Pinellas County baseball teams knew they would have to pay a price for having so many new starters last season. The growing pains showed, with 2009 marking the first time the county did not have a team make the state semifinals in three seasons. Along the way though, teams loaded with underclassmen soaked up every lesson. This season should be the payoff. The top three players from last season, Dunedin shortstop Casey Turgeon, Osceola pitcher Taylor Layner and St. Petersburg Catholic pitcher Justin Tedder, all return. And they are only juniors. Watching their maturation will be just one of the enticing story lines to follow during what promises to be a banner season. "The talent level took a little bit of a drop-off, but it's back to being as strong as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s," Barons coach John Vigue said.
Class 6A, District 7
Teams: Countryside, North Port, Palm Harbor University, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Sarasota Riverview
Outlook: The good news is that Alonso, the defending state 6A state champion and the state's top-ranked team, has moved to another district. The bad news is the Ravens were replaced by Sarasota, which made the playoffs 17 straight seasons before last season. The three county teams all have strong enough teams to contend for the playoffs. The Cougars lost some key players to graduation but should be solid defensively, led by catcher Danny Torres, a USF signee. The Hurricanes also graduated some starters but have a veteran staff and some strong hitters, such as outfielder Danny Murray. The Green Devils, which made a surprise run to the conference title game last season, return 10 starters, including outfielder Clarence Wilson and pitcher Kyle Chavez.
Class 5A, District 11
Teams: Clearwater, Dunedin, East Lake, Seminole, Tarpon Springs
Outlook: This is one of the county's toughest districts, with three teams that made the playoffs last year and two others that were in contention. The Falcons, the defending district champs, are still the favorite after losing just two regular contributors from last season. Dunedin's best player is shortstop Casey Turgeon, a junior who already has committed to Florida. Alex Norris and Mike Clarkson are the top pitchers on the Falcons' deep staff. The Warhawks will be tough, especially with the return of pitcher Tim Lamoureux and infielder Steve Attaway. Seminole also got a boost when infielder Alex McGathey decided to transfer from Northside Christian. The Eagles have a strong pitching staff, anchored by Brian Johnson and Taylor Lesch, and some tough hitters with infielder Will Fulmer. The Tornadoes have a good battery with catcher Andrew McCormick and pitcher Sean O'Brien. The Spongers need to find replacements for two top arms.
Class 5A, District 12
Teams: Boca Ciega, Gibbs, Largo, Northeast, Pinellas Park
Outlook: The Vikings and Patriots benefitted the most from the reclassification of districts, and both have a good chance of reaching the postseason. Northeast has 11 seniors returning and has deep staff, led by Noel Thomas, Jerrod Flanagan and James Grey. Flanagan also is a solid hitter, along with Shawn Delmontage. Pinellas Park also has many seniors, with Donny Norris the ace, and Cody Arnold and Kaleb Paulton among the top sluggers.
Class 4A, District 10
Teams: Bradenton Bayshore, Bradenton Braden River, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, Dixie Hollins, Lakewood, Osceola, Palmetto
Outlook: The Warriors made great strides last year, reaching the region semifinals in Class 5A. They move down to 4A and head into the season as the district favorite. Taylor Layner, the St. Petersburg Times' 2009 pitcher of the year, is back. He has a solid team around him with Mike Boriboun, T.J. Glessner and Scott Schlapinski also returning. The Spartans stayed in title contention through most of last season and return the core of their lineup.
Class 3A, District 10
Teams: Berkeley Prep, Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic, Tampa Catholic
Outlook: The Barons are in position to win the district after finishing as the runnerup last season. Justin Tedder, the ace, is part of a veteran staff. And there are plenty of hitters, including Connor Obrochta, who was among the leaders in home runs last season. Coach John Vigue said his outfield is one of the county's best defensively. The Marauders, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005, have a shot to get back with a team that features plenty of returners, chief among them pitcher Patrick Camporini and infielder Preston Packral.
Class 2A, District 10
Teams: Bishop McLaughlin, Brooks-DeBartolo, Calvary Christian, Indian Rocks Christian, Tampa Prep
Outlook: Adam Moravick, who previously coached at Northside Christian and was an assistant at Seminole, takes over the Golden Eagles. He will have plenty of arms, led by seniors Jeff Burch and Tyler Guttuso, and juniors Daniel Hardesty and Brian Balbin.
Class 2A, District 11
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Bradenton St. Stephen's, Northside Christian, Sarasota Out-of-Door, Shorecrest
Outlook: Once again, the Mustangs and Chargers are county's strongest teams in this district. Northside took some hits because of graduation but still returns Kyle Turner, Harrison Ralph and Robbie Williams, among others. Shorecrest's strength still will be pitching and defense. Marc Brakeman, a catcher and pitcher, was a 2A all-state player last season after hitting .456. First baseman Jon Oorlog was among the county's RBI leaders with 31. And utility player Spencer Heath hit .405 for the Chargers.
Class A, District 9
Teams: Academy of the Lakes, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carrollwood Day, Keswick Christian, Lakeside Christian, Tampa Bay Christian
Outlook: The Crusaders have been the class of this district the past few seasons but will have a tough time repeating with the addition of Cambridge, which made the Class A finals last season. Canterbury's top two players are pitcher Harrison Hall and catcher DeSean Thomas. Keswick moved into the district and has a few young players who could do well, including catcher Preston Holland and pitcher Kevin Stacy. Lakeside, which fielded its first team since 2003 last season, will rely on Jason Woods and Max Collins.