Baseball coaches rarely agree, but they are unanimous once again in their selection of Santa Clara High as the favorite in the Frontier League this season.
John Lorenzana, the Santa Clara coach, might be the lone dissenter. How can his team be favored, he would ask, when he lost pitchers the caliber of Mike Teron and Richard Mendez to graduation? And how can the Saints be favored to repeat when their catcher and shortstop haven't yet set foot on the diamond?
Well, to begin with, opposing coaches point to the quality of the catcher and shortstop, both of whom are playing basketball on the Santa Clara team that has advanced to the state playoffs. Catcher Kasha Clemons had 16 runs batted in last season and switch-hitting shortstop Kwinn Knight had 14. Both have added enough strength to hit with power.
As for replacing Teron and Mendez, who were a combined 14-4 last season, there is Tim Gutierrez. That's the same Gutierrez who set a state passing record for accuracy last football season. It's no surprise he is a control pitcher.
"He doesn't have a lot of speed, he's more into breaking stuff," Lorenzana said of the junior right-hander. "He likes to use the plate. He's a spot pitcher."
Lorenzana believes it takes control pitching to take control of the league standings.
"I think our league gets by with less speed and smarter pitching," said Lorenzana, whose team was 18-4 overall last season and 11-1 in league play. "Mike Teron didn't help us with his speed. He helped us when he was throwing strikes."
Garth Teron, Mike's sophomore brother, will start in right field. Another sophomore, Joel Herrera, will start at second base and bat leadoff.
"He's fundamentally sound," said Lorenzana of Herrera, although he could have been speaking of the Santa Clara program. No matter how many excellent players graduate, the replacements are ready.
Agoura (10-10-2 overall, 5-5-2 in league play) and Calabasas (9-11-2, 5-5-2) appear to have the best chances of knocking off Santa Clara. Santa Paula is in a rebuilding mode, Nordhoff must scramble out of the league basement and new member Santa Ynez is an unknown quantity.
Agoura relies offensively on junior third baseman Brian Smith, who batted .431 with 27 RBIs last season.
Senior Dave Aronowitz is the only experienced pitcher but catcher Josh Smaler, second baseman Nelson Townes and outfielders Mark Costas and Chris Pittinger are returning starters.
Returning for Calabasas are third baseman Eric Umemoto, pitcher Dan Glassman and catcher Dave Kalman, who batted .442 last year and was an all-league selection.
Glassman, who was 4-4 with a 2.80 earned-run average and 70 strikeouts in 50 innings, should be reliable. Senior Scott Faer, junior Eric Rothman and freshman Brett Farlow round out the pitching staff.
Nordhoff (5-12, 3-9) lost its final seven games last year, but the five sophomores in the lineup gained valuable experience. The best of the group are shortstop Rob Fournier, who batted .313 last season, and outfielder/pitcher Trevor Matheson, who batted .357.
"Rob is one of the better shortstops I've seen," Coach Mark Capritto said. "We're counting on him and Trevor to do a lot of things."
Also returning are juniors Jim McBride (first base) and Jayden Morrison (outfield). Matt Savard, another junior, was the top hitter on the junior varsity and could become the designated-hitter.
Charles Seymour, a junior left-handed pitcher, transferred to Nordhoff from Ventura and will join the rotation within two weeks. "He's the first left-hander we've had since 1981," Capritto said.
Senior Jeremy Anthony will catch and Steve Blundell, a senior and perhaps the best athlete at the school, is back after being academically ineligible last year. Blundell will pitch and have a place in the lineup the rest of the time. "Steve has a good bat," Capritto said.
Henry Jacinto resigned as Santa Paula coach to concentrate on his duties as athletic director and has been replaced by Mark Magdaleno.
Santa Paula (8-12, 5-7) has several sophomores in the lineup including Magdaleno's nephew, outfielder Dustin Magdaleno. Other sophomores include catcher Martin Rios and third baseman Ramon Flores. Senior Chris Cole (shortstop) and juniors Tom Frutos (first base) and Alex Cerda (second) are returning starters.
Pitching for Santa Paula will be Manuel Herrera, a junior who was MVP of the junior varsity last year, Mario Gonzales and Flores.
Staff writer Sean Waters contributed to this story.