Welcome back to the zany world of high school baseball in SoCal.
This column will share my insight into what is, in my opinion, the best region for baseball in the country. And 2017 may be the best year in memory given the amount of talented players strewn around SoCal.
If you read any of my posts last year you’ll know that I don’t take myself too seriously and enjoy having a good time with this column. People tell me that I tell it like it is, I don’t know about all that, but I do know that I don’t like to sugarcoat things. And I appreciate the same in return.
So, if you disagree with something that I post here, fire away in the comments below.
Okay, now that we got the pleasantries out of the way, let’s dive in
WEST COAST, BEST COAST?
We are lucky to live where we live when it comes to high school baseball. The coaching, the players, the weather all combine to produce great talent year-in year-out.
If you mix in the summer travel ball circuit, some of the best players and teams from around the nation reside in SoCal.
Consider that in 2016 the 18U National Team, which won yet another Gold Medal, had seven players from SoCal. You may not think that’s a big deal, but when you realize there were only 20 players on the roster, you begin to understand.
Take it a step further and look at the 2016 MLB Draft. The #1 overall pick, Mickey Moniak, toiled his trade in North San Diego County after earning Team MVP honors while playing for the 18U National Team in the summer of 2015.
I think you get the idea. At least I hope you do.
So having said that, let’s get started on this crazy thing we call high school baseball in SoCal.
2017 is a banner year for high school prospects in SoCal. As many as eight players have potential to be selected in the first round alone! And while that’s not likely to happen, the group of top prospects does include a couple players being talked about as the top overall selection.
Below is a list of those prospects in no particular order. Note: most videos courtesy of our friends at Prospect Pipeline.
Hunter Greene (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame): Recently touched 101 mph with his fastball and has advanced feel for two more pitches. Oh yeah, and he has potential to hit 25 home runs at the next level while playing shortstop. Hands down the best high school prospect in the country. Greene is signed with UCLA. Greene threw five innings and hit a grand slam in his 2017 debut. More on that later.
Royce Lewis (JSerra): Lewis was the best player in the best league (Trinity) in back-to-back seasons. Barring injury, there’s no reason he won’t pull off the trifecta in 2017. Lewis can hit for average and power and is one of the fastest players in the country. During the Under Armour All-American game, Lewis nearly hit one out of Wrigley Field (it bounced off the bleachers onto Waveland Avenue). Lewis is signed with UC Irvine.
Hans Crouse (Dana Hills): Does things that you can’t teach – like throw 97 mph. Pitches with flair and excitability. Appears to be doing things the right way after some scouts questioned his maturity. Gives Dana Hills a major boost despite a recent alleged “inquiry.”
Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach): No hitter in the region had a better fall season than Pratto. The USC commit put on a show during batting practice at a recent MLB Scouting event. One NL scout said about the left-handed hitting first baseman, “this kid has won everything since he was 12 years old; you can’t quantify what that means at the next level.” Pratto is signed with USC.
Kyle Hurt (Torrey Pines): At 6’4” 205, Hurt already has the physical traits of a Big League pitcher. Mix in the fact that he throws 94 mph and the USC commit has the full attention of scouts. If he continues to develop the consistency in his secondary pitches, you will hear his name early in the 2017 draft.
Garret Mitchell (Orange Lutheran): Along with Lewis, Mitchell is one of the fastest players in the country. Unlike Lewis, Mitchell is a sure fire center field prospect. An outstanding overall athlete – there’s a video out there of him doing a standing dunk of a basketball while wearing sandals – the UCLA commit is being talked about as a top 60 selection.
Jeremiah Estrada (Palm Desert): The right-handed pitcher is going to have scouts trekking out to the desert en-masse this season. With a fastball that touches 96 and a devastating breaking ball, the UCLA commit has climbed scouting boards since bursting on the scene two seasons ago in winter scout ball. In addition to his stuff, it’s his makeup that sets him apart from many of his peers.
Nick Allen (Francis Parker): In my opinion, Allen is the best defensive shortstop in the country. Allen was once considered to be too small for scouts, but when you watch him play, he’s a highlight waiting to happen. Allen has bulked up and what once were bloopers of infielders heads are not line drives into the gaps. He’s also shown the ability to get into pitches and drive them out of the park on occasion. Allen is committed to USC.
Calvin Mitchell (Rancho Bernardo): The stocky Mitchell is a treat to watch hit both in batting practice and in-game. His smooth approach generally leads to balls hit very hard all over the field. The USD commit has impressed all fall as he appears to have significantly improved his defense, which was once a considered a liability.
Hagen Danner (Huntington Beach): Seems like we’ve been hearing about Danner for 10 years now, but 2017 is finally his draft year. The question on Danner is where do you play him after you draft him? He touches 94-95 on the mound, but can hit at an advanced level too. Does he play first base or catch if you draft him as a hitter? I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions. One thing is for sure, he’s going to get drafted – and likely pretty high – and have to make a decision about honoring his UCLA commit or go pro.
Others: These players are in the next tier of prospects, but all should have the opportunity to hear their names called during the 2017 MLB Draft.
Ben Ramirez (Eastlake)
Jayson Gonzalez (Bishop Amat)
Carlos Lomeli (St. John Bosco)
Adam Kerner (Oaks Christian)
Tyler Freeman (Etiwanda)
Kevin Abel (Madison)
Matthew Sauer (Righetti)
Jacob Amaya (South Hills)
Jonny Deluca (Agoura)
Blake Beers (Loyola)
Sam Glick (El Toro)
Tanner Bibee (Mission Viejo)
WHAT A START!
The 2017 CIF-SS season is only a couple weeks old and already we’ve been treated to some great performances.
Ayala is off to a great start at 6-0 and will play in the championship of the Chino tournament. Head coach Chris Vogt has a bevy of talent on his roster and at the top is two-way standout Joe Naranjo. The LHP/1B is sophomore Cal State Fullerton commit who is a quiet leader of the team. Patrick Ise, Adam Seminaris, Dylan Cook, and Daniel Ramirez are all batting over .400 for the Bulldogs who will challenge South Hills for the Palomares League Title.
On opening day Foutain Valley got a combined no hitter from pitchers Jared Brand, Isaac Campbell, and Justin Yang. The Barons always make noise in the tough Sunset League and it appears they have some horses to do the same in 2017.
El Dorado is off to an impressive start for head coach Matt Lucas. After an opening loss to Cypress, the Golden Hawks have reeled off three impressive wins highlighted by a 4-3 win over a very good, top 10 ranked, El Toro team. The Golden Hawks play Los Alamitos tomorrow in the semis of the Loara Tournament.
Mission Viejo’s Tanner Bibee had one of the more impressive performances of opening day. The senior threw a complete game shutout over a stout Cypress team. The impressive part of it was he struck out nine, walked none, and only gave three hits on 81 pitches. That’s efficiency. And that’s the reason his name is climbing scouts boards. He followed that up with a strong performance last week against a stout Riverside King HS. Bibee is expected to start the championship game of the Newport Elks Tournament this Saturday.
Speaking of Riverside King, the Wolves are one of those teams people like to call sneaky good because of the talent that not many know about. This season is a new beginning as head coach Steve Madril came in after guiding JW North for 10 years including a CIF-SS Championship in 2011. The Wolves opened the 2017 campaign with a resounding double-header sweep of highly touted Bishop Amat. It’s way too early to tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if King is one of the better teams at seasons end.
La Mirada scored a solid win over Downey 6-0 on Opening Day and continue to roll. The Mats have a ton of talent on their roster, but it was lesser known players Kevin Smith (3 RBI) and Eddie Salcido (6 shutout innings) that led the way on opening day. Coach Zurn played as tough a winter schedule as anyone, and will play in the Boras Classic this year making them the first non-division 1 team to participate in the tournament since the first incarnation of the event. Freshman pitcher Jared Jones (USC) gives the Mats an ace to build with to complement Kevin Kendall (UCLA), RJ Lan (TCU), Chad Wilson (Uncommitted for now), and host of other offensive weapons.
Huntington Beach swept a pair of games from Aliso Niguel on Saturday, both in shutout fashion. But the real fireworks for the Oilers came this past weekend compliments of Hagen Danner when, in front of some 30 scouts, he went yard not once, but twice. He also was 92-94 on the mound. Talk about a having a day.
One side note about Aliso, one person whose opinion and ability to evaluate talent I respect greatly told me the Wolverines have arguably the best freshman and sophomore class in the county.
Legendary coach Bob Zamora who is one of the greatest coaches in Orange County baseball history leads Capo Valley. His cougars had an impressive double-header sweep over what should be a very good Edison team. It’s a good start for the Cougars who will play in a lot of big games this season.
Servite head coach Shawn Gilbert may have his best team in 2017 after taking some lumps the last couple seasons. That initial freshman class is now juniors and there is reason for optimism in the land of the Friars. Servite swept a double-header against a good Villa Park team on opening Saturday needing extras to clinch the first win. The Friars had an exciting finish to a big win over Cypress to improve to 5-1 in the early part of the season.
I had planned on writing about a hot topic dealing with parents, administrators and coaches in this section until I got what I once considered a disturbing text, but is now commonplace. And with baseball recruiting picking up in earnest on March 1st, the first day coaches are allowed back out on the road, I felt this was a good time to share some thoughts on the topic.
The text was from a high school coach in the area with a screenshot of a tweet congratulating an 8th grader for committing to a Power 5 school. I’m sure this young man is a pretty talented player. I mean he obviously has some tools because the school wouldn’t accept a commitment – presumably after making him an offer – if he didn’t.
The problem I have is this, among the three “revenue” sports in college – football, basketball, and baseball – it’s the latter that is probably the most difficult to project future ability.
Think of it this way, an 8th grade basketball player can have great ball control skill and a smooth jumper or the ability to pass like nobodies business. Those skills are not likely to deteriorate as he grows. But, the games factors are constant. The hoop is 10 feet high. The court is the same size, etc.
Similarly, an 8th grade football player may demonstrate characteristics that a coach covets that will only improve. Keep in mind that an 8th grader committing to a school for football is incredibly uncommon, unless, of course, Lane Kiffin coaches the school’s team.
But, I digress.
In baseball, college coaches are accepting commitments for 8th graders at a pace that is reaching scary levels. Eighth grade boys are generally in the area of 13-14 years old – sometimes older – meaning most of them are playing 13U, 14U, or 15U. If you’ve ever been to a 15U tournament, you know that rarely do you see pitchers that flat out wow you.
Therefore, if little Jimmy is crushing a pitcher who is at-best an average to above average varsity player in their part of the country, how then can one assume that Jimmy is going to handle big time college level pitching?
How can coaches predict the continued upward trajectory of a prospect?
There’s the rub.
Coaches are making assumptions about development that can be dangerous. They’re assuming that little Jimmy is going to continue to develop and become the player they envision he can become.
I’ve been lucky to befriend many college coaches at all levels, from JUCO to Power 5, and everything in between. I have not once met a coach that looks forward to getting out to see an 8th grader play.
When I ask coaches their opinion on this trend of committing 8th graders, the answer I usually get is, “if we don’t do it, our opponents will.”
It’s the side of the game that’s bothersome. The business side. With salaries escalating at a disproportionate rate, some coaches are feeling pressure to attract the best talent, regardless of age.
The worst part of it is if a player doesn’t develop as expected, schools, for the most part, simply cut ties with said player.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Coaches are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. And that, my friends, is the direction sports are headed.