2014 high school baseball preview: Teams to watch

Steve Hamm - Special Contributor

Arlington Martin (36-8-1): Coach Curt Culbertson said his pitching staff will have to carry his team early in the season. Martin — a 5A state semifinalist in back-to-back seasons — graduated a large portion of its offensive production. Senior aces Turner Larkins and Daniel Lingua went a combined 24-1 last season. Larkins, a Texas A&M signee, is one of the state’s best prospects, going 12-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 130 strikeouts over 882/3 innings.

Flower Mound Marcus (32-8): A healthy Conner Dotson might be all the difference that Marcus needs to go from a regional semifinalist to a state tournament entrant. Dotson, a West Virginia signee, went 6-1 with a 1.19 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 53 innings before a season-ending foot injury. Fellow pitcher Jack Cushing went 6-1 last season, while junior catcher Matt Bernstein posted a .395 batting average en route to being named first-team all-district.

Plano (24-16): Coach Rick Robertson will have a glut of quality left-handed pitching, including Kenneth Tabor (last year’s 10-5A newcomer of the year), Stanford pledge Mitchell Hansen (who played first base and outfield as well, hitting .298 with 23 RBIs and 18 steals) and Jake Fraze. All-district outfielder Cody Farhat is a Texas Tech pledge.

Rockwall (34-9): There should be a lot of confidence surrounding this year’s Rockwall squad, which pushed eventual 5A state champ The Woodlands to Game 3 in the 2013 Region II final. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi signee LHP Carter Lilly went 9-3 with 100 strikeouts last season. Senior outfielder Cole Ballew was the 12-5A offensive MVP, with a .488 on-base percentage, 39 runs and 33 RBIs. Junior third baseman Brad Barnett is a TCU pledge.

Southlake Carroll (34-6): A regional finalist last year, Carroll will be in mix again for a trip to Round Rock. The Dragons are ranked ninth in the state in 5A. Junior pitcher Ben Leeper, a Stanford pledge, provides Carroll a shutdown ace, while Drew Brown, Joe Heineman and Drew Davis will provide steady hitting and veteran leadership.

Frisco Liberty (26-12-2): Last year’s Region II finalist is ranked 10th in the state, thanks to a slew of key returners, including four first-team all-district performers. Josh Ryan (7-2, five saves) and Robby Evans (5-3, two saves) give Liberty two solid starters. Meanwhile, Brian Simpson and J.T. VanGelder provide speed (combined 69 steals) and production (combined 51 RBIs).

Frisco Wakeland (22-14-1): The District 9-4A race should be a slugfest, with Wakeland, Liberty, Frisco and Centennial all with quality players back. Perennial power Wakeland returns one of the district’s best pitchers — Austin Gehle (10-2, 2.02 ERA) — as well as a talented lineup. Catcher Seth Mullis, an Arkansas-Little Rock signee, hit .356 with 27 RBI, while senior shortstop Grant Devore was the district’s offensive MVP with a .404 batting average, 12 doubles and 28 RBI.

McKinney North (26-3): Little went wrong for North in 2013, except a 1-0 loss to Waxahachie in a one-game playoff in the 4A Region II area round. Another great run could happen again, with a core group returning. Pitcher Julian Pope was the 13-4A newcomer of the year, going 8-1 with a 0.55 ERA and 58 strikeouts. Shortstop Montana Sadler and pitcher/OF Gabe Constantine were all-district selections.

Argyle (29-5): Last season’s regional quarterfinal between Melissa and Argyle was epic (56 runs scored in three games), with Melissa rallying from a Game 1 loss to advance. Don’t count Argyle out in a potential rematch, however. Argyle has two dominant left-handers: TCU signee and 10-3A MVP Drew Gooch (10-2, 1.23 ERA, 118 K) and Texas Tech signee Parker Mushinski (5-1, 1.73 ERA, 63 K).

Sunnyvale (25-6): Expectations can’t get any higher, entering the season as the state’s No. 1 ranked Class 2A team. Senior Wesley Phillips was the District 12-2A MVP in 2013, hitting .505 with 26 extra-base hits, 52 RBIs and a 4-0 record as a pitcher. UT-Arlington signee Jake Wilcox was 10-3 on the mound with 137 strikeouts, allowing opponents a paltry .129 batting average.

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