* Corona del Mar: 9-14, 4-10-1 in 1997. Coach: John Emme (first year, 0-0). Prospects: It has been seven years since the Sea Kings made the playoffs. That could change this year, but even if it doesn't, Corona del Mar's baseball fortunes are definitely on the upswing. Emme begins with seven returning starters, the best being Times all-county second-team third baseman Ty Harper (.506, seven home runs, 29 RBIs) and catcher Mark Hatfield (.400). It will help if outfielder Ryan Achterberg (.278) returns to his 1996 all-league form. Ryan Lewis (4-4, 2.98) and Matt Larson (2-4, 4.82) have the team's most mound experience.
* El Toro: 14-11-1, 8-6-1 in 1997. Coach: Tom McCaffrey (10th year, 232-153-2). Prospects: Like Corona del Mar, El Toro--third last year--looks to be much improved, especially its pitching. McCaffrey has six returning starters, and his explosive lineup includes Times all-county infielder Clemente Bonilla (.459, six home runs, 29 RBIs), all league shortstop-catcher Blair Lucas (.427), outfielder Colin Stiltz (.391, five home runs) and second baseman Darron Ohlwiler (.362). The Chargers also have six pitchers they are counting on. David Reyes, who won five games and had a 3.30 ERA, opens as the No. 1 starter. El Toro will probably need a major stumble by Santa Margarita for it to win the league title, but the Chargers should make it interesting.
* Irvine: 17-10, 11-4 in 1997. Coach: Bob Flint (19th year, 299-198-2). Prospects: While the rest of Sea View stood around and watched, the Vaqueros stole the league championship in the final week last season. The task will be tougher in 1998. Even with four returning starters that include two second-team all-leaguers--second baseman Jordan Blen (.349) and outfielder Greg Zachan (.380)--the Vaqueros don't appear to have the pitching to repeat. Irvine has been written off before and wound up winning, and with some luck could find itself in the playoff hunt once again.
* Newport Harbor: 8-16, 4-11 in 1997. Coach: Jim Kiefer (third year, 16-32). Prospects: This is the third year of Kiefer's rebuilding program at Newport Harbor, and it could be the hardest one to show progress with. The Sailors have two returning starters in outfielder Shawn O'Donnell (.433, four home runs, 19 RBIs) and Charlie Waite (.230), who moves to catcher after playing the infield last year. But Kiefer has no seniors to help calm the new kids--in particular a pitching staff dominated by three sophomores--through the rough Sea View League waters.
* Santa Margarita: 19-8, 10-5 in 1997. Coach: Tip Lefebvre (eighth year, 95-78). Prospects: Last year the Eagles belted a county-record 49 home runs, but a four-game losing streak midway through league cost them the title. This year, Santa Margarita is even more talented. Lefebvre has three returning pitchers, each of whom could be the top starter on most teams: Tim Keef (5-2, 3.30 ERA), Jeff Kuno (4-1, 2.45) and Randy Vanderplow (4-1, 3.23). There is also plenty of thunder in the lumber of Kuno (.535, nine homers, 40 runs, 24 RBIs), third baseman Randall Shelley (.447, five home runs, 28 RBIs) and first baseman Matt Strickroth (.329, six home runs, 23 RBIs). On paper this could be one of the best county teams ever.
* Woodbridge: 13-12, 7-8 in 1997. Coach: David Madrid (second year, 13-12). Prospects: Madrid did a nice job his first year, keeping the Warriors in the playoff race until the last couple of weeks. But the Woodbridge talent base was deeper last year too. It will take some time before the Warriors' chances can be properly assessed. Fortunately for Madrid, second-team all-league outfielder/pitcher Kevin Beavers (.382, 4-4) returns as does second baseman Steve Terwiske (.386). After that, there is plenty of uncertainty.