Baseball – Countdown 2020: The Top Third Basemen at the Shore
The 2020 spring sports season in New Jersey has officially been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means the top athletes in the state won't have a chance to show off their skills and compete for their schools at all this spring. Amateur sports is a big part of the culture in Monmouth and Ocean Counties and the current shutdown of competition represents a major change for the athletes who compete, the coaches who coach them and the people who follow them on a day-to-day basis.
Baseball is particularly big at the Shore and the 2020 season would have featured some big-time talent to boot. There will be no 2020 All-Shore team to recognize the top players, but we at Shore Sports Network want to take a tour through the conference to recognize the very best players at each position on the field. With that being said, SSN Baseball Editor Matt Manley has compiled lists of the top players at each position on the field with some input from coaches in the area. The goal is to recognize the players who have been the best during their careers and had some momentum coming into this year as well. There are also plenty of players who would have been debuting at the varsity level this season but this feature is designed for the players who have already established track records.
This feature is, admittedly, tilted in favor of the Class of 2020, whose members are currently missing out on their senior year of high-school athletics. At third base, however, the field skews young. Five of the players in the top 10 will be back in 2021 and there are seven more young players at the hot corner who have had success at the varsity level already. Throw in the wave of varsity newcomers at third base around the Shore Conference and it should be a strong position again next year.
As for 2020, here is how it looked.
10. Frankie Dominici, Jr., 3B/SS, Point Boro
After transferring to Point Boro from Donovan Catholic for his sophomore season, Dominici sat 30 days and provided an instant spark when he joined the Point Boro lineup in May. With Dominici hitting near the tail-end of the batting order and playing third base, the Panthers won both the Ocean County Tournament and the Central Group II championships. Dominici acquitted himself nicely against good pitching and was a standout defender at the hot corner as a sophomore – two traits that suggest there is much more to come in 2021.
Coach’s Insight: “Frankie’s a great athlete and he gives us a lot of versatility. He was competing for the open job at shortstop and he is more than capable of taking over there but he was also really, really good for us at third when after he became eligible last year. He can also play some first or the outfield if we need him there, but we know he’s going to be in the lineup somewhere because he can hit. He just brings a lot of energy and we were excited to have him coming back.” – Dave Drew, Point Boro head coach
9. Vin Impresa, Jr., 3B/RHP, Howell
Howell is routinely among the most power-prevalent lineups in the Shore Conference but last year, the Rebels were more of a singles offense with an improved pitching staff and defensive unit. Impresa contributed in all facets as a sophomore and in his 42-at-bat performance, he was No. 2 on the team in slugging percentage behind All-Shore shortstop Kyle Brex. With a .300-plus average, an extra-base hit every 10 at-bats and a strong right arm, Impresa will be a promising player in A North when baseball comes back.
Coach’s Insight: “Vinny was going to be one of our better all-around players as a junior. He plays on good travel teams, mostly as a pitcher. He got an opportunity last year with us and he really did a nice job playing some third base, swinging the bat well down the stretch and he even showed some power as a sophomore. He is a good kid, he works hard and he is a good player.” – Eric Johnson, Howell head coach
8. Aiden Hosszu, Sr., 3B, Southern
Hosszu burst onto the Class A South scene in 2018 as a sophomore for a Southern team trying to replace a talented senior class. Hosszu hit an eye-catching .468 with six of his 22 hits going for extra bases and appeared to be a cornerstone player in the Southern lineup for 2019 and 2020. He then suffered two separate injuries in 2019 and the second one – a knee injury – kept him out of action for most of his junior season. Were Hosszu healthy last year, he likely would have put himself in the conversation among the best third basemen at the Shore heading into 2020 and this spring would have been a chance to prove his 2018 numbers were legit.
Coach’s Insight: “He really hits. We missed him tremendously last year. He tried to play injured early in the season but it just wasn’t going well. He worked really hard to come back and then this happens. He could easily play in college with the way he can hit. He works at an indoor batting cage, so he hits all day there and then he'll get to school early to hit before morning practice. He really wanted his senior year to be something after what he went through last year so you just really feel for him.” – Keith Cocuzza, Southern head coach
7. Kyle Sciallo, Sr., 3B, Manalapan
It’s hard to play a utility role better than Sciallo did for the Braves in 2019. As a junior, Sciallo grabbed some starts at third base but mostly came off the bench to accommodate Manalapan’s defense following a pitching change and was also high on the list of courtesy runner options. When he did get to hit, Sciallo delivered by notching a batting average better than .400 and an on-base percentage well over .500. Factor in his speed, throwing arm and energy and he had a great chance to put together a complete season as a starter in 2020.
Coach’s Insight: “He was kind of a role player for us last year and he really earned a role as captain as a senior. He is a spark plug. He plays with energy and enthusiasm and the way he plays, it gets the rest of the team fired up. Defensively, he has one of better arms on the team. He has to slow things down sometimes because he is going full speed all the time and that’s probably where his mistakes happen, but he was doing a good job defensively in practice.” – Brian Boyce, Manalapan head coach
6. John Wade, Jr., 3B/1B/RHP, Brick
Wade played both third and first base last year and would likely have played more at first base and designated hitter this year as a junior to give his arm a break as he is also the team’s ace on the mound. If he played third full-time, Wade could go as high as No. 3 on this list thanks to his bat, which was impressive in his first varsity season. His .369 average was the fifth highest among returning players in Class A South and three of the four players ahead of him play on Jackson Memorial (Southern catcher Mike Gallaro is the other).
Coach’s Insight: “He is a big, strong kid who was probably our best all-around player as a sophomore. He does everything well on a baseball field. Being a junior, he looks like he is ready to step up as a leader and really take off as a player.” – Jason Groschel, Brick head coach
5. Nick Guzzi, Sr., 3B/1B/RHP, Point Boro
Like Wade, Guzzi would be higher in the ranking if he were likely to play third base full time this year but with Point Boro stacked with infielders and Guzzi shouldering the load as one of the state’s top aces on the mound, he was likely to DH when he was not pitching. Over the past two seasons, however, Guzzi was a capable defensive infielder at both third and shortstop and his bat has been a big part of Point Boro’s success too – albeit not as big as what the St. John’s commit has done on the mound.
Coach’s Insight: “He hits the hell out of the ball. Just about any time he makes contact, the ball is hit hard – rarely does he not square a ball up. He came in this year a little bit stronger and I think that was going to show across the board. I think some of those gappers he was hitting were just going to take off and you would probably see him hit a couple of home runs this year.” – Dave Drew, Point Boro head coach
4. Jake Wendell, Sr., 3B, Jackson Memorial
Jackson Memorial won 25 games and a South Jersey Group IV championship in 2018 with Wendell playing third base. The left-handed-swinging senior was a defensive rock on that team and while he had some ups and downs at the plate that year, he came up with some big hits along the way and always brought his glove to the park. Last year, Wendell showed significant strides as a hitter but injury knocked out a chunk of his junior campaign. The 2020 season will always be a “what-if” story for a loaded Jackson Memorial team and Wendell – who will play at Caldwell next year – is certainly a part of that.
Coach’s Insight: “He is so good defensively. He is one of the better third basemen we have ever had and that is saying something. He’s another guy who can be explosive offensively when he is right and healthy and he was looking forward to getting that chance this year.” – Frank Malta, Jackson Memorial head coach
3. Rian O’Rourke, So., 3B, Pinelands
Pinelands was right around .500 throughout 2019 and most of the attention on the Wildcats flowed toward an impressive one-two punch of Division I arms at the top of the rotation in Joey Ventresca (Monmouth) and Noah Dean (Old Dominion). That probably overshadowed O’Rourke, who had a mighty impressive season for a freshman. Only six underclassmen in the entire Shore Conference hit for a better average than O’Rourke’s .366 and only one of those (current sophomore Rocko Brzezniak of St. John Vianney) is a fellow member of the Class of 2022. O’Rourke also showed extra-base pop and has the athleticism to take over at shortstop with the graduation of older brother and fellow infield standout, Bryce, this spring.
Coach’s Insight: “The word that comes to mind with Rian is fearless. He led off as a freshman starting from game one. That’s a lot to take in for a young player and he did it exceptionally well. It didn’t matter who he was facing, he never thinks he is unable to hit the ball and hit it hard. I was looking for him to have a really big year.” – Justin Loomis, Pinelands head coach
2. Jay Bant, Jr., 3B/RHP, Wall
Wall has boasted an imposing pitching staff for a number of years but heading into 2019, the Crimson Knights were counting on a boost in offense to push them over the top. A number of improvements played into that, but the addition of Bant to the middle of the order played as critical a part as any in Wall’s jump in run-scoring. As a sophomore, Bant won the DH job early on and proceeded to lead the Shore’s No. 1 team in RBI – a total that placed him tie for 13th in the entire Shore Conference. The Monmouth University commit was also slated to take over the No. 2 spot in the rotation and play third base on a regular basis after getting the occasional chance at the hot corner as a sophomore.
Coach’s Insight: “The saying is that a guy can ‘roll out of bed and hit’ and Jay can roll out of bed and hit. Right away, the word when he came into the program was that he can hit. From first scrimmage on last year, he swung the bat as well as anyone we had and he wound up hitting clean-up for a 27-win team. So he can hit, that’s the strong point, but he has a nice strong arm as well. He’s got deceptive agility, so he has a good skill set for third base. – Jim Rochford, Wall head coach
1. Rob Gonzalez, Sr., 3B/SS, Red Bank Catholic
Gonzalez won a starting spot at RBC as a sophomore with his bat, which has proven to be tough against quality pitching. Former Delbarton ace and current Vanderbilt freshman Jack Leiter is one of the best pitching prospects to come out of New Jersey since his father, Al, starred at Central Regional in the 1980’s and Gonzalez went 3-for-3 with a double off Leiter in a showdown last April. Gonzalez makes consistent hard contact, brings extra-base power to the table and is a quality defender at third base to go along with his exceptional bat.
Coach’s Insight: “He has been really good defensively at third when we have played him there and he came in in really good shape so there was even some talk about possibly moving him to shortstop. All things being equal, I think we would have just left him at third but if he had to play short, he would be good at it. You see him hit and he swings the bat real well, he hits good pitching, so he would have done a lot for us this year.” – Buddy Hausmann, Red Bank Catholic head coach
Other Notable Seniors
Nick Chiappisi, Sr., 3B/RHP, Manchester – One of Manchester’s most dependable players pitched 31 innings, played a solid third base and hit .264 with four doubles as a junior.
Mike Mohr, Sr., 3B/RHP, Henry Hudson – Mohr had a monster sophomore season that included a .458 average with 12 extra-base hits and 25 RBI before posting a solid junior season for the Admirals (.250, a home run and 13 RBI) while playing multiple positions.
Sean Lucas, Sr., 3B, Barnegat – Lucas hit a steady, dependable .317 in 52 plate appearances as a junior and picked up three doubles in the process.
2021 Watch List
Kevin Novobilsky, Jr., 3B, Ocean – The left-handed-swinging Novobilsky is adept at going the other way and his bat control, plus his .273 average and 14 RBI as a sophomore make for a solid foundation for a breakout season in 2021.
Brian Doherty, So., 3B, Rumson-Fair Haven – In 68 plate appearances as a freshman, Doherty more than held his own on a young Bulldogs team, hitting .296 with three doubles and 10 runs scored.
Pat Burns, Jr., 3B, Freehold Twp. – Burns nabbed a starting job as a freshman in 2018 and as a sophomore, he posted a solid .413 on-base percentage to go with three doubles, 10 runs and eight RBI.
Dev Bhatnagar, Jr., 3B/OF, Ranney – Considered a utility man heading into 2020, Bhatnagar would have been in the lineup thanks to his offense, which produced seven extra-base hits, 20 runs, 14 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 2019.
Nick Wright, Jr., 3B, Marlboro – The Mustangs were hoping to make a big jump behind a rising junior class, of which Wright was a part after hitting .268 with 16 runs scored as a sophomore.
Thomas Brewer, So., 3B, Long Branch – The Green Wave went with a youth movement last year and Brewer was perhaps the most promising story to come out of it after he hit .276 with two doubles in 29 at-bats as a freshman in a tough A North division.
Louie Curcio, Jr., 3B, Holmdel – Holmdel needed a catcher last year and Curcio answered the call despite third base being his more natural position. While playing a secondary position, he also chipped in three doubles and 12 runs scored.