Baseball practices started inside last week and, with any luck, teams might be able to get some outdoor workouts in before they actually play games, which can start on March 16.
The Northwest Herald baseball preview will appear online March 19 and in print March 20, with previews on each local team. Until then, here are three storylines to look out for in the 2020 season.
Who will be next to reach Joliet?
Five times in the last six seasons, the Fox Valley Conference has been represented in the Class 4A State Tournament semifinals.
Each time it was a different FVC school reaching Joliet, confirming what FVC coaches have said for more than a decade: their league can play with anybody.
Last year was a prime example. Five FVC teams won regional titles (three in 4A, two in 3A). One of those teams, Hampshire, finished higher in the state tournament (fourth) than it did in the FVC (sixth).
The early candidates look like Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge, which both won Class 3A regionals last year. Each team graduated big chunks of its every-day lineup, but return some standout pitching.
South has its top two starters, Jacob Bimbi and Dominic Guzman, both back. The Gators also have sophomore Ysen Useni, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore who throws 87 mph.
Guzman and Bimbi both were outstanding in the postseason. Bimbi struck out 10 to beat Prairie Ridge, a talented offensive team, in their sectional game. Bimbi was a Northwest Herald All-Area first-team selection after going 8-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.
Prairie Ridge returns a big bat in Keegan Garis, an All-Area first-team selection who led the area with 40 RBIs.
The Wolves have Ryan Goudschaal (4-3, 1.81 ERA) and Holden Phelps (three saves, 0.60 ERA) back to lead their staff.
If South and Prairie Ridge are sent to different regionals, they could see each other in the sectional again.
How good is Phelps?
Phelps is one of the most intriguing players in the area. He was used mainly as closer last season because the Wolves had so much pitching depth.
Phelps is 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and throws 92 mph. He is on the radar of major league scouts and might get drafted in June, although he is signed with Missouri. Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said there are some teams with their eyes on Phelps.
Phelps pitched in some high-level showcase events last summer. He struck out 35 batters in 23 1/3 innings last spring with a 0.986 WHIP.
What does a drop in class mean for some KRC teams?
Johnsburg (641), Richmond-Burton (695) and Marengo (696) drop from Class 3A to 2A for the next two years. R-B and Marengo are the largest schools in 2A.
What that means in the postseason will be determined in late May or early June, but it seems like an advantage.
R-B returns shortstop Dalton Wood, a three-year starter, and catcher Hayden Christiansen, who started as a freshman last year.
Marengo will be led by one of the area’s top all-around players in Aiden Smith, an All-Area first-team selection at third base. He hit .427 and knocked in 32 runs, but may project in college as a pitcher. He was 3-4 with a 3.80 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. He will play at McHenry County College next year.