2018 Season Preview: JSerra Lions


Les Lukach
State Scouting Director

With the 2018 high school baseball season just around the corner in California, we will begin rolling out team previews from around the state.

In this edition we take a closer look at the JSerra Lions (San Juan Capistrano, Ca.), a team that deals with the burden of expectations on a yearly basis which is part of life in the Trinity League. After losing the number one overall pick in last years MLB Draft, the Lions will look to a mix of experienced players and some young up-and-comers as they eye a return to the always difficult Southern Section Division I Playoffs.

Team: JSerra

Nickname: Lions

Section: Southern Section, Division I

League: Trinity League

Head Coach: Brett Kay (@coachkay13)

Years as Head Coach at School: 12

Team Twitter Handle: @jserralionsbb

2017 Overall Record: 17-13

2017 Postseason Finish: Lost in first round

Team Website: JSerra Baseball

Number of Returning Starters: 5

Number of Returning Pitchers: 6

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS:

Blake Klassen: JR/1B-OF, Bat shows power to all fields; should be a table setter for Lions. Arizona commit

Michael Curialle: JR/SS, Athletic infielder with a powerful arm that may get innings on the mound. UCLA commit.

Jake Reed: SR/RHP, Really athletic pitcher who is showing good development with secondary pitches. San Diego commit.

Preston Miller: SR/3B, Powerful bat that shows all the traits to be a great player for Lions and beyond. San Diego commit.

David Le Bioda: JR/1B, Athletic and powerful athlete that is beginning to understand the game and himself more. Loyola Marymount commit.

Andrew Miller: JR/RHP, Pitched in big spots last year for Lions and did well. Most experienced returning arm. Uncommitted.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Cody Schrier: FR/INF, Potentially the next big thing for Lions; Played for 15U National Team last summer. Southern California commit.

Nino Vultaggio: JR/OF, Very good runner and athlete; Played a lot last year for Lions; Coaches are trying to get him to slow the game down; Uncommitted.

Paul Roche: JR/C, Caught a lot of games as a sophomore in 2017; Tireless worker who will have competition for the starting catching spot. Uncommitted.

Nick Lopez: SR/RHP-Util, Can play anywhere due to his athleticism; Will likely play outfield in 2018; Key to Lions success in 2018. Uncommitted.

SEASON OUTLOOK:

After seeing Royce Lewis selected first overall in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, it would be easy to assume that like most programs JSerra would be in rebuild mode.

Except JSerra is not like most programs.

Behind 12th year head coach Brett Kay, JSerra has built itself into a regional force that has seen its players achieve national acclaim. The Lions are annually one of the preseason favorites in the Trinity League, a league widely considered the best in the state and, by some peoples account, the nation.

This year the Lions may not have the target on their backs quite yet, and that's just fine with their head coach.

"We have had the "'hype'" before," said Kay whose team fell one run short of winning a league title last year. "It is kind of a good thing that we don't have that following (this year)."

Kay and his coaching staff believe they've created an expectation that they strive to uphold on an annual basis. The roots of that expectation can be easily traced back to the number of players that have moved on to the collegiate and professional ranks.

For Kay, 2018 isn't about baseball as much as it is living up to the standard and expectations the coaching staff have set forth.

"How these boys respond to what it means to have JSerra across the chest," said Kay when asked about what he want to see from his players this season. "Can they keep the standard of what has been put (forth) by past players and teams."

Ultimately it comes down to the players ability to execute the game plan if teams are to win a championship.

And JSerra has some very good players on it's roster.

Klassen and Preston Miller should provide the power in a lineup littered with line drive, gap-to-gap type hitters. Schrier, Currialle, and Vultaggio are hitters that provide very good approaches and the ability to drive in runs. Le Bioda is beginning to make strides in his overall hitting that should make him an impact bat that flashes big time power.

If and when the lineup begins clicking, JSerra should have one of the top batting orders around.

For Kay that means he might have to do things a little bit differently this season.

"We have always run offense in JSerra terms," said Kay. "I think we can hit and maybe I stay out of the way and get them to think the at-bats and team offense."

The Lions boast the type of team speed that can drive opposing teams crazy, and with Kay - who is one of the most aggressive high school coaches around - running the show, opponents can expect to see things they wouldn't normally see, like a bases loaded squeeze play with two outs.

The Lions may take some lumps this year. That's natural given their youth. But Kay believes the system that's been implemented over the last 11 years will help.

With youth, and to an extent inexperience in the Trinity League, there certainly will be questions for the Lions. Will they hit within their system? Can they move runners over? Hit with two strikes? Hit with runners in scoring position and two out?

These are the things that worry Kay.

"We have to get smarter," said Kay when asked about areas of improvement. "Our youth isn't much of a concern as they will learn our system as we go. We are young. Very young. That isn't so much an area of concern as it is more of us putting the pieces together to see how well it forms."

If there is an area that could be concerning for the Lions it's pitching depth.

Miller and Reed will lead the staff and both are more than capable pitchers. After that it could be pitcher by committee and that committee doesn't have a lot of experience. And in the Trinity League where every game, every pitch, seemingly is a pressure situation, that inexperience can work against teams.

"On the mound we may have two freshman help us with four sophomores," said Kay of his developing pitching staff.

The Lions pitching rotation is bolstered by the transfer of sophomore Tim Scarlett who comes in from San Diego powerhouse Rancho Bernardo. A present thrower more than a pitcher, Scarlett, at 6'5" 190 pounds, has the tools to be an elite prospect with some minor tinkering.

Freshman Gage Jump will provide quality innings whether as a starter or in relief. The lefty features a legitimate three-pitch mix and Kay believes he may be the best left-handed pitcher in the program.

"He's mature beyond his years," said Kay. "I absolutely love calling a game with him."

Jack Gibson is another freshman that should help the Lions on the mound. Like Jump, Gibson pitches beyond his years.

Sophomores Cade Connolly and Daniel Lee will contribute on the mound in some fashion as well. Both flash signs of big potential and both will have an opportunity to prove their value to the coaching staff in key situations.

"(I) Like all of our sophomore arms," said Kay when discussing his pitchers. "No one really knows them or has seen them so we can use that to our advantage."

For JSerra, the 2018 season can be defined by one word: opportunity. After years of having a target on their back and having players everybody in baseball knew, this version of the Lions is flying under-the-radar with opportunity presenting itself for a number of players.

Ultimately these players, like Lions players from the past, have an expectation to live up to.

It's an expectation that is pretty simple really.

As Kay said, "if you want to be good, then be good."

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California high school coaches can request a 2019 preseason questionnaire from Northern California Director of Scouting Blaine Clemmens at [email protected] or California State Director of Scouting Les Lukach at [email protected] 

Note: The completion of a questionnaire does not guarantee we will be able to get it posted before the start of the season.