Teams to watch
1. Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls return experienced starters and a deep roster that will be led by new coach Marshall McDougall. Wiregrass surprised some by reaching its first region final a year ago, and faces a fierce battle from Class 7A-District 8 foe Steinbrenner this season.
2. Mitchell: Led by one the nation’s top high school prospects and returning experienced players and depth, the Mustangs eye a return to the region final after making their first last season. In the five-team Class 6A-District 10, it should be a two-team race between Mitchell and Osceola.
3. Pasco: The Pirates won their district under first-year coach Pat Fortunato, thanks to pitching and a potent lineup at the plate. Now featuring experience, players back from injury (Malik Johns) and athleticism (Tyree Austin), Pasco is poised as the 5A-7 contender, but will have to hold off Brooksville Hernando and Zephyrhills, which is now coached by a familiar face: Ricky Giles.
4. Land O’ Lakes: The Gators drop down a class in baseball, but it’s beneficial in a 5A-8 district that’s prime for their taking. Led by the legendary Calvin Baisley, no team, or coach, is better than Land O’ Lakes at manufacturing runs and playing defense behind solid pitching. Baisley calls the team young, but expects the players to develop.
5. River Ridge: The Royals Knights also should contend behind Land O’ Lakes, which is good news to River Ridge looking to finally break through into the region tournament again. Coach Jack Homko finds himself with experienced pitching depth and power at the plate that should lead to a steady supply of runs.
Players to watch
P/INF - Cobi Johnson, Sr., Mitchell: The Florida State commit is one of the nation’s top prospects, and Johnson is poised for a stellar final season after batting .426 with 43 hits, 16 doubles, three triples, 34 RBIs and two homers as a junior. He added 18 stolen bases and was 10-2 with a 1.68 ERA and 103 strikeouts on the mound.
P - Zach Drury, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: At 8-5 with 97 strikeouts, the hard-throwing righty helped the Bulls reach the region final. The North Florida-commit batted .362 with 22 RBIs and two homers.
P/OF - Austin Drury, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch: A speedy North Florida-commit scored 25 times, plus batted .344 and drove in 14 while going 13-for-13 on stolen base attempts.
INF - Michael Campoamor, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Furman commit batted .359 and drove in 20 on 28 hits, plus added nine doubles and a homer.
P/INF - Lane Stancil, Sr., Pasco: Batted .429 with 24 RBIs, 12 doubles and three homers to help Pirates to a district title.
P - David Castillo, Sr., Sunlake: Went 5-3 with a 2.00 ERA on the mound and struck out 63.
P/OF - Alex Reynolds, Jr., Land O’ Lakes: Batted .315 with 28 RBIs on 29 hits, seven doubles and a homer last season.
P - Andrew O’Brien, Jr., Land O’ Lakes: This righty went 4-0 with a 2.92 ERA.
P/INF - Jason Heinrich, Jr., River Ridge: Went 5-4 with a 2.62 ERA and 51 strikeouts on the mound, plus drove in 16 on 30 hits and had a .435 average.
P/INF - Tyler Hawks, Jr., River Ridge: Went 4-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 34 strikeouts on the mound as one of the Royal Knights top two arms.
OF - Robbie Hanlon, Sr., Pasco: A big bat that hit .374 with 21 RBIs in 2013.
OF - A.J. Rainaldi, Sr., Pasco: Drove in a team-high 29 and had 13 doubles with a .459 average last season.
OF - Dakota Caldwell, Sr., Wesley Chapel: Batted .429 with 11 RBIs and a homer last season
P/INF - Christien Thomas, Jr. Hudson: Batted .352 with six RBIs on 19 hits.
P/INF - Jarred Mattos, Sr., Fivay: Drove in 11 on 17 hits and went 4-4 with a 2.78 ERA and 27 strikeouts on the mound.
OF/P - T.J. Niles, Sr., Fivay: Speedy outfielder had five stolen bases, scored a team-high 16 runs, hit two triples and drove in 16, while striking out a team-high 33 in six starts.
INF - Ethan Nuebling, So., Bishop McLaughlin: Hurricanes top returning hitter drove in 13 and a had homer on 14 hits and a .292 avg.
INF - James DeBerry, Jr., Zephyrhills: Top returning hitter with a .344 average and a team-high 22 RBIs.
P/UTL - Joey Macaluso, Sr., Ridgewood: Drove in 19 and a had a homer on 20 hits.
Correspondent Mike Camunas covers prep baseball in Pasco County. He can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.