Baseball – Breakouts to Come in 2021
Last week, we wrapped up a series that recognized the top returning players in the Shore Conference at each position. While that was a nice exercise in acknowledging established players who missed out on their chances to build on already-established careers, each season also includes great performances by players who had previously made little impact on the varsity level.
After looking at some seniors set to make a difference in their last year of high school, we'll turn to some players who were primed to make a name for themselves in 2020 and will still have a chance to do so in 2021.
A.J. Gracia, Fr., LHP/OF, Ranney – Gracia should have been one of the Shore’s more anticipated freshman debuts on a lot of levels. First off, he was already committed to play at Duke before he took the field for a varsity game. Secondly, he is a dual-threat player who tops out in the high 80-miles-per-hour range, runs well and hits the ball hard. Finally, he plays for a Ranney program without a lot of baseball history and a talented young core that will be intriguing to follow.
Tyler Kane, So., RHP/SS, Manalapan – Kane might have had to wait until 2021 to play on the infield but he was expected to make a significant impact on the pitching staff in his first season with the varsity squad. Manalapan is fortunate to have experienced players in Joe Mazza and Tom Guidice to build around next year and Kane can be part of that core in 2021.
Ben Schild, Fr., RHP/1B, Middletown South – Middletown South’s pitching staff would likely have gone from shaky to spectacular in the course of two years and its ceiling in 2020 was going to be high because of its high-ceiling freshman. Schild is already a polished right-hander and by April of 2021, he should be ready to make a major impact as a pitcher and a power hitter.
Danny Frontera, Jr., SS/RHP, Middletown North – If there was one non-senior who deserved a chance above all others to play in 2020, Frontera is a good candidate. He worked hard to rehabilitate his right elbow following Tommy John Surgery and while he did not make it back to the mound last year, he did take swings as Middletown North’s DH at the end of 2019. He was primed to move back to shortstop and serve as the Lions’ ace, which he will still try to do in 2021.
Jack Frankovic, So., 3B/RHP, CBA – Lined up as the starting third baseman and part of CBA’s deep pitching staff, Frankovic would have been a good complementary piece for a team with a strong senior core. That transition year is gone for Frankovic and the rest of CBA’s group of up-and-comers, so he will have to take on a significant role in his first varsity season in 2021.
Brian Young, Jr., LHP/OF, Neptune – With a team-high 41 innings in 2019, Young has more of a body of work than most of the players on this list. In 2020, the junior left-hander was poised to improve on the quality of those innings thanks to 15 extra pounds of muscle and a fastball that was comfortably in the mid 80’s this spring, according to Neptune coach Kevin Frederick. He was also set to lead off and play the outfield.
Christian Zito, So., OF/P, Monmouth – Monmouth had no obvious star player returning from last year, but a solid core of experience with a handful of youngsters ready to make an impact. Zito made a strong first impression during the first week of practice and was on track to start in the outfield and throw some important innings as a sophomore with even more in store for 2021.
Nick Vaughn, Jr., C, Ocean – Vaughn played understudy to All-Shore catcher Max Winters and got a chance to catch a few times as a sophomore. As he now looks toward a senior season in 2021, Vaughn has a good bat that should plug into the middle of the Spartans order as well.
Brandon DeAngelo, Jr., C, Lacey – All-Shore catcher Jorden Jurkiewicz blocked DeAngelo from starting at catcher last year but 2020 would have presented the talented junior with an opportunity to become Lacey’s full-time backstop. Instead, it will be in 2021 that DeAngelo emerges as one of the best players in a very solid senior class at Lacey.
C.J. Paulino, Jr., C/1B, Red Bank – After playing his way into a starting spot as a freshman and hitting .240 with 12 RBI, Paulino was ready to return to the lineup as a junior coming off a sophomore year lost to an elbow injury. He likely would have eased back with some starts at first base but catching should be in the cards again in 2021.
Jason Sparkes, Jr., C, Holmdel – After missing 2019 due to injury, Sparkes will have to wait yet yet another year to get behind the plate for Holmdel, but once he does, he will give the Hornets a solid all-around backstop.
Justin Kilyk, Jr., C, Raritan – Already committed to Wagner, Kilyk would have had a chance to catch more this season and with Jason Lind graduating, he will be the full-time catcher and a player to watch in Monmouth County in 2021.
Joe Cilea, So., C, Colts Neck – With Cilea getting a dose of playing time at the end of his freshman year, Colts Neck coach Mike Yorke was looking forward to turning over the starting catching job to the sophomore from opening day.
Alex Ulrich (C) and Jack Lawrie (CF), Jr., Pinelands – Pinelands lost a dynamic duo in Joey Ventresca and Noah Dean, as well as a number of other of seniors, so the Wildcats will need a number of players to step up in order to continue their climb in Class B South. Ulrich was ready for the full-time job at catcher and a spot in the middle of the order while Lawrie made a big jump in the offseason to put himself in position to start in centerfield and hit in the No. 2 spot in the order.
Alex Jankowski (Jr., SS) and Jonathan Spatola (So., 2B), Marlboro – What the new Mustangs double-play combo lacked in varsity experience, they would have made up for in their dynamic ability. Jankowski has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order hitter with an impact arm in the field and on the mound, while Spatola is a game-changing athlete who could have also played other positions in the infield and outfield.
Ryan Cole, So., 2B, Neptune – His advanced polish got him in the lineup as a freshman and this season, Cole was ready to do more damage after growing four inches and adding 20-plus pounds, according to Neptune coach Kevin Frederick. With older brother, Ron, now at Kentucky after an All-Shore senior season in 2019, the pedigree says a big year could be just over the horizon for Ryan.
Matt Scrivanic, So., 2B/SS, Red Bank Catholic – Speaking of younger brothers, Scrivanic missed a chance to play with older brother, Jack, who will graduate from RBC next month. Matt Scrivanic was set to start at second base and already has the potential to hit near the top of the lineup on one of the Shore’s top programs. Next year, he will have to step up as a key offensive piece for what will be an inexperienced offensive team.
Ryan Mackle, Jr., INF/RHP, Toms River South – Keeping with the theme of younger brothers of former standouts, Mackle’s older brother, Colin, was an All-Shore outfielder who graduated from Toms River South in 2019. Ryan Mackle’s spot in the Indians lineup will be in the infield and he was set to start somewhere in 2020 to get his bat into lineup, likely at second base.
Bryan Snowden, So., SS, Barnegat – Snowden grew up playing both lacrosse and baseball and went with lacrosse as a freshman before deciding to switch to high-school baseball this year. Snowden has kept his skills sharp over the summer and when he showed up at camp in early March, he impressed the coaching staff enough to get the inside track to start at shortstop for a Barnegat team that could have been a real sleeper in Class B South.
Garrett Drew, So., INF, Jackson Liberty – While Jackson Liberty would have had to deal with the loss of some impact players from the 2019 team, the Lions had a few more key seniors back for 2020. Next year will be challenging without 2020 graduates Shane Hickey and Brandon Kinsman but Drew should make an impact next year after coming into 2020 as a likely starter at either second or third base.
Matteo Pasculli, Jr., 3B, St. John Vianney – Pasculli transferred from Manalapan and would have plugged in as the starting third baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Lancers. St. John Vianney will bring back its entire infield, including two quality catchers, in 2021 and Pasculli will have a chance to make his impact as a senior for a team that could really take off when baseball comes back.
Ethan Rodriguez and Anthony Matrone, Jr., OF, Manalapan – The Braves would have had an experienced infield with an all-junior outfield, with Rodriguez and Matrone serving as the two newcomers ready to make an impact. Rodriguez got some time as a sophomore reserve in 2019 and Matrone was one of the top hitters in the lower levels of the program last year.
Zach Rogacki, Jr., OF/C, Jackson Memorial – After a leg injury knocked him out for most of the 2019 season, Rogacki was back and ready to play in 2020. Coach Frank Malta was expecting big things from the Bucknell commit at the plate and with the Jaguars already rostering two senior catchers in Tom Cartnick and Andrew Sefick, Rogacki was likely to take his impact arm and athleticism to right field.
Pat Woodford, So., OF, Manasquan – As a freshman, Woodford made five starts and held his own by going 5-for-14 and playing a solid corner outfield. With that foundation, he would have been one of Manasquan’s impact bats and with the Warriors graduating some quality seniors, Woodford will be even bigger in 2021.
Nick Lovarco (So., OF) and Andrew Fischer (So., INF), Wall – Not many teams had more positional battles to conduct during the spring than Wall and while Lovarco would have had to survive one of them in order to start as a sophomore, his talent was substantial enough for first-year head coach Jim Rochford to start to work him into potential lineups. With the graduation of two more outfielders in Teddy Sharkey and Sean Nocera, Lovarco will most certainly be a big part of the 2021 outfield equation at Wall. Fischer, meanwhile, was set back by an injury and might not have started right away but it would have been hard to keep him out of the lineup for long with his all-around ability.
Luke Mulhern, Jr., LHP, Freehold Township – In just under 10 innings as a sophomore, Mulhern was a mixed bag with eight strikeouts and an ERA over five. He came back at a more sold 6-foot-4 and with a three-quarter arm slot that has given him a delivery he can better repeat, according to Patriots coach Todd Smith.
Tyler Tilton, Jr., RHP/OF, Shore – Tilton’s father, Ira, was a member of Shore Regional’s 1993 NJSIAA Group II championship team and a fifth-round pick of the Phillies out of Siena. Now, the younger Tilton is ready to elevate to ace-level status for the Blue Devils pitching staff. Tyler Tilton had a strong season on the basketball court thanks to a jump in athleticism from his sophomore year and that will play on the baseball field when games start up again.
John McFadden, Jr., RHP, Brick – The Green Dragons already have a junior ace in John Wade and McFadden had enough success as a jayvee pitcher in 2019 that coach Jason Groschel was optimistic he could be good enough this season to be the team’s No. 2. With a good deal of depth, McFadden will have a chance to ease his way into any role he works toward in 2021.
Christian Rice, Jr., RHP, Colts Neck – With two senior pitchers in place for 2020 in Justin Coppola and Chase Masterson, Rice would have had a chance to slot into the rotation without a whole lot of pressure on him and with a chance to pitch his way to the top of the staff. Next year, the right-hander and transfer from Staten Island (St. Joseph by the Sea) will likely enter the year as the projected No. 1.
Mike Caldon, Jr., RHP, Matawan – In some ways, Matawan ace left-hander Tim Egan was due for a breakout as one of the Shore’s best pitchers, but he did enough as a freshman and sophomore to put himself squarely on the radar. Caldon, however, started to come on during the summer and the fall and in the short time the team was together in March, he established himself as the clear No. 2 behind Egan heading into 2020. With both pitchers back next year, the top of Matawan’s staff won’t change in 2021.
Cam Leiter, So., RHP, Central – The son of Kurt Leiter and nephew of former Major Leaguers Al and Mark Leiter, Cam Leiter is certainly a name to watch in the Shore Conference and has an arm to follow as well. He stands at 6-2 with a live arm that bears some resemblance to current Diamondbacks pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. at the same age. His father was set to be the Central pitching coach and with the overall family pedigree to go with a strong work ethic, Central coach Jerry Frulio expects Cam will have a bright future.
Colin Reilly, So., RHP, CBA – Staying with bloodline players, Reilly is the younger brother of one of the state’s best senior pitchers, Pat Reilly. The elder Reilly is committed to Vanderbilt and could possibly hear his name called in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, and while Colin has a long way to go to reach that status, CBA coach Marty Kenney Jr. said he sees a lot of similarities between the two at the same age.
Charlie Jones, So., RHP, Rumson-Fair Haven – Jones was third on the Bulldogs in innings last year and while he had some issues with walks, he also whiffed a batter per inning as a freshman and has the size and frame to be a dynamic pitcher once he fine-tunes his control. According to first-year Rumson coach Owen Stewart, Jones's command looked markedly improved during the first week of camp.
Logan Duffy, So., RHP/OF, Manchester – According to Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin, Duffy was more-or-less ready for a varsity look last year but with some depth in the staff and Duffy only a freshman, the staff made the decision to let him finish the year at the lower levels. This year, however, Beauchemin planned to turn Duffy loose and was expecting him to be the Hawks’ ace as a sophomore. Next year, he will still be again be a projected ace and with two standout outfielders graduating in James Johns and Evan Scala, Duffy will also be a key cog in the offense.
Owen West, So., LHP, Point Beach – An injury during basketball season in 2018-19 knocked West out of the picture for the young Garnet Gulls baseball team last year. This year, however, West was making an early case to be part of Point Beach’s deep rotation with a fastball comfortably in the 80’s from the left side of the rubber.
Nick Coniglio (So., RHP) and Marcelo Mastrioanni (Fr., LHP), Ranney – Beyond the Duke commit, Gracia, Ranney has an incoming army of arms that will make the Panthers a threat over the next three years. Coniglio transferred from Monroe and is working at approximately 86 miles-per-hour with his fastball, according to coach Pat Geroni. Mastrioanni, meanwhile, works from the left side and already has four solid pitches at a young age.
Jack Renaud, Fr., RHP/1B, Donovan Catholic – Like Ranney is trying to establish itself as a non-public power in Monmouth County, Donovan Catholic is trying to do the same in Ocean County. Under second-year coach Corey Hamman, the Griffins are coming off a 2019 season in which the pitching staff made significant strides and is welcoming a noteworthy talent in Renaud, who is already about ready to pitch in the rotation and could challenge for a top spot in 2021.