Baseball – Countdown 2020: Top Two-Way Players 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 have reached the final list of the countdown series that is based on the past numbers put up by the players considered for a spot. The countdown closes with a look at the two-way stars at the Shore - the players who not only shove on the mound and swing it at the plate but, in many cases, bring a great glove to the field as well.
Defense and athleticism is a separator for the top players on this countdown but more two-dimensional players can definitely make an impact just by hitting and pitching. For purposes of this exercise, only pitchers expected to start games were considered so players like Ryan Lasko, Rocko Brzezniak and Hunter Serrano, who were ranked near the top of their positions and set to pitch in relief, are not on this particular list.
The post ends with a look at some players who were ready to elevate to the status of the top 20 names. That group of 20 begins with likely its most well-traveled member.
HM = Honorable Mention
NR = Not Ranked
After moving from England before his junior year of high school, Baranello adjusted nicely to baseball in the U.S. and became the ace on a Point Beach team that made it to the Central Jersey Group I final. It was, however, still an adjustment and with a year under his belt, Baranello and his coaching staff expected the left-hander to really take off in 2020, particularly on the mound.
On a team with a strong core of juniors and sophomores, Shanes was going to have a key role as a leader, both on the field, in the rotation and as a hitter. The left-hander topped a .400 on-base percentage and slugging percentage in his 52 plate appearances and struck out 50 in 46 2/3 innings on the mound as a junior.
Ellison opened his sophomore year as rotation depth and a third-base option and played his way into the permanent lineup and into the No. 2 spot in the rotation. The right-hander went 0-5 as a starter, but faced some of the best competition on Howell’s schedule (Middletown South, Manalapan, Red Bank Catholic, Freehold Township, Cherry Hill East) while not getting as much run support as Howell pitchers have been used to over the years.
Jeans started out 2019 on fire at the plate and on the mound before getting tripped up by the injury bug and finishing with numbers that were more modest than his ability suggested over the first month. The senior outfielder was, according to coach Andy pagano, ready to go without any limits in 2020 and heading into his third year as a starter, he had a chance to be a leader for a junior-dominated Mariners team.
While Apgar’s offense has been more solid than spectacular to date, it’s not hard to envision a 6-7 figure swinging a dangerous bat during his senior year. As far as his pitching goes, Apgar is in the discussion for one of the Shore’s 10 best pitchers and the New Orleans University commit has all the attributes to contend for a First-Team All-Shore spot as a pitcher had he been given the chance in 2020.
Although he did not hit much and only threw 12 innings in his varsity look as a freshman, Crotchfelt’s tools have drawn rave reviews from coaches around the Shore, as well as other players. He is already committed to Auburn and it’s still an open question whether he will make his impact more at the plate or on the mound. Last year seemed to suggest it is the latter but when baseball resumes, Crotchfelt is likely to be one of the Shore’s best on both halves of the inning.
After going .500 last year, Brick was hoping to be even better by riding Wade, who was arguably the Green Dragons’ best player last year as a sophomore. He is more in the category of Panzini, Hunt in Santos in that he is a serviceable defender whose best skills are the way he swings the bat and throws the ball. With his size and strength, Wade figured to add to his power numbers after hitting .369 as a sophomore and his combination of power and control as a young pitcher (36 strikeouts and nine walks in 31 1/3 innings) is impressive.
Although his bat hasn’t shown a lot of power yet, Gorman is the kind of athlete whose bat typically takes off during the second half of his high-school career. His arm has been his most dependable tool so far, but his speed is also a major part of his game – both in the outfield and once he gets on base. Gorman – a Wagner commit – also makes frequent contact so the overall offensive numbers have a chance to really takeoff and make him a legitimate Player-of-the-Year contender in 2021.
With a third-starter’s workload and only a partial season as a starter, Mazza does not have a lengthy body of work to judge but he showed plenty of what he could do in those 34 innings and 32 at-bats. The Rutgers commit showed a strong arm that should pick up more strikeouts during the second half of his career and power potential at the plate as well.
After carrying Toms River East to the South Jersey Group III semifinals as a No. 12 seed, Santos was set to carry the Raiders again, even if he didn’t necessarily have to with some help back around the lineup. Santos has been a quality pitcher since his sophomore season and his bat made a significant jump during his junior season to the point that he is an all-division hitter and all-division pitcher and an All-Shore-level player when you put it all together.
Minze would have paired with Lotito to form one of the Shore’s most athletic two-way duos – athletes with the speed to cover ground in the outfield and wreak havoc on the bases, the hitting power and polish to do damage at the plate, and the strong arms and fine-tuned mechanics to dominate on the mound. Minze has been a solid all-around player for two years with a more-than-solid .403 batting average as a junior.
You would be hard-pressed to find a No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher on a team who was as good in the role as Young was for Point Boro in 2019. Having Guzzi and Sam Collins working ahead of him in the rotation and a senior like Christian Aurin to share the No. 3 duties took a lot of pressure off and Young made the most of the opportunity. At the plate, Young welcomed the pressure and was the team’s second-best hitter behind Collins during its postseason run while also playing a very good corner outfield.
If Hunt fully tapped into the potential he showed as a hitter during his All-Shore sophomore season, he would give Sharkey a run for the No. 1 spot on this list. His year-long battle at the plate as a junior makes it a more complicated case, but the talent is undeniable and his dominance on the mound was obvious at the end of 2019.
Jackson Liberty coach Jim Rankin expected Hickey to contribute in all facets but not to the degree than he did. In Hickey’s case, he was already an established hitter and defender at third base but his contribution on the mound was more than Rankin and the Lions could have asked for and, frankly, probably wanted to ask for. After assuming the mantle as No. 1 pitcher last year, Hickey would have done the same while playing shortstop and serving as one of the conference’s best hitters.
Reilly’s offensive numbers were not eye-popping – certainly not to the level of his pitching stats – but he was one of CBA’s better hitters, showed his power at times and is a good overall athlete who can play multiple positions. He would have been on a team that would not have asked him to exert himself too much defensively, but first-year CBA head coach Marty Kenney Jr. was seriously considering hitting Reilly leadoff in 2020 and turning him loose on the bases.
As was the case with the positional rankings, Galvan suffers a little due to a light body-of-work, but he has certainly displayed glimpses of the talent that Louisville thought enough of to offer him a scholarship to play in the ACC. At 6-7 with a fastball that touches 93 miles-per-hour, Galvan projected to be a dominant starter in 2020 with a full ace workload and he has already hit well as a varsity player. He is also an excellent athlete who can play a good third base and handle an outfield assignment.
Panzini gave his team and the rest of the Shore a glimpse of his talent on the mound as a freshman but his sophomore-year production at the plate (five doubles, three homers) was a surprise. Defensively, he doesn’t run and defend as well as the three players listed ahead him on this list but with his arm and overall baseball skill, he won’t hurt his team in the field either.
The Panthers were planning on heading into 2020 with a lot of depth for a Group II program and because of that, Guzzi was not going to be asked to do more than lead the pitching staff and swing a dangerous bat in the middle of the Point Boro lineup. If needed, though, Guzzi is an all-around player who can handle shortstop, third base and the outfield and motor on the bases.
Lotito can do everything on a baseball field and probably a lot of other fields with his athleticism. His speed and defense were assets as a sophomore but last year, he put it all together by stroking six extra-base hits – including a home run – hitting .323 and also ascending to the role of staff ace for a Middletown South team that needed pitchers to step up in order to win the Class A North division title.
Sharkey was already an All-Shore-caliber talent on the mound and at the plate as a freshman, striking out well over a batter per inning and clubbing two home runs as a rookie. He had to endure some growing pains as a sophomore, but came back with a First-Team All-Shore season as a junior as one of the five best pitchers in the conference and one of the Shore’s best all-around outfielders.
Lukas Torres, Sr., CF/LHP, Barnegat – Torres has run hot and cold as a pitcher, but throws in the high 80’s and is one of the Shore’s best outfielders.
James Johns, Sr., CF/LHP, Manchester – Johns and Torres are similar in just about every way, including their potential on the mound despite some inconsistency over their three prior varsity seasons.
Nick Callano, Jr., CF/RHP, Ocean – Callano is a player who does everything well and heading into his junior year, he could have taken off in any facet of the game and perhaps even in every facet of the game.
Danny Frontera, Jr., OF/RHP, Middletown North – After a promising debut as a freshman, Frontera missed most of his sophomore year at the plate and all of it on the mound due to Tommy John Surgery and remains primed for a big bounceback.
Dan Greene, Sr., RHP/1B, Central – With experience on a winning Central team that reached the Shore Conference Tournament final in 2018, Greene is fully acclimated as staff ace and was also one of Central’s most reliable hitters last year.