Baseball – 2022 Shore Sports Network Player of the Year: Cam Leiter, Central
The Central Regional Baseball record book is littered with the Leiter name, and when he moved with his father from British Columbia, Canada to New Jersey prior to his sophomore year, Cam Leiter hoped he could perform well enough that a new Leiter name would need to be added.
He just didn’t think it would be on the page with the hitting records.
Leiter is the son of Kurt Leiter of the baseball-blessed Leiter family that now boasts Cam’s cousin, Jack – the top prospect in the Texas Rangers system after being drafted second overall out of Vanderbilt in 2021 – to go along with Jack’s father and former Major League All-Star, Al. Before he threw a single pitch as a high school pitcher in the United States, Cam Leiter parlayed his pedigree and raw ability as a pitcher into a verbal commitment to the University of Central Florida.
If there are any doubts, however, that Cam Leiter is as much a self-made man as he is the next in the line of Leiters, his record-setting senior year as a hitter has the UCF staff considering letting the prized pitching recruit compete for at-bats if and when he arrives on campus.
That is because, in his last year at Central Regional – where his father and uncles set the standard both for the program and its pitchers – Leiter unleashed a hitting exhibition matched by few players in the Shore Conference and throughout Central’s history. Couple that with an overpowering 47 innings on the mound and Leiter authored a season worthy of the 2022 Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Award.
“I’m really the first one in the family to be a hitter,” Leiter said. “When you’re a Leiter, your hitting kind of gets looked over, but ever since I was a kid growing up in Canada, I have always hit. I was like seven or eight years old and my dad, when he could still throw hard, would stand 50 feet away and just fire 80-mile-per-hour fastballs. Eventually, I started to hit them and that’s something I have always been able to do, whether it’s with my dad, my uncles, my cousins. We’re all pitchers, so I’ve just tried to learn as much as possible, not only about pitching but also how to hit against really good pitching.”
With 1980’s-era pitching records safe in today’s more workload-conscious environment (Al Leiter’s 32 strikeouts in one game is the safest record imaginable), hitting marks are the milestones to target, even for someone whose family business is pitching. Leiter showed a power profile as a junior as well, but came back with a different approach at the plate that helped him hit just under .500 and tie a single-season program record with 45 hits. The record was previously set by Leiter’s 2021 teammate, Evan Agrapides, who held the record by himself for 361 days before his former teammate tied it.
After hitting .308 with two homers in 103 plate appearances a year ago, Leiter found himself taking more swings than usual during the offseason while working out with classmate and friend Danny Morris – a standout on the football team and a baseball novice who, according to Leiter, wanted to join the team to courtesy run. In helping his friend better look the part on the diamond, Leiter started to learn more about his own swing.
“That was the most I have ever swung a bat in the offseason and it just came from going out to play and work out almost every day,” Leiter said. “I started to learn some things about my swing and my bat-path and I also started to realize that I was getting stronger. I didn’t need to be as long with my swing to drive the ball, so my focus ended up being to just tone down my mechanics and try to get the barrel to the ball more consistently.”
The results were not quite instant for Leiter. After a pre-game ceremony to celebrate the opening of Al Kunzman Field at Al Leiter Park, he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. To make up for it, however, Cam pitched a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in a 2-0 Golden Eagles in over Toms River South. It was a fitting performance with his father watching from the dugout as Central’s pitching coach and his uncle Al from the stands as the guest of honor following the unveiling of the complex he donated to the school district.
“That was just a special day for me and my team and my whole family,” Leiter said of opening day. “I was so grateful to be able to play on that field for my senior year and to get to pitch the first game there against our rivals with my uncle and my dad watching was a really great experience.”
It was also the longest hitting slump Cam would endure all season. Leiter reached base safely in all but one game the rest of the way and hit safely in 25 of the remaining 30 games on Central’s schedule, including a nine-game hitting streak following the opening-day 0-for-3.
Leiter capped that nine-game streak with one of his biggest games of the season. After blasting his first homer of the season one day earlier against Toms River East, Leiter again went off on the Raiders by going 3-for-3 with two doubles, another home run and five RBI to help the Golden Eagles complete a sweep of the Raiders and junior teammate Tyler Bell finish off a six-inning no-hitter.
On May 12, it seemed as though Leiter was saving all of his longballs for Toms River East. With more than a dozen scouts on hand to watch Leiter pitch in the Ocean County Tournament quarterfinals, Leiter connected on a three-run homer in another 10-0 Central win over the Raiders at home.
“That game sticks out to me because that was the first time during the year that I saw that many people behind the dugout,” Leiter said. “There were something like 17 teams there to watch, which was the most at any game other than when I faced Jackson and (Zach) Crotchfelt. That was different, though, because there were so many fans there, but against East, you could see they were all scouts, so it definitely got me fired up to play.”
Going into that OCT quarterfinal game, Leiter was already hitting .475 with two homers and 21 RBI, but his offensive tear was still to come. After hitting four home runs in his first 175 high-school plate appearances, Leiter’s trust in his new approach finally started yielding the power he expected. Over the last 41 plate appearances of the season, Leiter hit .515 with six home runs and did not sacrifice contact to do it, striking out just three times over the final 11 games of the season.
Saving his best for later in the season meant putting up major numbers in Central’s tournament games. Across the Ocean County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group IV Tournaments, Leiter hit .517 (15-for-29) with five homers, two doubles and 12 RBI, helping the Golden Eagles to strong showings in all three.
Leiter’s four other postseason homers came off of Brick Memorial ace Brady Leach, against Group IV champion Howell in a 19-2 Central win over the Rebels in the Shore Conference Tournament, another against defending South Jersey Group IV champion Clearview and the last off Kingsway ace Landon Edwards in the South Group IV semifinals.
“We had a good year,” Leiter said. “We had all the pieces, but we just couldn’t quite solve the puzzle. We played some really good teams and had some games where it all came together: beating Howell, 19-2, the game we played against Egg Harbor in the state tournament, beating Jackson (Memorial) at their field. We had everything we needed to get it done, but for whatever reason, we just couldn’t solve it.”
When all was said and done, Leiter finished in the Shore Conference Top 10 in just about every offensive category: fifth in batting average (.489), second in hits (45), tied fourth in doubles (11), tied fifth in home runs (8), tied seventh in runs scored (33), eighth in RBI (34), seventh in on-base percentage (.575) and fifth in slugging percentage (.870). No other Shore Conference player cracked the top 10 in that many of the 10 listed offensive categories on Shore Sports Network (average, on-base, slugging, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs scored, RBI and stolen bases).
Cam Leiter Career Hitting Stats
And then, there was Leiter’s pitching. As great as Leiter’s season was at the plate, without another impressive season on the mound against some top-notch competition, the Player of the Year Award might have landed elsewhere.
There were a handful of players who had seasons at the plate that rivaled and, perhaps, even surpassed Leiter’s. Middletown South first baseman Joe Stanzione broke the Shore Conference home run record with 15 bombs. Ranney’s duo of A.J. Gracia and Charlie Chropuvka put up silly numbers playing in Class B Central while also showing out against their team’s toughest opponents. St. John Vianney’s duo of Matteo Pasculli (45 RBI) and Brady Oswick (.532 average) led the conference in major hitting categories. Jackon Memorial’s Zach Crotchfelt and Middletown North’s Colin Dowlen also had huge years as two-year players, with Dowlen leading his team to an NJSIAA Group III championship and Crotchfelt proving to be a dominant, durable force on the mound in leading Jackson Memorial over Central to championships in Class A South and the Ocean County Tournament.
As great as they all were, none of them were as dominant as Leiter was in both halves of an inning. You would be hard-pressed to find five hitters who had better seasons and at the same time, it would be equally as hard to find five better pitchers.
The numbers on their own speak volumes: 47 innings with a 0.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIP (Walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched) and 88 strikeouts against 21 walks. That means, on top of finishing in the top 10 in eight offensive categories, Leiter also finished No. 1 in three pitching categories: ERA (fifth), strikeouts (eighth) and WHIP (10th).
Despite those numbers, Leiter pitched to a modest 4-4 record, which had a lot to do with his preference for coach Jerry Frulio to line him up to face Central’s toughest opponents. Leiter’s four losses came twice to Jackson Memorial (22-9) and once each to St. Augustine (27-2) and Kingsway (26-5) and in those four games, he posted a 2.80 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 12 walks in 15 innings.
“I missed out on some innings trying to match up against the big teams on our schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Leiter said. “I want the ball in those games. I want to face the best and I want to be there for my team to give us a chance to win. I felt like I threw the ball well every time.
“My one bad start was the tournament game at Jackson, where I left a changeup over the plate in the second inning and Tommy Kendrick took it deep (for a grand slam). Those guys have faced me so many times and they are all really good hitters, so it was always a challenge to match up with them. It was like facing a team that has a whole scouting report on you.”
Cam Leiter Career Pitching Stats
The six earned runs he allowed in those four losses were the only ones Leiter allowed all year. All four of his other starts – against Toms River South, Brick Memorial, Toms River East and Lacey – were complete-game shutouts with double-digit strikeouts. He picked up his second win of the season with a one-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts against Brick Memorial and posted 10 strikeouts in a six-inning OCT win over Toms River East. His last win was a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and no walks against Lacey.
Leiter’s second-to-last appearance of the season was an overpowering relief outing in which he struck out five of the six batters he faced to close out a 9-3 win over Egg Harbor in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals.
The season closed for Central with a pair of losses to Kingsway and Jackson Memorial on back-to-back days, with Leiter lasting 4 1/3 innings in an 8-6 at Kingsway in which the Golden Eagles committed six errors. Leiter allowed one earned run struck out nine and walked two in the loss after jumpstarting his team with a first-inning home run that staked Central to a 2-0 lead.
The following night, Jackson Memorial handled the Golden Eagles, 11-2, in the OCT championship game. Leiter tied Central’s hits record with a first-inning single through the middle and was on deck when the Golden Eagles made the final out.
With Frulio running up a parade of pinch-hitters in the final inning, Leiter suggested his friend, Morris, hit with two out in the seventh inning. Morris struck out in his first and only varsity at-bat to leave Leiter stuck on 45 hits, but it was a chance for Leiter to watch his friend get a piece of the work they put in during the offseason.
Leiter now waits to hear if his name will be called in the MLB First-Year Player Draft in July, a process his family knows well. Even if he is not a potential first-round pick like his uncle Al and cousin Jack, Cam has another cousin in Mark Leiter Jr. who took a more winding path to the Major Leagues. Mark was undrafted out of Toms River North, put together a standout career at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and was drafted, signed by and debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cam Leiter is currently forming his own path among and his outstanding offensive season is just the latest part of his unique journey from growing up just outside of Vancouver to becoming the first Leiter to play at Central since his uncle Al finished his legendary career in 1984. Whatever is next for the newest Leiter to graduate from Central – whether a career at UCF or the start to a professional career – he has already left his piece of history at the school where it all started for one of New Jersey’s most accomplished baseball families.
“This whole experience was just so special,” Leiter said. “Not even just the baseball side, but just getting to know so many people at Central: my friends, the students, the teachers, the administrators, the counsellors. The school is so great and just having the experience to go there for three years is something I’m grateful for and I’m just really glad I had a chance to leave my mark there.”