Land O'Lakes lost a preseason game at Jesuit 15-0. Pasco has lost its ace for the time being. Zephyrhills has lost its most productive returning pitcher for the start of the season. What hasn't been lost? Our minds. For all their preseason plights, we're not naive enough to think the Gators, Pirates and Bulldogs (not to mention Ridgewood) won't contend for local supremacy in 2009. As for who will challenge them, well, you might think we have, in fact, lost our minds when we tell you.
Preseason No. 1 Zephyrhills
Potentially, Zephyrhills could field its best team since the 2000 club that reached the Class 4A state tournament. Left-handed pitcher Nick Burgess, who graduated, is the only significant loss from a club that finished 15-12. USF signee Austin Adams, who missed a ton of mound time last season due to forearm problems, leads a pitching staff that features no fewer than five formidable arms. In the field, senior Kenten Monbarren (.346 last season) may be the area's most underrated shortstop, and 6-foot-7 pitcher/first baseman Tyler Guy (three homers) is brimming with upside. If there's a glaring concern, it's consistency at the plate and — of all things — attitude. "We had great practices (last year), but at times we didn't fight back when teams put it to us," coach Bruce Cimorelli said. "I'm hoping it changes, but I haven't seen it so far."
Best of the rest
(2008 records in parentheses)
The Pirates remain lethal up the middle with 2008 Times North Suncoast Player of the Year Jake Schrader at shortstop, senior Jorge Jaramillo at catcher and Purdue football signee Josh Johnson in centerfield. But the loss of right-handed ace Henry Johnson (broken neck) means coach Ricky Giles must rely on talented but unproven arms. "Those young guys were going to have to pitch anyway if we were going to be productive," Giles said. "We couldn't pitch Henry to death."
The Rams, competitive despite being woefully green in 2008, are a year older and stronger. Pitcher/shortstop Jay Mattos, catcher Mike Vavasis and centerfielder Jon Balk — all seniors — make Ridgewood strong up the middle. Having coach Larry Beets doesn't hurt.
Land O'Lakes (24-4)
Coach Calvin Baisley lost top pitchers Trey Dahl (USF) and Matt Fuglesang (South Florida CC), but has reloaded his staff with some promising arms, including junior Jason Garcia (3-1, 2.21 ERA in '08). Centerfielder J.J. Downum, who was 26-for-26 in stolen base attempts last season, is the top returning everyday player.
The Mustangs, who played great down the stretch last season, should be favored to win in each game in which senior lefty Patrick Schuster pitches.
|Five hitters no pitcher wants to see|
|Jake Schrader, Sr., Pasco||Potential draftee had staggering 46 RBIs as junior|
|Josh Johnson, Sr., Pasco||His eight homers led the North Suncoast last year|
|J.J. Downum, Sr., Land O'Lakes||Best leadoff hitter around|
|Jay Mattos, Sr., Ridgewood||.410 hitter also is Rams' most reliable arm|
|Tyler Guy, Jr., Zephyrhills||A 6-foot-7 hitter with power. Enough said.|
|Five pitchers no hitter wants to see|
|LHP Patrick Schuster, Sr., Mitchell||Signed with Florida, but we think he'll get drafted|
|RHP Austin Adams, Sr., Zephyrhills||Signed with USF; battled arm problems in '08|
|LHP Mike Adams, Sr., Nature Coast:||Rangy senior should be Sharks' ace this season|
|RHP Connor Coplon, Jr., Sunlake||If he stays healthy, can beat anyone around|
|RHP Brad Renner, Sr., Land O'Lakes:||Our pick to be area's breakout pitcher of 2009|
The dark horses
Central (7-16): Opposing Hernando coaches are wary of the Bears, who return two quality arms in right-hander Mike Ogren and lefty Ryan Garrity.
Sunlake (9-16): Former longtime Chamberlain coach Dick Rohrberg inherits nearly everyone, including power pitcher Connor Coplon (43 innings, 65 strikeouts), from a team that was competitive in its inaugural season.
River Ridge (11-13): The Knights totaled 17 runs in two games during the preseason City Classic at Gulf. Three of the top four hitters are back, and there's experience on the mound.
On the shelf
Prominent players who will start the season on the disabled list:
RHP Chris Fern, Zephyrhills
A 6-foot-4 senior who won six games and posted a 1.91 ERA in 2008, Fern is recovering from a sprained ankle sustained during basketball season.
RHP Henry Johnson, Pasco
Should he take the mound at any point this season, we're guessing Johnson will set a ballpark record for goosebumps. Johnson, who broke his neck while horsing around with teammates Jan. 21 and needed two surgeries, hopes to be back in time for the district tournament.
LHP Brett Maggard, Springstead
Maggard, who emerged as a formidable southpaw and No. 2 hitter as a freshman last year, still is recovering from offseason elbow ligament replacement surgery. Coach Frank Vitale said Maggard should be cleared to hit sometime in March, but he won't pitch this season.