Eastlake of Chula Vista, the 2017 State Team of the Year, has more than enough firepower returning to start 2018 in the same position. Another CIF San Diego Section team, Cathedral Catholic, also is in the top five. The top CIF Southern Section preseason team, Orange Lutheran, begins at No. 2. Meanwhile, the two top NorCal preseason teams, Elk Grove and Valley Christian of San Jose, are opening the season next week playing each other.
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(Preseason rankings listed with win-loss record from last season)
1. Eastlake (Chula Vista) 32-4
Yes, we have seen all of the preseason national rankings that have come out so far and don’t care that none of them have the Titans that high or ranked at all. We’re pretty sure no one doing those rankings has covered California prep baseball for 35 years or more. Eastlake emerged as a solid No. 1 for California at the end of last season (most of the national polls even agreed with that ranking) and simply doesn’t lose that much to graduation to drop. State Junior of the Year Grant Holman leads the returnees. He has gone 20-0 on the mound the last two season and as a hitter last year he blasted 12 homers with a .381 average. The team’s pitching also has senior Brian Leonhart (San Diego State), who won 11 games as a junior. Holman has signed with Cal and is one of nine college committed players. That total doesn’t include uncommitted outfielder Micah Pietila-Wiggs, who was all-state underclass.
2. Lutheran (Orange) 18-12
We’ll admit we would have picked Harvard-Westlake as the preseason No. 1 out of the CIFSS before learning that its No. 1 pitcher was going to be lost for the season with an injury. The Lancers were a team last season that won the National High School Invitational title but didn’t do well in the Trinity League and didn’t get that far in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. They are the highest ranked California team by the national polls, a position partly due to the arrival of big-time MLB Draft prospect Cole Winn, who moved to Southern California from Colorado. The lineup features more than Winn, of course, with major college recruits at many positions. We’ve liked junior outfielder and USC-bound Jasiah Dixon since he was a freshman two seasons ago and was the 2016 State Freshman of the Year.
3. Elk Grove 23-10
The Thundering Herd have won three straight CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I titles and are loaded with top returning players. It could be a contender for head coach Jeff Carlson’s best squad yet. His son, Tanner Carlson, an infielder who hit .346 last season, is one of those players. The pitching looks great with Jake Jordan (all-state multi-purpose) and Brian Freitas (6-0) leading the way. Along with Carlson, infielder George Spithorst is another honors candidate along with junior oufielder Kenny Williams.
4. Valley Christian (San Jose) 22-11-1
If you’ve followed our rankings over the years, you know we look at top early-season matchups to help determine the preseason pecking order. That’s the case with Valley Christian since the preseason No. 1 team from the Bay Area and for the CIF Central Coast Section is opening on March 6 with game against No. 3 Elk Grove. The Warriors lost just two starters from their lineup from last year and have strength on the mound and at the plate. CCS Freshman Player of the Year Eddie Park (.337) is one of those at the plate. Patrick Wicklander, who will be a four-year starter, leads the pitching. Wicklander went 8-1 with a 1.92 ERA as a junior and had 94 strikeouts.
5. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 25-9
The Dons have been preseason No. 1 in the state before, they’ve had the State Coach of the Year before (Gary Remiker) and they’ve had the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft. They are used to the spotlight and have the pieces to be the top team in San Diego this season. The pitching has a great 1-2 punch with University of San Diego-bound Cade Brown (8-2, 1.02) and UCLA-bound Nick Nastrini (5-1, 0.98). Most of Remiker’s lineup also returns, including Arizona-bound outfielder Jacob Allred, who batted .328 as a junior.
6. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 21-12
There are 10 players on the Monarchs roster with college commitments and they got a transfer boost as well with outfielder Vinny Tosti getting a hardship waiver after that fire in Northern California damaged his school at Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa. They already had a top 100 national recruit in shortstop Emilio Rosas (.395 hitter as a junior). They have some pitchers headed to colleges too, such as Hunter Cope (San Diego) and Hunter Cranton (Arizona), but none of them have accomplished that much on the high school level in the Trinity League as of yet.
7. Etiwanda 27-3
Last year’s CIFSS D2 champions will be in D1 this season, but they beat the champions of the mighty Trinity League (St. John Bosco) en route to the D2 title and have a more than solid core of players back. Junior infielder Cody Freeman was one of the state’s top sophomores in 2017 and head coach Don Fornald also has ace pitcher Marcus Johnson (Duke commit) back in the fold. The Eagles had another super-talented freshman in 6-foot-5 Matt Bardowell.
8. Buchanan (Clovis) 28-4
Technically it’s not the preseason anymore for the Bears, who opened on Saturday with a 9-3 win over Tulare Western at the Coca Cola Classic. The CIF Central Section usually starts one week before everyone else in the state. Buchanan isn’t the defending champion but went 4-1 against the team that did win (Clovis) and has more returning strength than the Cougars. Sure, a super group of seniors has departed, but the junior class is now front and center and seems like it will be similar. That group includes all-state underclass infielder Brady Hormel along with junior outfielders Miguel Ortiz and JD Ortiz.
9. Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 22-9
We were happy to help determine head coach Tom Dill’s career record over the summer looking up season totals at the state library and came up with 416-264-4 since 1993. That means he won his 400th game in 2017. Dill’s trend toward 500 should continue. The Knights lose MLB first round pick and Sports Illustrated coverboy Hunter Greene, but they’ve got another phenom in sophomore pitcher Lucas Gordon. The State Freshman of the Year went 10-1 with a 1.21 ERA and there are other top returning players as well. Pitcher Carter Kessinger was 6-1 with a 1.52 ERA and outfielder Michael Whiteside batted .325 as a sophomore.
10. Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 22-5-1
The Wolverines were a contender for preseason No. 1 but in January lost UCLA-bound pitcher Jesse Bergin to a torn meniscus in his knee. They still have Vanderbilt-bound Sam Hliboki, who is one of the state’s top junior pitchers, and more top returnees in the lineup, but had to take a hit in the preseason rankings due to the injury of a player like that. Head coach Jared Halpert will be looking for big things from sophomore shortstop Drew Bowser and senior outfielder R.J. Schreck.
11. Foothill (Pleasanton) 19-5-1
While De La Salle of Concord won yet another CIF North Coast Section title, it was Foothill that had the best record among East Bay Athletic League teams and it is the Falcons that clearly have more top returning talent. Lefty pitcher Brett Hansen, headed to Stanford and who also can hit, dominated at the Under Armour Preseason All-American tourney. He is perhaps the leading Mr. Baseball State POY candidate from Northern California. Two of Foothill’s other team leaders are infielder Sam Novitske (.369), who is going to Oregon, and infielder Jeremy Lea (.397), who is going to Pacific.
12. La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) 24-7
Head coach Justin Machaco figures to have one of the top teams once again in the CIF San Diego Section. He has two pitchers who were both effective last season — J.J. Rytz (8-2, 1.95) and Keaton Carattini (6-2, 2.09). La Costa Canyon also features junior first base slugging prospect Spencer Jones, who was considered a finalist to be State Sophomore of the Year.
13. Stockdale (Bakersfield) 26-4
It’s a little bit of a leap to put the Mustangs this high, but they were a CIF Central Section D1 semifinalist last season and have only lost two starters. We’re not starting them No. 1 in the section but did put them second and in front of the Clovis team that ended their 2017 season. UCLA-bound Sean Mullen headlines the cast of seniors with a .470 batting average from 2018. Pitcher Alejandro Murrillo also is back. He won nine games as a junior.
14. Santiago (Corona) 19-10
Bryce Turang is where you have to begin when thinking about the Sharks. He’s been regarded as one of the top hitting prospects for the Class of 2018 nationally for more than two years and he would have to be on a short list of favorites for Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year. And while Santiago has five returning position players, it’s the pitching that could push the team toward the top of the CIFSS heap. Oregon-bound Tyler Frazier leads the staff, but there’s also a promising junior in McKay Knoll. He posted a 4-1 record as a sophomore.
15. El Toro (Lake Forest) 27-7-1
A bulk of the star power that carried the Chargers to the 2017 CIFSS D1 title and helped head coach Mike Gonzalez earn our State Coach of the Year honor has graduated. Gonzalez does have a strong No. 1 pitcher moving up from No. 2, Erik Tolman, to build around. Tolman was brilliant with a two-hit shutout of Mater Dei in last year’s D1 semifinals. The outfield should be a strength as well with Stone Shiffman (Cal State Northridge) and Nathan Church (UC Irvine) returning.
16. Davis 23-9
The Blue Devils have been the main competition for Elk Grove in the CIFSJS and in the Delta League. They return most of their starters from last year and have star power to lead them in University of Arizona recruit Ryan Holgate. The All-American candidate batted .371 last season and went 7-2 with a 2.07 ERA. Second-leading hitter Nick Vogt, a junior, who batted .427 also is back. Tyler Mortensen, a lefty pitcher, and Jack Painter, a senior infielder, should be other key contributors.
17. Servite (Anaheim) 19-13
Three of eight D1 college-bound players for the Friars are all headed for Oregon. The three are senior pitcher Christian Ciuffetelli, senior outfielder Tanner Smith and sophomore catcher Garret Giuillemette. On the pitching front, every Trinity League team needs lots of depth and Servite has it with UC-Santa Barbara recruit Grant Newton and Loyola-Marymount recruit Alec Rath.
18. Huntington Beach 28-5
One year ago, the Oilers were pretty much the preseason No. 1 pick in the nation by all major media sources. They had a strong season, but didn’t get it done in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. Most of that team is gone, including Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Hagen Danner and top first round MLB Draft pick Nick Pratto. The program didn’t go anywhere, however, and there are players still there who will keep the team dangerous. Outfielder Joshua Hahn is UCLA-bound. Others to watch include 1B Justin Brodt and C Nick Lopez.
19. Clovis 27-5-1
As mentioned with Buchanan, the defending CIF Central Section D1 champions have already opened their season at the Coca Cola Classic. In the Cougars’ case, they’ve already played twice and improved to 2-0 with a 3-1 win on Saturday over Bullard of Fresno, which could be another of the top five teams in the section this spring. Blake Sodersten, who was the team’s closer last season, started and won the opener. Tanner Kropf went six innings in the second game. Outfielder Mickey Machado has been the No. 3 hitter and had an RBI then two hits in the first two games.
20. De La Salle (Concord) 21-8
Head coach David Jeans and the Spartans are looking for the program’s eighth straight NCS D1 finals appearance after winning its 10th section title last season. There’s not a ton of returning talent, especially compared to league rival and defending league champion Foothill of Pleasanton, but the pitching has great potential. Junior Nick Cirelli closed out the NCS final and sophomore lefty Kyle Harrison is a UCLA commit. At first base, DLS also has one of the top sluggers in the Bay Area with Trace Tammaro.
21. St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 27-8
The Braves were in the mix to be State Team of the Year entering the CIFSS D2 semifinals as the Trinity League champions. They lost to Etiwanda. The outlook for this season is that head coach Don Barbara must rebuild the pitching staff in a very difficult league. The good news is that catcher Kameron Ojeda is returning and is one of the best in the state. Two top hitters — Noah Gomez (.349) and junior Sebastian Orduno (.326) — are also back.
22. St. Mary’s (Stockton) 20-11
Last year’s club at St. Mary’s had no seniors on the roster, struggled early on playing one of the toughest schedules in Northern California and then reached the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 South final with a win over 28-2 Gregori of Modesto before losing to league rival Tracy. That team did have seniors — and some good ones — so the Rams are the big favorites outside of the Delta League (Elk Grove, Davis) for the entire section. USC-bound Tyler Lozano is back to play the infield along with teammate Christian Almanza (Utah). They both batted above .400. Another pitcher to watch is Chandler Sanguinetti (5-1 last season).
23. Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 22-9
In the Southwestern League last season it was not Santiago’s Bryce Turang who was league MVP but the Broncos’ Jake Moberg, who hit .365 and also will be one of the top pitchers in Southern California this season. The UCLA-bound Moberg will be joined on a powerful staff by junior Andrew Mosiello, son of head coach Matt Mosiello. Andrew went 6-1 with a 1.17 ERA as a sophomore and has a commitment to Oregon. The Broncos have junior OF Steven Riddle (Nevada commit) and junior catcher Anthony Tulimero (Kansas) ready to make some noise as well.
24. Bellarmine (San Jose) 21-9
The Bells play De La Salle of Concord to open their season on Tuesday and then the following week they play Davis. As with all teams in the Trinity League for SoCal, we pretty much check out every team in the West Catholic Athletic League for NorCal looking for preseason teams to rank. After Valley Christian at the top, the Bells were picked in a close call for second mainly due to their returning pitching. Cal-bound Joe Ammirato led the way as a junior with an 8-2 mark and 1.59 ERA. Wes Harper should be another ace. He had a 1.68 ERA and threw a four-hitter at Davis last season when the Bells beat the Blue Devils in the Boras Classic NorCal final.
25. Vacaville 24-4
For this last spot it’s always tough and we can go in a couple of different directions. This time, it’s a nod to the Bulldogs, who had a breakout season in 2018 in the SJS and have numerous returnees. Shortstop Bryce Begell hit .366 as a junior and has signed with Arizona. Catcher Cole Elvis batted .315 and is headed to Cal. Elvis also won six games as a pitcher. The team’s leading pitcher, T.J. Smith, comes back after going 8-0 with a 1.17 ERA.
Teams On The Bubble
Birmingham (Lake Balboa) 26-9-1
Bishop Amat (La Puente) 20-10
Bullard (Fresno) 18-11-1
El Dorado (Placentia) 21-9
Gahr (Cerritos) 15-15
Hart (Newhall) 20-11
JSerra (SJ Capistrano) 17-13
J.W. North (Riverside) 20-12
Los Gatos 20-11
Miramonte (Orinda) 27-1
Palm Desert 23-8
Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 29-5
San Marcos 30-4
South Hills (West Covina) 22-8
St. Francis (Mountain View) 21-10
Torrey Pines (San Diego) 25-9