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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. 17: Brick

There is not a baseball coach in the world who would not take a dominant pitcher at the top of the rotation and Brick coach Jason Groschel is no different.

Perhaps there is an All-Shore arm or two in in the Green Dragons’ 2020 ranks, but as he considers the possibility of baseball being played later this spring, Groschel is most looking forward to the volume of his team’s pitching rather than building a schedule around one dominant force.

Last year’s pitching unit complemented a solid senior core of hitters as Brick battled to a .500 record in an unforgiving Shore Conference Class A South schedule. As the 2020 season hangs in the balance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Green Dragons are positioned to take the next step, whether they get their first chance in May or June of this year or April of 2021.

Four returning senior starters – Anthony Prato, Robbie Page, Dan Scheri, and Nick Guiro – are hoping that chance comes soon, with Brick in position again compete in the top half of the division and handle a heavy schedule, which a shortened 2020 season would likely present.

Brick senior Dan Scheri. (Photo by Jordyn Rocinski)

“There have been years where we have had a couple of good arms but during a four-game week, we would get past the top guys and I wouldn’t know who to start,” Groschel said. “This year, we don’t have that one guy who just jumps out as the clear ace, but we have about 10 or so guys I’m comfortable with. If we have a season this year and we’re playing double-headers and five days-a-week, we have enough pitching to where I can feel comfortable with whoever is getting the ball.”

Prato played shortstop in 2019 and is primed for a move to centerfield on the heels of last year’s starter, Cole Groschel, graduating. Page would play a corner outfield spot, work near the top-end of the pitching rotation and should be a prominent bat in the lineup. Scheri got time as the starting second baseman last and is set to take over that spot again. Guiro was a reliable pitcher over 21 innings and got some time in the middle infield as well.

Senior Kyle Chrichello is also a senior would could find a regular role in a 2020 season, with the right-hander adding to the pitching depth and offering a solid glove to play first base in certain lineups. Outfielders Zach Smith and Mike Detata and second baseman Dylan Affinito are also hoping for a senior season on the diamond as first-year varsity players.

“Coming into this year, I felt like we had a chance to be pretty good this year and really do something when these juniors are seniors next year,” Groschel said. “I was excited about this year though because we have a some pretty good seniors who we were going to mix in there with those juniors and who knows? Maybe they could have done something this year. Hopefully we’ll see.”

While Prato, Guiro, Page and Scheri would be key contributors to this year’s team, it is Brick’s junior class that makes the Green Dragons an intriguing team to follow over the next 14 months. John Wade leads the junior class after serving as Brick’s best hitter and top pitcher as a sophomore a year ago. He led the team with a .369 average at the plate and also led the Dragons with a 2.01 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings.

Brick senior Nick Guiro. (Photo by Skylar Edge)

If any pitcher is likely to take over as Brick’s ace, Wade would be the leading candidate but he is not alone. Guiro came on strong over the course of the season, while Page and junior left-hander Ethan Gonzalez are also entering their third year as starters, having combined for 40-plus innings in 2019.

That foursome of Wade, Gonzalez, Guiro and Page serves as the experienced core, but it does not end there. Junior right-hander John McFadden will be a key addition to the varsity staff after an impressive jayvee season in 2019 and strong offseason. Classmate Jake Billheimer is looking to make a similar jump for varsity innings.

“McFadden is a guy I think is ready to step up and make a big impact,” Groschel said. “He was our best guy on jayvee last year. We made a deep run in the jayvee tournament and he pitched just about every big game.”

McFadden and Billheimer would likely make an impact on the staff in a 2020 season but they would be even more important rotation additions behind Wade and Gonzalez if the next game Brick plays is in April of 2021.

The junior class has an even greater presence around the Brick infield, particularly when Wade is not pitching. With Wade at first base, Brick is looking at four of five starters from the Class of 2021, including returning starting catcher Robbi Blair. While Scheri mans second, the left side of the infield will consistently be a pair of juniors. Jesse Evensen moves to shortstop with Prato ticketed for centerfield, while Ryan Duffy tops the third-base depth chart heading into the year. Wade also has experience at third but with another option and Wade potentially looking at the workload of a No. 1 pitcher, Duffy comes in handy.

A wild-card in the Brick lineup could be sophomore Matt Kunzman, who is the grandson of legendary Central Regional head baseball coach Al Kunzman. Kunzman leads a sophomore class that could start to make an impact this year, with Kunzman’s bat looking like a weapon right away and his right arm possibly earning him some sophomore innings, according to Groschel.

Complementing the pitching depth with a lineup that works well one-through-nine and makes the most of scoring opportunities is the likely difference between another season around .500 and one that takes Brick to another level. The group of returning hitters combined for only nine extra-base hits last year and despite Brick’s cozy home-field dimensions in the outfield, none of those extra-base hits were home runs.

For Brick’s offense to catch up to the pitching, the juniors will look to add some power to their profile and the lineup on the whole will have to keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.

Brick junior John Wade. (Photo by Jordyn Rocinski)

“We’re not going to be a high-powered offense that’s hitting a ton of home runs or probably even doubles,” Groschel said. “We have a couple of guys who can hit the ball over the outfielders’ heads but for the most part, we’re going to have to be a team that puts the ball in play and finds ways to manufacture runs. With our pitching, the hope is we won’t have to score too many to win games.”

With the pitching Brick has a chance to run out game-in and game-out, it should not take huge offensive numbers to keep the Green Dragons in games and give them a chance to challenge for a top-three spot in Class A South.

“Jackson (Memorial) looks like they are the clear favorite in A South but I thought we could hang with everybody else in the division,” Groschel said. “When you have a lot of pitching, it gets you through a lot of tough stretches and playing in A South, you need to have lots of arms. And I think we have them.”

 

Brick

Head Coach: Jason Groschel, 15th season
2019 Record: 11-13 (7-7, fourth in A South)

Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 stats)

PlayerABH2B3BHRRRBIAVGOBPSLUGSB
John Wade (Jr., 1B/3B)65243001213.369.449.4152
Anthony Prato (Sr., CF)691411079.203.269.2465

 

Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 stats)

PlayerWLIPHERBBSOERAWHIP
John Wade (Jr., RHP)1331.13399362.011.34
Ethan Gonzalez (Jr., LHP)2126.2321322273.432.02
Nick Guiro (Sr., RHP)22212287202.681.38
Robbie Page (Sr., RHP)2414.224108164.772.18

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Anthony Prato, CF

Cole Groschel was right there with Wade as Brick’s top offensive threat in 2019 and was also a stellar defender in center. Prato is making the move from shortstop to Groschel’s spot because of his own athleticism, and while that bodes well for the defense, replacing the offensive output will be tougher.

Top Newcomer: John McFadden, RHP

The returning group of pitchers already gives Brick a deep stable of starting options and the addition of McFadden to the fold provides Jason Groschel with even more flexibility. With Wade and Page needed to supply some offense, a fifth reliable pitcher could take some of the pressure off.

X-Factor: Power

The pitching should be there, but the offense needs to raise its game for Brick to get the most out of its nucleus over the next two seasons. The best way to do that consistently is to add extra-base power to the lineup. A pesky order one-through-nine would be another, but the development of three-or-four gap hitters would probably be the most surefire route.