Posted: 4:03 pm Friday, October 21st, 2011

Baseball: Early thoughts on the 2012 season 

By Matt Porter

The high school baseball season doesn’t officially start until February, but baseball never really stops around here. Fall ball is in full swing, and most of the country’s top high school players (and 50-75 of Palm Beach County’s best) are showing off at the WWBA World Championships this weekend at Roger Dean Stadium. 

That in mind, here are nine intriguing teams to watch this season, in no particular order:  

1. Dwyer. Coach Frank Torre took over two years ago with a mission to bring the Panthers to prominence. It’s happening. The Panthers already have one of the nation’s best young arms in Ole Miss commit Cheyne Bickel, a junior. They got a huge boost with outfielder Jamal Martin, an FSU commit, transferring from Forest Hill in April. Add in talented seniors like Bradley Emery and Tim Lynch and there’s no reason the Panthers won’t take the next step this year. 

2. Jupiter. Warriors will be loaded again. New coach Andy Mook, an assistant under retired Doug Ferguson, is plenty familiar to his players. The Warriors have one of the nation’s top-ranked players in junior catcher Ronnie Healy. Perfect Game ranks Healy as No. 26 in the country for his class and No. 4 in the state (he has been as high as No. 9 nationally and No. 2 in the state). Healy hasn’t made a commitment, but is talking with Florida and Ole Miss. Mississippi State commit Callahan Brown, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, could make noise this year along with infielder Victor Gonzalez (FIU). Most of Jupiter’s roster is playing in the WWBA tournament. 

3. Park Vista. The Cobras went on a surprising run last season, but it won’t be a surprise if they do it this year. The Cobras have two of the area’s best players: Florida commit Tyler Kendall, who replaces MLB draftee Trea Turner as the team’s best infielder, and Virginia commit Robbie Coman behind the plate. Lefty Brandon Rhodes (FAU) will be counted on for big games. Favorite in 10-8A, which includes Boca Raton, John I. Leonard, Seminole Ridge and Spanish River.

4. Palm Beach Central. Some of the area’s best young players wear maroon and white, like junior third baseman Ian Hagenmiller and sophomore shortstop Danny Hernandez. Never count out a team coached by Scott Benedict, who, as the saying goes, has forgot more about baseball than most of us ever knew.

5. Wellington. Must replace top players, like catcher Alex Tannone and do-it-all Andrew Istler, but there’s always lots of talent here. Miami commit Peter Rivera has a big bat and plays strong defense. Fellow senior Kaelan Jacobs (6-4, 175) could have a larger role on the mound.

6. Atlantic. Intriguing team that has lefty bat Rigo Beltran and righty Kyle Blank on the mound. Will likely battle for second playoff spot behind West Boca Raton in District 14-7A (The other teams, Lake Worth and Olympic Heights, will be hard-pressed to compete). 

7. Forest Hill. Despite losing Martin, the Falcons have strikeout king Mike Murray on the mound and outfielder Jose Crespo, who finished second in hitting among large schools (to Seminole Ridge’s Marcus Mooney, among the area’s best players and returning for his senior year). Playoff spot a possibility in District 13-7A, with Palm Beach Lakes and the two early favorites, Santaluces and Royal Palm Beach.

8. Palm Beach Gardens. A nicely balanced club in a smaller, power-packed District 9-8A with Dwyer, Jupiter, Wellington and Palm Beach Central. Almost unfair that three of these teams won’t make the playoffs, but don’t count out the Gators. Look for big seasons from infielder Ronald Oberg and outfielder Zion Bell, the son of Marlins minor-league hitting coach Bobby Bell.

9. West Boca Raton. Can’t forget about the state champion Bulls, who have possibly the area’s best pitcher, lefty Parker Danciu. The Florida commit takes over for first-rounder Michael Kelly as the ace. Junior catcher Michael Barash (LSU) stands out in a star-studded crop of catchers. Senior righties Ryan Owens (Winthrop) and Matt Warren (Daytona State) will have plenty of chances to contribute.

Extra innings: Tons of talent among small schools this season. The area’s leader in home runs last season, St. Andrew’s outfielder and lefty pitcher Danny Young, recently committed to the Florida Gators. American Heritage has lefty Dylan Silva, an FSU commit who has impressed at the WWBA, and righty Trevor Maloney (FAU). Trinity Christian’s best players are catcher Phildrick Llewellyn (FIU), 6-5 lefty Alexander Rodriguez (Ball State) and righty Byron Ferguson. Benjamin junior outfielder D.J. Paone and sophomore lefty Bennett Sousa are two to watch. State champion Summit Christian returns catcher John Silviano, among many talented players.

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