Baseball – Countdown 2020: Top Shortstops 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.
We will start our countdown with, arguably, the most important position on the infield and certainly the most glamorous: shortstop. This year's crop of shortstops was unique because so many of the top players at the position within the Shore were moving off of other positions - most commonly third base. Six of the top 10 players at the position (according to this list) played primarily at other positions last year and their teams were planning to ask them to take on the challenge of shortstop. It's also a senior-heavy list but there is one very noteworthy underclassman in the group.
Let's get on with the countdown, starting with No. 10.
10. Christian Bauman, Sr., SS, Shore
Bauman hit his way into the lineup as a sophomore and found a home in the outfield in the process. With Shore needing help in the infield this season, the senior was working to start at shortstop – his natural position – in his last high-school year. Bauman was Shore’s RBI leader as a junior, but it was his sophomore year in which he had his best statistical output. Bauman is signed to continue his career at Delaware Valley University.
Coach’s Insight: “He impressed me when I first saw him as an eighth grader with his attitude and versatility. The first thing he said at the beginning of sophomore year was ‘Where can I play?’ He was definitely a good enough hitter to start for us and it was just a matter of finding him a spot and the outfield was where he had the best opportunity. We always knew he was naturally a shortstop and we had some struggles on the infield defensively and we told him to be ready to make the move there for this year.” – Jay Kuhlthau, Shore head coach
9. Maximus Rivas, Sr., SS, Toms River South
Rivas elevated to starting shortstop as a sophomore and moved to second base last year to accommodate Jordan Erbe at short. Now committed to Stetson University, Rivas was poised to move back to shortstop as a senior and continue to build on the progress he made as a hitter over his first two varsity seasons. Rivas would have been a spark at the top of the Indians order but his glove – one of the best among Shore shortstops – is what secures him a spot in the top 10.
Coach’s Insight: “Max is a great contact hitter, a great middle infielder. He accepted the move to second base last year and we were looking forward to him having a great senior year as our starting shortstop. He is one of the better infielders in the Shore. He is not a home run hitter, but he is going to play in college at Stetson, which we’re happy about. At that level, they are looking for good defensive shortstop and a guy who hits for contact. He’s got the four tools you need to play at next level, he’s got a good attitude and that will make him a good fit in college.” – Ken Frank, Toms River South coach
8. Jason Arnott, Sr., SS, CBA
In his first season as a varsity starter, Arnott was a steady on-base threat mostly hitting out of the No. 2 spot in CBA’s batting order. His varsity break came at second base and he was one of the Shore’s best at the keystone on the defensive side. His athleticism and fielding prowess would likely have translated nicely to shortstop, where CBA was looking to replace All-Shore infielder and Bryant freshman Tommy DiTullio.
Coach’s Insight: “He has gotten a lot stronger and I think we were going to see him hit for more power. He had a chance to be a really dangerous hitter. He was a singles and doubles guy last year and I think with the extra strength, Jason would have driven the ball more. I don’t think we would have fallen off much at shortstop with Arnott there and I think Tommy DiTullio was the best shortstop in the Shore Conference and one of the best in the state defensively. I actually think Arnott might be a little more athletic so I think he is more than ready to play shortstop and play it really well.” – Marty Kenney Jr., CBA head coach
7. Will Hopkinson, Sr., SS, Manasquan
In the middle of the 2017 season, Hopkinson played his way into the starting lineup and ended up the starting shortstop of a Group II state championship team as a freshman. He proved his worth as a sure-handed young shortstop and over the past two seasons, his bat has become a bigger part of his game. After crossing the .300 barrier as a sophomore, Hopkinson smoked eight extra-base hits as a junior, including four triples – tied for the second most in the conference behind former teammate James Harmstead.
Coach’s Insight: “It’s like having a coach out there. If someone is not working hard, Will would have sent them home. You could see the guys were ready to go on the first day of practice and Will deserves a lot of credit for that. All the coaches, we were so impressed with the effort and energy out there. Defensively, if the ball is hit to him, it’s an out. He’s one of the best defensive shortstops around.” – Brenan Gordon, Manasquan head coach
6. Andrew Schmid, Jr., SS, Rumson-Fair Haven
After holding his own as a starting second baseman during his freshman season, Schmid took a sizable step forward during his sophomore year in 2019. He was fifth among returning shortstops in both batting average and slugging percentage last year and while he is only a junior, he has assumed a leadership role on a team that was set to bring back only one senior starter.
Coach’s Insight: “He wants to be best guy on the field. He takes shortstop very seriously. I teach in Keyport, so I sometimes get to practices five-to-ten minutes after they start and he wanted the full practice schedule to run the infield before I got there. He wants that leadership role.” – Owen Stewart, Rumson-Fair Haven head coach
5. Rocco Richard, Sr., SS, Neptune
It has been an eventful four-year stretch for the Neptune program and Richard has been there for each season. He was a part-time contributor as a freshman on a team that came up a run short of a Central Jersey Group III championship, struggled in his first full-time starting role for a three-win Scarlet Fliers team in 2018, then broke out in a big way as a junior shortstop on a 13-9 Neptune squad. Richard was one of nine players in the Shore Conference to smack 10 or more doubles in 2019 and one of 14 shortstops with a slugging percentage of .500 or better – only four of whom are back in 2020.
Coach’s Insight: “Rocco is probably our best baseball player overall. Johnny (Gannon) is our best player just with the way he hits, but Rocco is a smooth fielder, he’s rangy, long and athletic. Every year, he’s gotten better at everything. Last year the power numbers really went up. He’s another kid who could push for All-Shore spot with the way he hits. He gets a little overlooked by coaches in the area and I think he would have shown them this year.” – Kevin Frederick, Neptune head coach
4. Nick DiPietrantonio, Sr., SS, Manalapan
When the dust settled at the end of the 2019 season, DiPietrantonio was the best offensive player on a 24-win Manalapan team that came excruciatingly close to winning both a Group IV and Shore Conference Tournament championship. He led his team in extra-base hits, home runs, RBI and slugging percentage and that was despite a rough stretch during the middle of the season at the plate following a scorching start. DiPietrantonio, who is heading to play at Princeton next season, finished strong and was ready for a full-time shift to shortstop after playing mostly third base last year.
Coach’s Insight: “He has a really good head for the game, he has grown to about 6-4. Early on, we liked the way he was hitting and the way he took a leadership role. Going back to last year, he was extremely hot early, then he hit a stretch where he didn’t have as much success. Mentally, he was tweaking some things, got into some bad habits and is snowballed. One of the messages we were giving him was to stay quiet at plate. Once he figured it out, he got back to being himself.” – Brian Boyce, Manalapan head coach
3. Chris O’Connor, Sr., SS/3B, Middletown South
O’Connor and DiPietrantonio share a similar profile in that their 2019 stats are very similar on a per-at-bat basis and both were preparing for a move to shortstop after cutting their teeth at the hot corner. O’Connor gets the edge on the list because he has put up those numbers for two seasons now and in a lot of ways, he was even better as a sophomore before the word was out on his ability. He already has a .500 on-base percentage season to his credit and his hit, double and home-run totals have been remarkably consistent.
Coach’s Insight: “He has a motor that doesn’t stop. He has an enthusiasm to him that’s infectious. All he wants to do is compete. He is just a blue-collar, throwback kid who leads by example. He is always excited about playing baseball – he loves to hit, he loves to work.” – Chris LeMore, Middletown South head coach
2. Shane Hickey, Sr., SS/RHP, Jackson Liberty
Like O’Connor and DiPietrantonio, Hickey was ready to make the move off third base for his senior season. Hickey is a three-year starter for Jackson Liberty and his fourth was set to be his first at shortstop. He entered his senior year with a chance to break a number of Jackson Liberty career records after former teammate David Melfi rewrote the record book during his memorable senior year in 2019. With 2020 wiped out, Hickey finishes just four hits shy of 100 for his career to go with 21 doubles, eight homers and 66 RBI. On the bright side, Hickey does graduate with a clean .400 batting average in 240 career at-bats.
Coach’s Insight: “Shane was on pace to break all the career records that Melfi set other than probably the RBI record. What Shane has done past four years is incredible when you talk about the hitter he is, as well as what he gives us defensively and stepping up as one of our top guys on the mound. I know the hitting numbers weren’t what he wanted last year, but we put a lot on his plate. The kid has come through time and time again. He has been a fixture in our program for four years and it would have been great to see how he was going to finish off his career.” – Jim Rankin, Jackson Liberty head coach
1. Rocko Brzezniak, So., SS, St. John Vianney
It takes a special season for a freshman to land on the All-Shore First Team and that is just what Brzezniak turned in during his first season as a high-school ballplayer. He finished third in the Shore Conference in average (.508) and on-base percentage (.608), second in slugging percentage (.952) and fourth in home runs (seven) during his introduction to high-school baseball in 2019. Even without a 2020 season, the Louisville commit could still have a chance to make a run at the Shore Conference home run record (30), at least if his freshman-year power production is an indication of things to come.
Coach’s Insight: “I wouldn’t rule him out when it comes to (breaking) records. Most guys don’t do what he did as a freshman so he already had a pretty big head start. I expect him to just keep getting better.” – Mike Morgan, St. John Vianney head coach
Other Notable Seniors
Sean Turner, Sr., SS/RHP, Mater Dei Prep – As the best offensive player on the 2019 B Central champs, Turner (.393/.443/.540 in 2019) might have been the best all-around player returning in his division considering the impact he also makes at shortstop and on the pitcher’s mound.
Alex Alonso, Sr., SS/RHP, Monmouth – Alonso hit only .203 last year but in 90 career at-bats, he has clobbered 10 extra-base hits. He also has a quality glove at shortstop to go with a bat that has proven dangerous in spots over his two seasons as a varsity contributor.
Ryan Cicardo, Sr., SS, Toms River East – Cicardo’s junior season goes somewhat unnoticed because of the presence of teammates like Ryan Goodall, Matt Santos and Aidan Meola, but the now-senior gave Toms River East a quality player at the most important position on the infield. He brings speed (12 stolen bases) to the table and was looking to build on a .263 average and five doubles last year.
Phil Antoniotti, Sr., 2B/SS, Toms River North – Heading into his fourth year as a varsity starter, Antoniotti spent his first two years at Point Beach playing second base and shortstop and might have made a similar transition after playing second as a junior for the Mariners.
Ben Porricelli, Sr., SS, Matawan – Matawan was set to be solid up the middle, led by catcher Griffin Falco and centerfielder Jay Kalieta. The Huskies also brought back a strong double-play combination, with Poricelli returning with a steady glove at shortstop and a capable bat near the top of the order.
Lucas Dant, Sr., SS/RHP, Keyport – The Red Raiders were going to be fairly young again this season but Dant was the veteran on the team having been a reliable pitcher and shortstop who has swiped 28 bases over the past two seasons.
Grady Hendrickson, Sr., SS/3B, Henry Hudson – A four-year starter, Hendrickson has been a multi-sport athlete (soccer and basketball) and a leader for the Admirals athletic program and one of the top players in a deep Class of 2020 that had a chance to build on last year’s fourth-place finish in B Central.
Bryce O’Rourke, Sr., SS, Pinelands – Headed into his third year as a starter, O’Rourke would have brought some stability and leadership to the infield after playing a mix of second base and shortstop as a junior.
2021 Watch List
Colin Kratzer, So., SS, Colts Neck – Came up big over the course of his freshman year, including a game-winning double in an SCT win over Toms River South. Kratzer is committed to play at Army and will take over at shortstop when high school baseball returns.
Ty Beck, Jr., SS, Jackson Memorial – The consummate team player, Beck looked poised to start at shortstop heading into each of his first three seasons but the Radford commit embraced a more utility role in each of his first two when Jackson Memorial stumbled upon two different senior All-Shore shortstops. This year looked like it would finally be his chance to start from start-to-finish but that will have to wait until 2021.
Sean O’Mara, Jr., SS, Red Bank – After a solid sophomore season that saw him belt his first career homer and tag two-time Shore Pitcher of the Year Trey Dombroski with one of his two doubles, O’Mara was a strong candidate to emerge as an all-division player with a chance to put himself in the All-Shore conversation over the second-half of his high-school career.
Danny Frontera, Jr., SS/RHP, Middletown North – Tommy John surgery wiped out Frontera’s sophomore year on the mound and in the field, but he managed to tune up for his junior season by getting some solid work at the plate as a DH in 2019.
Phil Trebour, So., SS, Point Beach – A standout two-way player for a young Point Beach squad, Trebour posted a .290 average with two doubles, two triples, 18 runs, 14 RBI and 10 steals while playing a quality shortstop.
Brett Wehringer, So., SS/RHP, Ranney – A big freshman season included a .375 average, 25 runs scored and 16 stolen bases for Wehringer, who was also the team’s No. 2 pitcher. With a major influx of pitching talent at Ranney, he should not have to shoulder as much of the pitching load in 2021.