These aren’t preseason rankings because games have begun, but this is the first look and our starting point of the Cal-Hi Sports state baseball rankings for the 2017 season. We have done rankings of the state’s top baseball teams for more than 35 years and are going with 2016 State Team of the Year Buchanan of Clovis as the No. 1 team. Right behind the Bears are Chatsworth, South Hills of West Covina and Huntington Beach.
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Note: Preseason rankings based on evaluation of returning players, historical strength of program, projected strength of schedule and where the teams finished at the end of last season. Teams that have played games already are noted in each writeup.
(Records listed from 2016 season)
(Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens contributed to this post)
1. Buchanan (Clovis) 30-1
After a Tuesday night game of the Coca Cola Classic against Sunnyside, the Bears were 4-0 already with wins of 13-3, 13-2, 11-2 and 4-0. Their main graduation loss is Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year finalist Grant Gambrell (now at Oregon State), but head coach Tom Donald has four returning all-state underclass players plus even more depth than ever throughout the lineup. Those four are catcher Zach Presno (Fresno State), second baseman Quentin Selma (Cal), shortstop Jamal O’Guinn (USC) and pitcher Hunter Reinke. Last season, Reinke went 11-0 with 58 strikeouts in 63.2 innings and previously was listed as an Oregon commit. Donald expects the new other top pitcher (basically replacing Gambrell) to be senior Carson Olson, who is headed to Cal. Buchanan is going out of the CIF Central Section area this year to play a more difficult schedule than last year. That trip will be to the National Classic in Southern California.
2. Chatsworth 29-7
Ranked as the No. 1 team to start in Southern California (minus San Diego) by the L.A. Times, the Chancellors have opened the season with wins against Malibu (7-1) and Agoura (14-1). Tommy Palomera, who was the State Freshman Player of the Year in 2014, leads a balanced, experienced squad. In the early win against Agoura, Palomera was the winning pitcher and ripped a grand slam homer. In the first game, Thomas Gutierrez pitched a one-hitter and struck out 12. Another major honors candidate for head coach Tom Muesborn is senior catcher Daniel Zakosek.
3. South Hills (West Covina) 26-7
This team came on strong to win the CIF Southern Section Division II title last year despite a rash of injuries. Younger players stepped up because of those injuries and many of those players are now back. The Huskies will be led by State Sophomore of the Year Brandon Dieter, who also has committed to Stanford. Dieter went 7-2 with a 1.10 ERA and batted nearly .400. Cal State Fullerton-bound Jacob Amaya (.385) also returns along with senior infielder John Dearth. He hit 15 doubles last season with a .402 average and had a 1.85 pitching ERA. Others to watch include Zach Bromstead (1.53 ERA) and Karlos Morales (.330, 20 RBI). Coach Darren Murphy’s team will be playing in the National High School Invitational in North Carolina and will be playing Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in a non-league matchup.
4. Huntington Beach 18-11
Last season, the Oilers didn’t win 20 games and were second in the Sunset League but with two big-time talented players in Hagen Danner and Nick Prato, they should be one of the top teams in Southern California. Danner being injured also was a reason for some of the losses. Committed to UCLA since he was a freshman, Danner was All-Sunset League last season as a third baseman even though it’s on the mound that has the highest upside with a fastball in the mid-90s. He was on Baseball America’s preseason All-America second team. USC-bound Prato was Sunset League MVP last season and was named to the Baseball America preseason All-America first team. Besides the pitching dept, Huntington Beach also should have power throughout its lineup and is strong defensively, according to OC Varsity.
5. Eastlake (Chula Vista) 29-5
Reaching the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship game last season and losing to Cathedral Catholic of San Diego, the Titans should once again expect to make it far with a talented roster, including three starters that earned Cal-Hi Sports all-state underclass honors. Junior pitcher Grant Holman was named to the first team as after going 9-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 60 strikeouts. Also back this season is infielder Casey Schmitt, who also was a second team all-section choice and infielder Ben Ramirez, who has committed to USC and was all-state underclass second team. Many of those kids who were once leading Chula Vista Little League teams in the Little League World Series are now going to Eastlake and playing for Eastlake. It’s not as if the school has that bad of a baseball tradition, either, unless you don’t think much of Titans’ graduate Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
6. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 26-9
Yet another team that had its hopes of a CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship ended by Cathedral Catholic of San Diego, the Broncos return most of their team from last season, led by all-state outfielder Calvin Mitchell, who hit .371 with 41 runs batted in and 12 home runs last season. While they do lose two pitchers that had at least five wins last season, they do return junior Joey Magrisi who led the team in innings pitched and wins as he went 8-2 with a 1.84 ERA while striking out 60 in 61 innings. Magrisi also was the 2015 State Freshman of the Year. Other key returners include senior Tora Otsuka, who hit ,404 with 28 runs batted in, and junior Connor O’Brien, who hit .345 with 25 runs batted in. Legendary head coach Sam Blalock is still going strong and starts the season 20 wins short of moving past Guy Anderson from Cordova of Rancho Cordova into the No. 2 position on the state’s all-time coaching wins list.
7. De La Salle (Concord) 25-3
The defending CIF North Coast Section Division I champions have already started with a win against one of the Central Coast Section’s top teams from Bellarmine Prep of San Jose and will play defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion Elk Grove on Friday at Raley Field in West Sacramento. The Spartans’ tough schedule also includes a trip to Southern California later in March when they will play Orange Lutheran, Mater Dei and JSerra on consecutive days. Head coach David Jeans has some pitching to replace from last season, but there’s strong depth in the program. Top position players returning include infielder Michael Curran, junior first baseman Trace Tammaro, outfielder Khalid Johnson and pitcher/first baseman Gabe Giosso.
8. Clovis 23-9
While Clovis North was the primary challenger for Buchanan in league and section play last season, it figures to be the Cougars in 2017. Returning from a team that early last year was near the top of the state rankings are pitcher Dominic Liberta, who had a no-hitter, second base/outfielder Mason Grotto, outfielder/pitcher Chet Allison and outfielder Tyson Fraser, who also was one of the top receivers in the section in football last fall. Head coach James Patrick only needed five wins to reach 700 for his career and his team already has three (with one tie) at the Coca Cola Classic.
9. Lutheran (Orange) 22-9
Despite the loss of last year’s ace, Chris Burica, there are some who think the Lancers may be the top team in Orange County and one of the top two or three in the state. They return most of their starters from a team that went 22-9 last season while finishing second in the Trinity League. Senior outfielder Garrett Mitchell hit .299 last season and is projected by some to be a first-round pick in the next MLB Draft as he was named by Baseball America to its preseason All-America first team. Among the other key returners are senior shortstop Tristan Hanoian, senior pitcher/infielder Brenden Avventino and junior second baseman Zach Lew, who is committed to Cal State Fullerton. Besides Burica, who led the team with eight wins, they also lose their No. 2 and No. 3 pitcher in wins from last season so pitching will likely be the story on how well the Lancers are this season.
10. Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 25-7
Despite head coach Jared Halpert being in his first season in charge, it was a hugely successful season for the Wolverines as they came up one win shy of the CIFSS Division I championship. Last season’s CIF-SS Division I runner-ups do lose half of their 24 man roster from last season due to graduations, but they should have a strong pitching staff led by junior Jesse Bergin who was 9-3 last season with a 1.30 ERA. Bergin last season pitched a four-hit shutout in the CIF-SS Division I semifinals against JSerra and back in October he committed to UCLA. Harvard-committed catcher Matt Thomas and Cal-committed 1B Casey Slattery are also among the college committed players that return.
11. Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) 24-7
The Trojans had a deep run last season in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs and could have another this season under head coach Todd Melton, whose team won the Sierra Foothill League title and returns nearly the entire pitching staff. Returning all but two wins from last season that staff will be led by senior Trenton Denholm, who was 10-1 last season with a 0.71 ERA while senior John Cross was 6-2 with a 2.20 ERA. They threw back-to-back no-hitters at one point in the season. Oak Ridge also welcomes back four players that drove in at least 10 runs, including Denholm, who hit .337 with 17 runs batted in. Junior Cameron Allie hit .322 with 16 runs batted in and senior Patrick Smith hit .324 with 12 runs batted in.
12. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 16-13
Last season, the Monarchs finished tied with Orange Lutheran for second place in the Trinity League and they return almost all of their key players from that squad this season. Washington-bound senior Jonathan Schiffer was 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA on the mound while driving in a second best 23 runs. Senior Michael Thomas also led the team last season in pitching wins with six while also back with senior leadership is Pepperdine-bound catcher Blake Hunt, who hit .298 last season. Returning for their junior years are Emilio Rojas, who hit .338 with 13 runs batted in, and Grant Burton, who drove in 10 runs. Mater Dei may be a year away from being much higher in the state pecking order, but in the Trinity League it’s hard to predict.
13. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 25-9
This might be too high for the Dons, who are the defending CIF San Diego Section Open Division champions and do have some replacing to do. However, we didn’t uncover any other obvious title contenders beyond Eastlake and Rancho Bernardo in San Diego and Cathedral Catholic has State Coach of the Year Gary Remiker still in charge to build the roster. Key players that are back include infielder Wyatt Hoffman (.267), junior outfielder Jacob Allred (.340), catcher Brad Polansky (.250) plus pitchers/position players Cade Brown and Nick Nastrini.
14. Valencia 24-9
It’s certainly possible to pick either the Vikings, West Ranch or Hart as a preseason State Top 20 team from the Foothill League. Valencia gets the slight nod for having big-time honors candidate Ben Fariss among a strong group of returnees. Fariss knocked in 46 runs as a junior with a .449 batting average and had a 4-0 pitching record with a 1.20 ERA. Chase Farrell (2.39 ERA) and Trace Eldridge (.375, 0.45 ERA) also are back. The Vikings have started out with solid wins against Crespi of Encino and Quartz Hill.
15. Elk Grove 26-10
Last season’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion loses some of its top arms and bats from last season, but there’s certainly enough back to once again be a tough team to beat and a chance to defend the title. Head coach Jeff Carlson’s program, in fact, is going for an 11th section title. Senior Riley Lamb is the leading returning bat as he hit .330 with 22 runs batted in while juniors Tanner Carlson and George Spithorst both drove in 13 runs last season. Lamb will also be key on the mound as he was third on the team last season in innings pitched with 41.1. Lamb also went 3-3 with a 2.37 ERA. Elk Grove never shies away from tough opponents and will be opening the season against preseason No. 7 De La Salle.
16. JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 27-7
Two-time Trinity League Player of the Year and preseason All-American shortstop Royce Lewis returns for his senior season after playing with the USA 18u national team and will be the main bat in a Lions’ lineup that lost seven starters from last year’s team that reached the CIF-SS Division I semifinals. Returning senior starters on the mound, however, is always a nice thing to have and that’s what they do have as captain Colin Townsend was 5-0 and Cole Samuels was 7-1 with a 0.94 ERA. Sophomores Blake Klassen and David Le Bioda could be other players to keep on eye on, based on a preseason list of top Orange County players by OCVarsity.
17. Los Gatos 20-13
The Wildcats are the one team that we can say for certain wouldn’t have been in a true preseason state ranking based on their returning players and record from last season. What they have done is start out strong on the field with wins against CCS powerhouses Valley Christian of San Jose and St. Francis of Mountain View and are 3-0 heading into this week. Pitcher/utility player Ryan Wilcox (.330 as a junior) and promising junior pitcher/infielder Tyler Williams are among the team’s leaders from last season who are back.
18. College Park (Pleasant Hill) 19-8
Head coach Andy Tarpley’s Falcons came up short of another section championship last season, but the 2015 State Team of the Year returns most of their lineup from a group that reached the CIF NCS Division I semifinals before losing to the eventual section champions from De La Salle of Concord. Senior Ian Maciver had a second best seven wins on the mound for the Falcons with a 1.41 ERA. He pitched a team-high 64.2 innings with 75 strikeouts. Sophomore Kellen Kozlowski returns as well after going 2-2 with a 1.58 ERA his freshman year. Junior Christian Encarnacion-Strand led the team’s offense last season, hitting .409 with a team-best 27 runs batted in and seven home runs.
19. Gahr (Cerritos) 25-7
The Gladiators just had a handful of seniors on last year’s team and this year’s team has already started off with a quality win (2-0) over Mission Viejo. University of Arizona-bound Josh Haley headlines the pitching staff after going 10-1 with a 1.00 ERA as a junior. In the field, it’s also stout, especially up the middle with USC-bound junior Michael Perez at shortstop. The all-state underclass, smooth-fielding Perez also hit for a .350 average last season and had 32 RBI.
20. Tracy 26-9
Most of the Bulldogs’ leading players from last season are back and since they forced a third and deciding game against Elk Grove in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship series they have to considered one of the top teams to watch in Northern California. Head coach Vic Alkire’s best include Michigan-bound pitcher Cody Bolton (who has reached high 90s for his fastball) and leadoff hitter Lee Brewer (nine homers, .395). Tracy started its season early this week by romping past Freedom of Oakley 14-2.
Teams On The Bubble
(Listed with last year’s record)
Alemany (Mission Hills) 13-15
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 15-13
Clovis North (Fresno) 24-7-1
El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 28-7
El Toro (Lake Forest) 25-6
Hart (Newhall) 20-12
Murrieta Mesa (Murrieta) 27-7
Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 29-2
Redwood (Visalia) 23-8
Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 20-10
St. Francis (Mountain View) 26-8
Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 21-11
West Ranch (Valencia) 24-9
Woodcrest Christian (Riverside) 29-5