2021 Central Section D1 Baseball Preview
It’s back. Baseball is back.
It’s been 23 months since a baseball section champion has been crowned, but we’re just days away from first pitches being thrown all over the Central Valley. We’ll have a real season—at least it looks that way. All Clovis schools are slated to play anywhere between 25-29 games in the regular season before playoffs ramp up. Yes, playoffs. Those seem like they will happen, too.
We’ll have a different looking schedule in the Tri-River Athletic Conference. Most notably, teams will be playing their opponent three times per week once league play starts. Games will be held Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday each week. Pitching depth will need to be at a premium.
2020 was shaping up to be one of the most competitive years in recent Central Section history. Teams were, mostly, led by senior studs who are off playing college baseball in present time.
2021 will look a little different. There are many new names, upper and lower classmen, looking to cement their place at the varsity level.
Pitching is strong in the south valley. Between Redwood, Tulare Western, Stockdale, Frontier, and Liberty eight pitchers have given a college commitment.
In town, the pressure falls on the Bears over at Buchanan. Word has gotten around that the Bears boast eight rostered players who have either already signed, or committed, to D1 colleges. However, all of them are justified…and there will be more before the season ends.
Memorial saw one of the school’s most talented teams go through the program a season ago, but they still have a few core pieces looking for unfinished business.
In Broncoland, the Riley Cooper era has come to an end. He’ll forever go down as a section great. It might be the offense that gets Clovis North going early on as their roster is filled with talented and athletic players at each position.
Oh, and don’t count out the Bullard Knights who have one of the best program builders in state history at the helm in Tom Donald.
We’ll have breakdowns of each Clovis team in the coming days, but for now, enjoy the Clovis Sports Report preseason Top 10 and everything that comes with it.
***PSA*** Throughout the season we would love to showcase game highlights if you happen to catch anything on video and we aren’t there. Send your video or DM to me on Twitter @a__kemp and we will make sure to include it in our “Baseball Notebook” features.
Clovis Sports Report Official Division I preseason Top 10
- Clovis North
- Clovis West
On the bubble: Frontier, San Luis Obispo, Centennial, Tulare Western, Righetti, Clovis East
1. Redwood – It’s rare for a public high school pitching staff to have three Division I commits, but that’s just what the Rangers have lined up for 2021 and beyond. Senior righty Ethan Garcia will lead the way with a fastball that can climb towards 90 MPH when it’s on. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered to Long Beach State. Junior Daniel Parker and sophomore Joey Volchko will be his pitching mates. Parker is committed to Washington State and Volchko has given a verbal to Stanford.
2. Buchanan – A true #1 has yet to emerge for the Bears, but there are lots of options. Junior lefty Max Bernal is the most experienced as he started, and won, all of his starts as a sophomore. Fellow juniors, Sam Tookoian (UCSB commit) and Austin Watson have high-end stuff as well. Temo Becerra will again be used in the closer role while senior Christian Williams has impressed this preseason. Sophomores Jayden Mandal (Fresno State) and Colton O’Toole (Long Beach State) will push for innings.
3. Memorial – Tanner Sagouspe is dominant enough to put the Panthers on this list by himself. The senior has excellent command of his high-velocity fastball with devastating off-speed to go with it. There’s more in the arsenal for the Panthers, too. Senior Josh Castro is a seasoned vet and Saint Mary’s commit Giovanni Blanchette will see innings as well.
Honorable mention – Central, Clovis North, Stockdale
1. Buchanan – The Bears are built with offense and could trot out a lineup with six position players who are either signed or committed to D1 programs–that number could rise as the season goes on. Evan Wallace (UC Irvine), Josh Williams (UCSB), Corbin Ybarra (Washington State) all have a nice balance of power and speed. Austin Young (Fresno State), Max Bernal, and Jett Ruby (Fresno State) can be RBI machines. Sophomore switch hitter JP Acosta has continued to make strides while junior Drew Smith has started to garner college interest with a heavy bat from the right side.
2. Stockdale – Head coach Brad Showers has got to like the lineup that the ‘Stangs boast in 2021. Stockdale was very young a season ago, but they return 9 of their 10 top hitters. Austin Charles (UCSB), Adolph Sykes (UCSB), Ruben Rodriguez (San Diego State), Ryan Featherston (Oregon), and Adam Enyart (Saint Mary’s) will set the tone. In fact, all of the previously mentioned players are juniors or sophomores—all with varsity experience already. Expect Stockdale to be a mainstay here for the next couple of seasons.
3. Clovis North – The Broncos have a masher in the middle of their order in junior catcher Derrick Cruz. He’s big, strong, and provides thump from the right side. He’ll have plenty of collegiate offers by summer. Senior Blake King returns. The first-baseman led the team in HRs a season ago. Saint Mary’s signee Rees Kent is as steady as they come and Columbia commit Cole Fellows could provide extra power in the middle of the order. You could make a case that Ryan Vance is as fast as anyone in the TRAC.
Honorable mention – Memorial, Liberty, Clovis West
Infield (including catchers):
1. Stockdale– We talked about many of these guys in the hitting section, but the Mustangs have four D1 commits around the infield. The UCSB duo, Charles and Sykes, are an excellent tandem up the middle. Featherston locks down 3B when he doesn’t pitch while Ruben Rodriguez is used as a utility guy wherever an opening is. This is a deep infield and they all will be around again next year.
2. Buchanan– Temo Becerra and JP Acosta rival what Stockdale brings to the table up the middle. Both are rangy and smooth. Drew Smith has stepped up to grab the third-base spot while Max Bernal, Jett Ruby, or Christian Williams could all see time at 1B. There is enough quality depth to move guys around when Becerra or Bernal are on the mound.
3. Clovis North – Isaiah Munoz and Rees Kent will anchor the left side of the infield. The pair of future Saint Mary’s Gaels have impressed coaches throughout the offseason. Second base has been a competition and there is no shortage of options. Senior Ivan Ruiz and juniors Cole Fellows & Nick Shows are both in the mix, but there could be a number of different infield combinations because of how many of them pitch.
Honorable mention – Liberty, Memorial, Bullard
1. Buchanan – Josh Williams, Corbin Ybarra, Sky Collins, and Evan Wallace will all see time in a crowded outfield. Williams, who is UCSB bound, will patrol CF. Collins doesn’t have the offer sheet as the others, but he might be the most athletic and is the fastest player on the team. Ybarra has a huge arm from right field while Wallace serves as more of a utility guy and will fill wherever an opening is.
2. Clovis North – Ryan Vance is one of the fastest players around with arm strength to go with it. Injuries held Hunter Jansen back last season, but when healthy he has as good of tools as you’ll find at this level.
3. Clovis West – Nick Almanza can absolutely fly and has had strong showing in centerfield so far in the preseason. Cayden Munster is athletic and has a huge arm when slotted in right field. A plethora of guys will compete for the last OF spot. Infielders Nathan Baeza and Kaleb Lattimer are athletic and can play out there on a whim if the infield is full. Chris Flores, John Parks, Dyan Senneway, and JC Delgado, among others, could find themselves in a crowded outfield as well.
Honorable mention – Bullard, Memorial, Liberty
The Dean’s List
On the Bump:
Nastiest stuff: Tanner Sagouspe, Memorial
Hardest Thrower: Ryan Spalliero, Central
Highest ceiling: Joey Volchko, Redwood
Breakout year: Austin Watson, Buchanan
Keep an eye on: Ryan Vance, Clovis North
Deserves More Attention: Jack Anker, Tulare Western; Dylan Smith, Frontier
On the rise: Cameron Cunnings, Bullard
Senior step up: Drew Steinhardt, Clovis
Freshman Phenom: Tyler Patrick, Clovis West
At the Plate:
Toughest out: Eddie Saldivar, Memorial
Hit machine: Adolph Sykes, Stockdale
Biggest threat to leave the yard: Blake King, Clovis North
Seasoned vet: Brady Zavorek, Bullard
Under the radar: Michael Bell, Memorial
Steadiest approach: Austin Young, Buchanan
Best 1-2-3: Cutter Coffey; Jacob Tobias; Kaleb Dickey, Liberty
Breakout year: Evan Wallace, Buchanan
Newcomer of the year: Derrick Cruz, Clovis North
Underclassman to watch: Cayden Munster, Clovis West
Freshman Phenom: Beckett Zavorek, Bullard
On the Infield:
Arm strength: Temo Becerra, Buchanan
Most accolades: Cutter Coffey, Liberty
Most consistent: Rees Kent, Clovis North
Most flash: JP Acosta, Buchanan
Range: Austin Charles, Stockdale
Ability to play anywhere: Ruben Rodriguez, Stockdale
Under the radar: Logan Sumter, Clovis
Newcomer of the year: Kaleb Lattimer, Clovis West
In the Outfield:
Biggest arm: Corbin Ybarra, Buchanan
Most range: Ryan Vance, Clovis North
Under the radar: Alex Haider, Clovis East
Super utility: Mick Backowski, Clovis
Breakout year: Travis Preston, Bullard