North Valley League San Fernando COACH: Steve Marden, 15th season LAST SEASON: 18-7-2; 1st in league, 11-5-1 PLAYERS TO WATCH: The hallmark of Marden's teams is usually pitching and the mound corps is again the Tigers' strength. Left-hander Canto Franco was 8-1 with a 1.90 earned-run average last season as a junior and is the team's top starter. Junior right-hander Rick Savala, 3-0 with four saves as a sophomore, also has experience. Experts say that teams win with pitching and strength up the middle. If that is the case, San Fernando is in great shape. Shortstop Luis Rodriguez (.286) and all-league second baseman David Rojas (.347) return. "As a double-play combination, I've rarely been happier with anybody," Marden said. Art Tarin (.345) leads a group of six players who are vying for outfield positions. Also in the running are Cruz Trevino, Alfredo Hernandez, Vince Vitela, Lenny Avalos and Ethan Rodriguez. Jose Nunez and Abel Barajas are the catchers. A pair of sophomore finesse pitchers, right-hander Raymond Rivera and left-hander Jorge Gonzales, provide depth. OUTLOOK: "Our big concern is whether we can score a lot of runs," Marden said. "We hit around .320 as a team last year and I don't know if we'll be able to do that again. We may be playing for one run an inning, giving up an out to take that extra base." Granada Hills COACH: Darryl Stroh, 22nd season LAST SEASON: 7-16-2; 3rd in league, 5-10-2 PLAYERS TO WATCH: Players used to transfer to Granada Hills to play football for Stroh. Over the past two seasons, however, the Highlanders have picked up three pretty fair baseball players. Heath McElwee, who will pitch and play the outfield, transferred in midseason last year from L. A. Baptist. Another newcomer is junior catcher Sam Voita, who hit .321 last year at Calabasas. Shortstop Ari Jacobs transferred from Montclair Prep. Jacobs hit .324 in 37 at-bats for the Mounties, who won the Southern Section 1-A Division title last year. The Highlanders have some home-grown talent too. Robert Fowble and Darryl Stroh, the coach's son, return at first and second base, respectively. Derrick Cole, a reserve last year, will start at third. The outfield includes McElwee, Erik Anderson, Scott Berger and Bryan Martin. Berger batted .317, Martin .305 and Anderson .264 last season. Robert Vasquez, who batted .305, will battle Voita at catcher. The team's unquestioned weakness is pitching, where McElwee, Martin, Berger--and just about everyone else--will split time. "Pitching is our Achilles' heel," said Stroh, whose teams have won five City titles. "We might try as many as five different guys out there." OUTLOOK: "We've hit the ball real well (in winter-league play) and we're a good defensive ballclub," Stroh said. "If we get anybody out, we might be right in this thing." While the pitching is suspect, team chemistry is a definite asset, Stroh said. "I've coached for a lot of years and have had some real good kids," he said. "But this group is as good as any I've had. Not a problem kid in the bunch." Cleveland COACH: Rich Raymond, 1st season LAST SEASON: 4-15; 4th in league 4-13 PLAYERS TO WATCH: Seven underclassmen started for the Cavaliers last season in a move pointed toward long-range player development. Is the future now? Perhaps. "We're anticipating a good season, if not this year, then the next," said Raymond, who is retiring as a coach and teacher at the end of the school year. "This is a good group of kids." Six players who started as sophomores a year ago return. Likely starters in the outfield are Mario Macias in left, Brian Basowski in center and Mike Petruzates in right. Rob Rundquist (first base), Julio Marcial (second base), Dave Cipolla (shortstop) and Mike Sutyak (third base) all started or played extensively last year. Sutyak is the lone senior; all others are juniors. Basowski batted .283 last season, Cipolla hit .296 and Petruzates--the cleanup hitter--batted .367. Raymond said that Marcial, who hit .262, could be the best second baseman in the City. Juniors Doug Rubin and Tony Yeverino and sophomore Jeron Rolison are fighting for the starting berth at catcher. OUTLOOK: Cleveland needs to be more consistent in run production. Last season the Cavaliers had trouble making contact as well as generating offense. But the players are a year older and wiser. "Our strength is our experience," Raymond said. "We need our hitting to be a strong suit." Pitching also is a major concern. Kennedy COACH: Manny Alvarado, 3rd season LAST SEASON: 17-10; 2nd in league, 11-6 PLAYERS TO WATCH: Three starters return--maybe. Senior right-hander Cody Beaumaster, 5-4 with a 3.85 ERA as a junior, has been sidelined by arm problems and might not be available for some time. Troy Bourne, a starter at first base, will see time on the mound. Bourne hit .319 last season and drove in 16 runs. Shortstop Billy Ramirez, a starter last season as a sophomore, will need to provide defensive leadership to a large group of untested players. Junior Joe Bernas, a member of the junior varsity a year ago, will start at second and sophomore John Toven will start at third. Outfield candidates include untested sophomores Rick Nadeau and Jeff Tagliaferri, whose brother Gino was the City player of the year in 1989. Darrin McCall and John Davis, juniors who played on the junior varsity last season, also will play in the outfield. Mike McMullen, a senior right-hander who was quarterback of the football team, backs up Beaumaster and Bourne. Sophomore David Bourne, Troy's brother, and junior Jason Makahon are seeking the starting nod at catcher. OUTLOOK: Alvarado, The Times' Valley coach of the year in 1989, describes the Golden Cougars as "young and thin." There are several question marks, but Alvarado believes that if the pitching staff holds up, Kennedy can "surprise some people." "With the inexperience we have, we need the pitching staff to play over their head," he said. "That's where our seniors are, so we need Cody, Bourne and McMullen to come through." With five sophomores and four juniors on the roster, Kennedy might be a season away from a championship. West Valley League Chatsworth COACH: Tom Meusborn, 2nd season LAST SEASON: 24-5-1; 2nd in league, 12-4-1 PLAYERS TO WATCH: A pair of returning All-City and Times All-Valley performers will play crucial roles in Chatsworth's defense of its 4-A championship. Senior right-hander Mitch Root, the winning pitcher in the championship game at Dodger Stadium last season, will start at shortstop and is the team's top pitcher. Root hit .387 and drove in 35 runs. Nestor Martinez, a senior, starts at second after batting .423 with 24 runs batted in last season. The middle infielders lead a Chatsworth team that might be stronger at bat. "We should be better offensively than we were," Meusborn said. Two other returning starters, outfielder Scott Carpenter (.324) and catcher Adam Pearlman (.240), also are expected to have big seasons. A pair of junior-varsity performers of a year ago, Brian Comer and Brian Gilder, will start at third base and in the outfield. Speedster Thurman Williams, a transfer from Anaheim Magnolia High, will start in center field and bat leadoff. Junior Doug Dean, a part-time starter last season, will play the outfield and pitch. "There is no clear-cut No. 2 or 3 pitcher," Meusborn said. OUTLOOK: Even if the pitching falters, the Chancellors should be OK. "We've been swinging the bats real well in winter ball," said Meusborn, The Times' Valley coach of the year in 1990. "But we're sending (pitchers) out there with an eight-run lead. What happens in a 2-1 game?" Expect to see a different team. In the 1990 playoffs, Chatsworth pitchers allowed four runs in four games and the team made only two errors. "Pitching and defense win it," Meusborn. "And our pitching concerns me." El Camino Real COACH: Mike Maio, 9th season LAST SEASON: 21-3-1; 1st in league, 15-1-1 PLAYERS TO WATCH: Most of the stalwarts from last season's City finalist team are gone, but several key players gained experience playing for the state champion Woodland Hills West American Legion team last summer. The pitching staff is the best in the league behind senior right-handers Corey Bromberg and Sean Boldt, both of whom pitched extensively over the summer. Greg Lederman, who led the conference with a .493 batting average and also drove in 23 runs, will play at third or in the outfield. Gregg Sheren, whom many scouts consider a professional prospect, returns at shortstop. Evan Howland starts at second and Daniel Cey, the son of former major leaguer Ron Cey, will play at second or third. Maio said that several candidates are fighting for time in the outfield, including Boldt, Lederman, Brandon Akaiten, Jason Sipperly, Markee Brown, Joe La Firenza, Mike McLean and David Oppenheim. Chris Teich starts at first base. Look for El Camino Real to run more often, a dramatic change from the past few seasons. "In the past we've been more of a power team, now we'll have to manufacture some runs," Maio said. Right-hander Terry Morrow is the team's likely third starter. OUTLOOK: "Nobody expects us to do real well," Maio said. "We're going to try to turn that around." Maio said that scoring runs could be the team's biggest obstacle. "We averaged eight runs a game last year," he said. "I think we've got pitching and defense, but I don't know if we'll score that many runs." They might not need many. Perhaps only San Fernando of the North Valley League can match the Conquistadores' pitching. Taft COACH: Rich McKeon, 4th season LAST SEASON: 13-15-1; 3rd in league, 6-10-1 PLAYERS TO WATCH: Similar to Cleveland, Taft fielded a young team last season and is hoping to reap the benefits in 1991. Gone is All-City shortstop Benji Belfield, the team's best hitter and pitcher. However, Taft has several returning players who could have breakthrough seasons. Returning starters include junior John Erganian at first, sophomore Warren Stewart at second and infielder Matt Allison, who will play at third. Sophomore Stacy Kleiner, MVP of the junior varsity last season, starts at catcher and is expected to bat fourth. Outfielders include Sean Collins, a junior, and Darnell Hendricks, a senior who was a Times All-Valley football player. Both played last season. Jason Biller, the quickest player on the team and the probable leadoff batter, will start in center. Pitching is again a problem. Junior right-hander Mike Krasner leads a thin staff that will include Collins and Hendricks. Left-hander Cory Jacobson, a starter who was injured last year, is still recovering from shoulder problems and might not play. OUTLOOK: "We're young, but we got a lot of good experience last year," said McKeon, whose team upset top-seeded Poly in the first round of the playoffs. "We've got some quality kids. Whether they achieve this year, I don't know." Pitching is questionable, McKeon said. "We're not weak and we're not strong," he said. "It needs to keep us in the game." Reseda COACH: Mike Stone, 13th season LAST SEASON: 6-15; 3rd in West Valley, 5-12 PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Regents, moved into the West Valley League this season, will be led by four-year letterman Louis Vanacore, who starts in center. Vanacore hit .383 last season. Right-handers Jesse Yeomans (4-7, 2.56 ERA) and Robert Reynoso return and will play at shortstop and first base, respectively, when not pitching. A pair of fleet football players, Larry Trammel and Deon Edwards, will start in the outfield with Vanacore. Ruben Guerra starts at second and William Stett starts at third. Both played for the junior varsity as sophomores last year. Newcomer Juan Carlos Romero, a sophomore, is the projected starter at catcher. The team's brightest young prospect is freshman right-hander Alonzo Lopez, whose brother plays professionally in Mexico. "By the time he is a senior, I predict he will be one of the best pitching prospects to come out of the San Fernando Valley in a long, long time," Stone said. "He already has the poise of a senior." And the size of one too. Lopez (6-feet, 160 pounds) is the first freshman pitcher in Stone's 13 seasons as coach. OUTLOOK: "We'll be strong defensively," Stone said. "What I'm worried about is the offense." Reseda lost standout performer Joe Tushnet, who batted .561 and stole 37 bases. "That leaves quite a hole in the lineup," Stone said. "I don't know if we can fill it." Lopez, who first will be employed as a reliever, might be used as a starter. If the Regents receive consistent performances from their staff, they could be solid contenders for a playoff berth.