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This year's freshman baseball players are in a class by themselves

JSerra's Chase Strumpf, Chaminade's Blake Rutherford head an unusually strong group of players in the class of 2016 at Southland high schools.

February 18, 2013|Eric Sondheimer
  • Blake Rutherford, Chaminade freshman outfielder.
Blake Rutherford, Chaminade freshman outfielder. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles…)

They're not old enough to shave, not old enough to drive a car, and certainly not old enough to see an R-rated movie without an accompanying adult.

But watch how this year's freshman baseball players take on any and all challenges starting this weekend.

Already, one member of the class of 2016, shortstop Chase Strumpf from San Juan Capistrano JSerra, has committed to UCLA — before taking his first swing in high school.

The player who could be hitting home runs immediately is outfielder Blake Rutherford of West Hills Chaminade. He's set to be the Eagles' leadoff batter, and with their short right-field fence and his left-handed hitting skills, somebody is going to be chasing lots of baseballs over the next four seasons. "I think he's going to be as good as Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez were as freshmen," Coach Frank Mutz said, referring to the former Chatsworth standouts. "This kid is advanced. And he's fast."

Rutherford, like Strumpf, already has college scholarship offers.

There are others ready to make an impact. Pitcher Kenneth Pettibone of Anaheim Esperanza is a 6-foot-3 right-hander whose cousins, Jonathan and Austin Pettibone, were standouts at the school. Saugus has pitcher Caden Salkeld, whose father, Roger, was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Pitcher Josh Garcia of Chatsworth has been earning rave reviews in winter games. Pitcher Brandon Moore and infielder Isaak Gutierrez of Bellflower St. John Bosco have starred at the youth level. Pitcher Jack Moberg of Vista Murrieta is the younger brother Jeff Moberg, who plays at Tennessee. Catcher Ryan Mendoza of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has the defensive skills of a senior.

There are many more freshmen who will be varsity starters, which means it's going to be quite a senior class in 2016.

Trinity sweep

Thanks to the Southern Section philosophy that almost anyone can make the basketball playoffs, Santa Margarita has reached the quarterfinals in Division 3AA even though the Eagles were 0-10 in the Trinity League.

Yes, the Trinity League is probably the strongest in Southern California. All six parochial school teams are still alive in the Southern Section playoffs. But not winning a single league game and still making the postseason provides plenty of ammunition for critics who complain that the section has too many divisions and too many teams in its playoffs.

At the same time, the success of the six Trinity League teams is showing how all the money and commitment put in by the schools is paying off. Make no mistake, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite, St. John Bosco, JSerra, Orange Lutheran and Santa Margarita care about their sports programs.

Coaches are paid big bucks. Athletic facilities are top-notch. Transfers are welcomed. They're in a race to be the best.

There's a possibility of five Trinity League teams winning Southern Section championships in basketball. If that happens, watch the reaction from the public schools.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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