With just about everyone back from a team that won the CIF Southern Section Division I title, it’s a bit of a no brainer for Huntington Beach to be No. 1 to start the 2016 season in California. The Oilers also were at the top of most preseason national rankings. Orange County also gets the No. 2 slot with JSerra of San Juan Capistrano while No. 3 goes to St. Francis of Mountain View, which ended No. 2 last year. Go inside for writeups on top 25 preseason teams plus 25 more teams on the bubble.
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Here is a breakdown at this year’s preseason State Top 25 rankings for California baseball with 25 more teams on the bubble (all listed with win-loss records for this year and we apologize in advance if there are early-season results from this year especially from CIF Central Section that have not yet been considered). Thanks to Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens for contributions. Top baseball teams lose all the time and we’ll make adjustments to reflect early results in the first regular season rankings that will be done after games of Saturday, March 12):
1. HUNTINGTON BEACH 25-8
Even if Nick Pratto had not transferred from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, the Oilers would have begun this spring No. 1 in the state and possibly No. 1 in the nation. Pratto’s addition just made it that much more of an easy choice. He was a former Huntington Beach Little League star, though, so in a sense he is returning home. Last summer, Pratto was MVP of the 18-under U.S. National Team that won a gold medal in an international tournament. Already returning from a 2015 squad that won the CIFSS D1 title were junior pitcher Hagen Danner (UCLA commit), third baseman Logan Poulesen (UCLA signer) and All-State Underclass outfielder Landon Silver (UC Santa Barbara). The team’s defensive wizard in the outfield, Dominic Abbadessa, also returns. It seemed like every week last season someone would tweet that Dominic had made “the greatest catch I’ve ever seen.” It’s also easy to start with the Oilers so high because they’ll be tested early and often with a schedule that includes appearances in the National High School Invitational and the Boras Classic. As usual, though, just getting through their own Sunset League with opponents like Fountain Valley and Edison of Huntington Beach won’t be that easy, either.
In following the Lions all last season the thought about how good they might be in 2016 crossed the mind many times. In fact, they were ranked higher locally than Huntington Beach just about all year and had it been them and not the Oilers winning the CIFSS D1 title, then it’s fairly certain they’d be the ones sitting at the top. JSerra’s cast of returning standouts includes junior Royce Lewis at third base and seniors Chase Strumpf and Brady Shockey in the outfield. Lewis was the Trinity League MVP and was close to being State Sophomore of the Year. He also was a standout last summer on the USA U15 national team. Strumpf also has USA baseball experience and is headed to UCLA. Shockey has signed, meanwhile, with USC. The Lions also have returning strength on the mound with all-league Jack Owen and all-league Collin Quinn. Davis Wendzel is another top returning position player.
3. ST. FRANCIS (MOUNTAIN VIEW) 29-5
With Cal-Hi Sports State Junior Player of the Year Jeremy Ydens back for his senior season it would be hard to not have the Lancers as the favorites to repeat as CIF Central Coast Section Open Division champions. They have also been a model of consistency winning at least 25 games the past five seasons. Committed to UCLA, Ydens last season was 7-3 with a 1.69 ERA on the mound while also hitting .404 with a team-best 44 hits and 22 runs batted in. It’s not as if Ydens is alone as a top returnee, either. Also back is senior catcher Johnny Mendoza (.299, 21 RBI) and senior infielder Andrew Martinez (.419, 17 RBI).
4. LA COSTA CANYON (CARLSBAD) 26-7
Mickey Moniak of the Mavericks is another top Mr. Baseball State POY candidate along with St. Francis’ Jeremy Ydens. Moniak, who could be a high MLB draft pick as an outfielder, was the State Sophomore of the Year for 2014. He hit .426 last season with 29 runs and 28 RBI. La Costa Canyon also has additional returning firepower in the lineup and on the mound. Catcher Ryan Orr leads that first group along with Moniak with a .375 average from last season. Among the pitchers, Julian McDonald (7-1, 0.97 ERA) and Brendan Kawaja (6-1, 1.24 ERA) are both No. 1 type stoppers.
5. RANCHO BERNARDO (SAN DIEGO) 26-7
Head coach Sam Blalock needs just seven wins to become just the third in California history to reach 900 career wins and will have another major contender looking to defend the CIF San Diego Section Open Division title. Although this year’s team still may be one year away from something really special, it’s easy to start out the Broncos high among those in the state. Two top offensive returnees are junior shortstop Alika Williams (.402, 22 RBI) and junior outfielder Calvin Mitchell (.333, 31 RBI). On the mound, Rancho Bernardo had the State Freshman of the Year last season in Joey Magrisi, who went 8-1 with a 1.11 ERA. If senior pitchers Jacob Gormam and Cameron Gallaher do well, then it could be another section title.
6. ELK GROVE 24-10
With last year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 titles to their credit plus several other titles in recent years, the Thundering Herd lose key pieces like Nick Madrigal and Ty Madrigal, but still look like a powerhouse. Besides, no other team in the section really returns the type of a lineup is similar. Head coach Jeff Carlson says the pitching could be the strongest he’s had in his 20 years at the school (16 as head coach). That group includes Alex Zalasky (7-1, 1.79) and Austin Del Chairo (7-1, 1.34). The outfield is another strength with Carlson’s son, Dylan, a four year starter who is moving from first base, plus Ryan Robards (the all-state football runningback) and Riley Lamb, a junior who has committed to USC. Dylan also is a Cal State Fullerton recruit who also projects to be a high MLB draft choice.
7. LUTHERAN (ORANGE) 22-9
Expectations for the Lancers this season are at an all-time high as they return a majority of their starters from last season while having four pitchers who are Division I commits. They certainly will look for a much deeper postseason run than last season which saw them eliminated in the first round of the CIFSS Division I playoffs. Nevada-bound senior Luke Mattson led the team with six wins on the mound last season and should be part of a pitching staff that also includes UC Irvine-bound senior Cole Spear and junior left hander Jason Farese, who is committed to San Diego. A pair of juniors are the key returning bats. Zach Busalacchi is back after a second-best 21 runs batted in during his sophomore season and Garrett Mitchell hit .372 with 17 runs batted in last year.
8. BUCHANAN (CLOVIS) 29-7
Outscoring their opponents by a combined 30-3 margin over their final three games, the Bears captured the CIF Central Section Division I championship last season and will be favored to reach their third straight section championship game once again this year. Three of their players are committed to Fresno State, including catcher Zach Presno and second baseman J.T. Aruda. Junior shortstop Jamal O’Guinn is the third and his transfer from Sanger should be impactful. Set to lead the pitching staff, meanwhile, will be senior right-hander Grant Gambrell, who is committed to Oregon State.
9. DE LA SALLE (CONCORD) 19-9
With defending CIF North Coast Section D1 champ College Park hit hard by graduation, the Spartans are the odds-on favorites. They have a lot back from their team that lost in the NCS final to College Park even though one of them isn’t big-time pitcher Austin Hooper. Head coach David Jeans says four pitchers are D1 recruits, including Connor Redmond (Cal Poly SLO) and lefty Nick Sparks (St. Mary’s), who was an Area Code Games participant last summer. UC-Santa Barbara commit Conner Roberts and newcomer junior Cullen Kafka (he’s committed to Oregon) also will provide heat. The lineup boasts several from De La Salle’s two-time CIF state championship football team, such as Joe Vranesh in left field, Mason Behiel at catcher and Chris Vanderklugt at third base. With all that, shortstop Armani Smith still may be the team’s top honors candidate. He hit .306 last season.
10. EL CAMINO REAL (WOODLAND HILLS) 27-7
With the L.A. City Section co-MVPs back for their senior seasons the Conquistadors will give teams a battle if they want to try to knock off the defending LA City Section Division I champions. Committed to San Jose State, senior left hander Jeremy Polon returns on the mound after going 11-2 with a 1.13 ERA while he will be throwing to co-MVP catcher Eric Yang, who hit .432 with 24 runs batted in and is committed to UC Santa Barbara. Two more DI-bound bats return with LMU-bound senior outfielder Dylan Hirsch (.322 last season) and Cal State Northridge-bound senior James Terrazas .(318, 25 RBI).
11. LOS GATOS 30-6
The Wildcats were up among the best in Northern California for most of last season and will be led once again by two-way talent Hunter Bigge. “He leads by example in both the classroom and on the baseball field,” said head coach Nate Anderson. Bigge went 12-3 on the mound last season with a 0.75 ERA and also batted .387 with a team-leading 31 RBI. Jake Holton was the team’s other top pitcher last year and he’s back too with a 9-2 record and 1.68 ERA. Doug Neubauer also returns after batting .360. In addition, Anderson is looking for big contributions from newcomers Troy Gilmore (INF) and Ryan Wilcox (UTL/P).
12. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (NORTH HOLLYWOOD) 24-6
New head coach Jared Halpert takes over in charge of a Wolverines team that had two road wins last season in the CIFSS Division I playoffs as they knocked off Mater Dei of Santa Ana and Vista Murrieta of Murrieta before the season ended with a loss to El Dorado of Placentia. Pitching should be a major strength led by a trio of juniors last season who all return for their senior year. Cameron Deere was 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA, Paul Giacomazzi was 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA and Gabe Golob was 6-2 with a 1.17 ERA. Deere was also Harvard-Westlake’s leading bat as he hit .440 with 35 runs batted in. The team’s three other top run producers from last season also are back.
13. CLOVIS 24-10
It was easy to notice that the Cougars already had started 3-0 after their first weekend of games and once again seem to have a strong mix of new and veteran players. Head coach James Patrick will look toward pitchers with experience such as Zac Whittaker, Dominic Liberta, Jared Pereira, Chet Allison and Sid Lacy. Top recruits but undecided regarding college include shortstop Jeremy Garcia and third baseman Johnny Wiltfang. Second baseman Mason Grotto, pitcher/outfielder Chet Allison and outfielder Tyson Fraser are others to watch.
14. HERITAGE (BRENTWOOD) 20-5
The Patriots were one of the top teams a year ago in the NCS and appeared at No. 26 in Baseball America’s preseason top 50 rankings. We don’t go for that high to start, but they do seem legit. Kevin Milam was the club’s top player last season and he’s back. He batted .417, but also was one of the best pitchers in the East Bay with a 9-1 record and 1.14 ERA. Every one of the top players in the lineup except one also returns, including outfielders Alex Robinson (.460) and Dominic Espino (.392, 27 RBI).
15. CHAMINADE (WEST HILLS) 12-16
Despite last year’s losing record the Eagles appeared at No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division I preseason rankings (even in front of JSerra). This ranking doesn’t match that, but there’s a lot to like about the squad. Senior outfielder Blake Rutherford is projected to be a top 10 MLB draft choice by some and batted .435 as a junior. Tommy Costello (Washington commit) and Reece Weinberg (highly regarded junior) lead the pitching. Catcher Nick Kahle (Washington signer, .421) is yet another key returnee.
16. COLLEGE PARK (PLEASANT HILL) 26-4
Yes, the Falcons lose almost everybody from last year’s team that ended as the 2015 State Team of the Year, including 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball Player of the Year Joe DeMers. It’s still a tradition to place the No. 1 team from the previous season at least somewhere in the ensuing season’s top 25 preseason rankings. One top underclassman on last year’s team, however, was infielder Hank DaRe (.290). There also are two pitchers that head coach Andy Tarpley can work with – junior Ian MacIver (4-1, 1.93) and senior Sam Behrens (4-1, 2.23).
17. CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC (SAN DIEGO) 21-10
It’s hard to ignore the Dons as one of the best to begin the spring in San Diego due to their pitching talent and pitching depth. Senior Preston Price has signed with Arizona while upcoming sophomore Nick Nastrini has committed to UCLA. Head coach Gary Remiker also has high hopes for senior Connor Lunn and Jordan Chang. Offensively, UC-Santa Barbara recruit Cole Mueller is the top returning hitter. “We will need improved production for our other position players,” said head coach Gary Remiker. “Time will tell if we can hit enough to be the best.”
18. HART (NEWHALL) 20-10-1
Losing a good chunk of the team from last season’s squad that reached the CIFSS Division I championship game, the Indians still should be a talented team with less of a question mark being their hitting. With their top three pitchers last season all seniors, the lineup is a bit more proven. Senior catcher Robert Reeves returns after hitting .338 with a second-best 19 runs batted in. Reeves also is the one who hit a three-run double that helped Hart knock off JSerra in the quarterfinals. Seniors Jake Lewis and Nick Plaia both proved they could drive in runs as well.
19. ARCHBISHOP MITTY (SAN JOSE) 20-11
New head coach Brian Yocke takes over for 600-win club member Bill Hutton, who is now enjoying shuttling his young children to various events. Yocke says this year’s team will “have a strong pitching staff and a scrappy offense.” It’s always more or less an educated guess in picking a second team from the West Catholic Athletic League with St. Francis (Mountain View) in the favorite’s role. But Mitty does have some promising ingredients. Junior Haydn King (1.70 ERA as a soph) should be one of the top pitchers in the CCS; senior infielder Derek Bauerle (.270) may step up after having a breakout football season as a running back; and junior pitchers J.P. Caldwell and Aidan Goicovich are very promising. One freshman on the roster is outfielder Glenallen Hill Jr. The former MLB outfielder went to Santa Cruz High.
20. REDONDO UNION (REDONDO BEACH) 29-7
Head coach Jeff Baumback guided the Seahawks to the CIFSS Division III title last year and has a great cast of returning players. Returning all of the key options on the mound from last yea, junior Danny Zimmerman led the staff last season as a sophomore going 8-2 with a 1.36 ERA while Cooper Gallion, Jason Dicochea and Connor Riley all return for their senior years after combining to go 18-2 on the mound. While Redondo is not as fortunate with its returning bats, the returning pitchers also swing big bats. Gallion led the team with 46 runs batted in while hitting .420 and Zimmerman was third on the team with 30 runs batted in while hitting .302.
21. FOOTHILL (TUSTIN) 22-9
As we get further down the list, we like to take a few more riskier picks that maybe others don’t agree with. For Foothill, it’s impressive that 15 seniors on the roster were in the program two years ago when the team made it to the CIFSS Division I semifinals. It’s also impressive that all three levels of the program won league championships last season. Leading the way for head coach Vince Brown will be his son, Dillon, who plays third base and pitches. Others include outfielder Drake Wood, Infielder Preston Moebius, catcher Bryce Etchandy and pitcher/DH Matthew O’Donoghue.
22. EASTLAKE (CHULA VISTA) 26-7
Another team that seemed to be a favorite of some of the coaches from San Diego at the start of the season is the Titans. They reached the SDS D1 final last season and return senior Julian Escobedo, who started on the mound in that section final. The more significant returnees include junior infielder Ben Ramirez (USC commit) and junior pitcher/infielder Casey Schmitt (San Diego State commit).
23. GAHR (CERRITOS) 21-12
We’re going with the Gladiators over defending champion Mission Viejo and South Hills (Covina) as the top preseason team from the CIFSS in Division II. They had one of the state’s top freshmen last year in infielder Michael Perez, who is the son of UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez and Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. He’s already committed to the Bruins, too. But Perez isn’t the only one back from last year. Junior pitcher Josh Haley has committed to Arizona while senior lefty Oscar Carvajal is bound for Fresno State. Chris Corral also is back to pitch (9-2 last year, 1.53 ERA) while Jesus Salazar is another position player returnee. He hit .411 as a junior.
24. J.W. NORTH (RIVERSIDE) 16-12
The Huskies have a promising core of five seniors who will be three-year starters and who were listed on several coaching questionnaires returned to us as a team that should be state-ranked. Christian Koss (UC Irvine recruit) leads the way with a .456 batting average from last season. Shane Martinez (.348) is a shortstop headed to Arizona while Andrew Jurado (.366) returns as the catcher.
25. CASA GRANDE (PETALUMA) 21-7
The Trojans have been a powerhouse in the Redwood Empire for many years under head coach Paul Maytorena and could have one of their best teams this season. It’s a team with a one-two punch of all-state candidates Chris Joaquim and Spencer Torkelson. Both are juniors and both already have Team USA experience. Joaquim went 9-2 on the mound last season with a 0.83 ERA. Torkelson plays the infield and batted .376. Another top honors candidate is outfielder Blake Berry (.372).
25 MORE TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
•Agoura (Agoura Hills) 23-5
•Bishop Amat (La Puente) 17-13-1
•Clovis North (Fresno) 13-17-2
•Clovis West (Fresno) 20-12
•Crescenta Valley (La Crescenta) 25-6
•Great Oak (Temecula) 12-13-1
•Leland (San Jose) 14-16
•Maria Carrillo (Santa Rosa) 18-8
•Millikan (Long Beach) 23-9
•Mission Viejo 26-10
•Monte Vista (Danville) 18-9
•Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 22-7
•Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 25-6
•Redwood (Larkspur) 27-3
•San Ysidro 31-3
•San Clemente 25-8
•Serrano (Phelan) 23-7
•South Hills (Covina) 19-9-1
•St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 12-16-1