While Niagara Academy Fighters dominated the standings in last year’s Nor-Am High School season, and earned promotion from the Independent Schools (Indy) Conference, Division 2 to Division 1, is was the International Conference’s (Inter) mighty Mexican team, Guadalupe HS Slashers that ultimately won the first high school baseball championships.
But how will these and the other powerhouse teams fare in 2018? We take a look at our predicted top 5 Nor-Am high school teams for the new season, which opens March 1st.
1) YORK ACADEMY RAIDERS (2017: 28-14, 2nd INDY DIV 2)
The runner up in Division 1 of the Indy Conference had a solid performance last season, averaging 7.2 runs per game (2nd behind Georgia) and topped all high schools in home runs with 62. Even so, they finished 3 games behind Niagara Academy, who hit better and ran bases better.
York may have lost John Renouf (Rimouski) to the 2017 draft, and ace Alex Flores (Norfolk) a large key to their success last year, but they have hung on to outfielder John Marcotte, who hit .260 with 2 homers and 14 RBIs in his freshman year, and they have added some highly anticipated talent in outfielder Bill “Little Bull” Whimster, a freshman phenom who clocks a fast 90 foot sprint and swings with solid power when he makes contact.
Add to this senior Dale Johnson, who contributed 7 home runs and 32 RBIs last year, with a .339 average, and who is certain to get picked up in this year’s draft, though not necessarily in an early round, and York is looking fierce for 2018.
2) GREAT LAKES HS WARLORDS (2017: 20-22, 4th INDY DIV 2)
Rochester’s GLHS Warlords were mellow in their first year in the Nor-Am’s Indy Conference, landing in the middle of Division 2 with a below-.500 performance. But 2018 has seen the addition of one of the Nor-Am’s most highly rated pitchers, a freshman from Mexico named Antonio “Sunshine” Cueneca, a 15-year-old southpaw who already hits 92 mph with his fastball, and has insane control of his pitches.
The team also added 16-year-old closer John Murchison, who can put decent movement on his variety of offspeed pitches that will undoubtedly bind up batters for years to come. Jay Pelley, a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, has also rostered for 2018 and will play shortstop or 3B. Pelley is young and a little timid behind the plate right now, but some scouts expect him to come out of his shell and find some raw power that could impress in 2-3 years.
Warlords’ tempermental manager Brian Mazur expects big things out of his team and will crack the whip to get them to deliver.
3. PANAMA CITY FINANCIAL COLLEGE MILLIONAIRES (2017: 17-25, 8th INTER DIV 2)
Last season’s worst international team is now expected to be this season’s top one. They added Canadian pitcher Stan Noseworthy, a kid from Quebec with a nasty slider and a knack for controlling it well, and an improving 89 mph fastball.
Plus, the top shortstop in the high school circuit, junior Dickie Doyle, a disciplined hitter with some great gap power, is expected to put on a speed show again on the bases. Last season, of his 7 hits in 24 at bats, he stretched out 3 for doubles and sent one over the fences, earning himself a respectable .912 OPS.
Yes, 6 games is a small sample size, and who knows what could have happened had he not fractured his thumb in game 6 of the season, but considering he had been on a five game hitting streak, one can optimistically suggest he would have helped the team avoid the basement at the very least.
4. BROCKVILLE PREP JOES (2017: 25-17, 3rd INDY DIV 2)
Panama City’s Dickie Doyle may be the top shortstop in the Nor-Am currently, but Brockville’s Ross Demers is his likely successor according to OSA scouts. The native of nearby Kingston has been rumored to have a Carl Simms power swing, and when he doesn’t find the other side of the walls, he finds the gaps. Even at 16, he’s patient enough to wait for the right pitch. Watchers can’t wait to see him perform in his first high school season.
Hometown young buck Art Auclair will also wow fans this season. The kid is a natural with the curve, and took down 62 batters in 64 innings last year. He has worked hard last summer and in the fall to improve not only his fastball, which now clocks at 91 mph, but his circle changeup as well.
Brockville’s manager, Enrique Alvarez, is an old school tactician who loves to choose the right moment to strike with a well-timed steal or sac bunt.
After finishing 3rd last year, and not earning the coveted promotion to DIVISION 1, the team is hungry for wins in 2018 and has every intention of joining York Academy and Niagara Academy, both of whom were promoted up after last season.
5. NIAGARA ACADEMY FIGHTERS (2017: 31-11, 1st INDY DIV 2)
Last season’s best team could easily be this seasons best team, as much of their core from 2017 remains. Their record of 31-11 would have put them on top of DIVISION 1, and so this season they are out to prove that they can do exactly that.
A big factor will be Curt “Mustang” Hank, the 17-year-old junior who patrolled right field, going .370/.479/.647 to generate an OPS of 1.126, after nailing 12 homers and 40 RBIs. Hank will be joined in the outfield by freshman phenom Tony Flores, a Mexican import who some scouts have rated as a high contact, high power lefty batter who is expected to outperform all other high school center fielders this season.
Jamaica’s Port Royal College Colonials (7th ranked) have a proven commodity in 2B Alex “Ting” Martins, a junior who hails from the island’s north side, in Port Antonio, and has blazing speed and a line drive swing.
Last year’s champions Guadalupe HS Slashers are ranked 9th in the preseason predictions after losing so many talented players to the 2017 draft, including Jean-François Rougier (Montreal), who went 7-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 75 K’s last year, winning the Nor-Am Pitcher of the Year award for the Inter Conference.
Dallas Sports Academy Bats (18th) were the Indy Conference champions, and had finished atop of Division 1 last season. They too will feel the effects of the 2017 draft drain, as they watched 2017’s Nor-Am MVP for the Indy Conference, Ben Price, get picked up by Battle Creek. Price won the batting title with an incredible .444 average, and had a grand slam against the Slashers during the High School World Series, all of which resulted in his selection 1st overall in the draft — as a high school player. Dallas is not expected to finish in the top half this year after losing their marquee talent.
The Nor-Am High School league season gets underway on March 1st, and is scheduled for 38 games after a change to the schedule length was approved during the off-season. Each team will now play each other conference team a total of two times. Also new for 2018, the designated hitter rule has been eliminated, and pitchers will now bat in the order.