Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 22 Nazareth Academy


By Andy Sroka & Diego Solares
Illinois Staff

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on April 12, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next several weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2021 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, leading into a countdown through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2021 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Nazareth Academy
Preseason Rank: No. 22
2019 Record: 29-9
Conference: East Suburban Catholic
IHSA Class: 3A
Head Coach: Lee Milano 

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Justin Gonzalez INF 2021 -
Wylder Guido INF 2021 Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Justin Gutierrez INF 2021 Loras College
Anthony Milano 1B 2021 Morton JC
Joseph Milano LHP 2021 Morton JC
Ryan Smith RHP/INF 2021 -
Sam Waldron C 2021 -
Luke Brabham INF/RHP 2022 -
Sebastian Gutierrez RHP/INF 2022  
Colin Lukas INF/OF 2022 -
Finn O'Meara INF 2023 -
Lucas Smith OF 2023 -
David Cox UTL/RHP 2024 -
Nick Drtina RHP/UTL 2024 -
Luca Fiore LHP/OF 2024 -
Joey Hawkins INF/RHP 2024 -
John Hughes LHP/1B 2024 -
Bobby Kutt INF/RHP 2024
Cooper Malamazian INF/RHP 2024 -

STAT RAT

20+ win seasons. Head Coach Lee Milano has been at the helm of the Roadrunners since the 2000 season. Since that time, he has won 20+ games 16 times; 30+ games three times and currently has a run of 11 straight 20+ seasons heading into the 2021 season. Winning is not uncommon for Coach Milano and this year should be no different for a talented Nazareth squad.

X-FACTOR 

Leading the charge for Nazareth as their most experienced player is Ryan Smith, the top uncommitted senior in the state’s 2021 class. Built at a live-bodied 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, Smith has one of the livelier arms in the class. He consistently sat at 87-89 mph with his fastball at the Senior Games last October and we’ve seen him as high as 91 mph across the diamond on the infield. He’ll be tasked with handling a heavy workload as the presumed ace of this pitching staff and they’ll look for him to be a key cog to their offensive attack, all while getting meaningful innings in the field when he’s not on the rubber. Smith’s all-around profile and live arm are both reasons why he’s currently a top-50 player in the state’s senior class and an integral part of this Roadrunners team.

Ryan Smith (8/11/20)

OUTLOOK

This Nazareth Academy squad is one of the youngest teams on our top-25 countdown, with just two returning players having logged varsity innings under their belt. They’re going to heavily rely on contributions from several members of the 2023 and 2024 classes, with a handful of those names projected as potential everyday assets for this squad. Nonetheless, they’re an extremely talented bunch with some impact names scattered throughout the roster and it’s a program that has built a competitive dugout year in and out.

The senior Smith, and noted ‘X-Factor,’ is going to play a major role in the success of this team in 2021, but a trio of seniors are expected to join him near the top of Nazareth’s projected order in OF Anthony Milano, 3B/RHP Wylder Guido, and INF Justin Gonzalez. LHP Justin Milano is another senior arm who will earn innings for this team throughout the spring. Guido was one of their most leaned on arms as a sophomore in 2019 and should provide a formidable one-two punch on the mound with Smith. Some other upperclassman who should provide depth to the club are juniors INF/RHP Sebastian Gutierrez, INF/OF Colin Lukas and INF/RHP Luke Brabham. Despite not having a ton of experience at the varsity level between this bunch, coach Milano will look to get valuable contributions and leadership from the oldest members of his squad.

After that, they feature some of the top underclassmen in the state, many of whom are expected to play important roles on varsity from the first pitch of the season. Sophomore OF Lucas Smith is a talented center-field type who has a chance to hit towards the top of the order. Smith has a knack for the barrel with the ability to affect the game in a number of ways thanks to his hard-nosed, aggressive style of play.

Some other underclassmen who could get thrown into the mix from the get-go are some of the top freshman and sophomores we got our eyes on this winter and in the past. Freshman Cooper Malamazian, has a chance to win the job at shortstop, especially when the aforementioned Smith is on the mound, and other than experience, has the tools to do the job. Malamazian is built at a lean, lanky 5-foot-11, 150-pounds with upside levers and controls his body well, displaying quality sure-handed actions that’ll stick up the middle. 

Fellow freshman Bobby Kutt could also be working in tandem with Malamazian up the middle of the infield, while two other ‘24s may see plenty of action in their first season at Nazareth: Nick Drtina and David Cox. Drtina is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound left-handed hitter boasts an upside offensive profile and has been up to 82 mph on the mound. Cox is another upside two-way athlete, listed at a lanky 6-foot-3, 180-pounds. It’s rare to see a team, at the 3A level especially, look to so many freshmen on varsity – but this is a special 2024 class within the Roadrunners’ dugout.

Besides the plethora of young position players at coach Milano's disposal are a pair of freshman southpaws; Luca Fiore and John Hughes. Time will tell if they will even be needed on varsity with the depth of arms on staff but both are some of the top left-handers we have seen in the class. Fiore runs his fastball in the low-80's with a loose, upside arm action and some of the best breaking ball spin metrics we have seen in the class. Hughes is extremely polished for his age, features a three-pitch mix and has run his fastball up to 87 mph in a bullpen setting. 

BOTTOM LINE 

Even with young, inexperienced players manning several key positions for their squad, Nazareth is a perennial top-25 team and regularly competes for the East Suburban Catholic title. It’ll certainly be a test for them, especially as they get into the thick of conference play, but the amount of talent cooped up with a winning pedigree is what will carry them through this 2021 season. 

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2021 season.

Find more information on the 2021 Roadrunners below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN