Baseball – Countdown 2020: Top Second 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.
The second base position is a great place to find players ready to break out at the high school level. Established players often times find their way to the left side of the diamond in following the conventional wisdom that the best players play shortstop and the best arms go to short or third, which sometimes makes second base a secondary priority in the infield.
That, however, allows for some diamonds in the rough to be discovered and that is one way to describe the origins of a number of the top second basemen at the Shore and there is a high likelihood that a lot more would have emerged in 2020.
Let's get into the keystone at the Shore, starting with No. 10.
10. Christian Rivera, Sr., 2B, Matawan
Matawan would have been one of the more experienced Shore Conference teams up the middle of the field in 2020 and Rivera was a key part of that equation as the dependable second baseman. Each of his extra-base hits in 2019 drove in a run and his .388 on-base percentage ranks second among Matawan’s solid returning core of position players.
Coach’s Insight: “He can play a bunch of positions and he settled in at second base last year. Christian was stable in the middle of the infield, which was going to be a strength of our team with him there and Ben Porricelli at shortstop. You saw it last year on the double plays – Ben and him are a very good combo. Christian is a good contact hitter, a good bunter and just a heady ballplayer. Last year, he even had some pretty big doubles for us, so I would have liked to see the development. A few of those kids don’t show their full skill set until senior year and I think he was a solid player with more to show.” – Bobby Carnovsky, Matawan
9. Chris Ellison, Jr., 2B/3B/RHP, Howell
Ellison was ticketed to be the ace of Howell’s pitching staff this season after holding his own when he was called on as the No. 2 starter at the end of 2019. His offense, however, is right there with his ability on the mound based on the season he turned in as a sophomore. Ellison also has the athleticism and arm to play shortstop but will likely slot in at second base in order to take some stress off his arm when high school baseball returns.
Coach’s Insight: “We really saw how tough he was last year when he went 0-5 on the mound against some really tough competition. We needed somebody to take the ball late in the year and he was as dependable as anyone on our team in that last month. He was the victim of some bad luck but he never let it get to him. Defensively, he is probably our best shortstop but I have learned over the years that asking your best pitcher to play shortstop on top of starting once or twice a week is probably too much. He’ll play second or DH and be one of our better hitters and that’s all we need him to do.” – Eric Johnson, Howell head coach
8. Andrew Glauber, Jr., 2B/3B, Red Bank
The Bucs boast a promising group of players from the class of 2021, led by their projected double-play combination for 2020. Glauber is the keystone in that combo after player some third and some second during his sophomore season. His .423 on-base percentage and five doubles were both good enough to tie him for second place on the team and the maturation between sophomore and junior year was sure to provide a boost to both Glauber and double-play partner Sean O’Mara.
Coach’s Insight: “From a physical standpoint, he was ready to have a really good year. He has been a varsity player since he was a freshman and he is taller with more muscle mass now. He is a disciplined kid, he plays baseball on hundred percent of the time as far as athletics go. His swing is shorter and more powerful than it was last year and that physical growth has really accentuated his improvement as a player over the last few years.” – Nick Tucker, Red Bank head coach
7. Nick Danbrowney, Jr., 2B/RHP, Barnegat
An intriguing two-way player who features a knuckleball on the mound, Danbrowney picked up his offensive production last year in his second season as a starter and hoped to be on the cusp of a major breakout as a junior. Of the returning Shore Conference players who actually played second base last year, Danbrowney is one of only three to connect on a home run in 2019 and finished fifth among that same group in slugging percentage.
Coach’s Insight: “He really wants to be a college baseball player and when we talked at the end of last season – he doesn’t say much, but he really listens – we talked about how he’s got to get his body right. He always played a little bit heavy and he really took that to heart. He worked his ass off from beginning of September all the way right up to the start of practice and he came in bigger, lean and much faster. Another thing with him is he has the fastest bat speed that has been at Barnegat High School, at least that I can recall. For him, this was a big year for recruitment and he is the kind of kid that really gets hurt losing this year – the kid that got a lot better physically over the offseason and was ready to really show it in the games.” – Dan McCoy, Barnegat head coach
6. Mike Masino, Sr., 2B/SS, Central
No team was hit as hard by graduation losses in 2019 as Central was. The Golden Eagles lost eight starters from a team that reached the Shore Conference Tournament final and with so little experience on last year’s team, Masino was asked to raise his game after serving as a utility man on the 2018 squad. All-in-all, the Rutgers-Newark commit did a sound job, posting the fourth-best slugging percentage of any returning second baseman this season.
Coach’s Insight: “He’s an emotional player and he shows up when you need him to. He’s one of the best practice players and it would have been great for the younger players to be around him for a full year and to see the work ethic that we expect. It’s nice, as a coach, to have a kid like that. He was expected to do a lot last year being the only guy from the 2018 team who started with any regularity and he wasn’t a even full-time guy as a sophomore. It would have been nice to see him get a chance to play with a little more help and a little less pressure this year.” – Jerry Frulio, Central head coach
5. Jack Sheridan, Sr., 2B/SS, Middletown South
A defensive standout at shortstop, Sheridan has embraced playing other positions for Middletown South and was all set to do the same this season. He played in the outfield and at second base as a sophomore in 2018, then took over the starting job at shortstop for his junior season. With an open spot at second base, Sheridan was going to slide to the other side of the bag once again in 2019 to open up shortstop for Chris O’Connor – the starting third baseman for the last two years.
Coach’s Insight: “He is Mr. Consistency. You know what you are going to get from him every day: he is going to make all the plays, he’s going to put the ball in play, get on, move runners and he is going to go hard on the bases. He, and really this whole senior group, they consistently come to work and they are all there to do one thing: win. When you coach long enough, that becomes recognizable and there is no doubt this group of seniors has that attitude about winning.” – Chris LeMore, Middletown South head coach
4. Nick Zbikowski, Sr., 2B/SS, Point Boro
Point Boro’s offensive attack elevated to another level late in 2018 and climbed even higher last year thanks to the Panthers’ table-setters. Sam Collins is the decorated one of the duo, but Zbikowski has done a commendable job hitting between Collins and 2020 classmate Nick Guzzi. He has posted an on-base percentage comfortably over .400 over his two varsity seasons combined and his 23 runs scored is tied for second among returning second basemen. Zbikowski has also proven he can play a quality shortstop but he was likely to provide stability in the infield by remaining at second base.
Coach’s Insight: “Over the last two years, nobody has been more consistent than Nick when it comes to getting the job done. He always gives you a great effort, he’s a tough at-bat and he makes all the routine plays at second base – and even some of the not-so-routine ones. He gives us great energy near the top of the order and he can play all over the field. I was really looking forward to seeing him close out his career with a good senior year because he has been a real unsung hero for us. We know how important he is but it would have been nice to see him show what he could do.” – Dave Drew, Point Boro head coach
3. Hunter Serrano, 2B/RHP, Manalapan
Like a lot of second basemen in high-school baseball, Serrano was an unsung hero for the 24-win Braves in 2019. He hid out at the bottom of the Manalapan order, yet is one of four second basemen on this list to post double-digit runs scored and RBI and was one of four Manalapan players to do so. He was also fourth on the team in batting average among players with 40 or more plate appearances and was 3-for-3 in save opportunities as a closer.
Coach’s Insight: “He is just a versatile kid. He’s got really good hands, he wants the ball in big spots and a kid like that, you’re always comfortable to see him out there when the ball is hit his way. Offensively, he had his ups and downs and I thought he really was able to figure it out by the end of the season. He was going to be a middle-of-the-order guy, maybe top-of-the-order guy for us this year. He goes the other way, he handles bat, he can bunt, hit-and-run. He has really shown a lot of leadership as a senior as well, so he was a key guy for us.” Brian Boyce, Manalapan head coach
2. Brandon Kinsman, Sr., 2B/C, Jackson Liberty
Kinsman was slated to take over at catcher this season after the graduation of Shore Sports Network Player of the Year David Melfi, which would have been a major undertaking. If anyone on the Lions could handle it, it would be Kinsman, who has primarily played second base but has taken a crack at several positions around the diamond as one of the Shore’s most versatile players. In 2019, he was the only second baseman to score at least 20 runs while also driving in at least 20 and is one of only two returning players in the entire conference to hit at least three home runs both as a sophomore and a junior (Jack Scrivanic of Red Bank Catholic being the other).
Coach’s Insight: “His sophomore year up with the varsity, he didn’t play a lot, but he was our Swiss-Army-Knife player. Any spot on the field we needed somebody to play, we could slide him in and we’d be good. He is the ultimate team guy any time we talk to him, it’s “whatever you need, coach.” This year, he really wanted to play catcher and I felt he earned that so that’s where we planned on playing him. We don’t lose much defensively back there going from Melfi to Brandon and we always know that if we need him somewhere else – second, short, third, outfield – he can do it.” – Jim Rankin, Jackson Liberty head coach
1. Christian Pellone, Sr., 2B, Jackson Memorial
Only three players returning to the Shore Conference in 2020 already had two 30-hit seasons under their belts: Jackson Liberty’s Shane Hickey, Ranney’s Charlie Chropuvka and Pellone. The Jackson Memorial second baseman took over as the full-time starter as a sophomore and with his production out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup, it’s no wonder the Jaguars won 25 games. He followed his sophomore breakout with an even better junior season at the plate, finishing second among shortstops in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored. Pellone is an exceptional athlete at second base and although he ran into some issues with errors last season, he also makes standout plays while sporting the best bat of any second baseman at the Shore.
Coach’s Insight: “He is an explosive kid. He is the guy at the top of the lineup that gets the game started for us. He’s that leader, that spark plug and he has a good head on his shoulders. He’s a competitor but he keeps it light. He’s a funny kid and he likes to show that side of him in the dugout and it keeps guys loose. He has worked so hard to become a better defensive player and I really wanted to see that hard work pay off for him.” – Frank Malta, Jackson Memorial head coach
Other Notable Seniors
Brian Yatcilla, Sr., 2B, Ocean – Another unsung contributor on a good team, Yatcilla hit .263 with 20 hits, 12 runs scored and 10 stolen bases while playing good defense as a junior.
Declan Hoverter, Sr., 2B/RHP, CBA – Hoverter’s best junior-year moment came on the mound when he threw the first perfect game in CBA history, but he was also a versatile position player who was ready to take over the full-time second base job.
Robert Pero, Sr., 2B, Toms River East – Part of an experienced Toms River East infield, Pero thumped three doubles and drove in 11 runs during his junior campaign.
2021 Watch List
Nick Mortelito, Jr., 2B, Toms River North – After taking over the starting second base job late in his sophomore season and hitting .269 with two doubles and eight runs in 30 plate appearances, Mortelito was poised to be one of Toms River North’s better all-around players as a junior.
Anthony Longo, So., 2B/SS/RHP, Keyport – As a freshman, Longo was Keyport’s best pitcher, second-best hitter by OPS (.792) and a capable defensive infielder who worked at both second base and shortstop.
Matt Van Brunt, Jr., 2B/RHP, Point Beach – Through the usual sophomore-year peaks and valleys, Van Brunt managed to drive in 16 runs for the Garnet Gulls in 2019.
Ryan Cole, So., 2B, Neptune – The younger brother of All-Shore two-way star and 2019 graduate Ron Cole, Ryan Cole worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman at second base last year and will be asked to be a more prominent contributor when the Scarlet Fliers and the rest of N.J. get back on the diamond.
Anthony Mursko, So., 2B, Donovan Catholic – In addition to his versatility, Mursko showed a capable hitting approach that netted him a .297 average with 12 RBI in 2019.