Laurel baseball coach Donald Cleveland starts with pitching when talking about this year's team. With juniors Tyler Carmen, Tiamleau Savage, Nash Persaud, senior Job Hernandez, and sophomores Michael Young and Jordan Abbott, the Spartans have pitching depth.
"I would say they are among the three or four best in the county," Cleveland said of his pitching staff. "We have the depth and (ace) Tyler at the top. That means a lot."
Laurel improved from four wins to 10-8-1 last year.
"I think we can be much better," Cleveland said. "We have a little bit of everything. We have a lot of returnees I am confident in. When you return your top pitcher, top hitters and catcher, you are in good shape."
Laurel will play in Prince George's County's new 12-team North Division, facing some unfamiliar opponents in Potomac, Gwynn Park, Friendly and Frederick Douglass.
"We will have a couple of 1A, 2A and 3A schools in our league," said Cleveland, a second-year coach who worked as a Laurel softball assistant from 2009 to 2012. "We have chance of winning our division now and getting a first-round bye for the playoffs."
The right-handed Carmen, the Spartans' hardest thrower, should help keep the Spartans in contention. He struck out 82 batters in 56 innings last year and posted an 3.70 ERA.
"He is throwing harder this year and has four effective pitches," Cleveland said. "I would say there aren't more than one or two guys better than him in the county."
Savage, another right-hander, will work as the No. 2 starter, and replace Tre Fortson, who graduated. "He is throwing much harder than last year," Cleveland said. "And he has improved his control."
Joining Carmen and Savage in the rotation are right-handers Abbott and Young. Both were promoted from last year's junior varsity, but Cleveland says Abbott and Young could have been on the varsity last year.
"They were varsity-ready last year, but I kept both of them down there," Cleveland said. "Michael doesn't throw hard, is a control pitcher and never walks anybody. He is very calm. That goes for Jordan too. Jordan throws much harder. They will be very valuable to us this year."
Catching is in the capable hands of sophomore Jarrett Leishear, a returning starter.
Senior second baseman Malik Mendez is another one of the Spartans' top defensive players. Carmen will play first when he's not on the mound, and Savage moves from third base to shortstop.
Junior Riley Horn will also see time at first. Abbott and seniors Matthew Roby and Rolando Bonilla are candidates for third.
"Our defense is pretty solid," Carmen said. "If we continue to throw strikes, we should be successful."
Junior second baseman Gustavo Sanchez and junior first baseman Kole Akinkuowo are also competing for playing time.
The outfield consists of Persaud, junior Jarrett Livas, Young, Hernandez and senior Matthew Roby.
"Our defense has been the focus the first few weeks of practice," Cleveland said. "We made too many errors last year. We have to stay calm and understand every situation we are in."
Carmen, Savage and Young are the top hitters returning from an offense that batted over .300 last year.
"We should have a similar offense or even be better," said Carmen, who led Laurel in batting average (.527) and RBIs (29) last year. "We have a lot of guys with power, the knowledge and athleticism. We have a lot of speed and should be able to move around the bases well."