OC Top 10 4/17/17

Another week, another Top 10 vote. Below is how I voted in this week’s Orange County poll.
Huntington Beach: The Oilers continue to be the best team in OC. Nick Pratto and Hagen Danner each lost a no-hit bid late in their starts against Edison last week.
Orange Lutheran: The Lancers had last week off and will play in the Boras Classic for a second consecutive year this week.
Mission Viejo: Losing in the semifinals of the National Classic is nothing to hang your head about. The Diablos are good and are built to make another deep postseason run.
Mater Dei: I like this Mater Dei team and getting shortstop Emilio Rosas back to full strength should only boost the Monarchs.
 
El Toro: The Chargers have quietly bounced back from an inconsistent start. A good showing in the Boras Classic could spring them to a strong finish.
Corona del Mar: The Sea Kings just keep winning and control their destiny in the Pacific Coast League. Lots of talent on their roster.
El Dorado: The Golden Hawks are a talented team and with Kyle Luckham on the mound they have an outstanding shot at victory.
Beckman: The Patriots bounced back nicely from a pair of losses to CdM by going 4-0 in their spring break tournament including wins over Servite and Laguna Hills.
Servite: The Friars are scuffling a little bit right now, but they’re still one of the 10 best teams in OC in my opinion.

 

Sage Hill: The Lightning just keep winning and until they stop doing that they’ll be on this list for me despite what some people may think.

–Les Lukach
Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

2017 Boras Classic Preview

The 5th annual Boras Classic is back in SoCal this week with the event running Tuesday, April 18th through Friday, April 21st. JSerra and Mater Dei will once again serve as host sites for what has quickly become on the top tournaments in the country from a prospect and competition standpoint.

The winner of the south bracket will face Bellarmine Prep of San Jose in the State Championship on May 6th at site that is to be determined.

Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach is the defending champion having defeated Davis High School in the state final game at Cal Berkeley last May.

This years incarnation of the southern tournament features five players that are widely considered Top 75 MLB Draft prospects led by Hunter Greene of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, who many considered the potential number one overall pick. Royce Lewis (JSerra), Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach), Hagen Danner (Huntington Beach) and Garret Mitchell (Orange Lutheran) are all expected to be taken in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft in June.

There are other players who will likely be selected in this years draft as well. Players like Jeremiah Priddy (Corona), Sam Glick (El Toro), Jayson Gonzalez (Bishop Amat), and Isaiah Paige (Damien) are just a few of the “other” prospects scouts will be tracking this week.

In addition to the marquee prospects playing this week, the Boras Classic has always been about having top teams from the region and this year is no different as 10 of the 16 participating teams are either in first place or share first place in their respective leagues.

With that said, let’s take a look at the first round matchups.

Corona vs El Toro –  @ JSerra 9:00 AM

In a matchup we generally are exposed to in the postseason, this game features two of the hottest teams in SoCal to kick off the tournament.

Corona comes into the Boras Classic winners of 8 of-their-last 10 and in the mix in the BigVIII League with a 6-3 record. El Toro has won 9 of-their-last 10 including wins over Gahr, a double header sweep of Mater Dei (both in the Boras Classic) and a big league win over Mission Viejo. The Chargers have a one-game lead in the South Coast League.

For Corona, the Panthers are getting incredible pitching from seniors Jeremiah Priddy, Michael Hobbs and Brenden Beck that lead a staff that carries a 2.11 ERA on the season. Meanwhile, El Toro has their own Big Three in Sam Glick, Jake Jackson, and Noah Fluman. All six players are committed to Division I schools.

This game could come down to the team that makes the least mistakes and with a 9:00 AM start – and dozens of scouts in attendance – there will be plenty of nerves.

Orange Lutheran vs Gahr – @ JSerra 12:00 PM

Two teams that are pretty familiar with each other from having played several fall/winter games against one another over the last few years, the noon game will give pro scouts their first look of the week at Garret Mitchell of Orange Lutheran.

The Lancers were riding high after winning the NHSI two weeks ago before coming back into Trinity League play and being swept by St. John Bosco. Adding to the frustration for OLu was the loss of Jasiah Dixon, a speedy outfielder who will likely be a high draft pick when he’s eligible.

After starting 2-8, the Gahr Gladiators have gone 6-1 since aided by some league games. Outfielder JeVon Ward has seen his stock dip a little bit, but should still have the opportunity to have his name called in the upcoming MLB Draft. Junior Shortstop Mikey Perez is a very advanced player and one who has the attention of scouts.

On paper this is a game OLu should roll, but as we know the game isn’t played on paper.

Chatsworth vs Vista Murrieta – @ JSerra 3:00 PM

The best team in the City Section goes against the best team in the Temecula area.

Chatsworth hasn’t lost in one month, a streak of 14 games. Vista Murrieta has won 8 of-their-last 10. This is a matchup of strength against strength with Vista Murrietas offense against Chatsworth’s pitching. The Broncos have seven hitters batting over .325 while the Chancellors have four pitchers with at least four wins led by Thomas Gutierrez who sits at 7-0.

Vista Murrieta is making their fifth appearance in the Boras Classic, while Chatsworth is making their third appearance, meaning the moment won’t be too big for either.

If this is a Brandon Ross (VM) against Thomas Gutierrez (Chatsworth) pitching matchup, scouts will have plenty to pay attention too.

Mira Costa vs JSerra – @ JSerra 6:00 PM

The final game of Day One of the Boras Classic will give scouts what they came to see in the form of Royce Lewis of JSerra.

JSerra is coming off the National Classic in which they played in the championship game. After a slow start it appears the Lions have begun to gain some momentum, and with the quirky schedule of the Trinity League, JSerra has plenty of matchups left in league to make some noise. For that to happen, the Lions are going to need players like David Le Bioda, Colin Townsend, and Michael Curialle to break out offensively.

Mira Costa is the defending Boras Classic State Champion, but the Mustangs are defending their title without a lot of key parts from last years team. Sitting at 10-7, Mira Costa has lost 5 of-their-last 7 games with four of them by two runs or more.

Notre Dame vs Aliso Niguel – @ Mater Dei 9:00 AM

Notre Dame comes into the Boras Classic as one of the favorites having won 9 of-their-last 10 games and vaulting to a first place position in the always tough Mission League. The Knights are proving to be more than a one-man show although scouts will all be at this game to see that one man. Hunter Greene is expected to be off the draft board by the third pick overall in June, but it appears he is taking the role of mentor very seriously. Freshman Lucas Gordon (4) and sophomore Carter Kessinger (3) have combined for 7 wins with zero losses on the mound. Kessinger is also batting .500 on the season.

Despite having a talented roster, Aliso Niguel limps into the Boras Classic with an 8-9 record with losses in 4 of-their-last 6 games. The Wolverines are getting good pitching from Ethan Hoopingarner (0.44 ERA) and Hunter Ash (1.35 ERA), but seem to be scuffling at the plate where they’re hitting .240 as a team and on defense where they’ve committed 23 errors.

Aliso Niguel has nothing to lose in this tournament and everything to gain. They’re young and very talented and a strong showing in this event can be the type of boost that springs them into a big second half of league.

Damien vs Huntington Beach – @ Mater Dei 12:00 PM

Scouts will have just enough time to grab a quick snack before assuming their positions once again for this game which features both Hagen Danner of Nick Pratto. The pair of teammates are familiar with the swarm of scouts at their games, so the setting shouldn’t be anything unusual for them and their teammates. The same can not be said for Damien who lost many of their talented roster from last years playoff run.

Isaiah Paige is arguably the Spartans best prospect and he’ll have a great opportunity to show scouts the improvement and development he’s made on the mound in recent months. The Michigan commit is also a legitimate outfield prospect.

Huntington Beach is the best team in Orange County for a reason. It helps to have two future first round talents, but the Oilers have a pair of sophomores – Josh Hahn and Garrett Runyan – who could develop into MLB Draft picks in due time. They also have depth at just about every position.

This tournament sets up nicely for Huntington Beach who had a less-than-standard performance at the NHSI a couple weeks ago.

Corona Santiago vs Bishop Amat – @ Mater Dei 3:00 PM

Bishop Amat is riding high after winning the National Classic last week while Corona Santiago comes in one the heels of a big non-league win over Vista Murrieta. These two teams have loaded rosters as usual which will be a treat for fans in attendance.

Bishop Amat features shortstop Jayson Gonzalez a Vanderbilt commit that will likely have to make a decision between college and pro ball this year. Santiago has unquestionably the best middle infielder in the country in next years draft class in Brice Turang who is committed to LSU.

These teams are more than those individuals though. Bishop Amat features Isaac Esqueda on the mound and Jesus Maldonado behind the plate. Both are very talented players that will thrive on the next level. Santiago is built for the future as they have only three seniors in their starting lineup. Jacob Shanks, Taylor Steig, and Cole Jordan are all players college coaches and pro scouts will notice.

La Mirada vs Mater Dei – @ Mater Dei 6:00 PM

Third-year head coach Jimmy Zurn took over a La Mirada program he was very familiar with. After having starred for the Mats and coached under legendary coach Kim Brooks, Zurn was tasked with taking the program to the next level. Well, consider their participation in the Boras Classic a good first step.

The Mats feature two big-time seniors in RJ Lan, a TCU signee, and Kevin Kendall, a UCLA signee. They also have seven regulars batting over .300 on the season. Seniors Eddie Salcido and David Olson are a perfect 12-0 on the mound, while freshman Jared Jones may be the best freshman pitcher in the Southland.

For Mater Dei it’s business as usual. Despite their 10-6 overall record, the Monarchs stand in second place in the brutal Trinity League with series against the top four teams remaining giving them the opportunity to control their own destiny.

Jonathan Schiffer, a Washington signee, is having the type of senior season we all anticipated when we saw him as a freshman. The right handed pitcher is 4-0, 1.17 ERA while also hitting .388 when not pitching. As a team the Monarchs are hitting .310 and feature a 2.21 team ERA. In other words, just another Burt Call coached team.

For the complete brackets, click here.

–Les Lukach
Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

SoCal Baseball Notes 4/11/17

After a one-week hiatus I’m back and just in time for some tournament action. There are a several tournaments underway already this week that feature some of the top teams not only in the SoCal region but also teams from out of state.

Locally, the National Classic is getting back to its national roots with seven teams from out of state. In Florida, Harvard Westlake is participating in the IMG Academy National Classic where the Wolverines are the defending champs. In Vegas, local teams like Banning and Chatsworth are participating in the Blazer Spring Bash.

Before we look ahead, let’s look back at the wild week that was.

Trinity League Madness

Many people felt Servite had finally arrived with the start the Friars got off too. And while Coach Gilbert’s club still has a lot to play for, they ran in to a buzz saw last week against Mater Dei. The Monarchs pulled off the sweep against a Top 5 Servite winning two one-run games and the third by two. Mater Dei is getting it done with excellent pitching led by senior University of Washington signee, Jonathan Schiffer who is a perfect 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA. For good measure, the future Husky is hitting .404 on the season.

If you know Don Barbara of St. John Bosco, you know that you always know where you stand with him. The same can be said for his baseball team. So when Barbara told me last year that he felt his Braves were a year away from being really good, I didn’t doubt him. Two weeks into Trinity League play and he’s proven himself prophetic. The Braves took two-of-three from Mater Dei before sweeping Orange Lutheran last week. Sophomore David Hays (.471) and junior Kameron Ojeda (.444), both future high round draft picks, lead an offense that has no holes in it 1 through 9. Then there’s the pitching rotation that sports a 1.29 ERA led by Johnny Kuhn’s 4-0 0.46 record. Read that again, not a typo.

JSerra appears to be hitting their stride after starting their season a little later than most teams. The Lions won their first series against Santa Margarita and are beginning to show they’re a team with more than just one big-time prospect. After playing in the National Classic and the Boras Classic, the Lions have series with Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran, and close out the season against St. John Bosco. Those nine games will make-or-break the Lions season.

Corona del Mar

The Sea Kings are playing some great baseball right now as evidenced by their two victories over league favorite Beckman last week. CdM is loaded with talent and its a trio of juniors – JT Schwartz, Preston Hartsell, and Garin Friedman – and senior Conor Buchanan leading the way. The four hitters are all batting over .400 on the season. Sophomore Tommy Wilcox and Junior Chaz Martinez give CdM a pair of aces that set them up well for the postseason. Dylan Heckle and Nolan Dunn provide quality depth in the rotation.

Two big series – Woodbridge and Northwood – await, get past those and the Sea Kings can expect a high seeding come playoff time.

La Mirada

The Mats are off to a great start at 14-2 under third-year head coach, Jimmy Zurn and this may be his best roster yet. I wrote about them a few weeks back but with their only losses coming to two good teams that should be in the playoff hunt (Aliso Niguel, Los Al), I wanted to note the way they’re winning games. La Mirada eight wins of two runs or fewer proving they have a knack for winning the close ones. Their other six wins are by five runs or more proving they can get up on teams and stay there.

The Mats will face their toughest tests next week as they participate in the Boras Classic for the first time. This is an incredible honor for a program not many people consider to be one of the tops in the area. But if you look at their fall and winter schedule of recent years – and the results of those games – you’ll know they are just that, one of top teams in the area.

Academy League

This league has been dominated the last couple years by Sage Hill and Crean Lutheran but this year there’s another team looking to stake its claim on the league title. St. Margarets improved to 5-0 with a win over Oxford Academy, and if they can win again on Thursday they’ll control their own destiny as they’ll face off against the leagues aforementioned top dogs in back-to-back weeks.

Scott Wallis has his team rolling right now, and while the Academy League isn’t one of the better known top leagues in the area, the league is producing baseball – some of it Division I level – on an annual basis. With Sage Hill having won a CIF Championship last year, this league deserves a little more respect.

Desert Valley League

The desert region is annually one of SoCal’s prime areas for prospects and has one of the best baseball leagues nobody talks about. The Desert Valley league, home of powerhouse programs like Palm Desert and La Quinta, is once again as competitive as ever with two games in the loss column separating the top three teams.
 
Palm Desert has righthanded pitcher Jeremiah Estrada, who many consider a high round draft pick in 2017, and for good measure he’s hitting over .350 on the season. The Aztecs sit atop the league standings with a big two-game week against second place Shadow Hills looming the last week of the season.

The Desert Valley league is always a two-bid league for playoffs, but with the restructuring done by CIF you can expect one or two others to get in as well. 

The National Classic

There’s been a recent emphasis on behalf of tournament coordinators to get back to its national roots and with 7 of its 16 teams coming from out of state, I’d say mission accomplished. Add to that two of the top teams from the Fresno area and this tournament has put itself back at the top of quality tournaments in the country.

Matt Lucas of El Dorado serves as a tournament coordinator and has busted his butt in an effort to bring this tournament back to the prestige and caliber event that it once was. In my opinion, Lucas hit the nail on the head this year with the roster of teams.

Commentary

Florida, Georgia, and Texas get it right. Their high school baseball championships are decided not by a single game, but by a series of them. At the highest levels, Georgia plays a best-of-three series in both the semis and finals. The same holds true in Florida and Texas.

For us in California this seems like a dream. And that’s because in California, a place many consider the best region for high school baseball, a champion is crowned with a single-elimination playoff bracket. It seems unfair, and if you ask any number of coaches, they’d agree.

There’s a simple solution, in my opinion. While playing in Dodgers Stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most players, moving the finals to Blair Field would allow for a best-of-three series.

You see, the official start of the season can be moved up a few days – most teams are already playing winter ball games and practicing anyway – and even move to a three-game week like a few leagues have already done. This would cut off several days on the back end of the season.

Additionally, instead of beginning the playoffs on Thursday/Friday, begin them on Monday/Tuesday and you can get two games in that first week. What this does is allow for the finals to be a best-of-three series the final week of the season.

Imagine a packed Blair Field for a winner-take-all championship game in early June. The late sunset setting on Recreation Park golf course behind the left field wall; the slight ocean breeze coming in around the scoreboard; the smell of hot dogs wafting through the stands. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately for high school baseball fans in SoCal, it is.

Until next time…see you at the ballpark.

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

OC Top 10 4/10/17

It was a crazy week last week in Orange County High School baseball. A couple of Top 10 teams were swept in league play while others had a tough time against what would be considered lesser competition.
In other words, just another week in SoCal baseball.
Below is how I voted in this week’s Orange County Top 10 Baseball Poll.
Huntington Beach: The Oilers returned from the NHSI and went 2-1 in league play to keep their top spot in the rankings. The Sunset League is proving once again to be one of the top leagues in Orange County.
Mission Viejo: The Diablos did what they had to do against Laguna Hills beating them twice before losing to a very good El Toro team in dramatic fashion. The class of their league in my opinion.
Mater Dei: All the talk going into last week was that Servite was a team to reckon with, and they are. Well then it’s about time people start recognizing the Monarchs as a top team after sweeping Servite in Trinity League action last week.
OLu: The Lancers were swept at the hands of St. John Bosco – a team that would be #1 in this poll if they qualified for the Orange County poll. Despite that, OLu still has a chance to make a lot of noise in league.
El Dorado: All the Golden Hawks continue to do is rack up non-league wins while battling Foothill for the top spot in league. Matt Lucas’s club is talented.
JSerra: The Lions appear to be hitting their stride heading into this week’s National Classic after winning a series against Santa Margarita in league play. Coach Kay’s young guys are learning quickly.
Servite: It’s never good to be swept in league, but when it happens to the #3 team in the county you’re given some slack. I fully expect the Friars to be in contention for a playoff spot in the brutal Trinity League.
Corona del Mar: The Sea Kings are a very good team that nobody ever talks about. They’re loaded with Division I talent and beat a very good Beckman team twice last week to stake a claim of the Pacific Coast League race.
El Toro: The Chargers scored a huge win against Mission Viejo last week and appear to be gaining momentum and consistency just in time for the second round of league play.
Sage Hill: I get a lot of grief from people for ranking a Division 3 club in the Top 10, but when they win as consistently as the Lightning do and do it against teams in higher divisions, you’re going to get my attention.
NEXT FIVE:
Foothill
Dana Hills
Los Alamitos
Marina
San Clemente

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

OC Top 10 4/3/17

Below is how I voted for the Orange County Top 10 this week.
Before you lose your mind on me about putting Huntington Beach ahead of Orange Lutheran after the Lancers won the NHSI last week, keep in mind that the Oilers won the only head-to-head matchup these two have had. Additionally, Huntington Beach is still undefeated in play inside the state of California.
With that said, here’s my Top 10.
1. Huntington Beach: The Oilers went 2-2 last week at the NHSI as they couldn’t defend their title. The Oilers return to face off against Los Alamitos twice this week.
2. Orange Lutheran: The Lancers, fresh off their NHSI championship, get right back into Trinity League action against a streaking St. John Bosco team.
3. Mission Viejo: The Diablos are one of the best teams people aren’t talking a whole lot about outside of Tanner Bibee. Coach Aschbach has them primed for a deep run this season.
4. Servite: The Friars scored a huge series win against JSerra last week. Do it again this week against Mater Dei and they must be considered a league favorite along with OLu and Bosco.
5. Beckman: A tough loss to a good Woodbridge last week just goes to show the depth of the Pacific Coast League. A tough matchup with CdM awaits this week.
6. El Dorado: Coach Matt Lucas is quietly winning games with the Golden Hawks roster that has plenty of juniors you’ll hear a lot about soon.
7. Foothill: Coach Vince Brown continues to have the Knights in the Top 10 proving he’s one of the best coaches in Orange County.
8. Mater Dei: After losing two games in walk-off fashion last week, the Monarchs have a chance to make a big statement against Servite this week.
9. Sage Hill: Their winning streak ended at 40, but don’t think for a second that the Lightning can’t play with teams at higher levels.
10. El Toro: The Chargers appear to be headed in the right direction after beating Los Alamitos and splitting a double header with Cypress. This coming after beating Mater Dei in a double header the week before.

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

SoCal Baseball Notes 3/28/17

We are quickly approaching the mid-way point of the high school baseball season in 2017 and that means only one thing, it’s time for mid-season tournaments and some of the biggest are taking place this week.
These tournaments are good for several reasons, one it gives teams a final warm up before they head back into league competition, and second it gives coaches a chance to see some players that aren’t starters play in a very competitive setting.
So, let’s dive right in.
National High School Invitational (NHSI)
The NHSI is back for it’s sixth incarnation at the USA Baseball National Training Center in Cary, North Carolina. Having been to two of these I can tell you first hand this event is a big deal. With several games a day being streamed on both USABaseball.com and MLB.com, the bright lights will be on the participants. And if that wasn’t enough, you can add in the 60-80 scouts that attend the event.
While this a national event, it may as well be the SoCal Invitational because area teams have won 4-of-5 these tournaments: Mater Dei (2012, 2013), San Clemente (2015), and Huntington Beach (2016) have all brought home the hardware, and if you’ve seen the trophy awarded to the winner, it’s some nice hardware.
There are four teams from SoCal in this years event: Orange Lutheran (third appearance), Huntington Beach (third), South Hills (first), and Dana Hills (first) all made the cross country trek to show the nation what they’re capable of. For the first time in the events history, all four teams from SoCal are in different pairings of the bracket meaning we could have an all-SoCal semifinal.

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Other SoCal team that have participated include Cathedral Catholic, JSerra, Harvard Westlake, (two-time runner up), and Aliso Niguel. Other California schools that have participated are Clovis (runner-up in 2014) and College Park. 
The event prides itself for being chock full of prospects and this year is no different.
My friends at Baseball America recently put out their Top 100 prospects list and several of them will be participating in the tournament adding to the reputation of the event being a must stop for scouts. Nick Pratto (#8) of Huntington Beach is the highest rated prospect by Baseball America in the field this week.
While there are other top-notch tournaments around the country – the Boras Classic in SoCal comes to mind – the NHSI was the first of its kind to draw the sort of attention it has and rightfully so. From the media attention – there’s a postgame press conference after each game – to the hospitality provided by USA Baseball, this event is first class all around. 
Best of luck to the four SoCal teams in Cary this week.
ANAHEIM LIONS TOURNAMENT
In Orange County the Lions tournament is underway and the event has once again drawn some of the top teams from around the region to compete at the varying sites. This tournament may not get the national attention that others receive, but it is one of the best because of the field it annually attracts.
Not limiting itself to just local teams, the Lions attracts top teams from Utah, Oregon, Illinios, and Nevada giving those cold weather teams a jump-start on their seasons against some quality competition.
Simi Valley entered Tuesday’s play as the top team in runs allowed (which, besides record is the key factor in determining the finalists) with two.
Behind them was Sage Hill who dropped a hard fought 3-2 game to a good Glendora team. The loss ended The Lightning’s 40 game win streak. 40 games! I don’t care what division you’re in if you win 40 straight games you’re a pretty darn good program.
UPCOMING TOURNAMENTS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT
The National Classic – April 10 – 13
The Boras Classic – April 18 – 21
Newport Rib Classic – April 5 – 11

GAMES OF THE WEEK
West Ranch vs Valencia
Annually one of the top leagues in SoCal, the Foothill League is again really good at the top this year. The battle for first place, and an undefeated record in league, will take place on Wednesday when Valencia and West Ranch square off. In what should a matchup between Timmy Josten (West Ranch) against Ben Farris (Valencia), this could end up being a close, one-run type game in front of what should be a boatload of scouts.
St. John Bosco vs Mater Dei
Bosco used a walk-off two-run double to beat Mater Dei in game one of the three game series with game two coming Wednesday at Mater Dei. Johnny Kuhn (LBSU) should get the start against Jonathan Schiffer (Washington). Both offenses of capable of putting up a lot of runs, and if the wind is blowing out at Mater Dei, look out.
Foothill vs El Dorado
A big time matchup in the Crestview League will go down tomorrow at El Dorado hosts Foothill. Both teams are loaded with young talent and win by Foothill will propel them into a tie atop league standing. Kyle Luckham of El Dorado is beginning to capture the attention of college recruiters and rightfully so. The junior is hitting .366 and is 3 – 0 on the mound for the Golden Hawks.
Rancho Cucamonga vs Los Osos
Coach RJ Farrell has the Cougars of Rancho Cucamonga believing they’re for real, and they just might be in the tough Baseline League. If the Cougars are to keep pace with Etiwanda they’re going to need to win games like this. Junior Ryan Kurtz and Senior Collin Chouinard are the top two arms on a staff that needs to take some pressure off the offense because Los Osos can swing it. The Grizzlies have eight hitters over .320 on the season and are very well coached. This should be a doozie.
Notre Dame vs Harvard Westlake
The Wolverines won game one of the three-game series on Tuesday behind another strong road outing from Jesse Bergin (UCLA). The junior continues to shine on the bump while the offense continues to cruise along. Notre Dame should counter with Hunter Greene tomorrow as it looks to even up the series before game three on Friday. In other words, just another week in the Mission League. 
BEST PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
Edison High School in Huntington Beach has had its fair share of talented payers over the years, and the Chargers have several this year. One of them is junior catcher Connor Aoki. Not only does he get it done on the field, but he’s getting it done in the classroom as well where he sports at near 3.7 GPA while taking AP courses.

Congrats Connor!

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FINALLY
If you know me you know that I’m not a huge fan of the new era of recruiting. It’s hard for me to get used to eighth graders committing to college baseball programs, but that horse has been beaten. 
The biggest issue I have with the practice is that is leaves schools in a bind when it comes to recruiting upper classmen because they’ve tied up money in the young guys. There is inevitably an uncommitted upperclassman that is left to look at options outside of Division I because there simply isn’t any money left. 
Case in point, Cade Seabold is a senior at Newport Harbor that all he does is hit. He can hit for power and average and would be a great fit – offensively – for any number of schools. I asked a few local college coaches about him and they all agreed he’s a very good bat. The problem? None of them had any money left in the class to make an offer. 
This seemingly happens every year. There’s something to be said about a late bloomer. Something to be said about a kid that doesn’t quit or give up because he’s not committed at a young age and continues to work his tail off to earn an opportunity. 
What do I say about those kids? I say sign me up.
Until next time, see you at the ballpark….

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

OC Top 10 3/27/17

Below is how I voted in this week’s OC Top 10 poll.
1. Huntington Beach: Until someone can beat them, they’re at the top. Oilers are deep and talented at the positions they need to be. Best team in OC.
2. Orange Lutheran: Lancers offense took a big jump last week and they’ll look to maintain that this week at the NHSI in North Carolina.
3. Beckman: The Patriots are the best team no one is talking about. Big time matchup tomorrow against CdM will define a clear leader in the always tough Pacific Coast League.
4. Mission Viejo: The Diablos are as good as it gets and can compete with anybody. Tanner Bibee is a bona fide ace and the offense is hitting its stride in time for league play.
5. Servite: This week will tell us a lot about the Friars as they face off against JSerra. Coach Gilbert likes this team and he has good reason to…they’re good!
6. Foothill: The Knights are quietly putting together a good season. A minor hiccup last week against El Modena won’t be held against them.
7. JSerra: The Lions got a big sweep of Valencia last weekend and look to ride that momentum into their series with Servite. Early momentum in the Trinity League is always a good thing.
8. Mater Dei: The Monarchs lost a pair against El Toro last week, but it is my belief that this team is worthy of Top 10 status. Jonathan Schiffer is playing at a very high level for Coach Call.
9. El Dorado: Coach Matt Lucas has a lot of talent on this roster and it starts, for me, with Kyle Luckham who is getting it done on the mound and at the plate.
10. Sage Hill: Coach Dominic Campeau is one of the best coaches in OC. The Lightning are beginning to produce Division I talent (Connor Bock last year, Eddie Pelc this year) which may prompt a shift in divisions soon. 

SoCal Baseball Notes 3/21/17

Another week of baseball is in the books and as we begin the new week, it’s time to start focusing on league matchups for most teams around the CIF-SS. While some leagues began play last week, most will begin in earnest this week and boy are we in for a treat with some of the top leagues in the region. 
There’s a twist this season due to the realignment of divisions that was rolled out by CIF that will cause a lot of confusion down the stretch and most certainly will result in heartbreak for some teams. But I’ll dive into that later let’s first get into some more important stuff. 
MILESTONES:
In the last week we saw three coaches achieve some pretty incredible milestones for their schools and with this group of players.
At Corona del Mar, Coach John Emme won his 300th game as his Sea Kings beat Irvine 10-0. CdM has one of its best teams in recent memory and this season could end up being a special one for Emme in more ways than one. 
At Cypress, Coach John Weber won his 250th game in a 5-2 victory over San Clemente. Weber has coached some very good players over the years and has a few on his roster this year. While the Centurions have scuffled out of the gate, you can never count them out in the Empire League.
At Aliso Niguel, Coach Craig Hansen won his 200th game over the aforementioned Cypress Centurions. Like Weber, Hansen has had his fair share of great ballplayers and the future is very bright for the Wolverines as they have a very good freshman and sophomore class.
LEAGUE PLAY:
League play presents a whole different set of challenges for teams and players. In a lot of cases players are going against kids they’ve faced or played with growing up. There’s the tradition of rivalries and, in some cases, there’s flat out distaste for one another.
In other words, it’s the best time of the baseball season.
The dugouts get a little louder; there’s a little more tension at the games; the parents chirp a little louder; and coaches who are the closest of friends off the field won’t speak to each other for a few days. It’s simply the best.
Around SoCal this year there are several leagues worth keeping an eye. Let’s take a look at a few of what I think should prove to be great theater this year
Mission League: Annually one of the top leagues in the state, if not the country. This year there’s the added bonus of having the potential number one overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft playing in the league meaning there’s going to be 30+ scouts at each of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame’s games. The Knights responded by sweeping Loyola last week. So much for jitters. Harvard Westlake won a series against a stout Alemany team and their ace Daniel Ritcheson who many consider a pro prospect in his own right. The Wolverines have a solid senior class but their underclassmen ensure they’re built to last. Chaminade is quietly off to a 7-1 start despite losing a ton of talent off last years roster. Head coach Frank Mutz does a great job annually with his team and he’ll need that this week as his Eagles face Harvard Westlake for a huge three game series.  Crespi will be improved, as should be St. Francis, but they’ll be hard pressed to crack the top four in league an earn a playoff spot.
South Coast League: Coming into the season everyone thought it would be El Toro, and their four Division I pitchers, then everyone else. Well, the Chargers have scuffled out the gate while Mission Viejo is playing great baseball having reached the finals of the Lerner Division of the Newport Elks Tournament. Tanner Bibee is a bona-fide ace and has the attention of pro scouts. While many believe he’ll end up at Cal State Fullerton, scouts I’ve spoken to tell me he’s climbing boards fast with each outing. El Toro has time to right the ship and I fully expect they will. They’ll get a huge shot again Mater Dei this week before turning back to league on Thursday. Capo Valley, San Clemente, and Aliso Niguel all have the roster that can propel them to the top of the league and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. All are well coached, and all have been there before in recent years. This is going to be a great league race.
BIG VIII: Followers of Inland Empire baseball know that this is traditionally the best league in the area and 2017 may be the best year in a long time. There’s depth. There’s talent. And there’s a whole of intrigue. King, led by first-year head coach Steve Madril sits atop the standings at 2-0 after the first week of league play.  The Wolves used a late inning comeback to defeat a very good Roosevelt team, handing the Mustangs their first loss of the season.  Roosevelt’s schedule features a who’s-who of teams ranked in their respective divisions. Credit to head coach Mark Wade for scheduling tough competition in a year he had to know he had the horses to compete. Norco’s biggest win-to-date is a 2-0 victory over a very good Ayala team. But the Cougars are no slouches and will have a chance to make some noise against Centennial and Roosevelt this week. Santiago, winners of five of their last six, will have a chance to climb the league standings this week as they square off with Roosevelt and Corona. It’s a shame that one or two very good teams from this league will not make the playoffs. More on that later.
West Valley League: This is arguably the best league in the City Section annually and 2017 is no exception. Chatsworth, who is ranked by everyone across the country, sits atop the league in the early going. Head coach Tom Meusborn has a very good team led by senior RHP/1B Tommy Palomera who, if he continues his early season pace, will have a chance to have his name selected in the upcoming draft. The Chancellors are deep, and they’re a veteran team with a ton of playoff experience. Cleveland, Birmingham, Taft, El Camino Real, and Granada Hills are all looking up right now, but if this league has taught us anything the last couple of years, it’s that anything can happen, and it usually does. El Camino Real will head to the San Diego Lions Tournament as the defending champions. It was there last year that head coach Josh Lienhard’s team really kicked into gear en route to winning their second City Section title in a row.
Pacific Coast League: Call this the Rodney Dangerfield league because it gets no respect despite being one of the best, most competitive leagues in Orange County annually. While they’re only just beginning league, the favorite has to be Beckman on the heels of their championship victory in the Lerner Division of the Newport Elks Tournament. Matt McLain (UCLA) is beginning to command the attention of scouts who have an eye on next year while scouting this year. They also have a legitimate ace in Zach Espinoza. The roster is veteran-laden and head coach Kevin LaValle has been there before.  If Corona del Mar can get consistent pitching they too will be a threat for the league title. Preston Hartsell (USC) is a superstar waiting to happen. The kid is a freak athlete who generates big time bat speed and power. As demonstrated last year, you can never count out Woodbridge so long as Tim Murray is the head coach. Spencer Weston (SDSU) provides the Warriors a legitimate 3-hole hitter who can drive the ball out of the ballpark. University to me is the wild card in the league and we’ll know a whole lot more about them after this week when they face Beckman and CdM.
Southwestern League: Murrieta Mesa surprised everyone last year as they marched all the way to the CIF SS Division I title when nobody gave them a fighting chance. The Rams lost their coach Bryn Wade before the start of the season when he unexpectedly resigned. The Rams are off to a rocky start so far this season and it once again appears that Vista Murrieta is the cream of the crop in the league. Head coach Matt Mosiello has a darn good club that features senior leadership and has good underclassman. Temecula Valley appears to be back to its winning form after dipping a bit last year and they, along with Chaparral and Great Oak, will battle for the top of the league as usual. It’s going to be interesting to see which teams earn a postseason birth because one very solid club is going to be on the outside looking in.
Palomares League: When all is said and done, this may be the best league in SoCal from a competitive standpoint. While nationally ranked South Hills are the favorites, nothing will come easy as evidenced by their loss to a very good Bonita team last week. The Huskies have their fair share of talent on the roster and that may ultimately win out over most teams, but Bonita proved last week that you still have to play the games. Bonita came into this season with big expectations and have scuffled out the gate. Maybe the win last week was the spark that gets them going. Ayala is deep and talented while Glendora appears to be back to their winning ways after a rough 2016 season. There are four very good teams at the top of this league and the ones that earn a postseason birth will be battle tested and primed for a deep run in the playoffs.
Trinity League: Widely considered the top league in the state – some say the country – the Trinity League this year features close to 50 Division I baseball commits amongst its six teams. 50! The big question this year is who is the favorite? While in years past it was pretty obvious to identify the top team, 2017 is different. Is it Bosco with their incredible pitching depth? Is Mater Dei with their overall talent? Is it Servite with their mix of veterans and young talent at most positions? Is Santa Margarita with their consistency? How about JSerra with best player in Orange County, a key transfer and a lot of young talent? Or is it OLu with their 11 DI commits? What we do know is that OLu is off to a 2-0 start against Santa Margarita while others are waiting to start league (OLu started league early because they’re playing in the NHSI next week). These games are always fun to watch because of the talent level, the resources poured into these programs, and because of the expectations.
OTHER LEAGUE RACES TO WATCH
Sunset League: This looks like Huntington Beach then everyone else, but this league is never what is appears to be. 

Freeway League: Fullerton appears to be the frontrunner, but don’t count out Troy. Love what Arlie Kearney is doing at Sunny Hills.

Sea View League: Hans Crouse is the best player on what appears to be the best team in the league.

Moore League: The league may be down a little bit from a talent standpoint, but this is always a fun league to follow. Read the league preview from my friends at the PT Gazette. 

Crestview League: Foothill is off to a great start and El Dorado is right behind them. The league title should come down to their three game series.
LOOKING AHEAD (AGAIN):

In my opinion the class of 2019 is the next best class in the SoCal area as it pertains to MLB Draft prospects. That class is as loaded at the top as this current class, but in my opinion has far greater depth – especially on the mound where there are several top pitchers in this class.

When Vanderbilt comes in to SoCal to pull kids out of here, that ought to be an indication of how special the talent is, and the Commodores did that four times already!
Let’s look at some of the top prospects in this class. Please remember this is in no way a complete list – that would require its own post which I may do later, this is just my opinion of who the top players are in this class.
This is not a ranking of these players; these are just notes. Players are listed in no particular order.
Right handed pitcher Wesley Scott (Vanderbilt) of Woodcrest Christian in Riverside is arguably the top player in the state for the 2019 class. Working in the low 90’s with his fastball, Scott has easy arm actions that projects big time. Scott has enjoyed a lot of success during the summer circuit and I’d expect him to be on the Underclass Area Code Games team – at worst – this summer.
Outfielder/Left handed pitcher Spencer Jones (Vanderbilt) of La Costa Canyon is the next big thing for the Mavericks who produced number one overall pick Mickey Moniak in 2016. Jones flashed big time power at the plate, but it’s on the mound where he’s most intriguing. Standing at 6’7” Jones’s ball gets on hitters in a hurry and is already in the mid-80’s.
Outfield Jasiah Dixon (USC) of Orange Lutheran is arguably the most athletic player in his class as evidenced by his 6.3 60-yard time. A former football player who has decided to focus on baseball, Dixon is a freakishly athletic player who is beginning to show flashes of power as well. A big time outfield arm to go with speed, Dixon too will likely have a big summer and position himself for more acclaim heading into his junior year.
Catcher Gabe Briones (USC) of Riverside King is, in my opinion, the best catcher in this class. Briones is a three-time Team USA member – 12U, 15U twice. I saw Briones as an eighth grader playing in a league against college redshirts and he more than handled himself calling his own pitches and handling himself at the plate. Briones shows power potential with a short, compact swing that stays in the zone. If that power comes, look out.
Left handed pitcher Joe Naranjo (Cal State Fullerton) of Ayala is one of my favorite players in this class because all he does is compete. I had the opportunity to coach him in a USA Baseball event for a weekend as an eighth grader and was completely impressed with his demeanor and approach to the game. A member of the 15U National Team last summer, Naranjo has shown the ability to hit at a high level to go along with his pitching skills. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the next two-way standout for the Titans.
Left handed pitcher Cooper Benson (Arizona State) of San Luis Obispo is a household name in baseball circles because of his natural ability to throw gas! Working in the high-80’s to low-90’s, Benson uses a quirky delivery that has a lot of moving parts which adds to the intrigue. He’s not afraid to work inside and challenge hitters giving him that old school feel.
Middle infielder Johnny Olmstead (USC) of Newport Harbor is a name that continues to pop up when speaking to scouts because of his ability to hit and his developing power (see video below). A slick fielder who can run well, Olmstead is having a break out season so far for the Sailors and is one to continue to watch in this class.
Left handed pitcher Tony Jacob (Vanderbilt) of Saugus is as intriguing as they come in this class. Working in the mid-to-upper 80’s, Jacob is seeing his stock rise due in part to his ability to throw multiple pitches and the fact that he’s a winner. Jacob will be a four-year starter when he graduates and has already played on one National Team (15U) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does that again.
Right handed pitcher Cole Dale (UCLA) of Notre Dame is one of those pitchers that after you watch him throw you ask yourself, “how’d he do that?” Very few kids his age have as deep an understanding of how to pitch – working both sides of the plate, mixing up speeds, changing locations, etc. – as Dale which is what separates him at this stage in the game.
If Briones is the #1 catcher in this class, then Jared Thomas (Miami) of Cantwell Sacred Heart is 1A. Thomas burst onto the scene last year and carried that momentum into the summer where he was lights out on the travel ball circuit. A good defensive catcher, it’s his left-handed swing that separates Thomas from other hitters in this class. Shows present power that projects continued improvement.
OTHER TOP PLAYERS:
Michael Carpentier Jr. (TCU) – Citrus Valley
CJ Rodriguez (Vanderbilt) – Mater Dei
Jake Skipworth – Riverside King
Justin Campbell – Simi Valley  (Note: I have not seen Campbell pitch in person so I didn’t list him above)
Josh Hahn – Huntington Beach
Evan Fitterer (UCLA) – Aliso Niguel
Jayden Cruz (Cal State Fullerton) – Gahr
Eddie Pelc (USC) – Sage Hill
Michael Curialle (UCLA) – JSerra
Connor Buchanan (USC) – La Canada
Mac Bingham (SC) – Torrey Pines
Cody Freeman (Baylor) – Etiwanda
Nick Pena (Oregon) – Riverside King

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THE BEST PLAYER YOU’VE LIKELY NEVER HEARD OF:

When a professional baseball scout says that a kid is the most athletic player he’s seen in his class, it catches your attention. When he says that about a player in the 2019 class you better pay close attention.
Such is the case with sophomore shortstop JaJa Bellinger of Carson. Bellinger will be a four-year starter at both quarterback and shortstop for the Colts when all is said and done. While his future is bright in both sports, it is baseball – in the opinion of at least a few scouts – where his ceiling is highest.
Bellinger has the rare combination of tools that intrigue scouts. He can run, hit for average while flashing power, plays defense at an advanced level, and can throw.  His arm may be his best tool in a box full of them.
Congrats, and good luck this season, JaJa!

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I JUST REALLY LIKE THIS GUY
RJ Lan of La Mirada is signed to play baseball at TCU and the funny thing is he could’ve played Division I football had he chosen to. According to his football coach, Lan was the only player in SoCal with Division I offers in both football and baseball. Based on the video below, I think the kid made the right decision. 

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COMMENTARY

Finally, I want to discuss the new competitive balance playoff format for a bit. Let me get it out of the way, if my understanding of the new format as explained to me by several coaches is correct, I think the CIF SS screwed this up big time.

With teams from the same league being in different divisions, this is not going to end well at all.

Take for example the BIG VIII League. The league is the best it’s been in years but all the teams are spread out in different divisions. Corona, Norco, Santiago are in Division I, King is in Division 2, and Roosevelt and Centennial are in Division 3.

At last checked, Roosevelt was #1 in D3 and King was #5 in D2. The rest of the teams are pretty chalk full of talent too.

Could you imagine if Roosevelt is #1 in D3 at the end of the year but finishes fourth in league and doesn’t make the playoffs?  Or what if King or Norco finish in 4thor 5th place in the league and miss the postseason?  

The same holds true in Trinity League if Bosco lives up to expectations. The Braves are absolutely loaded on the mound and have some very good hitters as well. They could theoretically finish in the top 5 of Division 2, but finish fourth in league and not make the postseason. Or, what if the Braves finish in the top 3 in league and bump a fellow league team from the Division I playoffs?
Compounding the issue, it appears the top divisions will not have any wild card entries either.
Look, I’m for equity and fairness. But this seems too much like the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that has led youth sports to where it is.
I don’t like. I think it’s ridiculous. And if I’m CIF SS commissioner Rob Wigod, I better start crafting a response because there are going to be some angry coaches calling and emailing him when the brackets are released.

As always, thanks for reading. 

Until next time, see you at the ballfield…

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

OC Top 10 3/20/17

Here is how I voted in this weeks OC Top 10.

Huntington Beach (7-0): Continue to be the best team in Orange County. Hagen Danner is off to a Player of the Year type season for the Oilers.

Orange Lutheran (5-1): Only loss is to the top team in the county. The Lancers have a ton of talent in their offensive lineup and it appears the pitching is beginning to catch up too.
Beckman (7-1): Winning the Lerner Division of the Newport Elks Tournament is no joke, and neither are the Patriots. Matt McLain is a superstar waiting to happen and Zach Espinoza is a bona fide ace.
Mission Viejo (6-3): One loss is to Beckman and another happened with a lot of starters on the bench. Coach Aschbach has plenty to be excited about with this team. Tanner Bibee is off to a Pitcher of the Year type season.
Mater Dei (6-1): The Monarchs are quietly off to a great start. Their only loss came in a 3-2 contest against Beckman. Jonathan Schiffer is excelling both on the mound and at the plate.
Foothill (8-2): The Knights are playing tough for head coach Vince Brown after having to deal with some nonsense before the season started. Junior Sean Higgins is tearing the cover off the ball in the early going.
Servite (9-2): The Friars are rolling heading into Trinity League play after scoring a big win over Chatsworth last week. Coach Shawn Gilbert has his best team since he’s been at Servite, we’ll see just how good in the coming weeks. My guess is they’ll be more than competitive in league.
JSerra (0-3): How can an 0-3 team be ranked, you ask? Easy, they were in both games against the #1 team in OC and played tough against highly ranked De La Salle. The Lions are not going to go quietly, you can count on it.
Los Al (7-3): After winning the Loara Tournament the Griffins had a three-game week including a matchup with top ranked Huntington Beach. Pitching depth may be a concern for LosAl, but for now they’re in the Top 10 for me.

Newport Harbor (7-4): The Sailors crack the Top 10 for me after sweeping neighbor CdM in the Battle of the Bay played at UC Irvine. This may be the best team Harbor has had in the last few years, in my opinion. Johnny Olmstead is a flat-out player. 

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com

SoCal Baseball Notes 3/13/17

The 2017 season is well underway and so far there have been some surprises. A few teams we expected to come out of the gate hot have not quite found their groove yet, while other teams have come out of that gate on fire while not expected too. 

In other words, it’s a typical high school baseball season in SoCal.

The San Diego Section got underway last week and already the section has seen two no-hitters! The “big boys” (Cathedral Catholic, La Jolla Country Day) down there are doing big boy things, while once proud programs (La Jolla, Patrick Henry) are showing signs of revitalization.
In the Southern Section, champions have been crowned in the two biggest tournaments – Loara and Newport Elks – in all divisions and now teams turn their attention to familiar foes.
Let’s dive right in.
League Time:
With most of the pre-league tournaments done, it’s time for the league season to kick off for most teams. For public school players this is the best time of the season because it usually means you’re playing against your buddies who attend rival neighborhood schools.
In many cases these are the same buddies guys have been playing with and against since their youth baseball days. In today’s day-and-age of recruiting, transfers, and general anger from parents over playing time, it’s refreshing to see teams with seniors that have been playing together for four years.
There are many great leagues in SoCal that annually produce a bevy of talent for the college and professional ranks, and 2017 is no exception.

The Trinity League is often considered by many to be the best league in the state and that may very well be the case with roughly 50 Division I commits playing among the six participating schools. 

However, there are plenty of leagues that play a very good brand of baseball and should have fierce competition this season.

Look for the champions of the Mission, Crestview, Sunset, South Coast, Palomares, Big VIII, and Pacific Coast leagues to make deep runs in the postseason. These teams will be battle tested and the winners of these leagues will have  he advantage of competing in tough leagues.
Looking Ahead:
While this year’s MLB Draft prospects in SoCal are as good as any class in recent memory, the 2018 class has its fair share of talent too.  The list of prospects from SoCal is top heavy, but just like every other year, there will be players that rise draft boards with solid summer and fall seasons.
(Note: this is by no means a complete list, just guys I’ve seen that have stood out)
At the top of everyone’s list is Brice Turang of Santiago HS in Corona. Turang was the MVP of the 15U National Team a couple of summers ago. He made the 18U National Team last summer only to suffer an injury and miss the entire tournament. The LSU commit is hands down the best high school infield prospect in the country and will have a busy summer.
While many will have varying opinions on the next best group of players available from the region, I’ll offer mine here.
Kameron Ojeda of St. John Bosco is a freak ballplayer. The catcher will have started behind the dish since his freshman year when he showed signs of his ability. Well, now his bat has caught up to his defense. The Cal State Fullerton commit is one of the most polished hitters in his class as demonstrated by eye opening performance in many of the top events this fall/winter.
Randy Abshier of Otay Ranch High School is arguably the top left-handed pitcher in SoCal. Reaching the low 90’s with a fairly effortless delivery, the University of Arizona commit stands 6’5” and has plenty of room to fill out his frame. The son of a coach – dad is head coach at Grossmont College in San Diego – Abshier has benefitted from quality coaching both at home and through his travel ball organization.
Preston Hartsell from Corona del Mar High School has done an incredible job in transforming himself physically which has provided major returns on the field. The USC commit is a monster in the weight room and the power part of his game reflects that. He’s always had very good bat speed and athleticism, but now the power is being displayed more. Have I mentioned the power? This kid will continue to climb draft boards this summer/fall.
Brandon Deiter from South Hills High School is the ace of a highly ranked team and will have an opportunity to win many games for the Huskies this season. But it’s his defense at shortstop and his bat that have scouts intrigued. His ability to drive balls to all parts of the ballpark – and sometimes out of them – combined with incredible hand-eye coordination makes him an intriguing prospect.
Mason Pelio from Rancho Bernardo High School is the next in line of stud ballplayers produced by Broncos head coach Sam Blalock. The Boston College commit touches 94 mph with his fastball and offers good feel for secondary pitches. At 6’4”, the academically gifted right-handed pitcher has plenty of room to continue to grow and fill out.
Tony Bullard from JW North High School has been a known prospect since his freshman year when he showed up to campus at 6’3”. Bullard now stands 6’5” and isn’t done growing from a physical standpoint. His game continues to grow, too. He’s intriguing because he reaches the low 90’s on the mound, and can really swing the bat offensively. Bullard is committed to the University of Arizona.
Branden Boissiere from Woodcrest Christian High School burst on the scene before his freshman season when he led the 15U National Team to a Gold Medal. All he’s done since is continue to use his left-handed swing to produce great results. The USC commit is often criticized for hammering low level pitching during the high school season, but with Woodcrest’s jump from Division 5 to Division 2, Boissiere should provide ample opportunities for Boissiere to silence critics.
Nick Nastrini is a right-handed pitcher from Cathedral Catholic that is committed to UCLA and the Bruins will be happy to have him arrive on campus. The long, lean Nastrini oozes projectability for scouts because of his ability to both pitch and hit a high level. His future is likely on the mound where he reaches the high 80’s despite being fairly raw there. At the plate, Nastrini seemingly barrels everything up and drives balls with power.
Kingston Liniak from Mission Hills High School is one of my favorite prospects in this class because of the skill set he brings to the table. At 6’2” 175, Liniak is a quick-twitch athlete that is long, lean and freakishly athletic. The USD commit gets very good reads from the outfield where profiles best in right field because of his arm strength. At the plate he presently keeps it simple resulting in a fluid, consistent swing that should produce more power as he fills out.
Other 2018 Prospects (high school – college commitment):
Jaden Fein (Royal – SDSU)
Blake Burzell (Laguna Beach – Duke)
Matt McLain (Beckman – UCLA)
Clay Owens (Norco – USC)
Zack Prajzner (San Marcos – Notre Dame)
Grant Burton (Mater Dei – Stanford)
Blake Peyton (El Capitan – Arizona)
Jake Moberg (Vista Murrieta – UCLA)
Jacob Allred (Cathedral Catholic – Arizona)
Mikey Perez (Gahr – UCLA)

Looking Further Ahead:

The list of stud freshman playing baseball is extensive, and rightfully so. With a handful of these players already committed to D1 schools – USC has a whopping 6 of them – it is not a stretch to say that this class is loaded with projectable talent.
(Note: this is by no means a complete list, just guys I’ve seen that have stood out)
At the top of the list for me is right-handed pitcher Jared Jones of La Mirada. A member of the Gold Medal winning 15U USA Baseball National Team last summer, those in baseball circles have known the name for some time, and Jones hasn’t disappointed in the early goings of the season. With a fastball that already reaches into the low 90’s Jones, the USC commit has the attention of pro scouts already because of his command of secondary pitches and his makeup.
Joining Jones on the list of top freshman in SoCal is his teammate and catcher Emilio Morales who stands at 6’1” and demonstrates the types of tools that will have college scouts enamored. The magic number for catchers is 2.0, no, that’s not their GPA, instead that’s their pop-time down to second base and Morales regularly works below that.
Pete Crow-Armstrong of Harvard Westlake is an intriguing freshman prospect. Crow-Armstrong is big – 6’0” 175 – and powerful and that power translates with the bat where it is easy to project his potential.
Crow-Armstrong’s Harvard Westlake teammate Drew Bowser also makes this list for me. Bowser’s ceiling is high because of his defensive prowess at either of the middle infield positions where he shows a quick first step to go with very good range and good, reliable hands. His tall frame allows for room to fill out which shouldn’t affect his quick hands at the plate.
Parker Welch of Riverside King is a name not a whole lot of people outside the region know about, but trust me when I tell you that college coaches do. The kid is well above average defensively at his shortstop position and shows the ability to handle himself at the plate. Will be a highly sought after recruit in due time.
Daylen Reyes of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame is arguably the most polished of the freshman on this list that is not a pitcher. A UCLA commit, Reyes plays a premium position (shortstop) when Hunter Greene is pitching.
Christian Rodriguez of Orange Lutheran is an incredibly intriguing prospect. Standing at 6’5” tall, the freshman is an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball works at a downhill plane not often seen at the high school level, much less from a freshman. His curveball is already a very good pitch while his changeup continues to develop. This guy is next in the long line of quality pitchers to come out of OLu in the last decade.
Nate Nankil of Bonita Vista HS in the San Diego section is a very intriguing freshman that is already committed to Cal State Fullerton. The shortstop flashes good arm strength across the diamond to go with very good footwork and instincts. Shows good power potential with the bat and already is a gap-to-gap hitter.
Tank Espalin of San Dimas is the next highly touted player for the Saints. The kid can flat out pick it at shortstop and the bat, oh the bat! Espalin is one of the more advanced hitters in his class which has resulted in an average above .400 in the early portion of this season.
Other Top Freshman (high school – college commitment):
Garrett Guillemette (Servite)
Max Rajcic (OLu – UCLA)
Kyle Casper (Valhalla – Arizona)
Brandon Madrigal (Oaks Christian)
Lucas Gordon (Crossroads)
Sebastian Murillo (Fountain Valley – Arizona)
Colby Canales (Servite – LMU)
Roger Vasquez (Tustin)
Connor Bane (Santa Margarita)
Fisher Pyatt (St. Augustine)

New Season, New Names:
As part of the couple games I took in on Saturday, I came across a few new guys that stood out. It seems that there is an endless supply of talented baseball players in SoCal because just when I think I’ve seen it all a new guy pops up that intrigues me.
I was out at the Servite vs Vista Murrieta game and saw an arm for the Friars that was both funky and effective.
Sophomore Alec Rath came in to the game in a tough situation and made the most of his opportunity by shutting down a Vista Murrieta threat. His delivery is unorthodox – he uses a fast leg kick and a pronounced back turn to hide the ball well. This is a name that I will file away and check back on later in the season.

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The second player that made me pay attention on Saturday was Ted Burton of Edison. A slick fielding middle-infielder, Burton is the prototypical player for many of SoCal’s colleges: hard nosed, old school, will do whatever it takes to win type attitude.
Watching Burton during pregame prompted me to immediately begin texting contacts to find out as much information as I could about him. Let’s just say that many coaches got a text message with his information on it. The kid can flat out play.
Games That I’m Excited About This Week:
Los Al @ Bishop Amat
Harvard Westlake @ Alemany
Centennial @ Santiago
Chatsworth @ Servite
King @ Norco
El Dorado @ Canyon
South Hills @ Bonita
LB Poly @ Millikan
De La Salle @ JSerra
Los Al @ Huntington Beach
De La Salle @ Mater Dei
Loyola @ Notre Dame
El Toro @ Gahr
De La Salle @ OLu
Damien @ Upland
The Best Player You’ve Likely Never Heard Of:
It seems that every week a different player pops that I get a text or tweet about with the message that usually says something along the lines of “what do you know about this kid?” It’s cool when I know something about the kid and can respond. When I don’t know anything I usually reach out to my boy SoCal Steve because let’s face it, Steve sees and knows everyone!
Anyhow, for this week’s winner of the “Best Player You’ve Likely Never Heard Of” award I have seen him and know plenty about him due to a friend who is tight with his family.
Dylan Zavala from Walnut High School is a catcher committed to New Mexico. You might say, “he’s committed to a D1 school, how is he unheard of?” Well, because of his size every school in the Great State of California ignored him despite his ability to hit the crap out the ball. For further proof, see video below.
 

Congrats, Dylan. With this award and $2.00, you can get a cup of coffee.

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Commentary:

This week we are being constantly reminded of what not to do as parents as it pertains to our children’s participation in sports. Unless you’re living in a hole somewhere, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Lavar Ball and his ridiculous comments about both his children’s high school team, and their future earning potential as pros. 

You’ve probably also heard his claim that he would school Michael Jordan in one-on-one.

Firstly, MJ is the greatest player ever, so stop Lavar.
Secondly, stop talking about what your kids deserve to be paid – $1 Billion dollar shoe deal? You’re high as a kite.
But the biggest problem I have is with him saying that when his boys are through with Chino Hills High School that the team will go back to being s**t. I don’t have a problem with being confident in your kids abilities, after all, if you’ve raised them right you should both be confident in their ability. It’s the arrogance that I have a problem with.
When you cross that line between confidence and arrogance, that’s generally when things begin to go south, but Lavar doesn’t seem to think that. In fact, it’s as though he thinks the complete opposite and, unfortunately, at least one of his sons seems to think the same way.
The true losers in all of this are his sons. While way more talented than I ever was on a basketball court, these boys don’t even appear to be enjoying themselves and with the added burden of expectations laid on them by a mouthy father, one can only wonder how this will turn out.
The arrogance being displayed by Lavar Ball in this case reminds of once highly touted hoopster that was a can’t miss prospect. He was so good – or so he thought – the he once told Kobe Bryant – KOBE FREAKING BRYANT – that he would dominate him when he got to the league.
That player you ask? Lenny Cooke. If you don’t know his story, look it up.
Until next time, see you at the ballpark…

Email me at socalhsbaseball@gmail.com