Preseason Top Baseball Teams: Saline, Rockford, Brother Rice look like the teams to beat
Saline – Few programs have experienced as many tournament disappointments as Saline.
Four times the Hornets lost in a state final and have never taken home the championship trophy. Last season Saline was ranked No. 1 in the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association poll before it was upset by Taylor Kennedy, 1-0, in a Division 1 region final.
Saline finished 35-3, return four players who signed with Division I schools, two others signed with Wayne State and add a few underclassmen who have received strong interest from Division I schools and coach Scott Theisen has another team expected to challenge for that elusive state title.
Saline is State Champs’ No. 1 team in the preseason.
Three players signed with nearby Eastern Michigan including the ace of the staff, right-hander John Holt. Holt is 6-4 and his fastball has been timed in the mid-to-upper 80s. Zachary Owings (2B) is a left-handed hitter who batted .380 last season.
Mike Monahan is the third player to sign with EMU and he’ll share time with senior Cal Livesay behind the plate.
Thomas Miller (SS) is a four-year starter who signed with Oakland.
Sean O’Keefe is perhaps the team’s top athlete. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, O’Keefe is a hard-throwing right-hander who will play first base when he’s not pitching. A defensive end on the football team, Theisen said O’Keefe has made multiple official visits for both sports.
Junior Zach Schwartzenberger is a switch hitter and he’s been offered a scholarship by Northwestern.
Theisen said sophomore left-handed pitcher Cole Daniels (6-0, 215) is a Division I prospect.
2. Rockford (26-11), Div. 1: The Rams finished second in the O-K Red Division then lost in a regional final, 1-0, to Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills. Twelves seniors return and they’re led by pitching duo of Jack Weisenburger and Bryce Kelley. Weisenburger, a right-hander, signed with Michigan. Kelley, a lefty, signed with Michigan State. Both will play the outfield when not on the mound. The Rams will use two catchers. Nick Ignastoski is the better hitter; Nate Anderson the better fielder. Nolan Bryant (2B) will bat leadoff after batting .360 last season. The Nos. 3 and 4 in the rotation are senior lefthander Brock Weston and sophomore right-hander Logan Lee.
3. Birmingham Brother Rice (27-9), Div. 1: The Warriors won the Catholic League title again before they were upset by Utica Eisenhower in a regional semifinal. Karl Kauffmann (6-3, 215) is the state’s top player. He’s a right-hander who signed with Michigan and he’ll play first base when not pitching. Lefty Mitchell Tyranski (6-3, 215) signed with Michigan State and, while he doesn’t throw 92 mph like Kauffmann, Tyranski can hit 89. The Nos. 3 and 4 in the rotation are both juniors who are being recruited by Division I schools. Alex Kuster (6-3, 175) is a lefthander, Chris Faust (SS) is a right-hander. Senior lefthander Anthony Zurke (6-2, 220) is the fifth starter in what is a deep staff. Two of the top outfielders are sophomores, Reese Trahey and Caleb Jackson. Jeff Timko returns behind the plate and leftfielder Preston Pilat signed with Northern Kentucky.
4. Bay City Western (34-6), Div. 1: Western reached a regional semifinal and return the bulk of their players including three, tree-year starters. Right-hander Jason Clark was the winning pitcher in the 2014 championship game and has won 20 games in the past two seasons. His .370 batting average led the team last season. Right-hander Brandon Wise (1B) was the No. 3 pitcher as a sophomore and he’ll be No. 2 in the rotation. Hunter David (OF) is a left-handed hitter and a three-year starter who signed with Delta College. Sophomore Logan Lacourse is a speedy centerfielder and junior Cody Freed (6-3) will move to the No. 3 spot in the rotation. Tyler Snow (2B) and Connor Sonnier (SS/P/C) add experience and solidify the defense.
5. Hartland (27-15), Div. 1: The Eagles finished third in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West Division then found their groove and won the school’s first state title. John Baker (Ball State) went 10 innings in that state final and he’s back as the ace. Lefty Nathan Lohmeier missed the final week of the tournament after suffering a knee injury and he’s back at the No. 1 pitcher. Kyle Kletzka tossed a four-hit shutout in the state semifinal and he’s back. Other top returners include GARY Turnbull (P/1B), Hunter Delanoy (2B) and Max Hendricks (3B). Alex Vydick (SS) and R.J. Bortle (LF) are three-year starters.
6. Macomb Dakota (25-11), Div. 1: The Cougars return four, three-year varsity players plus two juniors who put in a lot of work on the mound. Cam Markwardt (C/1B) had 30 RBI and four home runs last season, and is the team captain. Zack Zabonick (C/1B) will hit cleanup and James Stilko will play all the infield positions but first base. Jeff Sands returns to play centerfield and he hit .400 as a junior. Right-hander Matt Boutin (6-2, 190) was 4-3 last season and lefthander David Curtis (6-6, 210) was 5-2. “I have high expectations,” coach Matt Carley said. “We have a lot of pieces and a lot of depth.” Dylan Watson (OF) had 21 RBI last season and he’ll see time on the mound as well Kenny Pattas (IF).
7. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (32-13), Div. 2: Coach Matt Petry lost four seniors to graduation from a team that won a state title. Drake Titus (2B/P) is an all-around player who will bat leadoff. Titus was 12-2 last season and is the ace of the staff. Catcher Harrison Salter will handle a relatively young staff. Senior Scott Grant was 5-2 last season and should move up to No. 2 in the rotation. Mason Vaughn (RF) batted .373 last season and will be counted on for even more production offensively this season. Drew Boyd (3B) led the team with 39 RBI and sophomore right-hander Carter Macias will be No. 3 in the rotation.
8. Sterling Heights Stevenson (32-6), Div. 1: The Titans won the Macomb Area Conference Red Division before being eliminated in the regionals. The heart of this team is a pitching staff loaded with experienced right-handers. Junior Luke McGuire (6-1, 200) has a lively fastball and he committed to Eastern Michigan. Devin Dudal (SS/2B) committed to Saginaw Valley State and he’ll be challenged as the No. 2 starter by Frank D’Ascenzo (CF), who was the starting quarterback on the football team. Simon Lidwell (OF/C) is the fourth starter and one of five seniors who started last season.
9. Grosse Pointe South (32-12), Div. 1: The Blue Devils lost in the state semifinals and lost six starters but there’s plenty of depth to replace those who graduated. Brad Thompson (3B/OF) is a junior who hit .351 last season. He’ll also spell fellow junior Logan Mico (.325) behind the plate. Mico, the starting quarterback on the football team, will also play shortstop and is a part of a deep pitching staff. Senior Will Poplawski (OF) hit .350 last season and another multi-sport athlete. Right-hander Douglass Graham was 4-3 last season and is a control-type of pitcher. Junior right-hander David Toth throws in the mid-to-high 80s.
10. Grosse Pointe North (31-12), Div. 1: The Norsemen reached the state quarterfinals last season and split a doubleheader with Brother Rice to open this season. Coach Frank Sumbera has the luxury of having two No. 1 starters. Tristin Richardson (RHP/RF) will play at Adrian College next fall and Alex Kracht (P/SS) has signed with Kalamazoo College. Sam Cross is a top middle infielder and Steven Levick (1B) will also see time on the mound. Behind the plate is Alex Huguenin, a senior who possesses a strong arm. Freshman Chad Workowski (6-5, 215) will pitch and play first base.