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Shore Sports Network is counting down its top 20 baseball teams heading into the would-be 2020 season by profiling each one. You can read the division-by-division previews here.

Shore Sports Network Baseball 20 in 2020 – No. 16: Marlboro

For the past eight years or so, Marlboro has been a factory for quality defensive middle-infielders and the 2020 team – while inexperienced up the middle – was slated to debut a new double-play combination to continue that tradition.

Meanwhile, the 2020 roster has another character trait that is not only unique for Marlboro but unique throughout high-school baseball: its best three hitters play the three outfield spots.

The Mustangs hope to get some games to play in 2020 to show off what has the look of the Shore’s most imposing offensive outfield and if their athleticism is any indication, the three sluggers should cover plenty of green as well.

The trio is senior Ramon Fontanes, junior Mark Capell and sophomore Julian Buchman – all of whom posted at least six extra-base hits each and a slugging percentage of at least .400 a year ago. That Capell and Buchman did so as underclassmen raises the ceiling for 2020 and beyond even more.

“They are three very different kids and very different players but they are all really talented,” second-year Marlboro coach Craig Helfgott said. “With some other spots to fill, we were really looking to lock down our outfield with those three guys back. They are the kind of hitters where we go as they go as an offense.”

Marlboro senior Ramon Fontanes. (Photo provided by the Fontanes family)

It starts with Fontanes, who played centerfield last season but would shift to right this season to clear the way for Buchman. Fontanes has put up All-Shore-caliber numbers in each of the past two seasons and was rewarded with one of the final All-Shore spots via the All-Shore Final Vote in 2019, when he hit .338 with five doubles, two triples, two homers and 24 RBI.

“Ramon is a quiet leader,” Helfgott said. “He doesn’t say much but the rest of the guys love him and feed off the way he plays. He can play all three spots in the outfield, he is a good athlete and he has a great arm. At the plate, he has been one of the better hitters in A North the last couple of years and really carried us early in the season and in the state tournament.”

Buchman started his freshman year on the lower levels of the program but eventually made it clear he was ready for varsity baseball. In 43 plate appearances, Buchman smashed four doubles and two homers while hitting .297 with a .568 slugging percentage.

“He has a chance to be really special,” Helfgott said of Buchman. “He is a confident kid who knows his ability and he eats, sleeps and lives baseball. When you looked at him as a freshman last year, you wouldn’t think you were looking at a freshman. He has good size and we were really looking forward to seeing more of his speed this year, especially on the bases.”

Capell is the wild card of the bunch for multiple reasons – not the least of which is because he might be poised for the biggest jump. He hit .281 with a .453 on-base percentage and seven doubles at the plate and has taken on a leadership role within the team ahead of his junior season. According to Helfgott, Capell could also play some first base and will be in the mix for innings on the mound – making him one of the more versatile players on Marlboro’s roster.

“Mark is very outspoken and really took on a leadership role over the offseason,” Helfgott said. “We were in constant communication about workouts the team was doing and about his desire to play college baseball. He is a very versatile player and even though outfield isn’t his first position, he improved really quickly out there as a sophomore.

“As a hitter, he is not a guy who is going to hit a ton of balls over the outfielders’ headers, but he is a line-drive, gap-to-gap guy who was very solid last year. Mark will probably tell you he should have been better, but .280 with seven doubles for a sophomore in A North was impressive.”

The versatility does not stop at Capell. Infielders Nick Wright, Alex Jankowski and Jon Spatola all have the capacity to play multiple positions and could be asked to do so when play resumes. Wright is a junior and returning starter who is likely to be a primary third baseman but could also see time at second and first. He hit .268 with 16 runs scored in 2019.

Jankowski and Spatola are the newcomers to the varsity team and will be the double-play duo. Jankowski is also a junior who could get some innings on the mound, with Spatola versatile enough to slide to shortstop in Jankowski’s wake. Spatola – who was a sophomore starter on Marlboro’s 23-7 boys basketball team – can also play in the outfield if Capell comes in to pitch or play first.

Helfgott was still sorting out two noteworthy holes in the lineup at catcher and first base left and figured to maintain a committee approach until it was time to choose a starter for opening day. The two catchers in the mix – Nick Campisi and Dylan Cherichello – are both seniors and started camp in a dead heat for the starting job.

Marlboro’s lineup has the makings of a high-scoring outfit, but the key to its season – just as it was the key to its run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals in 2019 – is its pitching. Senior Josh Schleifman emerged as the ace of the staff during his junior year and hammered that point home in two solid outings in the state tournament against Hillsborough and Old Bridge.

“Josh really took the reins at the end of last year and became that No. 1 starter we were looking for,” Helfgott said. “When we started to get into big games at the end of the year, he was always the one looking for the ball and trying to give us as much as he could. I think that finish gave him a lot of confidence heading into the offseason and he was ready to have a really big year.”

Sophomore Tyler Villa is in line to assume the No. 2 spot in the rotation after getting thrown into the deep end of the pool as a freshman. The right-hander pitched against Middletown South, CBA, Manalapan and Red Bank Catholic – all teams that finished in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 for 2019.

“We kind of threw Tyler into the fire last year,” Helfgott said. “He is a very mature kid for a freshman and I think that’s what really impressed us about him. He doesn’t get phased and I think that helped him deal with some of the ups and downs you face when you are a young pitcher trying to pitch against 17-and-18-year-olds in A North.”

Seniors Jack McNiff and David Vignapiano will also have key roles on the pitching staff after getting time on the mound last year, with junior Joe Mangiano, senior Jason Lewis and sophomore left-hander Jake Kalfayan also factoring in.

With Class A North boasting so much overall team talent – with CBA, Middletown South, Manalapan, Freehold Township and Howell all entering camp with serious designs on challenging for a title – Marlboro could find itself near the top of the standings as soon as this spring. If there is no season or the Mustangs finish behind most of or all of the other five, they are still positioned to make noise in the postseason or heading into 2021. As is usually the case, a team from the bottom half of the A North standings is always a team to watch come tournament time.

“This year definitely had a different feel to it,” Helfgott said. “I got a late start last year after being hired so maybe it was just me being more comfortable, but I really felt like the young guys started to take ownership of the team at the end of last year and that was carrying over into camp this year. Who knows if we’re going to get to see it play out – I definitely hope we do – but I feel pretty strongly that we had a chance to take a big step forward.”

 

Marlboro

Head Coach: Craig Helfgott, second season
2019 Record: 10-13 (5-9, sixth in A North)

Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 Stats)

PlayerABH2B3BHRRRBIAVGOBPSLUGSB
Ramon Fontanes (Sr., RF)74255221624.338.419.5414
Julian Buchman (So., CF)3711402910.297.381.5681
Mark Capell (Jr., LF/1B)571670088.281.453.4045
Nick Wright (Jr., 3B/1B)5615100166.268.386.2864

 

Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 Stats)

PlayerWLIPHERBBSOERAWHIP
Josh Schleifman (Sr., RHP)3134.2391011242.021.44
Tyler Villa (So., RHP)2228332117205.251.79

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Nick Campisi (Sr., C) and Dylan Cherichello (Sr., C)

Justin Kapuscinski was one of the top catchers in the Shore Conference in 2019 and Marlboro’s best power hitter. Neither Campisi nor Cherichello are likely to come close to Kapuscinski’s offensive output, but if the duo – or whichever were to emerge as the starter – could work well with the pitching staff and control the opponents’ running game, the Mustangs would have what they need.

Top Newcomer(s): Alex Jankowski (Jr., SS) and Jon Spatola (So., 2B)

Marlboro almost always has a standout in the middle of the infield, with Anthony Brienza playing that role last year. This year, the Mustangs are slated to open with two new starters up the middle and both have plenty of upside to contribute both offensively and defensively.

X-Factor: Tyler Villa, RHP

Villa had a lot thrown at him last year: he was Marlboro’s opening-day starter as a freshman, faced four top-10 teams and finished third on the team in innings. That all would explain an ERA north of 5.00 and now that Villa has an understanding of varsity baseball and another year of physical and mental growth behind him, he is primed for a breakthrough whenever he and his team return to the field.