Season Preview: Hart Indians

Ryan Ozella
California Area Scout

With the 2019 high school baseball season just around the corner in California, we have begun rolling out team previews from around the state.

In this edition, we will take a closer look at the Hart Indians (Newhall, CA), a team that has a storied history in CIF-SS Division 1, but lost their top five hitters from 2018. 2019 will be shaped by how the young roster comes together and if players will take the leap to be the next highly successful Hart team.

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Team: Hart High School

Nickname: Indians

Section: CIF-Southern Section, Division 1

League: Foothill League

Head Coach/Years at school: Jim Ozella (20th year)

Team Twitter Handle: @hart_baseball

2018 Overall Record: 20-13

2018 Postseason Finish: 2nd round loss to Cypress

Number of Returning Starters: 3

Number of Returning Pitchers: 3

Top Returning Players:

'19 RHP/1B Pat Arman, '19 OF Cooper Austin, '20 RHP Warner Rhodes, '20 RHP Dan Parra, '20 C Jacob Marquez

Other Key Players:

'19 OF/RHP Kendall Thomas, '19 INF Rocco Salivar, '19 OF David Holuby, '20 1B Isaac Kim, '20 LHP Ian Sockett, '21 SS Ryan Benz, '21 INF/RHP Tyler Vannix, '21 INF/RHP Ben Niednagel

College Commits:

'20 C Jacob Marquez - Arizona

2019 Outlook:

The Hart Indians have a long and storied tradition of excellence, regularly battling for the top spot in the Foothill League and pushing to win the CIF-SS D1 Title year in and year out. The program has produced countless impact players who have gone on to success at a multitude of college programs and up to the MLB level. 2018 was no exception seeing the Indians go 20-13 (12-3 in League) finishing atop the Foothill League and giving themselves a strong starting position to try and run through the gauntlet that is the Division 1 playoffs. Their long term goal of a CIF-SS title went unmet when their season ended against a strong Cypress team losing 4-0 in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

When this much success occurs at one school it's not about rebuilding, but retooling with a new generation of players looking to carry the mantle and make their impact in the 2019 season. Coach Jim Ozella has been at Hart for two decades and sees a group of players who will be challenged. Key returners are being asked to move from role players to regulars and a group of young players is looking to make the jump to the next level. They return only three starters and three pitchers having lost their top five hitters from the 2018 roster. Needless to say, there is ample opportunity for spots to be won and competition going into the season has been fierce. For 2019 to be another successful season the Indians will need to find players from this new group who are willing to lead by example while battling through another strong schedule with talented teams to face both inside and out of league play.

The Indians have a group of key performers that they will count on for the teams overall success. '19 RHP/1B Pat Arman is a two-way player who will be counted on for innings in 2019 showing a mid 80's fastball and feel for his breaking ball that's got strong spin. He's a strike thrower who will attack hitters. Offensively his left-handed swing puts him as a middle of the order bat showing the ability to drive balls deep into gaps with flashes of pop and athleticism around the bag at first. '19 CF Cooper Austin is another returner who will be counted on after playing extensive innings when injuries occurred in 2018. He will be staying in the middle of the outfield where his athleticism and quickness allows him to go get the ball for his pitchers. Coach Ozella mentioned he's made progress through the offseason and his spray bat will keep him atop the lineup looking to use his above-average speed to put pressure on opposing defenses.

'20 RHP Warner Rhodes has made steady progress from a 2018 season where he competed in a relief role gaining 20 innings on the mound. He showed well during the LA Open as his loose arm has gained velocity and improved feel for multiple offspeed pitches makes the fastball even better. He's a highly academic student (4.5 GPA) which should translate well as he continues to pitch more and understands what he can do to get hitters out. '20 RHP Dan Parra may be one of the most talented arms on the Indians staff but will need to buy into his work ethic and find consistency in his preparation to be an impact contributor for 2019. His high 80's fastball starts his repertoire and is matched with feel for a breaking ball and slider that flash above-average actions and a developing changeup that could make for a useable fourth pitch. '20 C Jacob Marquez, an Arizona Wildcat commit, looks to anchor the defense behind the plate and use his switch-hitting bat to be an impact driving in runs. His athletic body has gained strength and shows the ability to drive balls into gaps with growth in his catch/throw skills.

Behind the group of key returners is a group of role players who are looking to make leaps into impact contributors. '19 OF/RHP Kendall Thomas has been a part of the Varsity squad since his sophomore years making steady improvements in his game. At 6-3, 175 he's a physical athlete who runs a 6.6-60 yd with a loud bat. Consistency at the plate will take the raw skills and make them useable. He's also hoping on the mound for the first time and shown an easy, loose arm getting into the mid-'80s. '19 INF Rocco Saldivar is another senior who's been on Varsity since his sophomore year with the ability to hit from both sides of the plate and a utility glove that can fit in at 2B/3B and the OF. He's got a competitive streak and will push the youngsters to get better. '19 OF David Holuby returns and will play in LF where his gap bat looks to crush fastballs. He's athletic and shown Leadership skills that will be needed.

'20 1B Isaac Kim is a large physical frame that will be a key bat in the middle of the lineup looking to do major damage flashing big pop and a consistent gap power swing. He moves well for his big size and will also hop on the mound late in games where he has been up to 86 with the fastball. If he can keep shaping his body, he has a chance to impact a college club. '20 LHP Ian Sockett will be a key pitcher for the Indians as the lefty works from a submariner slot running the fastball to both sides of the plate. He makes left-handed hitters very uncomfortable and has shown consistent leaps during the offseason with his slider and changeup. '21 SS Ryan Benz will take over at the six spot after being the top player on the JV team in 2018. He's shown a strong arm and easy range with advanced intellect in the middle of the diamond and his bat should be an impact contributor for the Indians. Coach Ozella believes that with time and strength he could be another big SS to come out of the program. '21 INF/RHP Tyler Vanix will be a two-way player for the Indians with a chance to start at 3B where his strong arm and gap bat will play well. On the mound, he will be a relief arm where he can get the fastball up into the low 80's. '21 RHP/INF Ben Niednagel will be another two-way contributor with trust from the staff of his ability on the mound. He gets the most out of his small frame and is showing an advanced feel for his offspeed pitches matching it all with a fiery and competitive attitude. He will compete with Vanix and Saldivar for innings in the Infield and whoever's bat gets hot could keep them in the lineup.

The Foothill League will bring quality competition with Saugus, West Ranch, Valencia and Canyon all willing to battle rivals each and every week. An out of league schedule that includes a night game at USC against Gahr, a double-header against Santa Margarita and games against quality competition in the Easton and Redondo Tournament, these young Indians will be tested. Being in the most competitive baseball division in Southern California, being tested is expected. How the Indians react to new roles and competition will determine how far they go. If the pieces realize their potential, accept the challenge in front of them and put in the work, this group could have a big season in 2019.


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