The earliest start for all sports in the CIF state calendar continues since some teams in the CIF Southern Section are scheduled for non-scrimmage baseball games this weekend. We’ll have to start the state rankings in spring sports earlier than ever as well (watch for softball next week) and are beginning today in baseball. This makes it more than 35 years that Cal-Hi Sports will be compiling state baseball rankings. There is no clear-cut No. 1 preseason team in California so we simply went with the one we thought we would at the end of the 2018 season: Harvard-Westlake of Studio City.
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(Teams listed with win-loss record from last season)
1. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 26-4
This is the team that was No. 1 in the state heading into the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs last season and also was top-seed for the bracket. It was a shocking first-round upset to Valencia, however, that quickly ended the quest for a No. 1 finish. A great cast of returning players is back, hoping to complete the task in 2019. Two of the Wolverines are among the top-ranked juniors in the nation — infielder Drew Bowser (Stanford commit) and outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (Vanderbilt) — and they have a veteran, stingy pitching staff. That group includes all-state candidate Sam Hliboki (Vanderbilt) along with Jack Limongelli. One of the squad’s other top returnees is outfielder Michael Snyder (Washington).
2. Valley Christian (San Jose) 29-3-1
It’s just enough of a loss of seniors from last season’s team that repeated as CIF Central Coast Section champions (Division I in 2017, Open Division in 2018) that we’re going with the defending State Team of the Year in the No. 2 slot to start this spring. Head coach John Diatte welcomes back State Freshman of the Year Jonathan Cymrot, who was one of the team’s top hitters last season and should pitch a lot more this year. Stanford-bound Eddie Park (outfield-pitcher), plus additional all-state caliber players such as outfielder Coleman Brigman, infielder Nick Marinconz, pitcher/first base Steven Zobac and pitcher William Kempner also return. Playing in the mighty West Catholic Athletic League is always a bonus for the Warriors, but their schedule this year will get going on Feb. 23 with a matchup at home against Orange Lutheran. The winner of that showdown could be the early regular season No. 1 team in California.
3. Lutheran (Orange) 25-8
Nationally, it’s to see why the Lancers are such a contender for the top of the rankings. After all, they’ve won the National High School Invitational title in North Carolina two years in a row and could make it three straight this spring. They haven’t been able to get it done yet in the CIFSS D1 playoffs and have tended to lose games once they’ve gotten back from the NHSI. This year, OLu has the ingredients to be state and national No. 1 even though first-round MLB Draft pick Cole Winn has graduated. Junior infielder Max Rajcic, a UCLA commit and member of the USA National U18 team, is simply the first place to start. Senior outfielder Jasiah Dixon (USC) was the State Freshman of the Year three seasons ago and continues to impress. Head coach Eric Borba also has junior pitcher Christian Rodriguez (USC), hitter-pitcher Evan Adolphus (Cal State Fullerton), junior outfielder Chad Born (Miami) and pitcher Josiah Castillo (Pepperdine) among those on hand and ready to roll.
4. La Mirada 26-4-1
The Matadors already have been tabbed No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division I preseason rankings and No. 1 in preseason rankings for Southern California by the L.A. Times. The program, however, has never come that close to the highest level of the final overall state rankings and it’s just that in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings the three teams that are starting higher just have a much stronger previous track record. It’s not as if La Mirada has the talent to take it all the way to the top. Returning State Sophomore of the Year Jared Jones is one of the top two-way players in the nation with one year to go. He clubbed 13 homers with 44 RBI and a .431 average last season and notched a 7-2 mound record with a 0.80 ERA. Catcher Darius Perry is another top national recruit and comes back after hitting 11 homers in 2019. Two other key returnees for head coach Jimmy Zurn are infielder Eugene Jeon (.374, 34 RBI) and pitcher-hitter Emilio Morales, who had a 0.65 ERA (8-0 record) plus 24 RBI and a .324 average.
5. Torrey Pines (San Diego) 29-6
You’d think with 2018 Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Joe Magrisi gone that the Falcons might go into a tailspin. That shouldn’t be the case. In fact, head coach Kirk McCaskill has just about everyone else back, making Torrey Pines the preseason pick in the CIF San Diego Section. Outfielder Mac Bingham, just named to the all-state football team as a running back, is one of those players. He hit .333 with six homers last season and will play baseball at USC. Third baseman Kevin Sim (University of San Diego commit) is one of the state’s best juniors while second base/outfield Jack Johnston (Cal) is one of the best sophomores. McCaskill also has pitching strength with Washington-bound Michael Schreiber (8-2, 2.02) plus Mattew Schlesener (6-1, 3.04).
6. Huntington Beach 26-6
Head coach Benji Madure has had more hyped teams in the preseason than this one, but perhaps that’s a good thing. The Oilers do have a more than solid group of returning players, led by UCLA-bound Josh Hahn. He smacked five homers last season with 23 RBI (.344) and also had a 1.88 ERA on the mound in almost 38 innings. Two other major returnees are UC San Diego-bound Eddie Pelc (5-0, 0.24) and UCLA commit Jake Vogel. As a sophomore, Vogel knocked in 18 runs and batted .330. The infield will be bolstered by honors candidate Cole Minato.
7. Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) 28-4
Boasting seven players on the roster with D1 college commitments, the Mustangs should dominate in the South Bay region of the CIFSS and contend for titles in the CIFSS D1 playoffs as well as the Boras Classic. Pitcher Jared Karros and junior infielder Kyle Karros, both sons of former Los Angeles Dodgers’ player Eric Karros and both headed to UCLA, are among those seven. We didn’t get them all, but pitcher Christian Bodlovich (Arizona State), infielder Chase Meidroth (San Diego) and pitcher Merrick Baldo (Loyola) are definitely in the group.
8. De La Salle (Concord) 26-4
Not only are the Spartans looking to win their fifth straight CIF North Coast Section Division I title, but it was challenging to find major contenders that have the pieces to step up to battle it out with them. Other teams will emerge in the NCS, of course, but DLS clearly is the one to beat. We didn’t start out head coach David Jeans team where it finished in last year’s final rankings (No. 2) because there are significant graduation losses. Those that are back, though, include sophomore 1B Blake Burke (.345, five HRs), who was a candidate for State Freshman of the Year, plus junior pitcher Kyle Harrison, who dominated down the stretch and finished 9-1 with a 1.17 ERA. Two other Spartans to watch are C/OF Jared Amigh (.381, 20 RBI and headed to Pacific) and INF Chris Santiago (.388, five HRs and headed to St. Mary’s).
9. Yucaipa 28-5
The Thunderbirds are stepping up into the CIFSS D1 playoff grouping this season after winning the CIFSS D2 crown and are loaded with major returning players. State Medium Schools Player of the Year Tyson Heaton (who also was almost State Junior of the Year in what was basically a tie between him and Maranatha’s Dawson Netz) is among those back. He went 12-0 on the mound with a 1.37 ERA and he batted .373 with 19 RBI. Junior Jordan Andrade also is back after batting .415 with 36 RBI and has committed to Washington. Plus, head coach Ralph Grajeda has guys like OF/C Anthony Gibbons (Cal State Northridge), INF Joseph Lomeli (San Jose State), 3B Trenton Luther (.319) and C Michael Capentier (.366, three HRs).
10. Buchanan (Clovis) 19-10-1
It wasn’t a great season by Buchanan standards in 2018, which does prevent the Bears from starting out perhaps even higher in these rankings. They definitely are the team to beat in the CIF Central Section and they’ve been at the top of the state before (2011, 2016). With defending D1 section champ Stockdale of Bakersfield getting hit by heavy graduation losses, Buchanan has a wealth of leading players. The group includes Stanford-bound outfielder Brock Jones, one of the top multi-sport athletes in the state, along with junior infielder Brady Hormel (.386, 21 RBI). T.J. Fondtain, a San Diego State recruit, leads the pitching staff and also can hit. Also back are brothers Miguel and JD Ortiz, senior outfielders and Cal-State Fullerton recruits.
11. Poway 27-8
The Titans reached the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship last season before falling to Torrey Pines and should remain as one of the section’s best squads. Veteran coach Bob Parry also has a good balance of returnees from a pitching and offensive lineup point of view. The pitching should include Nick Salafia (7-5, 2.21 from junior season) and Dylan Moran (3-0, 0.83). The lineup features outfielder Kyle Nevin (Baylor), catcher Taylor Johnson (Loyola) and outfield/pitcher Trevor Tishenkel (Cal).
12. Franklin (Elk Grove) 23-8
It’s a close call for preseason No. 1 in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, but we’ll go with the Wildcats, who were one of the best one year ago. They lose all-state pitcher-hitter Evan Gibbons, but otherwise have a great corps of returnees. Nevada-bound Zach Meddings is one of them with a .348 batting average, 31 runs scored plus a 7-2 pitching mark and 1.90 ERA from 2018. The team’s most talked about player, though, is outfielder Chase Davis (27 RBI as soph) who is one of the top-ranked Class of 2020 prospects in the nation. Pitcher Grant Stevens (Pacific) plus Nico Regino (.367, 29 RBI) and junior Jake Pina (.320) also return.
13. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 22-8
Head coach Brian Yocke has a group projected to give Valley Christian the most trouble in the WCAL and CCS this season. The team’s offense looks especially strong with WCAL Player of the Year Nick Yorke, one of the top juniors in the state, leading the returnees. Yorke batted .494 as a sophomore with 18 doubles and 22 RBI. His senior brother, Joe, led the Monarchs in RBI with 29 and hit .377. Mitty will need its pitching to step up for it to move up even higher in the rankings. The best arms back are held by Andrew McCann (3-1, 1.70) and Dominic Quinones (2-2, 1.82).
14. Bishop Amat (La Puente) 19-12-1
Talk about multi-sport athletes. The Lancers have several playing baseball, none more impressive right now than Blake Archuleta. He was just picked second team all-state overall in football in the multi-purpose position and was Mission League Player of the Year. In baseball, Blake was the San Gabriel Valley Tribune Player of the Year last season for a squad that reached the CIFSS D1 semifinals. One of Blake’s top receiver targets, Jaden Allen, is another of the Lancers’ top players on the diamond. Archuleta will be joined as a pitcher (he went 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA last season) by Steven Loera (7-3, 1.65). Catcher Daniel Briones is one of the top sophomores in the state and leads a group of younger players on the team who reportedly have impressed opposing coaches in fall ball games.
15. Jesuit (Carmichael) 21-11
The Susac cousins — Daniel (a junior) and Anthony (a sophomore) — are a great place to start for the Marauders. Daniel, committed to Oregon State, batted .462 last season and was on the Sacramento Bee All-Metro team. Anthony pitched a playoff shutout as a freshman. Jesuit has other top returning players, including Washington-bound pitcher Carter Benbrook and Cal-State Northridge-bound Cade Pilchard, and was a narrow choice to be behind Delta League rival Franklin of Elk Grove to start out in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. Head coach Joe Potulny always sets up a grueling schedule, too, so there will be plenty of opportunity for Jesuit to win big games and move up.
16. Beckman (Irvine) 26-4-1
The Patriots are another team that loses a great player, in their case infielder Matt McLain, made famous by his decision not to sign after being a late first-round MLB draft choice and instead go to UCLA. McLain still has two brothers at Beckman — Sean (a senior) and Nick (a sophomore) — and they’re both top prospects as well. Beckman, which is moving up from D2 into the CIFSS D1 playoff group this year, also has returning pitcher Trevor Ernt, who was 8-0 with a 0.78 ERA as a junior. Yet one more to watch is Connor McGuire (son of former MLB player Ryan McGuire), who hit for a .405 mark (18 RBI) last season.
17. Etiwanda 22-8
We still love the Eagles for the holdovers they have from that squad from two years ago that won the CIFSS D2 title (beating Trinity League champ St. John Bosco along the way) and ended No. 2 in the final state rankings. The group includes Baylor-bound infielder Cody Freeman (.452), Duke-bound pitcher Marcus Johnson (7-3, 2.95) plus junior pitcher/first baseman Matt Bardowell, who has Team USA experience and who has committed to USC.
18. Clovis North (Fresno) 23-9
The Broncos have one of the top returning pitchers in Northern California in Riley Cooper, a fire-baller with MLB draft potential who has signed with Arizona. They don’t have as much back as league rival Buchanan, but have more than Clovis West and more than defending CIF Central Section D1 champ Stockdale of Bakersfield. Others to watch for head coach Jeff Prieto include 3B/DH Chris Ortega (25 RBI), pitcher Brady Crow, OF/INF Connor Martin and second team all-league junior infielder Cason Brownell.
19. Maranatha (Sierra Madre) 27-4
Returning State Junior of the Year Dawson Netz leads the way for the Minutemen. The Arizona-bound pitcher went 12-0 with a 0.26 ERA and set a Cal-Hi Sports state record with a 59 ⅓ consecutive innings without giving up a run. That streak, however, could be broken in the first game this season for Alameda’s Max Nyrop. Netz also hit .365 with 14 RBI. Maranatha also welcomes bak all-state infielder Max Blessinger (.495, 26 RBI) and others who shined for the CIFSS D3 champions. Two of those, INF Nick Iverson and OF Cole Dale, also will be teammates in college at UC Davis. The Minutemen would appear to be the top team in the CIFSS this season who won’t be in the D1 playoff grouping. They will be headliners in D2.
20. JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 18-14
The Lions made a nice run in the CIFSS D1 playoffs last season and they were in the state title game of the Boras Classic so despite the loss total it wasn’t that bad of a season. They are projected this spring to be the top contender to Orange Lutheran in the Trinity League. Sophomore Cody Schrier already is being compared to some of the best players that JSerra has ever had after his showings for the USA 15-under national team last summer. Another top recruit (among many) is shortstop Michael Curialle, who is headed to UCLA.
21. Los Gatos 23-9
If the Wildcats had not made it to the CCS Open Division final and lost in a highly competitive game to state No. 1 Valley Christian, the fact that several coaches in the CCS picking them as one of the best in that section might be surprising to some. Those coaches, who were contacted about preseason rankings, all know that it is very possible for non-WCAL teams to battle it out with the best from the WCAL. Los Gatos has a great pair of returnees in junior infielder Tommy Troy, a Stanford commit who hit .367 as a sophomore and was All-State Underclass, plus San Jose State-bound pitcher-hitter Trevor Allen. Sophomore transfer catcher Tommy Splaine also checks in after starting as a freshman at Archbishop Mitty.
22. Vacaville 26-8
The Bulldogs, in our evaluation, have enough back to deserve to be in the State Top 25 but we’re also starting them out behind Franklin of Elk Grove and Jesuit of Carmichael in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. They are the defending SJS D1 champs and will make a bid to repeat with a group that includes the physically imposing Michael Brown at first base. The power hitting prospect hit six homers as a sophomore. Area Code invite and Long Beach State-bound outfielder Devereaux Harrison (who also pitches), plus Sac State-bound Hunter Dorraugh (.368) and pitcher Brandon Chalk (8-2, 3.20) are other Vacaville players to watch.
23. Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo) 25-10
Yes, we know a lot top players graduated and legendary head coach Bob Zamora has retired after last year’s team won the prestigious CIFSS D1 title and ended No. 4 in the state. Still, new head coach Adam Sorgi should be fine and there’s also a big-time returnee that he can build around. That would be football quarterback/outfielder Nathan Manning, who hit .392 for the Cougars last year and drove in 40 runs. Nathan will play baseball in college at Cal. Rhys Stevens also could be a top-notch pitcher while Mater Dei transfer outfielder Chad Call has a commitment to Cal State Northridge.
24. Birmingham (Lake Balboa) 26-10
The two-time defending CIF L.A. City Section champions are loaded with returning honors winners from last season and should make a stronger push to be ranked higher compared to the more traditionally powerful teams from the CIFSS. Catcher Johnny Tincher was the L.A. City Player of the Year as a junior. And despite being a sophomore, Albert Garcia was the L.A. City Pitcher of the Year. First team All-LA City infielders Erik Rivas (a junior) and Alex Ballesteros also return.
25. Helix (La Mesa) 21-10
For this last spot in the preseason State Top 25 we like to use it on a bit more of an educated guess than the others. What stood out about the Highlanders in evaluating their roster is a returning pitching staff that included Griffin Zamora (7-1, 3.40), Josiah Estrada (4-0, 0.00) and Thomas Canedy (4-1, 1.56). Also back are sophomore Alonzo Richardson (five homers as a freshman) plus college-bound players Aaron Pulido (junior 1B/P to San Diego State), Jaden Thompson (junior SS/P to LSU) and Eric Smelko (senior OF to St. Mary’s).
Teams On The Bubble
Aliso Niguel (Aliso Viejo) 19-11
Ayala (Chino Hills) 19-12
Bellarmine (San Jose) 25-8
Dos Pueblos (Goleta) 25-4
Eastlake (Chula Vista) 28-5-1
Elk Grove 19-7-2
El Toro (Lake Forest) 23-8-1
Foothill (Pleasanton) 23-6
Foothill (Tustin) 25-8
Fountain Valley 21-12
Gahr (Cerritos) 22-9
La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) 23-10
Santa Cruz 22-6
Serra (San Mateo) 23-9
St. Francis (Mountain View) 24-8
Stockdale (Bakersfield) 25-5