The 2019 high school baseball season was one to remember for Rio Grande Valley hardball fans.

Four teams from the same district qualified for the third round of the playoffs, two went on to square off in the fifth round of the playoffs, a number of Valley products received all-state recognition, and Sharyland Pioneer capped off an incredible run by becoming the first RGV team to reach the UIL state baseball tournament since 2007.

Today marks the start of the new season. Teams have spent the last three weeks practicing against each other and scrimmaging other squads. Now, it’s time to officially go to work.

Here’s a look at some of the top teams, players to watch, and must-see action in the first week of the regular season.

THE MONITOR’S HS BASEBALL TOP 10 POLL
1.       McAllen High
2.       Sharyland High
3.       Sharyland Pioneer
4.       Rio Grande City
5.       Edinburg Vela
6.       Brownsville Veterans
7.       PSJA High
8.       Los Fresnos
9.       Hidalgo
10.     La Joya Palmview

TEAMS TO WATCH

With a loaded group back in 2020, the McAllen High Bulldogs begin the season ranked as the No. 1 team in The Monitor’s High School Baseball Top 10 Poll. Spearheaded by Texas Longhorns signee Aaron Nixon, the Bulldogs have one of the most lethal lineups across the RGV balanced with guys with good batting averages and others who can knock it out the park. Nixon returns at one of the state’s best pitchers, while Chris Bernal, Hector Garcia and Elijia West combined to blast 91 RBIs and 15 home runs in 2019.

Coming in at No. 2 are the Sharyland High Rattlers. With seven starters back for the Rattlers from last year’s District 31-5A championship team, Sharyland High is poised for another successful season. The combination of first baseman Martin Vazquez (.405 BA, 7 HR) and catcher Abraham Alvarez (.395 BA, 2 HR), two all-state players in 2019, makes Sharyland High a threat to hang runs on any opponent.

Sharyland High’s Martin Vasquez (32) hits against La Joya Palmview in a 31-5A match up at La Joya Palmview High School on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2019, in La Joya. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

A season after qualifying for the state tournament, the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks begin their new campaign at the RGV’s No. 3-ranked team. While the Diamondbacks lost key members from last year’s squad, all-staters Evan Maldonado (.408 BA, 45 RBIs) and Juan Rivera (.471 BA, 16 RBIs) are ready to prove that Pioneer’s 2019 was no fluke.

Sharyland Pioneer teammates celebrate a home run by Evan Maldonado (11) in the fourth inning against Sharyland High in Game 1 of the 5A Regional finals at UTRGV Baseball Stadium on Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Rio Grande City comes in at No. 4 as the Rattlers bring back a loaded group looking to build on last year’s third round playoff appearance. With UTRGV commit Marc Perez, returning No. 2 pitcher Mike Ramos (Incarnate Word) and twin brothers Eddie and Manny Garza (Rice), Rio Grande City is a serious threat entering the new season.

Rio Grande City’s Manny Garza (34) celebrates a run in by Marc Perez (21) in the fifth inning against Sharyland Pioneer during a regional quarterfinal series game one at Sharyland Pioneer High School Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Despite losing two Division I players to graduation, No. 5 Edinburg Vela appears reloaded and ready to make another run at the District 31-6A title. Jaime “Mito” Perez Jr. was named the 31-6A Defensive Player of the Year, while Isaac Lopez, Ivan Mendoza, and AJ Sotelo are all-district honorees returning for the SaberCats.

Edinburg Vela’s Isaac Lopez (26) tags second as he throws to first to compete a double play against Harlingen South in a ECISD tournament game at Edinburg Vela High School on Friday, Mar. 8, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The District 32-5A defending champion Brownsville Veterans Chargers come in at the No. 6 spot led by the trio of Christian Holloway (.489 BA, 22 RBI), Jorge Lozano (5-0, 0.76 ERA) and Rafael Capistran (1.47 ERA).

Coming in at No. 7 are the PSJA High Bears fresh off a year winning the District 30-6A championship. Devon De Leon (Incarnate Word) and Jacob Sanchez (UTRGV) are two D-I players back in the saddle for the Bears, and they bring some big bats with them. De Leon hit .479 last year with 44 RBIs on his way to being named the District 30-6A Offensive Player of the Year, while Sanchez batted .390 with 39 RBIs and first-team all-district honors.

PSJA High’s Omar Alcantara (4) slides passed PSJA North’s Ricky Suarez (8) safe at second base in a district 30-6A game at PSJA North High School in Mike Rodriguez baseball field on Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

No. 8 Los Fresnos’ Victor Loa earned District 32-6A’s Most Valuable Player award in 2019 as he led the Falcons into round three of the Class 6A playoffs. Loa tossed four no-hitters, finishing the year with a 0.94 ERA and 135 strikeouts. Look for Loa and Los Fresnos to repeat as one of the RGV’s top units.

The No. 9 Hidalgo Pirates bring back all three of their starting arms beginning with all-state selection Samuel Salazar, New Mexico commit Kyle Perales, Jonathan Treviño, and Mike Vela. The Pirates were on the verge of advancing to the fourth round of the playoffs in 2019, leaving this year’s group ready to kick that door down and lead the Pirates deep into the postseason.

Hidalgo pitchers Kyle Perales (left), Samuel Salazar (center), Jonathan Treviño (right).

La Joya Palmview pitcher Jonathan Martinez, a Texas State signee, propelled the Lobos into the third round of the playoffs last season with upsets of Brownsville Veterans and Corpus Christi Calallen before falling to Sharyland High in three games. Martinez (9-1, 93 Ks) is back as one of the best arms in the Valley, making No. 10 Palmview as dangerous as any team around.

La Joya Palmview’s Jonathan Martinez (85) pitches against Brownsville Veterans in a Class 5A bi-district playoff game at La Joya Palmview High School on Friday, May 3, 2019, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Each player listed above is big time, but here are some others who will be making plays all over the diamond this baseball season.

District 30-6A – Steve Villarreal, Mission High; Jonas Ortiz, McAllen Rowe; J.C. Gutierrez, La Joya High; Elias Morales, La Joya High.

District 31-6A – Elijah Estevanes, Weslaco High; Jaden Cavazos; Weslaco High; Jacob Cavazos, Weslaco High; Darren Barrera, Edinburg High; Jorge Salinas, Edinburg High.

District 32-6A – Omar Rodriguez, Brownsville Rivera; Jacob Marroquin, Harlingen High; Chase Roberts, Harlingen South.

District 31-5A – Manny Flores, La Joya Palmview;  Mark Champion, Mission Veterans; Angel Nunez, Sharyland Pioneer; Randy Garcia, Sharyland High.

District 32-5A – Eduardo Guerrero, Valley View; Kevan Diaz, Valley View; Matt Segura, Edcouch-Elsa; Manny Silva, Edcouch-Elsa; Leo Bocanegra, Donna High.

District 32-4A – Josh San Roman, Progreso; Darick Ramirez, Raymondville; Joey Ortega, Rio Hondo; Fidel Garcia, Grulla.

THIS WEEK’S ACTION

Today and Tuesday are stacked with competitive non-district games as teams aim to start off on the right track.

Games to watch on today’s slate include Sharyland Pioneer at Calallen, Mission Veterans at Mission High, and matchups between playoff teams from a season ago like Edinburg High at Rio Grande City, Hidalgo at PSJA North, and Harlingen South at Edinburg North.

Harlingen High and McAllen High will lock horns on Tuesday, while Brownsville Lopez pays a visit to Sharyland High to take on the Rattlers.

From Thursday through Saturday, the McAllen Baseball Tournament is set to bring top talent from across South Texas as McAllen Rowe, McAllen High, Mcallen Memorial, and Sharyland Pioneer will host pool play.

The tournament features teams like Calallen, Flour Bluff, San Antonio Holmes, competing against some of the RGV’s top programs — Brownsville Veterans, Hidalgo, McAllen High, Rio Grande City, Sharyland Pioneer and Weslaco High.

For a look at this week’s RGV high school baseball schedule, click here.

For the latest scores, schedules, and statistics from across the Valley, visit RGVSports.com.

bramos@themonitor.com / Twitter: @bybryanramos