Burleson Centennial coach Matt Waldmann has a great problem.
As his team approaches its second season of varsity baseball, he'll choose pitching starters between two players who have proven themselves together over the last four years and a player who went from relative obscurity to top area prospect in just a few short months.
Teams to watch
Southlake Carroll (25-13 last season): Dragons return two top-flight pitching prospects from last season's regional semifinal team
Keller Fossil Ridge (20-11): A team that underperformed last season will be looking for a playoff spot
Colleyville Heritage (25-6): Cody Thomas and Preston Palmeiro anchor a strong hitting team
Mansfield (21-6): Center fielder Hunter Hargrove is coming off district MVP honors
Arlington Martin (36-6): Junior Turner Larkins brings a high-80s fastball to a team that made the state tournament last season
Cleburne (30-11): Yellow Jackets came up short at state; OF Nick Woodall returns
Players to watch
Casey Shane, Burleson Centennial: His fastball is between 88-92 and getting stronger. Has topped radar at 96 and mixes four different pitches.
Sheldon Neuse, Keller Fossil Ridge: Star-Telegram Player of the Year last season; hit .443 with nine extra-base hits.
Cody Thomas, Colleyville Heritage: OU's top QB prospect is one of the state's top amateur OF prospects, and interest is high on both ends.
Preston Palmeiro, Colleyville Heritage: One of the nation's top third base prospects and son of former major-leaguer Rafael Palmeiro.
Tyler Alexander, Southlake Carroll: Top lefty prospect in Texas; fastball consistently in upper 80s and was district pitcher of the year last season.
Turner Larkins, Arlington Martin: The 6-foot-3 junior is a top prospect; gaining additional velocity on fastball.
Kenny Hill, Southlake Carroll: The A&M football signee is looking to improve his draft stock at third base this season.
The former are all-district starters Drew Grimes and Turner Jenkins, and the latter is senior right-hander Casey Shane. He played for Centennial's junior varsity last season after lettering at Burleson the previous two years.
"We were already pretty good with Drew and Turner," Waldmann said. "Now we're looking at an abundance of options and different things we can do."
In transferring to Centennial, Shane was focused on an introductory firefighter class to lead to a potential post-high school career option.
When the class didn't materialize because of funding issues, Shane decided to forgo the two varsity letters he won at Burleson High School and stay for a season of JV baseball at Centennial.
"A year ago, I was just hoping to get through the JV season," the 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior said. "I was thinking that maybe I had an outside shot to get a junior college scholarship, but I never really thought realistically about anything beyond that."
After a dominating summer season with the Fort Worth Cats select team, the ball started to roll a bit more.
He quickly began to develop command and confidence on the mound, sustaining a fastball between 88 and 92 mph.
The first clue that something was different happened when he took the rubber at LaGrave Field in June.
"My coach told me some scouts from Texas and Texas Tech were in the stands," Shane said. "I thought that was pretty cool, and I had a great outing."
Word started to spread from there, and after a summer of showcase games and special invitations to play national events, Shane was overwhelmed when Texas A&M offered him a spot.
On the surface, the story seems like a rags-to-riches baseball folk tale. But Waldmann said it's far from that.
"You can lay all the success at his feet," he said. "Casey has worked very, very hard to get better. He did the things you needed to get noticed, and when his opportunity came, he grabbed it."
Shane is the early favorite to start tonight's season-opener against Denton, and he'll do so as the No. 1 amateur pitching prospect in Tarrant County, according to perfectgame.org.
The top five in that bunch are a who's who of Star-Telegram Super Team selections from last season, including Sheldon Neuse of Keller Fossil Ridge, Cody Thomas of Colleyville Heritage and Kenny Hill of Southlake Carroll.
Neuse, last season's Star-Telegram Player of the Year, returns for his senior season after hitting .443 for a team that failed to make it out of the bi-district round.
Thomas and Hill were two of the most celebrated football recruits of the year, but both likely will face decisions this summer when the MLB amateur draft approaches.
Thomas, an outfielder for the Panthers, is slated to enroll at Oklahoma in the fall. Hill, playing third base at Carroll, signed as a quarterback with Texas A&M.
By graduating its first senior class, Centennial is setting its sights high. With no starters lost and the addition of Shane, the Spartans will field arguably the most experienced team.
While Centennial will be strong on the mound, Waldmann said his team has put in overtime to improve its situational hitting.
"We've struggled with the bats and struggled with our approach at the plate," he said. "In the past, we haven't been aggressive enough and looked at too many pitches."
Waldmann said he feels things will be different from last season, in which the Spartans were eliminated by state runner-up West in the regional quarterfinals.
We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse, images, internet links or any device to draw undue attention. Comments deemed inappropriate will be removed and repeated abusers will be banned. NOTE: If you log in using your Twitter account, your comments will be signed using the name on your Twitter profile, NOT your Twitter user name. Read our full comment policy.