To match a NorCal feature that we presented on this site in April and first produced for our partners at SportStars Magazine (it was their idea), here’s a list of the 25 best high school baseball players from the last 25 years for Southern California. Many of these 25 have been MLB All-Stars, one got a World Series ring just last season, two were World Series MVPs and one just made his MLB debut after a long, rocky road.
To see the NorCal picks for the 25 best baseball players from the last 25 years, CLICK HERE.
To see a local Stockton Record feature also just done this week by Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis on the 25 best baseball players from the last 25 years from the Stockton/San Joaquin County area, CLICK HERE.
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If someone were to be told that one school has three players who have been chosen as among the top 25 baseball players in the last 25 years for all of Southern California, the guesses would include Rancho Bernardo of San Diego, Chatsworth and Lakewood.
Those schools are indeed prominent as well on the list that follows, but the only one with three in the top 25 is La Quinta of Westminster, which under former head coach Dave Demarest had one of the top programs anywhere. All three of the La Quinta players – catcher Gerald Laird, infielder Ian Stewart and pitcher Ian Kennedy – have been in the big leagues and all three compiled record-breaking totals when they played in high school.
For the purposes of this feature, players from the CIF Central Section were considered to be from the south and not the north. This isn’t usually the case for Cal-Hi Sports content, but SportStars Magazine actually initiated the concept of a top 25 from the last 25 years and it doesn’t circulate in the Central Section.
Just about every player named had to have been on one of our all-state teams and also had to have played at least a few years in the majors. Younger players obviously haven’t had that chance yet. For a region as strong as Southern California has been (still among the best places in the world for baseball talent), it’s the best of both worlds.
Jason Kendall (Torrance) 1992
As the oldest player on this list, Kendall also is the only catcher who was State Player of the Year. In addition, he played football and was considered for State Athlete of the Year. We also have a soft spot for Kendall (who had a solid MLB career) because Torrance’s top female athlete in his senior year (and one of the best in the state as well) was the late Kim Blankinship, who we worked with for many years at Student Sports. Kendall’s prep claim to fame also was a 43-game hitting streak he had from 1990 to 1992 that was the state record for 12 years.
Gerald Laird (La Quinta, Westminster) 1998
Great prep stats combined with having a solid MLB career puts Laird on the list. He was recently in two straight World Series with the Rangers and Tigers, but some of his prep hitting totals were mind-boggling, such as a .630 batting average with 68 hits in one season and a career batting average of .519 with a state record total of 210 hits. His hits record was broken in 2004 by San Diego Mission Bay’s Matt Bush.
Gerrit Cole (Lutheran, Orange) 2008
After enjoying a huge summer following his junior season at OLu, Cole became one of the most watched pitchers in the nation. He’s now one of the top young pitchers in the game. He’s married to the sister of San Francisco Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was on our top 25 of the last 25 years for Northern California.
Jon Garland (Kennedy, Granada Hills) 1997
He was the 1997 Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year and is one of the best pitchers ever from the L.A. City Section. Garland, a longtime MLB pitcher for several teams, also once hit two home runs in one inning playing for Kennedy, which tied a state record.
Cole Hamels (Rancho Bernardo, San Diego) 2002
Yes, it’s a good idea to have a World Series MVP on this team. Hamels did that while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. He was first team all-state at Rancho Bernardo. As a sophomore, he was on one of the best teams in San Diego Section history.
Phil Hughes (Foothill, Tustin) 2004
He was one of the state’s top pitchers as a junior and senior. His junior stats showed a 12-0 record and 0.78 ERA. He was all-state twice too. Hughes, who has won as many as 18 games in a season in the big leagues, currently pitches for the Minnesota Twins.
Ian Kennedy (La Quinta, Westminster) 2003
With Kennedy on the mound combined with future MLB third baseman Ian Stewart, La Quinta went 30-2 in 2003. The Aztecs weren’t No. 1 in the state, but would have been for many seasons. It was the same season we had La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad and Chatsworth higher. Both of those teams only lost once. Kennedy currently pitches for the Kansas City Royals. He won 21 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.
Ryan Madson (Valley View, Moreno Valley) 1998
A consistent relief pitcher in the big leagues for many years, Madson is currently with the Oakland Athletics. At Valley View, he was all-state second team as a junior, then all-state first team as a senior.
James Shields (Hart, Newhall) 2000
He is one of four Hart grads now in the majors – the others are pitchers Mike Montgomery and Trevor Bauer and catcher Andrew Brown – and has been one of the best pitchers for 11 years. The best pitching duel we ever saw was at Yankee Stadium a few years ago when Sheilds (then pitching for Tampa Bay) lost 1-0 to C.C. Sabathia in a matchup of great California pitchers.
Nolan Arenado (El Toro, Lake Forest) 2009
He was all-state second team as a junior in 2008, then first team in 2009. A player from El Toro’s league, Capistrano Valley’s Tyler Matzek, pretty much had to be Orange County and State Player of the Year for hitting and pitching, but Arenado wasn’t far behind. He’s now, of course, one of the best players in baseball (a candidate for THE best), especially after last year when he hit 42 homers and drove in 130 runs for the Colorado Rockies.
Matt Dominguez (Chatsworth) 2007
Of course, both Dominguez and prep teammate Mike Moustakas are on this list. Dominguez makes the Cal-Hi Sports state record book for career hits (179), career homers (41) and career RBI (188). He hasn’t had the MLB career of Moustakas, but has been in the majors for several seasons. He and Moustakas also were part of Chatsworth’s 2003 team that went 35-0 and has been No. 2 in our all-time greatest team state rankings.
Lucas Duda (Arlington, Riverside) 2004
In recent years, the former Lions’ standout (who was all-state in 2004) has become a leading power hitter on one of the top teams in the National League. Duda hit 27 homers last season with 93 RBI for a New York Mets team that played in the World Series. He had 30 homers and 92 RBI the year before that.
Freddie Freeman (El Modena, Orange) 2007
If we were picking just one first baseman for this team, Adrian Gonzales would be first with probably Freddie and Lucas Duda battling for second. Duda has more power, but Freddie is a career .285 hitter. Freeman was all-state in 2007 and broke in with the Atlanta Braves after just three minor league seasons. In 2013, he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBI.
Troy Glaus (Carlsbad) 1994
Our second World Series MVP on this team is Glaus, who got that honor after his Anaheim Angels team beat the S.F. Giants in a seven-game series in 2002. Glaus, named first team all-state for Carlsbad, recently retired after a 13-year MLB career.
Adrian Gonzalez (Eastlake, Chula Vista) 2000
The current L.A. Dodger standout and one of the top hitters in baseball for the last 10 years got started hitting as a youngster. As a junior at Eastlake, Gonzales had 60 hits and 18 homers. He ended up in the state record book as well for career doubles (45), career hits (165) and a 29-game hitting streak. He also was the No. 1 player in the MLB Draft.
Mike Moustakas (Chatsworth) 2007
What a senior year Moose had for the Chancellors with 24 home runs for a new state record. He also set a state record for career homers with 52 and had 178 career hits. Moustakas was our Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year and was the No. 2 player in the draft. He earned his first World Series ring when the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in last November’s fall classic.
Ian Stewart (La Quinta, Westminster) 2003
We sure have had a lot of great third baseman from SoCal in recent years and Stewart is among them. He was the 2003 Mr. Baseball State POY when he hit 16 homers and along with pitcher Ian Kennedy helped La Quinta to a 30-2 record. Stewart later enjoyed some solid seasons playing third base for the Colorado Rockies.
Chase Utley (Long Beach Poly) 1997
Over one six-game stretch playing for the Jackrabbits as a senior, Utley homered at least once in all six. That set a state record that has been tied but not broken. Utley, of course, later went on to have a standout MLB career that is still ongoing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Aaron Hicks (Wilson, Long Beach) 2008
As a junior, Hicks helped the Bruins win the CIF Southern Section Division I title and earn State Team of the Year honors. He was State Player of the Year as a senior, then got picked in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He now plays for the Yankees.
Adam Jones (Morse, San Diego) 2003
He didn’t have huge stats in high school, but did enough to be first team all-state. Jones also pitched and hit for the Tigers. He currently plays for the Baltimore Orioles and has been a five-time American League All-Star. Jones also has hit at least 20 homers in a season for every season since 2011 and the two years before that he hit 19 in each.
Giancarlo Stanton (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks) 2007
Our 2006-2007 Cal-Hi Sports State Athlete of the Year, Stanton caught 14 TD passes in football and averaged more than 21 ppg in basketball even before he had an all-state season in baseball. He was known in those days as Mike Stanton, switching to Giancarlo a few years ago. He’s currently hitting tape measure home runs for the Miami Marlins.
Delmon Young (Camarillo) 2003
We certainly remember the buzz when Delmon wowed scouts at age 14 at the Area Code Games. He went on to have a stellar prep career for the Scorpions. He had 65 hits as a junior with 17 homers. He also had 35 career homers and 180 career hits (both in the state record book). Delmon played last year for the Baltimore Orioles. He hit 21 homers and had 112 RBI for the Minnesota Twins in 2010.
Matt Bush (Mission Bay, San Diego) 2004
He wasn’t just the first overall pick in the MLB Draft, but Bush also was the Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year. He also was second team all-state as a sophomore and first team as a junior. If Bush’s rise to the Texas Rangers this week as a relief pitcher had not happened, we can’t admit he would have made this list due to all the problems he’s had with alcohol over the years. After his senior year, Bush also had the Cal-Hi Sports state record for career hits at 211, a total that was broken the next season by Charlie Cutler of San Francisco Lowell.
Eric Chavez (Mt. Carmel, San Diego) 1996
As the only back-to-back Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year award winner in the last 100 years (not to mention 25), Chavy was another obvious choice for this list. He was a dominant pitcher and hitter for the Sun Devils during seasons when they were led by head coach Sam Blalock, but enjoyed a long MLB career (mostly for the Oakland Athletics) playing third base.
Mark Prior (University, San Diego) 1998
Injuries derailed his once promising MLB career, but he did go 18-6 in 2003 and pitched for five seasons. At Uni, Prior not only was an all-state pitcher, but he also hit 15 homers in one season (in the state record book) and he played on a CIF state championship basketball team alongside Luke Walton.
30 Who Just Missed The Cut
INF Hank Blalock (Rancho Bernardo, San Diego) 1999
MP Aaron Brooks (Cajon, San Bernardino) 2009
MP Sean Burroughs (Wilson, Long Beach) 1998
P Trevor Cahill (Vista) 2006
MP Tyler Chatwood (Redlands East Valley) 2008
OF McKay Christensen (Clovis West, Fresno) 1994
C Hank Conger (Huntington Beach) 2006
INF J.P. Crawford (Lakewood) 2013
C Travis d’Arnaud (Lakewood) 2007
MP Matt Davidson (Yucaipa) 2009
OF Alex Dickerson (Poway) 2008
INF Jason Donald (Buchanan, Clovis) 203
OF John Drennen (Rancho Bernardo, San Diego) 2005
INF Aaron Hill (Golden West, Visalia) 2000
MP Matt Hobgood (Norco) 2009
C Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo, San Diego) 2014
INF Adam Kennedy (J.W. North, Riverside) 1994
MP Mark Kotsay (Santa Fe, Santa Fe Springs) 1993
P Mike Leake (Fallbrook) 2006
OF Jake Marisnick (J.W. North, Riverside) 2009
P Tyler Matzek (Capistrano Valley, Mission Viejo) 2009
P Ricky Nolasco (Rialto) 2001
MP Sean O’Sullivan (Valhalla, El Cajon) 2005
P Henry Owens (Edison, Huntington Beach) 2011
INF Trevor Plouffe (Crespi, Encino) 2004
P Jeff Suppan (Crespi, Encino) 1993
MP Mark Trumbo (Villa Park) 2004
P Justin Wilson (Buchanan, Clovis) 2005
P Randy Wolf (El Camino Real, Woodland Hills) 1994
INF Christian Yelich (Westlake, Westlake Village) 2010