How high should we rank Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), which has the nation’s top right-hander (Lucas Giolito) and left-hander (Max Fried) on its roster?
And what about Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.), led by senior flamethrower and likely first-round pick Lance McCullers Jr.?
Ultimately, the top spot came down to a pair of traditional national powers in Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), two schools that once again field impressive collections of players that will make them very tough to beat in their respective leagues.
But while it was tough coming up with the teams that would fill up the top 10, it was an easy decision to go with Bishop Gorman in the top spot. The Gaels, who went 35-4 and finished No. 4 in the final FAB 50 last season, get high-water marks in all the criteria we use for our rankings -- returning talent, star power, strength of schedule and previous track record.
It has been a great year overall for Gorman, with its football team finishing No. 8 in the FAB 50 and its boys’ basketball team being ranked in the top 25 of the FAB 50 while featuring the nation’s No. 2 recruit, Shabazz Muhammad.
But it’s the team on the diamond that could deliver the best campaign yet for the Gaels.
1. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) Head coach Nick Day guided the Gaels to their sixth consecutive state title last season, his first on the job. And this year’s squad could be even better with a number of talented returning starters both on offense and on the mound.
Leading the way is projected first-round pick Joey Gallo, an LSU recruit who hit .471 with 25 homers and 78 RBIs last year. He also went 3-1 on the mound with a 1.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. Overall, the team has 15 returning seniors. Along with Gallo, there’s speedy outfielder John Sewald, who signed with Arizona State, and pitcher Cody Roper, a UNLV recruit who went 10-0 last year.
Gorman will face a difficult out-of-state schedule that includes a trip to Cary, N.C., in March for the USA Baseball National High School Invitational. And the schedule back home isn’t subpar, either. Other teams in town have been nationally ranked in recent years, often as a result of those teams beating the Gaels.
2. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) Last season, the Monarchs went 24-6 and fell to Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.) in the CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinals a year after winning the whole thing. This year’s squad could be even better than the championship squad.
Coach Burt Call brings back seven starters, including senior pitcher/outfielder Ty Moore, a UCLA recruit who was the Orange County Player of the Year, and junior catcher Jeremy Martinez. Last year, Moore hit .510 with 37 RBIs and went 10-2 on the mound. Martinez hit .388 with 32 RBIs, and in November played on the USA Baseball 18U National Team that won a gold medal at the COPABE 18U/AAA Pan American Championships.
Other top players include senior third baseman Bryan Jones, senior outfielder Tyler Kiehnle and junior shortstop Ryan McMahon.
3. Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) If star power is a key criteria for a preseason ranking, then the Tigers are right up there with Bishop Gorman, thanks in large part to McCullers Jr., a senior pitcher/shortstop and one of the most coveted MLB prospects in the nation. McCullers is most viewed as a pitching prospect, but he’s also strong at the plate, hitting .422 with seven homers and 24 RBIs last year.
The team’s No. 2 pitcher last year, junior Spencer Trayner returns with senior right-hander Conor O’Brien, a North Carolina State recruit, and senior first baseman/right-hander Max Beermann, who signed with Villanova.
Jesuit went 27-7 last season and lost to Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.), which checks in at No. 8 in the preseason FAB 50, in the Class 4A state final.
4. Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) The Tigers are the preseason No. 1 ranked Class 5A team in Texas and for good reason. They won the 2010 title with seven sophomores in the lineup and advanced to last season's state semifinals with only one senior starter before losing to Coronado (Lubbock, Texas) to finish 34-7.
The team’s senior leader is four-year starter and Texas recruit Courtney Hawkins. The right-handed pitcher/outfielder was 10-2 on the mound last season and batted .422 and was the only junior to earn a spot on the Class 5A All-State first team. Other four-year regulars are right-handed pitcher O'Shea Dumes and utility player Chris Cano. Josh Cruz is a two-time all-star at third base, while sophomore catcher Michael Cantu is a rising star.
Shortstop Trey Rodriguez, outfielder Jason Franco and second baseman Julian Salinas are other hitters pitchers will have to worry about in Carroll’s loaded lineup.
5. Spanish Fork (Utah) The defending Class 5A state champs start this season two spots higher in the FAB 50 than they finished in 2011. The Dons, who went 29-3 and won their third straight state title, have perhaps the nation’s best one-two combo in seniors Kayden Porter and Hayden Nielsen.
Porter, the 2011 ESPNHS National Junior of the Year, belted 14 homers with 50 RBIs and a .570 batting average. On the mound, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder also went 9-1 with 85 strikeouts in 59 innings. Nielsen, who quarterbacked the Dons during the football season, is even better in baseball. He posted an 11-1 pitching mark with a 2.11 ERA and hit .398.
Two other players to watch are senior outfielder Andy Perkins (.440, 25 RBIs) and junior pitcher Brady Corless (5-0, 1.25).
6. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) When a team boasts the top-ranked right-handed pitching prospect in the nation and the top-ranked left-hander, it’s easy to get excited. Count us among those who can’t wait to see what RHP Lucas Giolito and LHP Max Fried will do on the same staff.
The dream pairing became a reality when Fried’s former school, Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.), dropped its athletic program after last season. But Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour knows it will take more than two elite pitchers for the Wolverines to be a champion in the ultra-competitive CIF Southern Section. Good thing he has got some solid reinforcements.
The team lost just four seniors from last spring’s squad, which went 23-8 and won the Mission League title. Junior catcher Arden Pabst, the team’s top hitter (.430, 30 RBIs, Georgia Tech commit), and junior first baseman Joe Corrigan (.355, USC commit) are the best returning position players.
7. Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) The defending Class AAAAA state champion Panthers are the team to beat in Georgia. They return eight starters from a unit that went 29-10 last spring, including six who have signed or committed to play college ball.
The leader is Matt Olson, a right-handed pitcher/first baseman who has pledged to Vanderbilt. Olson batted .426 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 2011 and went 7-2 with 75 punchouts in 60 innings on the mound.
Junior outfielder Josh Hart, a Georgia Tech commit, batted .449 last year. The trio of senior outfielder/pitcher Jack Esmonde (.409, 20 RBIs; 4-1, 2.76 ERA, 4 saves), junior catcher/pitcher Jarrett Freeland and sophomore lefty Mac Marshall have all pledged to Georgia. Senior shortstop Edwin Arias (.458, 7 HRs, 34 RBIs) is also back and has signed with North Georgia.
8. Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) After winning the Class 4A title last spring, the Mavericks are seeking a third straight state crown this season. It could definitely happen, because a veteran cast of players returns from a team that went 28-3 and finished No. 3 in the final Powerade FAB 50.
Two seniors on that team, pitcher Alex Fernandez and third baseman Jose Brizuela, were selected in the 2011 MLB draft, but eight veterans return. Topping the list is left-handed pitcher Andre Martinez, who went 12-2 with a 1.50 ERA last season and has signed with Florida State. Other returning senior talent includes right-hander/first baseman Nick Travieso (Miami), pitcher Ryan Castellanos (Illinois), utility player Nick Basto (Florida International), outfielder Adam Duarte (St. Thomas) and infielder Jason Morozowski (South Carolina-Upstate).
9. Lakewood (Calif.) Three-fourths of the roster from last year’s 29-5 team is back, and that squad went to the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals. Longtime coach Spud O’Neil has quality players all over the diamond, including junior shortstop J.P. Crawford, who has been an impact player since his freshman year.
USC-bound senior hurler Shane Watson (10-2, 1.16 ERA last year) will be the Lancers’ ace. The team will also rely on junior outfielder Jonathan Pasillas, senior infielder/pitcher Jacob Worrell and senior catcher J.P. Yakel.
10. Calallen (Corpus Christi, Texas) Two top-10 teams from the same city? You better believe it. Calallen joins Carroll (No. 4) in repping Corpus Christi. After going 39-6 and finishing as the Class 4A state runner-up for the second consecutive season last spring, Calallen brings back six starters in a bid to win that elusive title.
All-State pitcher/shortstop Wyatt Mathisen was dominant last season, going 10-2 with a 1.27 ERA on the mound and batting .461 with 13 homers and 59 runs batted in at the dish. Other key returnees are senior outfielder Tyler Neslony (.384), senior pitcher Armando Arrevelo (12-1) and junior outfielder Patrick Dorsey (.409, 10 homers).