2014 Junior College baseball season kicks off for many teams around
the country on Friday, and Perfect Game’s Allan Simpson has
detailed coverage of the top teams and prospects this week. Today,
Allan takes a close-up look at the nation’s No. 1 team, the State
College of Florida, and unveils his ranking of the nation’s Top 50
teams. On Wednesday, he’ll break out his list of the Top 200
Prospects in the junior college ranks for the 2014 draft. On
Thursday, he will provide detailed capsules of the Top 50 teams.
in Search of Elusive National Title,
Open 2014 Season at No. 1
a state record 1,193 wins in a junior college coaching career that
spanned 35 years and ended in 2012, Tim Hill Sr. left a daunting
legacy for his son to live up to.
Tim Hill II, who spent 15 years as an assistant to his highly
successful father at the State College of Florida / Manatee-Sarasota
before taking the reins himself a year ago, has ably stepped into his
dad’s big shoes.
first Manatees club went 45-13 in 2013 and made a gallant, but
unsuccessful run at representing Florida again at the Junior College
World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., before finishing second in the
state tournament. This year’s team is poised to take care of
unfinished business as it begins the 2014 season at No. 1 in Perfect
Game’s pre-season ranking of the nation’s Top
50 Junior Colleges.
really quite a flattering honor to learn we’ve been ranked No. 1,”
said an appreciative but somewhat disbelieving Hill. “It’s also a
bit of a surprise to us as I’m not sure we saw this coming. I think
we’ll be pretty good this year, but I’m not sure we’ll be that
the State College of Florida (better known until recently as Manatee
Community College) has an enviable track record of success through
the years at the national and state junior college levels, it has
never won the Junior College World Series. But it has made 10
appearances at the national tournament (most among Florida junior
colleges), finishing second in 1972, 1991 and 2002. The 1999 team,
which set a school record for wins by going 54-10, ended up third.
always, the Manatees biggest challenge may be simply emerging from
their own state tournament as the rugged Florida junior college ranks
are arguably the strongest and most competitive in the country.
the last 16 years, 12 different schools have won the state title and
represented Florida at the Junior College World Series. With three
state titles apiece in that period, the Manatees and Chipola, another
long-time power and the 2007 national champion, are the only schools
to advance more than once.
Hill is well aware that his team’s work is cut out for itself this
season, that it will be difficult enough just securing the automatic
bid to the national tournament that goes to the Florida state
champion—never mind thinking about an elusive national
state is so competitive,” Hill said. “So many teams play at a
high level, but we’ve got a lot of tradition here and our kids know
what they’re up against when they come here.
like our club. It’s definitely comparable to some of the better
teams we’ve had here, and may actually be one of the more-balanced
clubs that I can remember. Some years our hitting has been a little
stronger, other years our pitching has carried us. This team has no
obvious strengths, though it has no real weaknesses, either.”
biggest challenge from the get-go will be to replace shortstop Kevin
Bradley, a Clemson transfer and arguably the team’s best player and
prospect. Bradley, the son of ex-major leaguer and current Princeton
coach Scott Bradley, suffered an apparent separated shoulder in the
fall that was not determined to be serious but it was subsequently
determined over the Christmas break when nagging shoulder soreness
persisted that he sustained a torn labrum. He is lost for the season.
was our best player, no doubt,” Hill said. “The key to our season
might be how we fill his place, but there’s definitely an
opportunity there for someone. We’ll have to see who ends up
playing shortstop for us.”
second Division I bounce-back player of some note, Frank Grandinette,
who spent the 2013 season at Miami, was also lost for all of 2014
when he finally succumbed to a stress fracture that had been nagging
him for the better part of two years. Grandinette had been expected
to work his way into the Manatees rotation while also seeing
extensive time in a DH role.
is not lost for Hill and the Manatees, though, as the team returns
its ace pitcher, 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore righthander Reggie
McClain, who went 9-2, 2.83 as a freshman after transferring to the
State College of Florida from Georgia.
outfielder Sean Trent (.287-4-29) is the top returning position
player, and Hill has beefed up his roster with Division I transfers
like freshman catcher Scott Williams (Virginia), sophomore third
baseman Ryne Rush (High Point), sophomore shortstop/closer Ryan
Valdes (Florida State) and sophomore center fielder Cory Reid
(Florida). Additionally, high-profile freshman righthander Dustin Hagy, an unsigned 31st-round pick of the Boston Red Sox
last June, should bolster the pitching ranks after his fastball was
clocked in the fall up to 93 mph.
Manatees open their 2014 season this weekend with a tournament in
nearby St. Petersburg that should give them an immediate indication
on the viability of this year’s team as two long-standing national
powers, No. 3-ranked San Jacinto (Texas) and No. 14 Miami-Dade, are
among the six teams competing.
Hill knows all too well that the real test for his club will come
later in the 2014 season when he’ll have to withstand a fierce
challenge from inside his own state just to have any chance of
advancing to national tournament play.
by the State College of Florida at No. 1 and Chipola at No. 5, eight
teams from Florida are ranked in Perfect Game’s Top 50. That
doesn’t include Palm Beach State, which finished a distant second
to Miami-Dade in conference play a year ago and yet made a spirited
late-season run to win the Florida junior college tournament over the
Manatees and went on to finish second in the World Series.
just beginning his second season as head coach of the Manatees, Hill
has been around the program all his life, played there for his father
in 1989-90 and knows he has plenty to live up to. He is only the
third coach in the rich 56-year history of the Manatee baseball
program, and both coaches who preceded him, Bob Wynn and Hill’s
dad, are members of the National Junior College Athletic Association
Baseball Hall of Fame.
whom the Manatees playing field is named after, began the program
from scratch in 1959 and stayed on the job for 23 years, winning 581
games. He, along with long-time Miami-Dade head coach Demie Mainieri
(father of Louisiana State head coach Paul Mainieri), are generally
credited with raising the profile of junior college baseball in
Florida to the current lofty status it now enjoys.
Hill Sr. spent four years at South Florida Community College from
1975-78 before becoming an assistant to Wynn for three years at
Manatee. He took over the program in 1982 and never experienced a
losing season in 31 years, going 1,109-484 overall, before passing
the torch on to his son following the 2012 season.
the elder Hill is now retired, he still lives in the area and
attended all of the Manatees home games a year ago. And his son is
only too eager to have him around, as it enables him to tap into all
his years of wisdom.
would analyze every game last year, and he often came down and sat in
the dugout for games like he was one of the guys. It was like he had
Top JC Teams
With Its Own Perils
the State College of Florida /Manatee has been installed as the No. 1
team in Perfect Game’s pre-season look at the Top 50 junior college
teams, it hardly is a guarantee of impending success on the national
stage. As the 2013 season attests.
Arizona began last year at No. 1 and enjoyed a stellar regular
season, finishing atop the Arizona Community College Athletic
Conference standings with a 29-9 record, along with a 43-13 record
overall. But the Vaqueros never won another game, and never came
close to winning their third Junior College World Series title. A
revamped CAC team begins the current season at No. 7.
the two teams that ended up playing for the National Junior College
Athletic Association Division I title, Central Alabama and Palm Beach
State (Fla.), were unranked nationally to begin the 2013 season.
Moreover, Cochise (Ariz.), which upstaged Central Arizona on its way
to winning the Region 1 (Arizona) tournament and went on to place
third nationally, was also unranked in the pre-season.
was also the case for Cypress College, which won the California
Community College championship a year ago (California schools do not
participate in the Junior College World Series), and Oklahoma’s
Murray State, which unexpectedly captured the NJCAA Division II
none of those five upstarts won even so much as their own conference
championship outright, though obviously got hot at the right time
when they were extended a second chance.
begins the 2014 season at No. 6 in Perfect Game’s Top 50, Central
Alabama is at No. 27 and Cochise is at No. 37, though Palm Beach
State and Murray State are again unranked.
Perfect Game preseason Top 50 Junior College Teams