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Hit it out of the Park
SCV Baseball Teams are Ready
May, 2014 - Issue #115
Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock
When baseball season arrives, it's special every year for the Santa Clarita Valley. From youth baseball to professional baseball, the SCV has a reputation as being a significant player in the sport. So let's get you ready for the 2014 season. Here are eight topics for Santa Clarita Valley baseball. We focus on the high schools, but also give you a primer on college and the pros.

"From youth baseball to professional baseball,
the SCV has a reputation as being a SIGNIFICANT PLAYER in the sport."
The Foothill League race: It's wide open - again. As last year showed when Canyon unexpectedly split the Foothill League championship with West Ranch, don't sleep on any team. However, Hart has been ranked the highest in preseason polls, with a mix of veterans (Nick Valaika, Dayton Provost and good young pitching!). But Valencia has a loaded offense with the likes of shortstop Keston Hiura, first baseman Devin Davis and outfielder Chad Bible. Saugus has depth at pitching with six quality juniors and West Ranch has two leaders bound for NCAA Division I schools in hard-throwing pitcher Jake Bird (UCLA) and infielder Jagger Rusconi (USC). Canyon is strong again with two-way player Justin Stark and varsity veteran Cole Mears.

Player of the Year candidates: The Foothill Player of the Year has historically gone to the best team, so there are lots of candidates. But let's go with one from each team. With Hart, it's Valaika, who has yet to see his peak, but when healthy can hit, hit for power and field. With Valencia, the table setter is Hiura, who hit for the cycle in preleague play. With Canyon, that's Stark, who could be the school's Number One pitcher and hitter - much like 2013 graduate Max Weinstein was last year. For Saugus, the offense revolves around Roy Verdejo, a four-year varsity player with a big bat. At West Ranch, it's Rusconi, who is a joy to watch in that he does everything well and has an extremely-high baseball IQ. For Golden Valley, it will rely on Grambling State commit Jaiden France, another two-way player.

The playoffs: Of late, area teams haven't done much damage in the CIF postseason. Foothill champion Canyon was out in the first round last season, a year after West Ranch showed some might by reaching the Division I semifinals. But it's been more than a decade since an SCV team has reached a CIF final. Usually, dominant pitching gets teams far, and this year appears to be a season with less dominant pitching locally. It will be a tall task for an area team to get to a championship game.

What's new: Golden Valley has a new head coach in Gino Pomilia, and therefore a new philosophy. That philosophy has included a greater emphasis on fundamental baseball. The Grizzlies have never reached a CIF postseason, but have been close in years past. The question is: Do they have enough firepower to get there this season?

Small schools: Santa Clarita Christian was the preseason Number One in Division VII. Trinity Classical Academy could suffer from athletes playing other sports, but should be competitive.

The colleges: The Master's College is looking to return to the NAIA World Series after one of its most successful seasons ever. The Mustangs started off 2014 as one of the best teams in the country thanks to the hot hitting of Steve Karkenny and Jonathan Popadics and the pitching of Saugus grad Tommy Kister. College of the Canyons, meanwhile, was hovering around the .500 mark for the first half of the season and relied on the big hitting of infielder Roberto Ramos and pitching of West Ranch High grad J.C. Cloney.

The prospects: Hart High graduate and pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization Tyler Glasnow, just 20 years old, was ranked by MLB.com as baseball's Number 27 prospect. Fellow Hart grad and Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, 23, has slipped to 73 on the list, but he is the most Major League ready prospect from the SCV.

The Major Leaguers: This is an important year for Hart grad James Shields, as he is in his final year under contract with the Kansas City Royals. The Royals are a playoff contender and a big season for Shields could mean a big payday this offseason. Speaking of playoffs, Saugus grad and pitcher Tommy Milone could be a factor for an Oakland A's team that was in the Major League playoffs last year.
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