Baseball preview: Pitchers should get the edge as offenses must deal with new, less-powerful bats
Monday, February 13, 2012
by Matt Porter
Dwyer's Jamal Martin shows off the new BBCOR bat he'll use in 2012. (Bruce Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Recent rules changes have let pitchers gain ground in their war against hitters.
They're now ready to reclaim what was once theirs.
"They're going to take back the inside part of the plate," American Heritage coach Carm Mazza said.
Thanks to new nationwide bat regulations, pitchers will attack the strike zone with renewed zeal. High school players will swing BBCOR-standard bats, which are composite metal bats deadened to perform similar to wood. The new standard has shrunk sweet spots and put a premium on fundamentals.
Bunt attempts, hit-and-run tries and stolen-base totals will increase. And this year, home runs won't come cheap. "You're going to lose a lot of extra pop and power that you had before," Jupiter coach Andy Mook said.
Last year, St. Andrew's junior Danny Young led the area in homers with 10, while Dwyer junior Tim Lynch tied for the large schools lead with 7. Both players will have trouble matching those numbers in their senior seasons.
"I know a couple of our guys have been frustrated," Dwyer coach Frank Torre said. "You've just got to hit the ball hard. Maybe guys last year you wouldn't have bunted with, you might think about it now."
That should mean plenty of tight games. Fitting, since statewide district realignment has created the potential for some razor-thin playoff races.
Here's a look at the area districts:
Last year's nine-team, power-packed District 9-8A has shrunk to five teams, but all are playoff-worthy. Dwyer will count on FSU signee and Forest Hill transfer Jamal Martin and Lynch, a Southern Mississippi signee, to provide offense. Junior Cheyne Bickel, an Ole Miss commit, is one of the area's top arms. Rival Jupiter is loaded with talent, including senior pitchers Callahan Brown (Mississippi State signee) and Victor Gonzalez (FIU). New Warriors coach Andy Mook says he believes his team has a shot at states.
Also in 9-8A, veteran Palm Beach Central coach Scott Benedict leads a strong cast with senior outfielder Brady Roberson, junior third baseman Ian Hagenmiller and sophomore shortstop Danny Hernandez. Also, Palm Beach Gardens is senior-heavy and very dangerous, while Wellington has a stable of reliable pitchers and Miami signee Peter Rivera at third base.
"It stinks we're all in the same district," Mook said, echoing his colleagues.
District 10-8A is another deep group. Last year's state finalist Park Vista looks like the favorite, thanks to Virginia signee Robbie Coman catching FAU-bound lefty Brandon Rhodes, and Penn State signee Tyler Kendall at short. Seminole Ridge has its own outstanding shortstop, senior Marcus Mooney, and power-hitting outfielder Courtney King. Boca Raton, led by new coach Jeff Rosa, is a dark horse. Spanish River's hopes rest with senior pitchers Mike Chambers and Luca Rispoli. Same goes for John I. Leonard with junior Noel Canete.
Last year's Class 5A state champion West Boca Raton is the favorite in District 14-7A. The Bulls return dominant lefty and Florida signee Parker Danciu, and junior catcher Michael Barash, an LSU commit. Atlantic should make a push, while Olympic Heights and Lake Worth could be in the mix by season's end.
Royal Palm Beach, Santaluces and Forest Hill each has reason to believe in its District 13-7A chances. Royal Palm will be much improved in coach Brian Joros' second year and features one of the area's fastest players, outfielder Christopher Barr. Santaluces coach Nick Franco says he has a deeper team than last year's playoff squad, albeit he lacks the same pitching. Forest Hill has the district's best arm, strikeout machine Mike Murray, and outstanding hitter Jose Crespo.
Jensen Beach is the favorite in District 15-5A, but don't count out Boynton Beach, which last year won more games (8) than in the past six years combined. Suncoast should challenge Boynton for the second playoff spot. Fort Pierce Westwood is rebuilding.
The District 12-4A title will be hard-won. St. Andrew's lost pitching but has Young in the outfield and Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest-transfer Ronnie Rocca at short. Cardinal Newman is young and capable, and will be coached by assistant Daniel Prieto, while longtime coach Jack Kokinda is on medical leave. Lincoln Park graduated 13 seniors but should compete.
District 13-3A should be a battle between American Heritage and Summit Christian. Heritage has three outstanding arms: FSU-bound lefty Dylan Silva, FAU signee Trevor Maloney and hard-throwing righty Dylan Arnold. Summit, the defending 1A state champs, returns senior catcher John Silviano and junior infielder Efren Sanchez. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II is young and hungry. The Eagles also have a reason to celebrate: they'll open a new home field, 31 years after the school's opening.
Benjamin has a shot at its first district title since 1994, but King's Academy will push the young Bucs in District 12-3A. Benjamin lefty Bennett Sousa is one of the top players nationally in the sophomore class, and outfielder D.J. Paone is one of several Benjamin juniors receiving Division I interest. King's is coming off a regional final appearance and returns Florida-bound senior catcher Kevin Stypulkowski. Jupiter Christian won five games last year but returns plenty of senior depth.
Scouts will be watching independent Trinity Christian, which has three Division I signees: catcher Phildrick Llewellyn (FIU) and dominant pitchers Alexander Rodriguez (Ball State) and Byron Ferguson (Bethune-Cookman). The Warriors welcome two talented imports in Milton Croes (Aruba) and Martis Sjabhabar (Curacao).
Treasure Coast should be strong in District 6-8A, but needs a big year from shortstop Alvin Swoope to hold off Centennial and Vero Beach. District 12-7A looks to be a race between sharp-hitting South Fork and pitching-rich Martin County, which returns most of an 18-4 squad. South Fork's glut of young talent includes its sophomore catcher, Miami commit Peter Crocitto. Okeechobee and Port St. Lucie could challenge those two. In District 11-2A, Community Christian runs like a track team and returns six players who hit better than .400.
The Post's preseason top 10
3. Park Vista
4. Palm Beach Central
5. Trinity Christian
6. American Heritage
7. West Boca Raton
9. Martin County
10. Palm Beach Gardens
Ten players to watch
Jamal Martin, OF, Dwyer, Sr. - FSU-bound bundle of fast-twitch muscle hit .417 last year for Forest Hill.
Christopher Barr, OF, Royal Palm Beach, Sr. - Speedy catalyst for improving Wildcats hit .341 with 16 steals.
Robbie Coman, C, Park Vista, Sr. - Virginia signee hit .361 and was leader of state finalists.
Marcus Mooney, SS, Seminole Ridge, Sr. - Hit .493 and played slick defense. Two older brothers playing pro ball.
Mike Murray, RHP, Forest Hill, Sr. - Had 96 strikeouts last season, best among returning starters.
Dylan Silva, LHP, American Heritage, Sr. - One of several outstanding AH arms, FSU signee.
Michael Barash, C, West Boca Raton, Jr. - Consistent producer for state champs. Committed to LSU.
Parker Danciu, LHP, West Boca Raton, Sr. - Area's premier big-game pitcher had 1.43 ERA last season. Signed with UF.
Alexander Rodriguez, P/1B, Trinity Christian, Sr. - Hit .451 and struck out 54 batters in 44 innings last year.
Danny Young, OF, St. Andrew's, Sr. - Florida signee led the area in homers (12) and batting average (.565) last year.