Top 20 Preseason Baseball Teams – Saline named top team, Brighton is No. 2
Saline – Saline has never won a state title but this could be the year the Hornets break through.
Saline (32-10) reached the Division 1 quarterfinals last season the Hornets return their first six batters in last year’s lineup plus a sophomore class that could be one of the program’s best.
“One through nine, this will be one of our best teams,” coach Scott Theisen said.
Those at State Champs think so, too. Saline has been named our No. 1 team in the preseason.
Saline was the Division 1 runner-up in 2008-10. It also lost in the 1998 final.
Josh Smith (1B) was slated to be the ace of the staff but he had Tommy John surgery during the offseason so Smith will not pitch this season. Smith is one of the team’s top hitters and he signed with Kentucky.
Moving to the top spot in the rotation is Ricky Karcher, a transfer from Florida who signed with Michigan. Karcher is a 6-4 right-hander who uses two pitches, a fastball that he consistently throws in the high 80s and a changeup.
The staff also features the Nearing brothers, Brett (6-5, 205), a right hander who signed with Grand Valley State, and lefthander Brendan (6-4), who signed with Cincinnati.
One to watch for on the mound is Sean O’Keefe. Part of a strong sophomore class, O’Keefe has a sharp breaking curve in his repertoire and has shown good control.
Offensively center fielder Joey Sweigert is at the leadoff spot. A left-handed hitter, Sweigert adds pressure to the opposition’s defense with his ability to take that extra base.
Junior Thomas Miller (SS) committed to Oakland and he’ll bat second. Brandon Bravdus (1B) had seven home runs last season in just 55 at bats.
The leader of the team is catcher and Theisen’s son, Trent Theisen. Theisen signed with Ball State. A four-year varsity player, Theisen bats left handed and displays tremendous awareness at the plate and behind it.
2. Brighton (31-7), D-1: A minimum of seven players will play in college for coach Charlie Christner. Six starters return plus the top five pitchers from a team that lost to Clarkston in a quarterfinal. Alexx Zielinski is a 6-5, 225-pound left handed pitcher who signed with Miami (OH) for football. He was the ace of the staff last season as he posted an ERA of 0.90. Right handers Justin Steel (6-4) and Carson Hopman are 2-A and 2-B in the pitching rotation. Steel will play first base when not pitching and he signed with Saginaw Valley State. Hopman was 8-2 last season and he signed with Muskegon Community College, as did outfielder Zach Vithuske who was used as a closer last season. Shortstop Colin McClelland threw a gem against West Bloomfield in a regional final last season and he signed with Saginaw Valley. Alex Dixon (C/OF) and Tanner Hoard (OF) are also college-bound players.
3. Bay City Western (38-7), D-1: Coach Tim McDonald lost just three seniors from his state championship team. Four sophomores started on that team including Carson Eby who will move to the catcher position. David Fegan (OF) will again bat leadoff. Fellow senior Alec Justin is a transfer from Midland Dow and he will be either two or three in the rotation. Jason Clark (SS) is part of a strong junior class and he has the experience of pitching in a state final. Brandon Wise (3B) tossed a shutout in the quarterfinal. Two other juniors, Tyler Snover (2B/SS) and Hunter David (RF), are position players who will be counted on to come through with some offensive punch.
4. Birmingham Brother Rice (34-3), D-1: Last season the Warriors were upset in the districts by West Bloomfield. This season they are led by a strong junior class and two high level seniors, outfielder Nick Plummer and Davis Feldman (SS/P). Plummer is the state’s top player and he signed with Kentucky. Feldman signed with Eastern Michigan. Junior right-hander Karl Kauffmann (3B) is the ace of the staff and he committed to Michigan. Behind Feldman in the rotation is junior lefthander Mitchell Tyranski (1B) who committed to Michigan State. Preston Pilat is another junior lefty and he committed to Northern Kentucky. Two other seniors, catcher Robert Iacobelli and right fielder John Gary, are expected to contribute significantly.
5. Portage Northern (27-12), D-1: Northern lost to Howell in the regionals and coach Chris Andrews returns his top three pitchers. “All of our most talented players are back,” he said. The top two pitchers are lefthanders. Junior Tommy Henry committed to Michigan. Ben Keizer signed with U-M but he’s had some arm difficulties. They don’t appear to be serious at this time. Blake Therrian is a right-hander who doesn’t throw as hard as the other two but gets the job done. He signed with Florence (SC) Darlington Tech. Max Schuemann (SS) batted .400 last season and he could be the closer. He signed with Eastern Michigan. Seniors Collin Hall (1B/OF) and Thomas Sheffert (3B/P), the starting quarterback on the football team, probably won’t play in college but they’re solid players at this level.
6. Sterling Heights Stevenson (37-3), D-1: The Titans lost their two top pitchers to graduation but coach Joe Emanuele still has some strong arms. Riley McCauley (SS), who signed with Michigan State, was the closer (11 saves) last season but will likely be the No. 1 starter. Brandon Williams, who signed with Macomb College, had 46 RBI last season and will bat cleanup. Williams will also pitch. Tristan Jorah is back behind the plate, Greg McDade hit .320 and will play centerfield and Tyler Gonyea (6-4) has experience on the mound. Luke McGuire (3B/P) is a sophomore who has shown promise and juniors Simon Lidwell (C/OF) and Devan Duval (IF) will also see time on the mound.
7. Howell (25-14), D-1: Howell lost to Battle Creek Lakeview in a regional final and co-coach Jason Ladd returns two, three-year varsity pitchers in Chris Ackerman (C) and Austin Talo (1B/DH). Ackerman signed with Hillsdale; Talo with Northwood. Howell is strong up the middle with Joe Corsten (SS) and Riley Bennett (2B) back. Corsten homered in three of Howell’s first eight games this season. Outfielder Caleb Balgaard (6-2, 190) is a real talent. Ladd might use Balgaard, a sophomore, as an infielder. He committed to Indiana. Brendan Merians (RF) batted .310 last season and he signed with Kellogg Community College. Justin Mercer (C/3B/2B/1B) is a three-year varsity player and he signed with Concordia. Look for sophomore lefthander Sam Weatherly to add deep to the staff.
8. Mount Pleasant (32-8-1), D-2: The defending state champions lost three starters to graduation and have but five seniors on this year’s team. But there is experience. Four sophomores started last season and one, Dan Keller, should return behind the plate this week as he continues to recover from knee (meniscus) surgery. Sophomore Obie Ricumstrict (SS) is a returning starter and bats leadoff. He’s already drawn interest from Big Ten schools. Right hander Mitch Ridley is the top senior in the rotation. Junior Hunter Buczkowski appears to be the ace of the staff but could be pushed by his brother, Logan, who’s a sophomore. Both play the outfield. Lefthander Max Trucks (1B/OF) is another junior. He’s not as overpowering as the Buczkowskis. Trucks is more of a finesse pitcher. Junior Zach Heeke returns at third base.
9. Dearborn Divine Child (26-15), D-2: The Falcons return 11 players, five seniors, from a team that won a district title. “Several guys have been with us for four years,” coach Tony DeMare said. “We’ll hang our hat on our pitching.” Topping this list is lefthander Collin Goslin (6-4, 225) who signed with Michigan State. His fastball has been clocked at 91 mph. Lefthander Jonathan Lapshan (6-4, 180) was 5-3 with a 2.25 ERA last season and he signed with Hillsdale. Josh Hejka is right hander who throws side arm. He was 8-1 last season and he signed with Johns Hopkins. Junior Danny Blade (SS) had 18 stolen bases last season and he’ll hit leadoff. DeMare’s son, Torey (6-4, 225) is a junior first baseman who batted .350 last season and another junior, Frankie Lucska (3B), is a left-handed hitter and a three-year starter.
10. Clarkston (20-13), D-1: The Wolves reached the semifinals and coach Phil Price said there’s more depth on this team. D.J. Zezula (P/1B/SS) signed with Wayne State to play football and baseball, and Joe Popp (C/OF) is a three-year player who signed with Colorado College of the Mines. The top two pitchers are 6-4 senior right handers Jake Velisek and Max Bain. Bain signed with Northwood.
11. Macomb Dakota (22-14), D-1: The Cougars had a strong finish to last season as they captured a district title. Six seniors return plus a handful of juniors who have experience. Senior right handers Brendan Schmitz and Cole Sanderson have pitched on the varsity level for three seasons. Sanderson was the ace last year and he signed with Kellogg Community College. Junior infielders Zak Zabonick and James Spilko will both pitch. Zabonick batted .430 last season. Sophomore Dante Reeves is a fine middle infielder who has speed and no fear at the plate. Junior Jeff Sands returns to center field and John Kopowicz is another junior who has shown promise as an outfielder.
12. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (27-12), D-2: The Irish won a district title and return three players who made all state. Coach Darren Audia said his pitching “is outstanding”. The one weakness could be in the outfield (all three starters graduated). Luke Shilling (6-5, 255), a catcher the past three seasons, is now the ace of the staff. His fastball is consistently in the 90s and he’ll play first base or be the designated hitter when he’s not on the mound. Third baseman Jacob DePillo (6-4, 215) is an outstanding hitter who signed with Hillsdale. Outfielder Will Mullen (6-4, 225) could be No. 2 in the rotation and he signed with Western Michigan. Joe Vyskocil (1B/3B) signed with Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Right hander Mark Monroe signed with Northwood.
13. Richmond (35-4) D-2: The Blue Devils return four starters, plus a fifth that was a part time starter, from a team that reached the state final for the second consecutive season. Catcher Evan Kratt is one of the state’s top players and Jake Schmidt (6-6, 270) is the ace of the staff and he’ll also play first base. Schmidt has been accepted to Yale where he is expected to play tight end. Dan Fistler is a three-year starter who will switch from second base to shortstop. Dylan Youre (SP) will switch between catcher and outfield and Kevin Maas was 7-2 last season and will be counted on even more this season.
14. West Bloomfield (24-11), D-1: The Lakers reached the regional finals last season and they return four starters, plus a fifth that started part time. Chandler Sedat is one of the state’s top players and he’ll play the outfield when he’s not on the mound. Center fielders Robbie Jones will hit leadoff and he signed with Michigan State. How successful West Bloomfield is this season will be determined on how well Deshawn Cole (3B) takes control as the No. 2 starter. Clayton Kowalewski will start at catcher after splitting time at that position last season. Zach Allread (6-5), who signed with Northwood for basketball, returns at first base.
15. Caledonia (16-11), D-1: Optimism abounds for coach Pat Gillies. He has 13 returning players but the O-K White Division is one of the most competitive in the state. Right-hander Caleb Sleeman was 2-1 last season and won’t wow anyone with his fastball but he’s a pitcher that thinks through each at bat. Chris Clark is a four-year starter at catcher and he signed with Kellogg Community College. Joe Stegehuis (OF) signed with Aquinas College and is one of the top hitters in the Grand Rapids area. Right-hander Dan Zeman is a three-year starter and is part of what is a deep pitching staff. Junior Logan Hudson is a three-year starter and will play on the left side of the infield.
16. Grosse Pointe South (27-18), D-1: The Blue Devils shocked everyone by reaching the state final last season. They’re better on paper this season but a repeat final appearance is a long shot. Coach Dan Griesbaum has 25 on varsity and he has five starters returning led by Ryan Liagre (3B). Liagre batted .430 last season and was named to the Dream Team. Justin McMann makes all the routine plays at shortstop and left fielder Jacob Stone hit .310 last season. The ace is junior right hander Doug Graham who was the starting and winning pitcher in the state semifinal. James Fishback (1B) and Will Norris (2B) will also see time on the mound. Zackary Thalgott is a returning starter in the outfield.
17. Lake Orion (24-12), D-1: The Dragons list in its district opener, 1-0, to Waterford Kettering. That game was typical of their season. Lake Orion had difficulty scoring runs in 2014. To turn things around coach Andy Schramek is counting on center fielder Miles Hardy, who signed with Northwood, to provide a spark. Hardy batted .380 last season and, as the leadoff hitter, he’ll be counted on to be the table setter. Junior Mike Falter (C/3B) batted cleanup the last half of the season and fellow junior lefthander Jacob Christiansen (OF) will be counted on to contribute on the mound and at the plate. Schramek said Christiansen hits to all fields and takes the proper approach when he steps in the batter’s box. Right hander Ken Guldi signed with Northwood and had a 1.20 ERA despite experiencing arm problems. Junior Cam Miller is a 6-9 right hander who continues to improve. He committed to Central Michigan.
18. Hartland (23-10), D-1: The Eagles are strong up the middle with senior and three-year starter Max Cadman back behind the plate. He’s a timely hitter who’s a solid backstop. Outfielder Brett Oliver is one of four senior on the team and shortstop Alex Bydick is a returning starter, one of many juniors who will start. Lefthander Nathan Lohmeier was a solid No. 2 in the rotation last season and he and right hander John Baker will be 1A and 1B this season. Both are juniors.
19. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (20-13), D-1: The Cougars won district titles each of the past two seasons and they return their top four hitters in the lineup and two of their top three pitchers. Eric Gilgenbach (SS/OF) is a four-year starter and he throws in the low-to-mid 80s. Joe Hamrick is No. 2 in the rotation and he signed with Hillsdale. Josh Niederhauser (SS/RF) could be the best all-around athlete, and most versatile. Centerfielder Scott Reader will bat second and catcher Ian Lustilla will bat cleanup.
20. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (25-8), D-3: There’s just one senior in the starting lineup and he’s a good one. Nick Azar (3B/SS) was selected to the Dream Team last season and he turned down a scholarship offer from Michigan to play hockey at Harvard. Connor McCarron (SS) is a sophomore but he batted .400 with seven home runs on a team that won the state title. Matt Gushee (P/1B) has a nasty cutter and great control, and he’s the ace. Sean Fannon, another junior right-hander, is No. 2 in the rotation and Teddy Wujek, a sophomore, will get his share of starts on the mound. Junior Joey Cipriano (1B/OF) will hit in the middle of the lineup. Coach Dan Cimini could start two freshmen.