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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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…
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