The perennial powerhouse Monarchs of Mater Dei opened last year as the No. 4 ranked team in the nation, and spent eight of the first twelve weeks of the season at the No. 1 spot in Perfect Game's national rankings. They had been a staple on those rankings in recent years and have consistently been among the favorites to win a championship year in and year out. But after a shocking first round playoff loss, which says as much about the nature of the Divison I tournament as the 2013 Monarchs, to upstart Huntington Beach the Monarchs graduation of a group of players who were critical to their success in recent years. The Monarchs find themselves in unfamiliar territory this year.
They lost a four year starter in catcher Jeremy Martinez, who is now playing for the Trojans at the nearby University of Southern California. They graduated their ace in righthander Davis Tominaga, who will be in town with his Portland University teammates to open the season against the defending national champions of UCLA. They lost leadoff hitting center fielder Austin Grebeck who is now at the University of Oregon. But perhaps the biggest loss was their impact middle of the order bat in third baseman Ryan McMahon, who many scouts felt was a draft day bargain when he fell to the Colorado Rockies in the second round. While outfielder Josh Stephen showed a lot of promise as a freshman last season, sophomore catcher David Clawson offers a lot of potential, second baseman Bryan Call already has a year of starting experience and there appears to be a lot of potential in their freshman class, there are still a lot of questions marks about the 2014 Monarchs.
While Mater Dei didn't win a CIF championship, or a playoff game, there is little doubt they were the most dominant team in the nation during the 2013 regular season. They captured the 2013 National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C. for the second year in a row. They won the inaugural Boras Classic, which pitted the top teams from Southern California in one bracket, with the winner facing the winner of the bracket comprised of Northern California's top teams. Mater Dei won the southern bracket and won the overall championship by a wide margin. They also won the Trinity League, which is traditionally the deepest in Orange County. As a result, they finished the 2013 season as the No. 11 ranked team in the nation despite the first round upset.
The reigning PG National Champions, Harvard-Westlake, who opens the season in the top five in the nation, will have to fill some major holes created by graduation, meaning they are no slam dunk to ascend to the top spot. Arden Pabst provided much needed power in the middle of the order and was a steady defensive performer behind the plate who played a key role in stabilizing a pitching staff that had some questions entering the season. They are the closest thing to a sure thing for 2014, but they will need to find a No. 2 starting pitcher and find a way to replace some of Pabst's offensive impact. Two-way standout Jack Flaherty will have proven players around him, and thus they look like the favorite on paper in the nation's toughest division, but even they don't have a ton of separation between themselves and their biggest challenger in their own league.
Loyola could very well knock off the Wolverines for the Mission League title, after nearly doing so a year ago. The Cubs have their own questions on the offensive side, but they also boast a high calliber two-way player of their own in Stanford-bound outfielder and lefthanded pitcher Quinn Brodey. He is joined by three other senior pitchers who are committed to Pac-12 programs, along with righthander and outfielder Nate Hadley (UCLA) and righthanders Kyle Beadles (Arizona) and Jack Poulsen (USC). Their offense will be centered around Brodey, Hadley and shortstop Angel Armenta, but lacks depth beyond that core, though it may be enough given their pitching depth. But unless their deep group of juniors, who have shown potential, takes a step forward it would be a bit of stretch to call Loyola the on-paper favorites. They come in ranked 13th in the country, just two spots behind Los Alamitos who also is very pitching heavy, with less depth but more high end pitching talent thanks to the ability of righty Jake Nix.
The younger teams that could arrive a year early look to be Huntington Beach and Aliso Niguel, but they don't appear to be ready to be the type of team that Mater Dei was in 2013. If Harvard-Westlake doesn't find answers to their burning questions it should be a wide open year in Division I of the Southern Section, which boasts the most wide open postseason tournament in the country to begin with given the large single elimination format.
2013 saw the rise of Gardena Serra, which won the first CIF title in program history, and their first league title since 1971. Serra also won CIF Southern Section titles in football last year, and while they have historically had a lot athletic success, until recently the baseball program wasn't often apart of that success. They lost a ton of talent to graduation and several more key players who transferred out. But they retain a pair of elite up-the-middle talents in seniors Marcus Wilson and Denz'l Chapman. It remains to be seen if the progress made in 2013 was a short-lived talent spike, or an emerging trend of a baseball powerhouse emerging in South Central L.A.
Pacific High School Dream
Based on present tools and
position played for high school team
C - Alex Jackson, Sr., Rancho Bernardo
Jackson maintains this spot for the second year in a row and is an obvious choice. He combines elite raw power and arm strength, allowing him to be a major factor at this level on both sides. Opposing baserunners stay very close to the bag with Jackson behind the plate and most teams simply choose to adopt a station-to-station baserunning strategy as a result of his cannon arm. At the plate he is frequently pitched carefully, and even when he doesn't do damage with the bat he runs up pitch counts and is a force at the high school level, in addition to being projected as a first round pick.
1B - Eric Ramirez, Sr., Rio Mesa
The pure hitting ability of Ramirez, a Hawaii commit, makes him the choice here. His short, balanced swing with a clean line drive swing plane allows him to make frequent hard contact and should continue to result in hitting for a high average. This position lacks a candidate who combines a high level hit tool and power, unlike last year's class where a great candidate like Jake Bauers was completely overshadowed by first round pick Dominic Smith. This season there are candidates who you can bank on hitting for a high average, and some who can crush the baseball a long way, but none that do both yet. Ramirez is arguably the best pure hitter of the group and swings the bat from the left side in addition to being a strong defensive first baseman.
MIF - Josh Morgan,
Sr., Orange Lutheran
Though he has been Orange Lutheran's top hitter for years, Morgan will now be counted on as a senior leader after the graduation of center fielder Jason Martin (eighth round, Houston Astros) for the nationally ranked Lancers. Morgan gave up pitching during his junior year and is expected to be in the lineup every game at shortstop where he is a high level defender. What sets Morgan apart from the bevy of talented middle infielders that Orange County is known for is his offensive prowess. He has unusual power for a shortstop and should also hit for a high average and is a solid basestealer as well.
MIF - Jacob Gatewood, Sr., Clovis
There is not a more prolific power bat in the entire country than Gatewood. He has hit towering home runs that are firmly etched into the minds of scouts, from the shot he hit across the street at the Area Code Games as an underclassman to his numerous upper deck shots at Citi Field during the MLB Home Run Derby. He also shows shocking athleticism and actions at shortstop for a 6-foot-5 power hitter to go with a strong arm. If he can hit for a high average this spring Gatewood could be one of the most valuable shortstops in the country. Thus his upside makes him the pick here over strong candidates like Shane Mardirosian, Luke Dykstra, Tristan Hilldebrandt, Ryan Day and Brian Schales.
3B - Sean Bouchard,
Sr., Cathedral Catholic
While he may not be the top power hitter in San Diego this year thanks to the presence of Alex Jackson, Bouchard is an impact middle of the order bat for one of the county's top teams. He and Cathedral Catholic teammate John Cresto will give opposing outfielders plenty of exercise this spring. Bouchard has good defensive actions for his size and is a quality defender at third base with the requisite arm strength for the position. He is capable of handling shortstop at this level as well, but is best suited for third. This position has good depth this year, as Jack Flaherty occupies the utility position thanks to his ability on the mound, while Kevin Padlo and Joe Gillette would have also made fine selections.
OF - Marcus Wilson,
Sr., Gardena Serra
Wilson combines electric tools with his plus speed (6.5 60-yard dash) and raw power. He has developed as a hitter to the point where the power is already showing up in games, and his speed allows him to stretch doubles into triples. He'll move to center field this season as teammate Denz'l Chapman will take over at shortstop for Serra, giving Wilson a chance to show how his speed translates into playable center field range. He has plenty of arm strength as well, having thrown 90 plus mph from the outfield in workouts, and 89 off the mound. Southern California's most exciting prospect will take the reigns from 2013 first round pick Dominic Smith as the team leader for the defending CIF champs as they look to find continued success despite losing a ton of talent from last year's national powerhouse.
OF - Derek Hill, Sr., Elk Grove
Easily the best defensive center fielder in the country, Hill's defense is not only plus-plus at this level but ready made for pro ball. He gets quick reads and takes direct routes and his raw speed plays well in games, giving Hill massive range in center field. That speed will not only help his pitching staff immensely, but should also allow him to wreak havoc on the basepaths.
OF - Scott Hurst, Sr., Bishop Amat
just 5-foot-10, Hurst has the biggest arm in the area. He threw 99 mph in the outfield workout at the 2013 PG National Showcase at the Metrodome and has shown that level of arm strength on a consistent basis throughout his extensive travel ball career. He plays center field for Bishop Amat, as he is also a well above average runner. He has pull-side power as a lefthanded hitter, maximizing all of his available leverage, and he also shows an advanced approach for a high school hitter. The Cal State Fullerton commit will be counted on to be a leader for a young Bishop Amat team looking to rebound from a down year.
UT - Jack Flaherty, Sr., RHP/3B, Harvard-Westlake
The debate on Flaherty has been as to whether he profiles as an infielder or a pitcher long-term. If he honors his commitment to North Carolina the answer is almost certain to be both. Flaherty serves as the ace of the Harvard-Westlake pitching staff, and when he's not on the mound he is an elite defender at third base, and is a constant presence in the Wolverines' lineup. He has the athleticism to play shortstop at a high level as well, but tightly fits the mold of a third baseman with quick reflexes and big arm strength. He was topping out in the low-90s while pitching in the upper-80s last year, but has seen his velocity and secondary stuff progress since then. He's an improved pitcher, after throwing a complete game shutout in the CIF championship game last year.
P - Kodi Medeiros, LHP/1B, Sr., Waiakea (Hawaii)
Medeiros is not only the best pitcher in the state of Hawaii, and by a huge margin, but you can make a case that he is the best pitcher in high school baseball. He creates tremendous run and sink on his fastball coming from a low three-quarters arm slot, typically working in the 90-93 mph range, having touched as high as 95. He shows good feel for locating the fastball given how much it moves, and it's deceptive velocity coming out of his hand easily with a smooth delivery. He has a pair of high quality off-speed pitches to go with it, a wicked physics-defying slider that seems to take a sudden right-hand turn. It's a viscous strike out pitch, though very few catchers at this level are able to handle the pitch so he rarely gets to use it in two strike counts or with runners on base. His changeup is a bit inconsistent, but is plus when it's on with hard sink in the low-80s. He's also a prospect caliber hitter who would certainly be a two-way player if he were to opt go to college, though the likelihood of him being a first round pick would suggest that is a moot point.
P - Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sr., Sanger
The powerful righthander features a comfortable low-90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s, and he throws it for consistent strikes. But his biggest weapon is his present plus slider, with big league bite to it in the low- to mid-80s. He dominated on the national showcase circuit last summer, and quick innings became his calling card. It would come as no surprise if he were to carry over his domination of prospect laden lineups from the summer and fall to dominating Central California high school hitters this spring. In fact, it would be a huge surprise if he doesn't. After all, he was the Tournament MVP of the 18u World Baseball Cup, where the United State captured the Gold Medal.
P - Brady Aiken, LHP/OF, Sr., Cathedral Catholic
While 2013 was a disappointing season for Cathedral Catholic, Aiken and fellow dream team selection Sean Bouchard give the Dons plenty of reason for optimism of a big year in 2014. Aiken is one of the top lefthanders in the 2014 class and has been established on the national radar for years now. In 2011 he flew in to join the San Diego Show at the 16u WWBA National Championship in Marietta, Ga., arriving early. His flight landed hours before the Show's 18u team was playing in the playoffs of the preceeding 18u National Championship tournament, so he rushed to the field, and then went out and delivered a W. He was the ace of the 18u Team USA staff that won a gold medal last fall, and was the starting pitcher for the West squad at the 2013 PG All-American Classic in Petco Park. He throws a lot strikes in the upper-80s to low-90s with good command, and a hard snapping curveball with good downer break. He also has a solid changeup when he needs it, and swings the bat well at this level as a two-way threat for the Dons.
P - Jake Nix, RHP, Sr., Los Alamitos
Nix was a huge part of Los Alamitos' run to the CIF semifinals last year, winning both of his starts to get the Griffins to the final four. He found his success primarily by locating his low-90s fastball while flashing a breaking ball to keep hitters guessing. He has since scrapped the curveball in favor of a slider that has begun to show progress. If he can develop that slider into an out pitch he should be unhittable at the high school level given his ability to work ahead with a fastball that has begun to scrape the mid-90s by the preseason.
P - Grant Hockin, RHP, Sr., Damien
final spot on the Dream Team is a far more difficult decision than the previous four spots, occupied by seemingly sure-thing arms who are expected to be the most dominant pitchers in their respective areas; Medeiros in Hawaii, Ortiz in Central California, Aiken in San Diego and Nix in Orange County. Jack Flaherty would be an obvious choice as he looks to be the top arm in the Los Angeles area, but his elite two-way status slots him into the utility spot, opening the door for Hockin. Hockin is a legitimate four-pitch guy who shows impressive ability to manipulate the baseball and cause it to move in every direction with control. He doesn't put up eye popping numbers on the radar gun, but he can throw his low-90s fastball by hitters at this level. But what sets him apart is his slider, a hard biting low- to mid-80s offering that is a true out pitch at this level. He also shows a very advanced changeup and curveball and leads a very good one-two punch at Damien along with 2015 prospect Jonathan Olsen.