A few games have already started, but for the 2020 season in California it’s going to start where it left off with De La Salle of Concord in the No. 1 position. The Spartans will have a 28-game win streak heading into their first game and have plenty of returning top players to earn the distinction of having to lose in order to drop from being No. 1. This also will be the last season when section playoffs will be the final games since there will be CIF NorCal and SoCal regional playoff games starting in 2021. We’ll have more on that later in a future column.
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(Listed with win-loss records from 2019 season)
(Does not include any results from 2020 season unless noted in text)
1. De La Salle (Concord) 29-1
Channeling our experience of covering the Spartans when they were rolling along at the top of the state in football in the early 2000s, the baseball program is in a similar situation. Last year’s team ended No. 1 in the state with a 28-game win streak (one of the longest in Northern California history) and answers the question in a positive “Yes” when the question is asked if it should stay No. 1 until there’s a loss. Sure, baseball is much different than football, but the Spartans have an ace pitcher returning who’s one of the best in the nation and they have a number of top position players returning. Kyle Harrison (UCLA), who pitched magnificently for the USA Under-18 national team last summer, is back after going 10-0 with a 1.26 ERA as a junior. Others include INF Charles McAdoo (.333, 26 RBI going to San Jose State); INF Vince Bianchina (.417, going to Northwestern), junior 1B Blake Burke (a big-time slugging prospect committed to Tennessee) and OF Keoni Coloma (.386, St. Mary’s). The big question for head coach David Jeans is pitching depth since a lot of the elite arms that went along with Harrison last season have graduated. The team’s first game isn’t until Feb. 29 at Bellarmine of San Jose.
2. La Mirada 26-7
Ranked No. 1 to start the season in Southern California by the L.A. Times, we’d tend to agree given the star power at the top of the Matadores’ lineup and on the mound. Head coach Jimmy Zurn had both Jared Jones and Michael DeHaro rolling up zeroes on the mound last season. Jones, also one of the top hitters in Southern California, was the State Junior of the Year. He had a 0.77 ERA while DeHaro had one of 0.29. Jones was projected to be the starter if La Mirada would have reached the CIF Southern Section D1 final at Dodger Stadium, but despite DeHaro pitching seven shutout innings the team was edged 1-0 in nine innings by eventual champion Cypress in one of the most memorable semifinals ever played. All-State catcher Darius Perry is gone, but also returning is INF Eugene Jeon (UC Santa Barbara), C/1B Emilio Morales (USC) and OF Jacob Sharp (Hawaii).
3. Lutheran (Orange) 27-5
Pitching is what really stands out about this season for the Lancers as one of their alums, dominating MLB pitcher Gerrit Cole, begins his career with the New York Yankees. The elite arms coming back from last season are owned by Max Rajcic and Christian Rodriguez. Rajcic, first team all-state as a junior and headed to UCLA, had a 0.39 ERA and 7-0 record. Rodriguez (USC) had 12 appearances with a 1.66 ERA. The lineup has a couple of graduation losses to fill but one key returnee is outfielder Chad Born (Miami). The Lancers have been ranked No. 1 to start the season in Orange County by OC Varsity.
4. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 27-6-1
This was our preseason No. 1 team last season and almost got there at the end, but it would have taken winning in the CIFSS D1 championship and De La Salle losing in its playoffs. Neither happened, but the Wolverines got close, losing in the section final to Cypress. They are starting this season No. 1 by the L.A. Daily News and will make another run to glory behind outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong and infielder Drew Bowser, both All-Americans, both four-year starters and both Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year candidates. Crow-Armstrong (Vanderbilt), Bowser (Stanford) will be backed up by several others, including junior pitcher Christian Becerra and senior outfielder Tyler Ganus (who just committed to Oregon).
5. Valley Christian (San Jose) 29-4
The State Team of the Year for 2018 and three-time defending CIF Central Coast Section top division champions lose some elite players, including Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year finalist Steven Zobac (now at Cal), but there are still four on the roster who were All-West Catholic Athletic League first team. P/DH Jonathan Cymrot, the State Freshman of the Year in 2018 and headed to Arizona, along with OF Eddie Park (Stanford) are the two key pieces. The other two headliners for head coach John Diatte should be junior INF Trevor Haskins and senior INF Jack McGrew.
6. Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 24-7
Earlier this week, the Knights received the No. 1 preseason ranking in the nation from MaxPreps, but then later in the week they were only No. 3 by the L.A. Daily News. The difference may be injuries as it was reported by the Daily News that USC-bound pitcher Tyler Stromsborg has been lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. On the positive, many others are still back and ready to go. Our State Freshman of the Year from three years ago, Lucas Gordon, had a great season as a junior after he missed much of his sophomore season. Gordon, headed to Texas, had a 1.39 ERA and he batted. .366. OF/INF Devan Ornelas (TCU) also was an all-state underclass pick with a .423 mark and 20 RBI. Another of the team’s seven D1 college-bound players is INF Daylen Reyes (UCLA).
7. JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) 19-13
There’s certainly no consensus in Southern California for preseason rankings. The Lions are No. 1 in the state in the Prep Baseball Report Power 25 to start, but the Orange County Register has Orange Lutheran higher, the L.A. Times has La Mirada No. 1 and MaxPreps has Notre Dame No. 1 in the nation. We try to go in the middle in those situations, but generally aren’t going to go with a team No. 1 in the state that had 13 losses from the previous season. JSerra head coach Brett Kay has five D1 commits on the roster this year and plenty of depth coming up from lower levels. INF Cody Schrier (USC) and P Luke Jewett (UCLA) are just two of the Lions’ players to watch.
8. Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 20-10-1
The CIF San Diego Section doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite to start the spring, but the squad we like the best for the preseason factors we look at is the Broncos. Head coach Jeff Baumback has excellent returning strength for pitching and hitting from one of the section’s top teams from last season. This is a team that still could be one year away from being overwhelming, but junior OF Jackson Castillo (Utah), junior INF Peyton Schulze (Long Beach State), junior catcher Charlie Fick (Cal State Fullerton) and junior Sunsuke Sakaino (Cal State Northridge) might just be that good to get it done right now. Pitching wise, RB’s best should be seniors Desmond Cabanilla (7-4, 2.14) and Chandler Cameron (7-0, 1.57).
9. Cypress 31-3
Kansas State-bound pitcher Brett Wozniak is the top returnee for the Centurions, who were No. 1 in some final national rankings after winning the CIFSS D1 title. We picked De La Salle, but they were just as deserving. Another big-time returnee is sophomore catcher Luke Davis, the State Freshman of the Year and one of the top sophomore MLB prospects in the nation.Cypress does lose most of its top players, which is why OC Varsity only had the Centurions No. 5 in its preseason rankings. Infielder Noah Carter (UC Santa Barbara) is another one of the team’s five college committed players.
10. Jesuit (Carmichael) 23-11
Only five seniors were on the roster last season for the Marauders, who reached the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 final before losing to Vacaville. The pitching should not only be stellar, but head coach Joe Potulny also has one of the top catchers in the nation, Daniel Susac (Arizona), to work with them. Susac, a .318 hitter last season, will see his mitt pop with guys like junior Anthony Susac (his cousin who pitched a playoff no-hitter as a freshman); senior Charlie Hurley (USC recruit who wowed the scouts in the summer with 92-93 mph fastballs); and senior Chris Baytosh (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo). Others to watch include INF Mitchell Parker (.417), P/INF Luke Williams (UC Santa Barbara) and P Andy Owen.
11. Clovis North (Fresno) 21-8
We’re cheating a bit by listing the Broncos 11th in these rankings because the Coca-Cola Classic tourney has already begun in the CIF Central Section, which is similar to San Diego in that there’s no team that looks solid as a preseason No. 1. Clovis North was going to be near the top but already has had a pitcher throw a no-hitter and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. The no-hit pitcher was Ryan O’Hara, who struck out 11 in a no-hitter this week against Hanford. The pitcher you are thinking about, Arizona-bound Riley Cooper, struck out eight in five innings in his first start as the Broncos have begun 2-0. Cooper went 9-1 with 95 strikeouts and 1.16 ERA last season.
12. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 25-11
UCLA-bound shortstop Milan Tolentino leads the way for the Eagles, who should be right up there with Orange Lutheran and JSerra in the Trinity League. Tolentino was the MVP of the Trinity League as a junior. Outfielder Connor Bane, who is headed to UC Santa Barbara, is another position player to watch. The pitching depth also is great. The team’s preview on the Boras Classic website shows sophomore Matthew Porchas (Texas) and seniors Caden Connolly (Santa Clara), Roger Thomas (UC Irvine) and junior Ethan Finnegan (UCLA) all with D1 commitments.
13. Poway 22-6
The Titans were runner-up to Eastlake in last year’s CIF San Diego Section Open Division playoffs and have some noteworthy returnees. All-San Diego pitcher Ivran Romero is one of them with a 9-1 record as a junior. Romero also batted .310 with 26 RBI. Cal-bound OF Trevor Tishenkal and OF/P Jack Sanders (.343, 22 runs) also are among the underclass regulars from last season. Head coach Bob Parry celebrated his 500th win at the end of last season, but the San Diego Union-Tribune reported later in the summer that his record was 499-267. Parry has been head coach of the Titans since 1996.
14. Heritage (Brentwood) 21-7
This was the runner-up team to De La Salle in last year’s NCS D1 playoffs and since that was a rather young team with few seniors it only makes sense to start the Patriots up high in the state for this season. All-State Underclass Ryan Jackson (Nevada) leads the list of veterans. The shortstop hit .582 and also went 4-0 on the mound with a 0.76 ERA. Junior Christian Machado also comes back after winning eight games as a pitcher. INF Chaz Myers (.405) and P/OF Keith Jones (19 RBI) return as well.
15. Thousand Oaks 24-6
The L.A. Daily News is starting the Lancers second, even ahead of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, which also pretty much guarantees them a fairly high state ranking even though we didn’t go for them that high. Thousand Oaks already had strong preseason factors based on returning players before highly-touted catcher Charlie Saum transferred in from St. Bonaventure (Ventura). Saum, a junior, already has committed to Stanford and has USA baseball experience. Some of those coming back after strong showings in 2018 are INF Max Muncy (Arkansas), P Scott Ellis (Oregon), INF Jacob Wilson (Grand Canyon) and OF Roc Riggio (Oklahoma State).
16. Liberty (Bakersfield) 24-7
The Patriots had not one but two of the state’s top sophomores last season with OF Jacob Tobias and INF Kaleb Dickey. Tobias raked to the tune of .454 with eight homers and 47 RBI. Dickey had more homers (nine) with a .433 average plus 46 RBI. They also have some returning pitching to go with the offense as Nick Oscarson had a 7-2 record and 2.35 ERA last season. Another plus is rising sophomore INF Cutter Coffey, who has already committed to Arizona. Liberty was scheduled to open its season on Friday so there’s a chance the team might have already lost by the time these rankings were posted.
17. St. Francis (Mountain View) 17-12
For a team with pitching strength that might be able to take down Valley Christian in the CCS, look no further than the Warriors’ league rivals from St. Francis. Joey Schott was the WCAL Pitcher of the Year as a junior and went 6-2 with a 1.52 ERA. The other part of the formula is returning all-league pitcher Giancula Shinn (5-3, 1.41). The Lancers also should have one of the top outfields in the CCS with Max Porter and Petey Halpin.
18. Eastlake (Chula Vista) 26-4-1
Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Keoni Cavaco is gone after being selected No. 13 in the first round of last June’s MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. The Titans also have to replace a decent chunk of their pitching. They should still be one of the best in the San Diego Section with one of the state’s top infield combinations with shortstop Marcelo Mayer, a junior committed to USC and Kai Saterstrom, a senior headed to San Diego State who has transferred after putting up monster stats at small school High Tech Chula Vista and earning all-state small school honors.
19. Huntington Beach 25-7
There are two returning outfielders for the Oilers with big-time credentials — Jake Vogel (headed to UCLA) and Jag Burden (Cal). Head coach Benji Medure also should have a pitching staff that can hang with the best competition. Long Beach State-bound Tyler Conant is the top returnee, but there’s also junior Caden Aoki, who was an ace last season at his former school, Edison of Huntington Beach. Aoki is shown with a commitment to Notre Dame.
20. Oakmont (Roseville) 30-3
Last year’s SJS D2 champions are still D2 in that section, but regardless should have one of the top clubs in Northern California. Not being able to play and beat teams like Jesuit, Vacaville and the others will just prevent the Vikings from getting that high in the rankings. Their top two players, Sacramento Bee Metro Co-Player of the Year T.J. Nichols (who hit .523 with 20 RBI and went 9-1 with a 0.24 ERA) and catcher Carson Blatnick (.448, 28 RBI), are both headed to the Pac-12 for college. Nichols has signed with Arizona, Blatnick with Washington. Other key pieces coming back include Andrew Paolini (.418) and Kai Peterson (9-1, 0.66).
21. Vacaville 31-2
The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back SJS D1 championship seasons and they should remain one of the best teams in that section. We didn’t put them that high in the preseason due to all the pitching that they lost. Leading players, though, returning are INF Brian McClellin (Cal recruit who batted .412 last year), 1B Michael Brown (22 RBI and known for his power stroke) and OF Jared Breedwell (.400). Pitcher David Rodriguez could be one to watch as well.
22. Palm Desert 20-12
It could be a great season for Palm Springs area coaching legend Darold Salazar. He’s got a wealth of returning talent and will be looking to win at least a share of the program’s 12th straight league title. USC commit Emiliano Torres is a two-way standout who batted .319 with 25 RBI last season and he went 8-5 on the mound with a 1.21 ERA. University of San Diego-bound junior Max Shor (a catcher) also is back. He had 27 RBI and batted .344. Also look out for senior Alec Weigel (8-1, 1.13) and senior INF Jacob Mejia (.330).
23. Acalanes (Lafayette) 23-3
Watch out for the Dons to be serious challengers to De La Salle in the NCS D1 playoffs. They will have one of the Bay Area’s leading players with Washington-bound Nick Kresnak, who didn’t play football this fall to concentrate on baseball. The former QB batted .366 with 19 RBI and went 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA last season. The Dons also have three others with D1 commitments on hand — P Logan Hurd (Loyola Marymount), 1B Tommy Thrasher (Long Beach State) and junior C/1B Thatcher Hurd (Sacramento State).
24. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 17-14
Head coach Gary Remiker has one of those teams you like for preseason predicting due to pitching. The Dons sure have had their share of top pitchers over the years and have three this season with major college commitments — Max Miller (Arizona State), Nico Ryder (San Diego State) and Cooper Rons (UC Santa Barbara). Another intriguing player they have is INF Zavien Watson, headed to Arizona but someone we saw first as a rugged running back for the school’s football team in the CIF D1-AA state championship.
25. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 21-11
We saw the Monarchs win the NorCal version of the Boras Classic last season, which was followed up by loss to JSerra in the state final. They should continue to be among the top tier in the WCAL and for Northern California with the major reason for that being four-year starting shortstop Nick Yorke (Arizona). Two others that were first team All-WCAL last season were OF Raymello Murphy and C Andrew Vo. One of the Monarchs’ pitchers, Jake Geis, also has a scholarship wrapped up with Oregon.
Teams On The Bubble
Ayala (Chino) 25-6
Buchanan (Clovis) 26-4
Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 21-7
Clovis West (Fresno) 18-12
Foothill (Pleasanton) 20-8
Franklin (Elk Grove) 20-8
Gahr (Cerritos) 13-16-1
Helix (La Mesa) 20-13
Los Gatos 21-8
Pleasant Valley (Chico) 24-4
Righetti (Santa Maria) 22-6
San Dimas 23-5
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 27-5
Serra (San Mateo) 19-11
Valhalla (El Cajon) 25-8
Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 23-7-1