Juco | Rankings | 1/28/2014

2014 Junior College Top 50 Teams

Allan Simpson        
Photo: SCF

The 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.

Still in Search of Elusive National Title,
Manatees Open 2014 Season at No. 1

With 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.

But 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.

Hill’s 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.

It’s 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 good.”

Though 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.

As 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.

In 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.

So 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 championship.

Our 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.

I 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.”

Hill’s 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.

He 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.”

A 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.

All 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.

Ex-Florida 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 31
st-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.

The 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.

But 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.

Led 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.

Though 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.

Wynn, 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.

Tim 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.

Though 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.

We 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 never left.”

Projecting Top JC Teams
Comes With Its Own Perils

While 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.

Central 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Such 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 national title.

Coincidentally, 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.

Cypress 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

RK Team ST 2013 Record Top Prospect (College Commitment)
1 State College of Florida-Manatee FL 45-13 Dustin Hagy, rhp
2 Grayson TX 40-18 Chris Gittens, rhp/1b (Arkansas-Little Rock)
3 San Jacinto TX 35-21 Dalton Viner, rhp
4 Walters State TN 37-18 Matt Pope, rhp
5 Chipola FL 38-21 Michael Mader, lhp (Florida State)
6 # Cypress CA 32-14 Steven Kane, rhp (Tennessee)
7 Central Arizona AZ 43-15 Manny Ramirez Jr. (San Francisco)
8 Iowa Western IA 45-14 Quinn Carpenter, rhp/dh (Texas Tech)
9 Orange Coast CA 23-16 David Hill, rhp/1b (San Diego)
10 Alvin TX 38-22 Nick Hernandez, rhp
11 Howard TX 37-23 Tanner Scott, lhp (Texas Tech)
12 Chattahoochee Valley AL 42-12 Dalton Rentz, rhp (Auburn)
13 Fresno CA 28-12 Connor Brogdon, rhp
14 Miami-Dade FL 35-10 Kyle Carter, lhp/of
15 Southern Nevada NV 40-17 Grant Heyman, of (Oregon State)
16 Riverside CA 25-14 Michael Peterson, rhp
17 Crowder MO 47-13 Mark Reyes, lhp (Southern Mississippi)
18 Georgia Perimeter GA 36-19 J.T. Phillips, rhp/ss
19 Cowley County KS 45-11 Storm Rynard, rhp (Arkansas)
20 Spartanburg Methodist SC 48-15 Wesley Rogers, of (UNC Wilmington)
21 LSU-Eunice LA 52-10 Chad Reeves, lhp (Delta State, Miss.)
22 Connors State OK 53-11 Jarrard Poteete, c (Kentucky)
23 San Joaquin Delta CA 28-14 Sam Held, rhp (Nevada)
24 Wabash Valley IL 46-16 Matt Schultz, rhp/of
25 Palomar CA 29-14 Francis Christy, c
26 South Mountain AZ 39-22 Scott Hoffman, rhp
27 * Central Alabama AL 43-14 John Michael Knighton, rhp (Troy)
28 Broward FL 28-22 Brandon Diaz, lhp (Florida International)
29 Cisco TX 40-15 Michael Mertz, rhp (Oklahoma State)
30 Eastern Oklahoma State OK 25-30 Koda Glover, rhp (Oklahoma State)
31 McLennan TX 24-29 Sterling Wynn, lhp (North Carolina State)
32 Gulf Coast State FL 30-21 Matt Foster, rhp
33 Heartland IL 50-11 Joe Ceja, rhp
34 Jefferson MO 36-16 Ryan Rippee, of
35 Western Nevada NV 47-20 Conor Harber, of/rhp (Oregon)
36 Polk State FL 34-16 Daniel Sweet, of (Dallas Baptist)
37 Cochise AZ 52-18 Josh Advocate, rhp (Long Beach State)
38 Middle Georgia State GA 19-32 Corey Kafka, rhp/of (North Florida)
39 Seminole State FL 36-14 Jake Cosart, rhp/of
40 Santa Fe FL 27-17 Derek Vail, rhp (Clemson)
41 Seminole State OK 38-19 Alex Polston, ss (Auburn)
42 Midland TX 48-15 Jayden Odell, rhp
43 Navarro TX 44-17 J.D. Hammer, rhp/ss )Marshall)
44 Oxnard CA 16-19 Patrick Weigel, rhp (Houston)
45 Lamar CO 41-21 Mickey Peterson, c
46 Weatherford TX 33-25 Tejay Antone, rhp (Dallas Baptist)
47 *** Gloucester County NJ 49-3 Jordan Glover, of
48 Blinn TX 31-26 Robbie Dickey, rhp (Texas State)
49 Bellevue WA 32-20 Brandon Mahovlich, rhp/dh
50 Feather River CA 29-15 Jordan Desquin, rhp/ss (Florida Gulf Coast)

* NJCAA Division I 2013 national champion
*** NJCAA Division III 2013 champion
# California 2013 state champion
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