State Junior of the Year Bryce Rainer of Harvard-Westlake and State Sophomore of the Year Diego Velazquez of Encino Crespi know each other well from being in the same league. All of the other major honors also were not easy to decide.
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Congratulations to the following five players also who also have been selected this week as Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year.
Bryce Rainer (Harvard-Westlake, Studio City)
He’s been at the top of the heap or near the top of the heap for the state’s players in the Class of 2024 since he was a freshman and still there’s no one else we ended up liking better or who just did so much this season to bump Rainer off of the top position.
Sure, an all-state team or a player of the year for high school isn’t about recruiting lists or rankings of the top MLB prospects. But Rainer also is continuing to excel for the Wolverines. He was All-Mission League once again and was All-CIF Southern Section D1 once again with a .436 batting average facing one of the most difficult schedules of any team in the nation. Rainer also had 34 hits, 19 RBI, nine doubles and three homers.
When Bryce got started in his career at Harvard-Westlake he was as much a pitching prospect as he was a position player. His pitching was shut down last season and this season his pitching stats went largely unreported. There was one outing reported when he struck out seven in 2 1/3 innings against St. Francis of La Canada.
If prospect rankings were the major piece of the criteria, it could be argued that Rainer has been surpassed as the top prospect in the state for the 2024 MLB Draft by outfielder Derek Curiel of Orange Lutheran. Curiel, however, didn’t have as strong of a high school season as Rainer with a .358 batting average plus one homer and 12 RBI. Corona pitcher Ethan Schiefelbein, the Riverside Press-Enterprise Player of the Year, also was strongly considered.
Rainer is the first State Junior of the Year from Harvard-Westlake since current MLB pitcher Jack Flaherty in 2013. Flaherty also was the Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year for that season. The previous honoree before that from the San Fernando Valley was Mike Moustakas of Chatsworth for 2006. The all-time list goes back to the 1940s and includes Barry Bonds for 1981 from Serra of San Mateo.
Recent State Juniors of the Year: 2022 – Graham Grahovac (Villa Park); 2021 – Malcolm Moore (Sacramento McClatchy); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Jared Jones (La Mirada); 2018 – Dawson Netz (Pasadena Maranatha); 2017 – Grant Holman (Chula Vista Eastlake); 2016 – Royce Lewis (SJ Capistrano JSerra); 2015 – Jeremy Ydens (Mountain View St. Francis); 2014 – Joe DeMers (Pleasant Hill College Park); 2013 – Jack Flaherty (North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake); 2012 – Brett Seeburger (Vista); 2011 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2010 – J.D. Davis (Elk Grove); 2009 – Jake Rodriguez (Elk Grove).
Diego Velazquez (Crespi, Encino)
For the second straight year, the San Fernando Valley and the Mission League has the State Sophomore Player of the Year. And one of the reasons that Velazquez has gained the nod this year is that he was just recently named as the L.A. Daily News Player of the Year over Harvard-Westlake’s Bryce Rainer, who was tops in this category last season.
For the Cal-Hi Sports state players of the year, trying to pick Velazquez over Rainer wasn’t necessary. Both could be honored for their respective classes and in the end that’s how it worked out.
The previous State Soph of the Year from the region before Rainer was Hunter Greene of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, who is currently starring as a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. The all-time list goes back to 1951 since Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis knew he could start it off with Oakland McClymonds sophomore Frank Robinson. Tennis researched California high school baseball (along with other sports) until his death in 2004.
Velazquez was a two-way standout with the type of totals that made him deserving to be the L.A. Daily News Player of the Year. He led Crespi to its first CIF Southern Section title since 2009, which came in Division 2 after a dramatic come-from-behind 6-5 win over South Hills of West Covina. Diego led the team in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and stolen bases. Plus, he could be dominant on the mound.
To be more specific, Velazquez batted .354 against tough Mission League competition with 35 hits, 15 RBI, two homers, 28 runs scored, 21 walks and 18 steals. On the mound, he added a 5-0 record in 11 appearances with a 1.39 ERA. Diego also had 47 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. Among the teams that Velazquez was able to beat as a pitcher were L.A. City Section champ Birmingham of Lake Balboa, Harvard-Westlake (the one game in a three-game series that Crespi won) and Simi Valley.
It’s hard to know for sure where Velazquez will end up on the field later in his career, but he has made it sure that he wants to play in college at USC since he has a commitment with the Trojans.
Recent State Sophomores of the Year: 2022 – Bryce Rainer (Studio City Harvard-Westlake); 2021 – Gavin Grahovac (Villa Park); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Jonathan Cymrot (San Jose Valley Christian); 2018 – Jared Jones (La Mirada); 2017 – Kyle Ashworth (Tustin Foothill); 2016 – Brandon Dieter (West Covina South Hills); 2015 – Hunter Greene (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame); 2014 – Mickey Moniak (Carlsbad La Costa Canyon); 2013 – Joe DeMers (Pleasant Hill College Park); 2012 – Alex Jackson (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2011 – Ryan “Rowdy” Tellez (Elk Grove); 2010 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2009 – Christian Lopes (Valencia).
Toby Twist (Bakersfield Christian)
There could be some shouting in Bakersfield with Twist’s selection as the State Medium Schools Player of the Year.
The graduated senior who will play next at Oregon is in fact the first-ever winner from Bakersfield in the medium schools category. He’s not the first from the CIF Central Section, however, as that list has four others on it since the first season researched in 1947. Two of those four, the late, great Dave Henderson of Dos Palos for 1976 and 1977 and Lloyd Allen of Selma for 1967 and 1968, were both selected twice. The only other two from the section have been Frank Martinez of Selma for 1982 and Manuel Mendez from Washington of Easton for 1992.
Last year’s honoree, Eric Bitonti from Aquinas of San Bernardino, was a junior, but he and his team moved up from D4 to D2 in the CIF Southern Section playoffs and for competitive equity placement like all CIFSS D1 and D2 teams would be large schools for the all-state teams. Bitonti also is going to Oregon so he and Twist will be teammates next season unless Bitonti is chosen high enough in the MLB Draft and signs a pro contract.
Twist led the Eagles to the CIF Central Section D2 title and a 27-8 record. The team also won twice in the CIF SoCal D2 regional playoffs before falling short, 3-2, in the title game to Westlake of Westlake Village.
As a left-hand pitcher and outfielder who can hit for power, Twist has used those two-way skills to gain attention as an MLB prospect since he was a freshman at Garces of Bakersfield. This season at Bakersfield Christian saw Toby go 10-1 on the mound with a 1.46 ERA. He had two five-inning no-hitters and whiffed 126 batters in 76 2/3 innings. At the plate, Twist uncorked his swing to produce a .357 average with 35 hits, 31 RBI, nine doubles and five homers. Junior teammate Mason Brassfield also had an outstanding season and had more strikeouts than Twist, but Toby was the superior batter, had a better win-loss record and better ERA.
Twist also ended his three-year career for the Eagles with stellar totals. Included are a .430 batting average in 80 games with 92 runs, 99 hits, 10 homers and 85 RBI plus a 22-2 pitching record with a 1.05 ERA to go with 293 strikeouts in 160 innings.
Barring anything crazy in the upcoming MLB Draft, Twist will play this summer for the Springfield Drifters team (Oregon) in the West Coast League. He is the son of Jeff Twist, a catcher out of Oklahoma City College who was a 23rd round pick in the 1994 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies.
Recent Medium Schools State Players of the Year: 2022 – Eric Bitonti (San Bernardino Aquinas); 2021 – Tucker Bougie (Mill Valley Tamalpais); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Colin Barber (Chico Pleasant Valley); 2018 – Tyson Heaton (Yucaipa); 2017 – Matt Sauer (Santa Maria Righetti); 2016 – Sean Reynolds (Redondo Beach Redondo Union); 2015 – Peter Lambert (San Dimas); 2014 – Chris Mathewson (Fontana Kaiser); 2013 – Dominic Smith (Gardena Serra); 2012 – Troy Conyers (Lakeside El Capitan); 2011 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2010 – Angelo Gumbs (Torrance); 2009 – Ryan Wilkins (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 2008 – Kyle Skipworth (Riverside Rubidoux); 2007 – Mike Stanton (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame).
Anthony Murphy (Corona)
It’s the second straight year that the top honoree among freshmen in the state has gone to a player from the Inland Empire. Murphy follows last year’s winner, Brady Ebel of Etiwanda, but the only other winner from the region since the award was started in 1988 has been Matt Davidson of Yucaipa for 2006.
Ebel’s team at Etiwanda also had a first-hand look at what Murphy can do. He went 2-for-3 with a triple in a 1-0 win by the Panthers over the Eagles early in the season. And then later on, Murphy unloaded for Corona with three hits, five RBI, two homers and a double in a 11-2 victory vs Etiwanda.
The outfielder still had plenty of top competition for the state freshman honor with a strong class that has numerous players ranked nationally. James Tronstein of Harvard-Westlake was very close and slightly better in some categories than Murphy, but Murphy’s six home runs didn’t just lead that group of nationally ranked players. It also was the highest reported total among all freshmen in the state according to MaxPreps.
Anthony also already has shown his ability to shine in the biggest games. He had a homer and double in the team’s first CIFSS D1 playoff win over Rancho Cucamonga and then in the next round he had the game-winning RBI with a double against San Dimas.
For the season for the Panthers (who made it to the CIFSS D2 semifinals until a loss to eventual champion JSerra), Murphy had 38 hits, 18 RBI and a .342 batting average despite Corona playing a demanding schedule and in one of the best leagues in the state.
Recent State Freshmen of the Year: 2022 – Brady Ebel (Etiwanda); 2021 – Bryce Rainer (Studio City Harvard-Westlake); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Luke Davis (Cypress); 2018 – Jonathan Cymrot (Valley Christian, San Jose); 2017 – Lucas Gordon (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame); 2016 – Jasiah Dixon (Orange Lutheran); 2015 – Joey Magrisi (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2014 – Tommy Palomera (Chatsworth); 2013 – Conrado Diaz (San Ysidro); 2012 – Jagger Rusconi (Valencia West Ranch); 2011 – Alex Jackson (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2010 – J.R. Crawford (Lakewood); 2009 – Ty France (Covina South Hills); 2008 – Christian Lopes (Valencia).
Cody New (Hesperia Christian)
For being a leading hitter and pitcher for a team that finished 19-3 and was in the top 10 of the final D4 state rankings, New won out in a close call over several others. He also had a edge over the others being considered due to his four-year varsity career totals.
Cody, a graduated senior who has a D1 scholarship to Cal Baptist University in Riverside, is primarily a pitcher. This season, New was dominant on the mound with a 9-0 record and a 0.26 ERA. He also had two five-inning no-hitters and struck out 111 batters in 53 innings. As a hitter, though, New was almost as effective. He led the Patriots with a .491 average, four homers, eight doubles and three triples. He also was tied for the team lead with 25 RBI and was second with 26 hits.
As a team, New led Hesperia Christian to the CIF Southern Section D6 championship game. He didn’t pitch in a 7-0 loss to Castaic, which later went on to win the CIF SoCal D5 title. Castaic players were eligible for this honor, but the Coyotes didn’t have one player with the combined pitching-hitting accomplishments of New.
For Cody’s four-year varsity career, it’s hard to say which was his most impressive total. Win-loss record of 23-2? Career ERA of 1.02? Five no-hitters? Or how about 337 strikeouts in 163 2/3 innings? New’s career batting average of .427 with 10 triples and 82 hits is not too bad, either.
Hesperia Christian has never had a state player of the year in baseball before. This is just the third ever from San Bernardino County. The other two are Robert Cruz from Arrowhead Christian of Redlands of 2017 and Pat Joseph of now closed St. Bernardino of San Bernardino in 1955.
Recent Small Schools State Players of the Year: 2022 – Nick Dugan (Eureka St. Bernard’s); 2021 – Braden Ross (El Cajon Christian); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Daniel Carrion (Winters); 2018 – Alex Williams (Redwood Christian, San Lorenzo); 2017 – Robert Cruz (Redlands Arrowhead Christian); 2016 – Brett Super (Newport Beach Sage Hill); 2015 – Nico Hoerner (Oakland Head-Royce); 2014 – Nico Hoerner (Oakland Head-Royce); 2013 – Carlos Salazar (Kerman); 2012 – Nolan Gannon (Solana Beach Santa Fe Christian); 2011 – Robb Woodcock (Kentfield Marin Catholic); 2010 – Dylan Covey (Sierra Madre Maranatha); 2009 – Andrew Rich (Easton Washington); 2008 – Clay Cederquist (Fowler).