Mike Sunderland's Amazing CL Preview
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   The objective of this column is to provide an insightful, detailed look into Philadelphia High School baseball, by viewing and reporting on games that I see, as well as by offering my own additional opinions and commentary on the season.  I will focus specifically on the Catholic and Inter-Ac leagues, as those are the leagues that I know best from my previous experience.  During my junior and senior years of high school, I developed a strong desire to learn as much as I can about each and every opponent.  I am hoping this focus on detail will extend to this column, as I will intend to provide light and insight into this season.  Although for a good part of the season I will be hours away from Philadelphia here at Holy Cross College, I still feel I will be able to produce an interesting view of the upcoming season.  While I am here at school, I will provide my own commentaries based on my knowledge of players, teams etc.  During Easter break I plan to catch a few games, as well as during May, when I am let out of school.  I plan to catch numerous games in May and June, when the season is heating up and the champions are decided.  I hope you enjoy this column.  It is my goal to highlight the skills of numerous players and teams, as well as provide the same publicity for area baseball players that are present for football and basketball players.  If you have any questions or comments or just want to discuss some topic with me, you can reach me at Msuds4@aol.com.

Catholic League Overview:

  Once again, it looks to be another intriguing season in the Catholic League.  Yet again, the winner is going to have get by Archbishop Carroll, the closest thing to a dynasty in PCL baseball.  Carroll has won 5 of the last 7 PCL championships, making them the equivalent of the New York Yankees.  Last year featured a 16-0 absolute thrashing of LaSalle in the PCL championship.  Once again, I think Carroll will be among the cream of the crop of the PCL.  They return ace pitcher Frank Gailey, as well as other productive starters from last year’s PCL team, such as John Gardner, Chris Cashman, and Ryan Stewart.  Carroll’s program is so strong that they constantly develop new players into their dominant system.   However, I feel that Carroll will have even more competition this year from the Kennedy Kenrick Wolverines, their rivals in recent years.  KK returns OF-P Chris Lubanski, the best player in the area and one of the best high school players in the nation.  KK also has a new transfer pitcher, Jon Smolinksy, from Souderton, who is expected to make a large impact.  The battles between Carroll and KK this year, both in individual games and in the standings, should be epic.  Last year, the PCL South was quite competitive and mixed, as Carroll, KK, O’Hara, Bonner, Prep, and Roman all were quite competitive.   In contrast, I predict that this year will be more of a 2 team race, as Carroll and KK will battle for the top of the division while the rest of the teams scramble for the remaining 2 playoff spots.  Bonner returns pitcher Kevin Horning and OF Frank Nunan and should make the playoffs.  Roman also returns some strong players, such as pitcher Matt Daley, C Jim McKeany, and OF Anthony Capella.  O’Hara has lost a lot of talent from a 14-4 team, while Prep is intriguing with some young talent.  Neumann will be scrappy and does have a decent returning class.  I feel that the Northern Division will also be a 2-team race, with LaSalle and Ryan competing for the top seed.  LaSalle returns Northern division MVP Dan Waters, a standout pitcher and outfielder, as well as Tony Liberatore, Pat Riley, and Andrew Carnevale.  Once again, LaSalle should be at the top of the Nothern division.  However, Ryan should be right with them, as they return talented lefty Tom Dolan, who led his team to the semifinals last year.   Conwell-Egan returns some solid pitching and should nab a playoff spot.   The remaining teams should battle for the final playoff spot.

Team by Team:

Catholic League South:

  Archbishop Carroll: Carroll loses some extremely talented players, such as Mike Costanzo, Jim Gillin, and Anthony Altomare.  However, they have more than enough talent to overcome these losses and should be as a dominant team as they have been in recent years.  They lost the middle of their lineup in the aforementioned three players.  However, they return their first two batters, 2B John Gardner and OF Ryan Stewart.  Gardner is tough as nails and is the best returning leadoff hitter in the PCL.  He always finds a way to reach base and has some additional pop in his bat as well, as seen by his home run at LaSalle University in last year’s PCL championship.  Stewart is an extremely fast base runner.  These two batters should form a formidable top of the lineup.  However, they need some players to step up in the middle of the lineup.  Because they play at the smallest field in the PCL by far, expect once again to be balls flying out of the ballpark, no matter who the batters are.  Carroll also returns SS Chris Cashman, who played well in last year’s PCL championship run.  Cashman and Gardner should form a nice, experienced double play combo, one of the few combos that return this year.  Pitcher Frank Gailey really had a breakout season last year, garnering first team All catholic honors and was arguably the most effective pitcher in the league last year.  Gailey will be expected to remain a dominant pitcher.  Last year, Carroll had Costanzo as a strong number 2 pitcher behind Gailey.  This year someone must step up in that role.  For Carroll to go deep in the playoffs they will need at least two strong pitchers.  Carroll returns players with experience as well as an ace in Gailey.  They are a strong machine of a program and know how to win.  However, they need to develop a dependable second starter behind Gailey as well as hitters in the middle of the lineup.
  Questions: Can Carroll develop a consistent second starter?  Can they replace the power of Costanzo, Gillen, and Altomare in the middle of the order?
  Projection: There is no doubt in my mind that Carroll will remain among the best teams in the Catholic League.  They have too many experienced, talented players and too strong a program to be anywhere but among the best.  There is a very good chance that Carroll will finish once again at the top of the South.   However, KK will be pushing them very closely.  Those match-ups should be quite epic.  I project Carroll to finish either first or second in the South and to go deep into the playoffs.

   Kennedy-Kenrick: When you talk about KK, you must talk first about OF-P Chris Lubanski.  Lubanski has played for the Junior USA National Team and is considered by Baseball America as the top rated high school player in the Northeast.   He is a Florida State signee and will be one of the top picks in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft.  Lubanski is an extremely gifted hitter, who can hit for average as well as power.  He possessed a sweet lefty stroke that is coveted by colleges and major league teams.  He also is extremely fast.  Lubanski is the returning Souther Division MVP and should be the top contender to gain that award this year.  He is the best impact player in the league.  What should not go unnoticed are his pitching skills.  Lubanski also gives the Wolverines a consistent, experienced pitcher, which is a valuable commodity.  He teams up with Souderton transfer Jon Smolinsky to form a very strong 1-2 punch on the pitching mound.  Smolinksy is expected to make a large impact for KK.   Smolinsky was rated by Baseball America as the sixth best high school senior pitching prospect in all of Pennsylvania, ahead of such other PCL stars as LaSalle’s Dan Waters and Carroll’s Gailey.  Therefore, expect for Smolinksy to make a big splash in the PCL this year.  A well-established, strong pitching combo is something that KK possessed that Carroll does not have on paper.   This could become a very important strength for KK.  Their pitching combo of Lubanski and Smolinksy is probably the best pitching combo in the league.  However, this is a new league for Smolinksy and he has to adapt to the new players and live up to expectations for KK to flourish.  Sean McManus is also expected to see some time on the mound.  The Wolverines’ offensive attack should revolve around the potent bat of Lubanski.   Just by having Lubasnki the offense is dangerous.  However, players will need to step up to protect Lubanski so that he will see some pitches to hit.   If the batters around Lubanski are not producing, pitchers will not throw to Lubanski.  KK returns 2B Brian Rainone.  Smolinksy also plays third base. However, like Carroll, KK has lost a wealth of talented hitters such as Dan Rafferty, Mike Rafferty, Mike Romano, and Joe Zazworskey.   Newcomers will have to step up to replace their shoes as well as to provide protection for the talented bat of Lubanski.
  Questions: Will Smolinksy adapt quickly to the new league and develop into a strong Catholic League pitcher?  Will KK be able to develop hitters to provide protection for Lubanski?
  Projection: Like Carroll, KK is a perennially strong program that knows how to win.   They have the best player in the league in Lubanski as well as a strong pitching transfer in Smolinksy.  KK should battle Carroll for the top of the South.  Don’t be surprised to see KK knock Carroll to the second place of the division behind their two stellar pitchers.  This is the year for KK to win the PCL championship, while Lubanski is still around.

  Roman Catholic: Roman finished last season at 9-9, behind the big 4 of Carroll, O’Hara, Bonner, and KK.  Judging from their returning talent, I expect an improvement for the Cahillites.  The talent is there this season for Roman.  As long as they play together and develop team chemistry, there is no reason why they should not make the playoffs this year.  Roman returns standout starting pitcher Matt Daley, who throws smoke.  Daley started off quite strong last year, but faded towards the end of the season, as he threw quite a large amount of innings last year.  Daley must be used with good judgment.  When he’s fresh, he’s as dominant as any pitcher in the league.  I feel Daley will have a definite first team All Catholic season.  OF Anthony Capella may also see some time on the mound this year.  Capella had a very strong arm and may need to develop into a strong number two pitcher for Roman to contend.  They lost pitchers Pat Trunfio and Pete Doyle from last year, so either they need to develop someone from last year’s JV squad or have Capella develop into a strong two starter.   If the pitching is there, this will be a very strong team, because they return some experienced hitters.  Capella made second team All Catholic outfielder last year and possesses a powerful bat.  The move of Capella down in the batting order took the pressure off him and allowed him to have quite a productive season.  Roman also returns their cleanup hitter, catcher Jim McKeany, who possesses a powerful bat.  SS Chris Corkery has experience from last year, as does OF Jerry Reed.  Roman has an experienced offense returning, as well as an ace in Daley.  They should be right in the mix in the playoff race behind Carroll and KK.
  Questions: Can Roman develop another starting pitcher, such as Capella?  Can they gel as a team so that they have a decent shot to make the playoffs?
  Projection: This year’s Roman team intrigues me.  After Carroll and KK, the final two playoff spots in the South are up for grabs.  I can see Roman taking advantage of this situation and grabbing one of these playoff spots, behind the arm of Daley and their experienced hitters.  I see Roman nabbing one of the 2 final playoff spots, as long as they develop some additional pitching other than Daley and do not overuse Daley.

Monsignor Bonner: Bonner returns some solid veterans from a very good team from 2002.  Returning veterans include pitcher Kevin Horning, OF Frank Nunan, and SS Mike Shalon.  As is to be expected with every team, they lost quality talent as well, such as Randy Milia, Nick Condo, Paul Kolhoff, Tim D’Orazio, and Jason Smith.  However, I feel that this year’s Bonner team has the makeup to have a solid season.  The lefty throwing Horning is a pitcher with very good experience.  He has a good makeup and knows how to win on the mound.  However, with the graduation of Milia, who Horning shared the spotlight on the mound with the past 2 seasons, Horning now must take full control.  He will be the main man on the mound to guide the Friar’s back into the playoffs.  Horning also saw time in the outfield when not pitching and should resume that role again this year, or possibly see time at first base.  Nunan is another player with lots of talent and experience, as he was the number three hitter in the order last year as a junior and the leadoff hitter as a sophomore.  Nunan is a talented athlete who has some pop in has bat.  He will be counted on to produce offense even more so this year.  Shalon is a very solid defensive shortstop, who will also need to be productive at the plate for the Friars to score some runs this year.  Like many other teams in the PCL, Bonner will need to develop a solid second starting pitcher.  Horning is an established winner, but they will need at least one other pitcher to establish himself this year.   As it looks now, Bonner has some decent ingredients for success: a proven pitcher (Horning), a solid hitter (Nunan), and a consistent shortstop (Shalon).   However, questions marks abound as well, as many holes will need to be filled in the field as well as on the mound.  This Bonner team has promise, but it all depends if new players will step up and fill the roles of departed veterans.
  Questions: Can Bonner develop some new offensive talent?  Can they find a quality second pitcher behind Horning?
  Projection: Bonner should be right in the playoff mix.  As I have stated earlier, I feel that after Carroll and KK, the Southern division playoff race should be wide open.  If Bonner develops decent new players, they should make the playoffs, as they already have a few quality veterans in place.  Bonner should be battling for a playoff spot and be amongst the contenders to get that spot this season.

Cardinal O’Hara: Of all the teams in the PCL, I think O’Hara will be the one most hurt by graduation.  Last year O’Hara had a very talented team, finishing 14-4 in the regular season (tied for first with Carroll).  However, they lose star 1B/ Pitcher Ted Rydesky, slick SS Mike Essery, home run machine Mark Barrar, and leadoff hitter Fran Burbidge.  That is a lot of talent to lose.  O’Hara returns lefty pitcher Mike Antonini, last year’s number three pitcher.  Last year Antonini threw a perfect game against West Catholic and had some solid pitching performances.  However, it is a big jump from three pitcher to one, but that is what Antonini must do this year.   Last year I was really impressed by 2B Brian Campbell, who returns this year.  Campbell possesses a cannon arm for second base, and is a solid fielder overall.  He teamed with Essery to form, in my opinion, the best DP combo in the league last year.  He also hit well last year, and will be counted upon this year as well.  Also returning in the field if 3B Joe DiMenna.  O’Hara also returns pitcher Kevin Paul.  O’Hara has numerous holes to fill for this year’s team, but this is a solid program so don’t expect them to lie down for anyone.
  Question: Can Antonini develop into a number one pitcher?
  Projection: Based just on paper, this O’Hara team looks like it may struggle.   A lot of talent has departed and they do not possess an abundance of experienced veterans.  They have a few experienced pitchers, which is a plus.  However, their lineup appears decimated from graduation.   For O’Hara to compete this year, players that did not see too much varsity time or who played JV must really step up.  O’Hara has a decent program, so do not count them out of the playoff competition, but players must really step up to make that a reality.

  St. Joe’s Prep: The Prep has had a banner year in sports thus far, winning PCL championships in both football and basketball.   This year’s Prep team will feature an abundance of young, inexperienced talent.  Gone are superstars 1B Eric Smith and OF Pete Chromiak.  The Prep will not have many seniors on the team; they will be a team predominantly filled with juniors.  Returning from last year’s 9-9 team is catcher Kevin Walker, who possesses an accurate arm.   Two juniors to look out for are OF Steve Loke and SS Rob McDonnell, who both saw significant time as sophomores on the varsity squad.  Loke possesses a quick, powerful bat while McDonnell is a steady hitter and fielder.   Many juniors may make up the rest of the lineup, and the success of these young players could determine the Prep’s success.  On the mound, the Prep returns pitcher Joe McElwee, a control pitcher who saw some success last year as a sophomore.  Also look out for John Coury, a hard throwing lefty and Jim Fee, a senior righty.  The Prep will be a young, talented team and the development of their young players will reflect closely the team’s success.
  Question: Can young players like Loke, McDonnell, and McElwee continue to develop and lead Prep baseball back to winning ways?
   Projection: This is an intriguing Prep team.  One can look at the team on paper and dismiss them right away, but they very well might catch a lot of teams by surprise.   They have a lot of young, talented players eager to make a splash on the varsity scene.  However, this may be a tough year for the Prep, as they may have to become accustomed to young and inexperienced mistakes.  Like every team in the division besides West, the Prep has a chance to make the playoffs.   However, their abundance of young talent must come through for this to happen.

   St. John Neumann: This could be a very dangerous team.  Neumann has always been very scrappy under energetic head coach Gaeton Lucibello.  They have always battled hard and not bowed down to anyone.  This year they return some decent players into the mix.  1B Jimmy Porecca, a second team All Catholic from last year, returns.  Porecca has a very strong bat, and should be in the mix for first team All Catholic first basemen.   OF Billy Canady also returns.  In my mind, Canady will be the fastest base runner in the entire PCL.  This guy can absolutely fly.  He is dangerous anytime he puts the ball in play.   Look for Canady to ignite the Pirates from the top of the order.   Also returning is catcher Tom Daly, who enjoyed a solid junior season.  On the mound, RHP John Brady returns, giving the Pirates a pitcher that has some experience.  All in all, this could be a very successful year for Neumann.  Look for them to improve from their 4-14 record from last year.  Unquestionably this will be a scrappy, hustling team but they may become very dangerous as well.
  Question: The main question for Neumann is whether they can develop enough pitching to compete in the ultra competitive Southern division.  The offense should be there.
  Projection: Like the aforementioned teams, Neumann should be competitive in the South.  They have enough talented returning players to make a run for the playoffs.  Teams should not take Neumann lightly since they are coming off a 4-14 season.  It is not unreasonable for Neumann to secure the final spot into the playoffs.

  West Catholic: This should be yet again a tough year for the Burrs.  West is coming off an 0-18 season and has not had success in recent years.  They simply do not enough players interested in baseball.  They lose a decent, hard working player in 2B Dennis Morrow.  Last year’s West team showed spirit and desire, but they just did not have the talent to compete.  However, their approach to the game was to be respected by all.  They approached and played the game hard, the right way.  This year’s West team needs to display that same spirit, but they must also possess some talented players to turn this program on the winning track.
  Question: Can West find some players to turn the program around?
  Projection: Sadly, I see another hard season for West.  I am sure they will play the game hard and with spirit, like last year, but if they do not significantly improve finding players, they will find themselves at the bottom of the South once again.

Catholic League North:

  La Salle: La Salle should once again be at the top of the Northern Division.  They return last year’s Northern Division MVP, OF-P Dan Waters, who has committed to University of Maryland for baseball.  Waters brings smoke.   He is a hard throwing lefty, who really had a breakout year last year.   He developed into the Explorers ace pitcher.  He had a rough game in the Catholic League Championship against Carroll, but do not let one game deter you: Waters is a dominant pitcher.  He is the type of horse that can lead a team through the playoffs.  He also is a dangerous hitter, with a lot of power in his bat.  He batted cleanup for last year’s team.  He is one of the best players in the PCL.  Also returning is the middle infield of 2B Tony Liberatore and SS Andrew Carnevale.   Liberatore batted leadoff last year.  He is exceptionally fast, and has surprising pop in his bat.  Carnevale played shortstop when graduate John Reifsynder pitched.  Carnevale is steady in the field and should team with Liberatore to form a nice DP combo.  Also returning is 3B Pat Riley, giving the Explorers a very strong infield.  OF Kevin McLoughlin also returns.  This should be a very strong La Salle team, with many experienced and talented players in the field, as well as a bona fide ace in Waters.
  Question: Who will be the Explorers number two pitcher?
  Projection: La Salle should finish at the top of the Northern Division, most likely as the number one seed.  They have a very solid lineup, as well as a dominating pitcher in Waters.  La Salle definitely should advance far into the playoffs, and have a very good chance to make it to the championship.

  Archbishop Ryan: Ryan started off last season at 1-6 but made an improbable run not only to do the playoffs but all the way to the semifinals, where they only lost 5-3 to eventual champion Carroll.  Ryan was led this far into the season by P-OF Tom Dolan, who received first Team All Catholic at both outfield and pitcher as a sophomore.  Dolan is a lefty pitcher that really knows how to pitch.  He has very good stuff and composure for a young pitcher.   He is a bona fide ace pitcher, and if he dominates come playoff time, this Ryan can advance far.  He also is an excellent hitter.  Ryan also returns two other junior pitchers with experience from last year’s playoff run, RHP Fran Schick and RHP Mike Szelagowski.  Thus, Ryan had a fairly deep, experienced pitching staff.  That is often the key to success.  The pitching staff alone should make Ryan very competitive.   They have a solid ace in Dolan but also have other quality pitchers as well.   Ryan still will need to score some runs, and they will need to have some additional offense outside of hard-hitting Dolan.
  Question: Who will replace offense talent such as Mike Pekach, Andy MacDonald, and George Higginson?
  Projection: This should be a very competitive Ryan squad.  Last year was a very talented team, but they almost entirely relied on the arm of Dolan to lead them into the playoffs and deep into them.  Thus, Dolan proved he can lead a team to victory.  With another year of experience under his belt, Dolan should be even more capable.  Ryan also has other solid pitchers, and their pitching staff alone should keep them in all games.  If they develop some hard-hitting offensive talent, watch out because they could be a championship contender.

  Conwell-Egan: Egan returns two experienced pitchers in RHP Mike Kane and RHP Todd Puzycki.  Kane received second team All Catholic honors last year.  Both pitchers bring decent experience to the table.   Having two experienced pitchers is a luxury that many PCL teams do not have.   They should keep Egan in most games.  Egan also returns C Matt Fischer, OF Tim Carroll, 2B Ryan Moran, and 3B Nick Costello.   Thus, the offense is fairly experienced as well.  Egan definitely has the overall talent to make it into the playoffs.  Look for another solid season for Egan.
  Question: Can Egan compete with the ranks of LaSalle with Waters pitching or Ryan with Dolan pitching?
  Projection: Once again, the Northern division will probably not be as strong as the South.  Therefore, the playoff race should be wide open.  Egan is a definite candidate to make it to the playoffs.  They may compete quite competitively with Ryan for that second spot or maybe even LaSalle for the first.   Egan will be a dangerous team this year.

  Bishop McDevitt: McDevitt returns number one pitcher Bob Mitros.  Mitros really stepped up last year and had a very productive year.  Once again he will be the main man for the Lancers.  Also on the mound is returning RHP Chuck McGlaughlin. Also returning is catcher Andrew Kovach.  Kovach has tremendous varsity experience and is a fine hitter.  However, McDevitt has many holes to fill in the field as well as behind Mitros on the mound.   For McDevitt, to really flourish this year, they need Mitros to lead then to victory and to Kovach to be an offensive leader.
  Question:  Will McDevitt have enough offense to make the playoffs?
  Projection: McDevitt should be right on the edge of playoffs.  With some new talent playing well, they could very well sneak into that fourth spot.   However, there are many holes to fill.  These holes must be filled for any chance at the playoffs.

  Archbishop Wood: Wood returns a solid senior middle infield, in SS Justin Cunnane and 2B Matt Connolly.  They will be counted on to spark and ignite this team.  Also returning for Wood is C Travis Roth, who has decent pop in his bat.  Wood’s offense should be decent, despite the losses of Dan Mueller, Matt O’Connor, and Kyle Brennecke.   However, their pitching is a major question mark.  They will need some quality arms in order to make the playoff.
  Question: Can Wood find some pitchers to lead them into the playoffs?
  Projection: I think Wood will be battling with numerous teams for that final playoff spot in the North.  That spot is up for grabs and Wood has enough returning talent to make a run for it.  However, they need pitching.  Expect some epic battles between rivals Wood and McDevitt to nab that final spot.

  North Catholic: North struggled to a 4-14 record last year.  They return SS Dan Paluch, a fine hitter that enjoyed a solid season last year.  Paluch was second Team All Catholic last year and will most likely be North’s most talented hitter this season.  Other experienced hitters that are returning are Mike Karpovich, Stan Orzechowski, and Craig Kubis return.  Also returning on the mound are pitchers Justin Etsell, Shaun Gallagher, and Kubis.  These returning players suffered through a rough season last year.  However, they come back with experience and hopefully insight.   Look for North to improve significantly this year, as long as they gel together as a team.
  Question: Can pitchers such as Etsell and Gallagher, who struggled last year, use their experience to lead North to a winning record?
   Projection: North finished last season in last place.  However, it is not beyond possibility for North to have a large improvement this year.  They have key players returning.  However, there is still a chance for another long year if they do not come together as a team.

  Father Judge: Judge had an abundance of pitching talent last year in Paul Koenig, John Keller, and Joe Cione.  However, in my opinion, they underachieved, as they were left out of the playoffs with an 8-10 record.  They definitely had the talent to make the playoffs.  However, this year their pitching will be very much a question mark.  One player that did enjoy a fine season last year that is returning is catcher Dale Curry.  Curry is a big catcher with a strong arm.  He also possesses a big bat.  2B Don Winterbottom also returns.  Last year’s Judge team was very talented yet underachieved.  This year’s Judge team is not nearly as talented.  However, they have the potential to do better than last year’s team if they play solidly as a team.
  Question: Can Judge find pitchers to keep them competitive?
  Projection: This could be a long year for Judge, based on paper alone.  However, paper cannot judge a team’s character and heart.  It is these intangibles that Judge must develop to
make the playoffs.  The final playoff spot is open for everyone.

  Cardinal Dougherty: In the field, Dougherty returns 2B Josh Guevara and Dan Metague.   Guevara had a fine season as a sophomore and will be expected to ignite the lineup.  On the mound, Dougherty returns pitchers Jose Medina and Chris Jackson.  That should be the foundation for a decent pitching staff.  Dougherty has some pieces in place for a successful season.
  Question: Can Medina and Jackson lead Dougherty to a playoff spot?
  Projection: This Dougherty team could be very dangerous.  They have some decent hitters as well as a few decent pitchers.  Look for them to be in the running all season long for a playoff berth.