High school baseball preview 2023: Top team predictions in Clay County

Tony Salazar

The 2023 FHSAA baseball regular season starts Monday. Here is a brief recap of each team’s 2022 season and how each team will look heading into 2023.

Clay High Blue Devils – 2022 Record, 18-11

In 2022, Clay High went on a playoff run for the first time since their Final-Four appearance in 2018. The senior-heavy roster made a deep run in the playoffs that ended with a 2-1 loss against the Suwannee Bulldogs in the FHSAA 4A Regional Semifinal. Clay High graduated eight of its nine starters from last season, with many of those starters playing at the next level in Alabama outfielder Max Williams, UNF pitcher Brandon Adams, FSCJ catcher Dylan Greene, FSCJ pitcher Jayden Long, Berry College pitcher Brady Greene and Point Park first basemen Josh Isenberg.

The Blue Devils only have three returning players who saw significant playing time last season in seniors Josh Rouw, FSCJ commit Aidan Hampton and Flagler signee Eli Roberts. Rouw produced good numbers at the plate with a team loaded with talent. Rouw had a batting average of .296 with 21 hits, eight RBIs, four doubles and five stolen bases.

Clay has two returning pitchers who had solid performances in their junior seasons in Hampton and Roberts. In seven appearances on the mound, Hampton had a 1.81 ERA with a 1-1 record. He pitched in 19.1 innings and struck out 25 strikeouts while only giving up five earned runs. Roberts appeared in 18 games last season and had an ERA of 0.74 in 28.1 innings. Roberts struck out 55 of the 179 batters he faced while only giving up 16 hits and three earned runs.

Outside these returners, Clay High’s roster is very young and has limited experience at the high school level. However, head coach Josh Persinger had a team similar to this one when he inherited the 2015 squad that made a State Championship appearance and graduated a lot of talent the season prior. Persinger was able to rally the troops to win a District Championship in 2015 that was not as talented as their 2014 team.

Fleming Island Golden Eagles – 2022 Record, 9-14

The Golden Eagles struggled last season in Grant Bigillin’s last year as the head coach of the baseball team after having multiple winning seasons under him in years past. Fleming Island also graduated a lot of talent in JU pitchers Divine Valle and Issac Williams, Brennan Morris, Justin Corfield and FSCJ outfielder Caleb Simmons.

The school had a losing record in 2022, but brought in Gil Morales to be the next head coach for the Golden Eagles. Morales spent over 20 years coaching at private schools in and out of Jacksonville and spent the 2022 season as the head coach at Pedro Menendez. Fleming Island also has senior Abram Summers, senior Cayden Robinson and sophomore Caiden Kowal returning for 2023. As a junior, Summers led the Golden Eagles in most offensive statistics with a .419 batting average with 26 hits, 11 RBIs, seven doubles and two triples. Robinson is their best-returning pitcher based on 2022 statistics. He had an ERA of 2.28 with 15.1 innings pitched and 18 strikeouts. Kowal also returns after posting a .338 batting average with 24 hits, eight RBIs and two doubles in his sophomore campaign.

With a new coach to revitalize the culture and having numerous players return, Fleming Island is primed to go back to being a winning baseball team.

Keystone Indians – 2022 Record, 12-12

Keystone finished last season with an extra-innings loss to the Baldwin Indians, 8-7 in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. Based on the statistics from the nine games of stats on MaxPreps, First-Team All-County Dalton Hollingsworth is the only notable graduate from last season.

The two notable returners for the 2023 season are senior Ryan Jones and junior Kenneth Guy, both of whom made the 2022 Clay County Coaches Honorable Mention team. In nine games provided by MaxPreps, Jones had a .259 batting average with seven hits, two doubles and two triples. Guy had a .304 batting average with seven hits, one RBI, three doubles and a triple. Keystone will always be a tough team to face and expect multiple players to step up this season.

Middleburg Broncos – 2022 Record, 12-11

Middleburg finished their 2022 campaign with a loss to the St. Augustine Yellow Jackets, 7-3 in the FHSAA 5A District 3 Semifinal. Middleburg also lost Logan Padgett, Luke Padgett and Clayton Hendry to graduation last spring.

Middleburg’s notable returners are senior Jacob Baxley and junior Austin Larson. Baxley was the power hitter for the Broncos in 2022. Baxley had a .281 batting average with 18 hits, 21 RBIs, three doubles, one triple and a home run in 2022. Baxley was also selected to the Coaches All-County Honorable Mention team in 2022. Larson pitched in 11 games for the Broncos and had a 1.99 ERA in 2022. Larson pitched in 24.2 innings and struck out 29 batters while only giving up seven earned runs.

The Broncos have a lot of talent to replace from last season and multiple players will have to step up like Baxley and Larson did in 2022.

Oakleaf Knights – 2022 Record, 16-10

Oakleaf finished last season with a 6-5 loss in the first round of the playoffs to Creekside and graduated their best hitter Leo Diaz last spring. However, head coach Matt Carter got a year of experience at the 6A level and has multiple returners who could become stars in 2023. Some of the notable returners are Jordan Clarke, Jaythan Arriaga, Devin Dizon, Antonio Diaz and Devin Outlaw. All five of these players were voted to the 2022 Coaches All-County Second team last season.

Clarke put himself on the map last season as a dominant pitcher and hitter during his sophomore campaign. Clarke appeared in nine games in 2022 and had a 4-2 record with a 1.65 ERA. Clarke pitched in 42.1 innings and stuck out 45 of the 175 batters he faced. Arriaga in his sophomore year had a .348 batting average, 24 hits, 12 RBIs, two doubles, two triples and 21 stolen bases in 2022. Dizon had a .339 batting average with 21 hits, 16 RBIs, six doubles and a home run in 2022. Dizon will also play baseball at the next level for the SJRS Vikings. Diaz had a .302 batting average with 16 hits, nine RBIs, two doubles and a triple last season. Outlaw had a .269 batting average with 18 hits, 13 RBIs, one double, one triple, and one home run.

With all of the returning talent for Oakleaf and the leadership of Carter, Oakleaf is expected to take another step in their quest to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Orange Park Raiders – 2022 Record, 5-20

Orange Park ended a 13th straight season with a losing record. One of the few bright spots for the Raiders last season was the First-Team All-County sophomore, Josh Taylor. In 11 games recorded on MaxPreps last season, Taylor led the Raiders in most batting statistics last season. He led the team with a .361 batting average with 13 hits, nine RBIs and five doubles. In order to improve from last season, Orange Park needs more players to step up.

Ridgeview Panthers – 2022 Record, 8-15

The Panthers have had back-to-back losing record seasons since former head coach John Sgromolo left Ridgeview to become the Coordinator of District Athletics and Development at Clay County. Ridgeview lost one notable starter in outfielder Jacob Rowe to graduation last spring.

Despite two losing seasons and losing a talented player in Rowe, Ridgeview has multiple players who got plenty of experience returning in seniors Alfredo Jimenez, senior Billy Girgis and junior Keegan Roach. Jimenez and Girgis were second and third in most offensive categories behind Rowe in 2022. Jimenez had a batting average of .354 while having 17 hits, nine RBIs, a double and three triples. Jiminez was also Second-Team All-County in 2022. Girgis had a batting average of .311 and had 18 hits, eight RBIs, a double and six stolen bases. Girgis was on the Coaches All-County First Team and will play baseball at the next level for the FSCJ Blue Wave. Roach had a .321 batting average with nine hits, four RBIs and two doubles.

With multiple players getting significant playing time last season, Ridgeview could end the 2023 season with their first winning record since the 2020 Covid-19 shortened season.

St. Johns Country Day Spartans – 2022 Record, 23-5

The Spartans had a dominant team in 2022 that many thought would win a State Championship because of their trio of D1 players and playing in the second-lowest FHSAA classification. However, St. Johns lost in the FHSAA 2A Regional Championship at home to North Florida Christian, 4-1. The Spartans lost a lot of D1 talent in Brad Hodges, Jordan Taylor and Finn Howell to graduation last spring. Hodges is now playing baseball for UVA, Taylor is playing for FSU and Howell is playing for UNF.

Even though they lost their top three players, St. Johns has numerous players returning for 2023 that got significant playing time in 2022. Some of the notable returners are junior Kody Daneault, senior and Berry commit Vic Patel, senior and USF signee Shawn Andrade, senior and USF signee Isaiah Mamea, senior and Embry-Riddle signee Kellen Brown senior and UNF signee Jacob Thomas, junior Trevor Bradley and senior Gavan Bradley. As a sophomore Daneault was right behind the trio of D1 players in offensive statistics. Daneault had a .411 batting average and had 30 hits, 25 RBIs, three doubles and two home runs. Patel had a .364 batting average with 16 hits, 11 RBIs, one double and three home runs. Andrade had a batting average of .288 with 21 hits,18 RBIs, five doubles and two home runs. Mamea batted .275 with 11 hits, six RBIs and one double. Brown had a .300 batting average with three hits, four RBIs, a double and a triple.

Thomas is the returner with the most innings pitched with 24.1. In those innings pitched, Thomas had 28 strikeouts and 11 earned runs. Trevor Bradley had the second most innings pitched of returners with 14.1 and 12 strikeouts while only allowing four earned runs. Gavan Bradley made eight appearances on the mound, where he had a 2-1 record with 16 strikeouts.

The Spartans lost a trio of players who will go down as some of the best baseball players in the history of their school. However, the Spartans have a plethora of returning players who could help St. Johns get to a FHSAA 2A State Championship.

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I am a graduate of the University of North Florida with a major in communication with a focus in journalism and a minor in sports management.

Green Cove Springs, FL
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