All-league picks Sam Shaikin (infielder) and Jeryd Reuss (outfield) also are back. Garcia and Shaikin also played in last summer’s Area Code Games.
14. DANA HILLS (DANA POINT) 26-8
The Dolphins are yet another Orange County team with much of what you look for in the preseason: others like them, returning strength in the lineup and on the mound plus a tough schedule. USF-bound Marrick Crouse is the squad’s top returnee with an 8-2 pitching record from last year with a 1.50 ERA and a .333 batting average. Others to watch are Reid Lundeen (.356), Zach Wolf (.330) and Luke Williams (.326). Wolf (Seattle) and Williams (Cal Poly SLO) also were listed on the team’s web site with D1 college scholarships. Dana Hills swept a doubleheader against Downey to open its season on Saturday.
15. RANCHO BERNARDO (SAN DIEGO) 30-5
Much has graduated from the Broncos, including record-breaking catcher and first round MLB draft pick Alex Jackson, but legendary head coach Sam Blalock hopes to reload. The top returning pitcher is senior Tyler Marks (10-0, 1.47) while the top returning hitter is sophomore Tora Otsuka (.312). A major addition is the transfer of All-CIF San Diego Section outfielder Kyle Dean from nearby Poway.
16. NORCO 26-3
Kyle Hatton, who was Co-MVP of the Big VIII League last year as a sophomore, is back to lead the Cougars. Head coach Gary Parcell also has another top young prospect coming back in sophomore shortstop Brendon Brooks. Norco opened up the 2015 season on Saturday with a win over preseason No. 16 Great Oak.
17. FOOTHILL (TUSTIN) 22-11
The Knights went to the CIFSS Division I semifinals last year and should be just as good or better. They started the season Saturday with a doubleheader sweep over Santa Fe of Santa Fe Springs. Top returning starters include Cal Poly SLO recruit Dylan Doherty (.368) and Jerry Carrillo (.314). Sebestian Lopez (5-2, 1.61) also is back to pitch while junior Dillon Brown (the son of head coach Vince Brown) can pitch and hit.
18. GREAT OAK (TEMECULA) 23-7
A strong nucleus returns from a 2014 squad that went to the quarterfinals of the CIFSS D2 playoffs and won the very tough Southwestern League. Junior lefty Zack Noll, who went 10-0 as a soph and has committed to Oregon, anchors the pitching. Zeke Young was injured for most of last year, but is another top pitcher headed to Duke. One of the team’s top hitters from last year, Mitch Hayes (Nevada), also is penciled in as a closer. Great Oak lost its first game, but it was to Norco, which went 26-3 last season and also returns a top group.
19. GRANITE HILLS (EL CAJON) 26-7
Six starters are back for the defending CIF San Diego Section Open Division champions. The group includes Jordan Verdon (San Diego State), Michael Diffley (UC Santa Barbara), Daniel Vasquez (Tennessee), Kenny Lapierre (San Diego State) and Andrew Lowry (Navy). The only reason we’re not starting the Eagles higher is that there’s very little back from the pitching staff. “Pitching, pitching, pitching will be the key for us,” said head coach James Davis, our 2014 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year. “If we pitch well, we will be okay.”
20. SAN RAMON VALLEY (DANVILLE) 20-8
The Wolves are one of those teams with a great group of position players coming back, but need unproven pitching to come through. They came through last year with a run to the NCS D1 final until a loss to Austin Hooper and De La Salle. Heading into those playoffs, SRV was the top seed. The two top hitters from last year, Nick Poirer (.418) and Ryan Weisenberg (.408) are among those back, along with BYU-bound infielder Alex Tsruda.
21. WILSON (LONG BEACH) 26-6
Head coach Andy Hall guided the Bruins to our 2007 State Team of the Year honor and is still cranking out quality clubs. The defending Moore League champs need some pitching to develop, but have an outstanding senior class. Catcher Chris Betts is back as an All-American candidate to lead the way. The Tennessee recruit batted .337 last season with four homers and 33 RBI. Infielder Mike Fitzgerald (.309), outfielder Max Cauble (.307) and pitcher Jay Rohman are also among the returnees. Wilson was reported with a 1-1 split of its first two games on Saturday.
22. LELAND (SAN JOSE) 23-9
All-CCS catcher Brendt Citta is the top returnee for the defending CCS champs, who broke with tradition last season and topped all of the WCAL teams to win the title. Citta batted .443 with 26 RBI as a junior. The Chargers, who already have opened their season with a win over Los Altos but a loss to Scotts Valley, also will feature junior pitcher/hitter Jake Dermer and infielder Kevin Cance, who starred as a quarterback for the football team last fall.
23. VISTA MURRIETA (MURRIETA) 20-8
Coach Matt Mosiello’s squad has opened the season with a key win already over Palm Desert, which we can say also would have been in these rankings if it won that game. The Broncos have a good mix of returning pitching and hitting and should contend for the Southwestern League title, right up there with No. 18 Great Oak. Junior Jack Moberg, who had six pitching wins last year, and senior outfielder Hunter Tidwell, who hit .391 as a junior, are the top returnees.
24. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 25-7
You’d think that a team that lost the pitcher who was the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft, Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Brady Aiken, would be a mess on the mound. Not true. Aiken, in fact, is the only pitcher gone from last year’s team and head coach Gary Remiker thinks two of his upcoming JV pitchers – Preston Price and Sam Miller – are D1 talents. Price, in fact, already has committed to Nevada. Jonathan Pendergast is the top returning pitcher and is going to Pepperdine. Two key position players also back are third baseman John Cresto (Santa Clara) and outfielder Ryan Johnston (UC Irvine).
25. MARIA CARRILLO (SANTA ROSA) 25-3
One of the state’s top juniors, Andrew Vaughn, a shortstop who has committed to Cal and who has Team USA experience, is back from a 2014 team that lost to Marin Catholic in the playoffs but had a breakthrough regular season. All-leaguers Zach Scott (.303, 6-0, 2.30 ERA), Clayton Andrews (utility) and junior Jo Bynum (.355) also return.
20 More Teams On The Bubble
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 24-7
Beyer (Modesto) 20-9
Casa Grande (Petaluma) 16-11
Centennial (Bakersfield) 16-13
Edison (Huntington Beach) 21-10
Clovis West (Fresno) 21-11-1
Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 22-7-1
Jesuit (Carmichael) 15-10-1
Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 14-14
Palm Desert 26-7
Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 20-10-1
Santa Ynez 29-1
Serra (San Mateo) 16-12
South Hills (Covina) 21-6-1
St. Francis (Mountain View) 26-5
St. Mary’s (Stockton) 21-15
Temecula Valley (Temecula) 22-7
Trabuco Hills (Mission Viejo) 22-11