NJ baseball preview: Players to watch
Jeff Anderson, Delbarton
The first baseman has power that has to be respected. Anderson belted three home runs in ’11 to go with 32 RBI.
Brendan Benecke, Jackson Liberty
Benecke hit .313 with six doubles and as many home runs for a team that figures to be quite formidable. The junior catcher will receive for a very good pitching staff and aid its cause with his ability to deliver with runners in scoring position (24 RBI).
Dennis Bencsko, Delbarton
Heading to Lafayette, the senior outfielder is coming off a junior campaign in which he batted .365.
Taylor Blankmeyer, Seton Hall Prep
The senior second baseman, who is committed to St. John’s, knocked in 25 runs and accumulated 30 hits and will be a major factor for the perennial Essex County power.
Kevin Bradley, Hopewell Valley
Switch-hitting senior shortstop combined contact, strength and opportunism to hit .446 with seven home runs and 38 RBI as a junior. Signed to Clemson, Bradley was named Player of the Year in the highly-competitive Colonial Valley Conference and has started every game since his freshman year at shortstop.
Mike Carter, Bloomfield
Expect Carter to wreak havoc at the top of the Bloomfield batting order behind a smooth swing that generated a .382 batting average on the strength of 36 hits. The junior patrols center field with terrific range and the speed that gets him to line drives in the gaps also played a part in his 20 runs and 13 stolen bases.
Zach Cerbo, Bergen Catholic
The catcher will not only handle a pitching staff with vast potential, he will help their cause with the bat, which produced a .338 average and 17 RBI last season.
Anthony Ciavarella, Phillipsburg
Between his work on the mound (1.73 ERA, 56 Ks, 43 1/3 innings), defense in center field and production with the bat (.375, .462 on-base, .538 slugging), the Monmouth-bound Ciavarella is quite diverse.
Andrew Conklin, Randolph
Conklin, a junior second baseman, came through a year ago for the 21-8 Rams by hitting .409 with two homers, 20 RBI and a .494 on-base percentage.
Bryan Cuevas, St. Mary’s (Rutherford)
Whether he is atop the mound (7-1) or swinging a bat (.535, six homers, 38 RBI), the senior, who plays strong defensively at shortstop, finds ways to make significant contributions.
Matt Dacey, Don Bosco Prep
The senior first baseman, who is committed to Michigan, will be in the heart of a lineup that can absolutely wear out good pitching with its depth of talent. Dacey makes the most of seemingly every plate appearance. He hit .493 with eight home runs and 32 RBI.
Devin DelPriore, Point Pleasant Boro
A jack-of-all trades defensively, DelPriore can see time at catcher, shortstop and second baseman. While his position may vary, DelPriore’s swing rarely wavers. He fashioned a .500 batting average in ’11 with 10 doubles among his 35 hits.
Joe Dudek, Christian Brothers
The slugging junior first baseman, who has already given a verbal commitment to North Carolina, packs a wallop. Despite being routinely worked around by opposing pitchers, Dudek still batted .352 and launched five homers. He can also come in and fire heat as a reliever.
Brett Ender, Montgomery
Great hands and patience, coupled with the power from his core, allows the senior outfielder to drive the ball to all fields. Ender batted .403 overall and proved a quality situational hitter, batting .577 with runners in scoring position.
Will Fitzgerald, Millburn
Fitzgerald puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on the defense with his baserunning. The senior center fielder swiped 34 bases in 38 attempts and scored 27 times while batting .354 as a junior.
Tyler Fox, Immaculata
The senior outfielder doesn’t waste plate appearances. Fox had a shrewd approach to each at bat and batted .438 with four long balls and 22 RBI.
Milo Freeman, Millburn
Only a sophomore, Freeman has already built a reputation as a quality defensive shortstop who can also swing it. Freeman owned a .325 average with 22 RBI last spring.
Angel Garced, Jackson Liberty
Soft hands and feet make the junior a reliable defensive centerpiece at shortstop. Garced had four doubles among his 20 hits and has shown steady progress that should continue to ascend in 2012.
Tyler Gargulio, Paramus
The speed of the senior center fielder serves Gargulio well both defensively and when he reaches base (.363, 21 stolen bases).
Zach Gray, Morristown-Beard
The senior first baseman turned in a monster season in 2011 when he hit .527 with 27 RBI and 25 runs scored. Defensively, Gray is just as solid around the bag.
Cory Hinds, Watchung Hills
Watchung Hills features this junior catcher, who seeks to build off a sophomore year stamped by a .452 average, 28 hits and 16 RBI.
Dan Incle, Matawan
Hard-hitting junior first baseman cuts an imposing figure in the batter’s box. Incle has a powerful swing that hit at a .367 clip as a sophomore.
George Iskendarian, Don Bosco Prep
A slick senior shortstop who is heading to South Carolina, Iskendarian seeks to only build off his showing (.421, 28 RBI) from last spring.
Sean Jones, DePaul
Jones will keep runners honest with his strong arm in right field and should provide a spark for the offense (.470, nine doubles, five homers, 33 RBI).
Matt Kleinstein, Colts Neck
Besides the sound defense he provides behind the dish, the junior catcher, who recorded 14 assists, hit at a .320 clip as a sophomore and is only getting better offensively.
Evan Klimchak, Hunterdon Central
Klimchak is sliding over from second base to man the shortstop position and anchor the infield. His defense complements an offensive game that generated 32 hits, 20 runs and 10 RBI.
Brian Lamboy, Manalapan
One of only two returning starters for the reigning Group 4 state champion, the senior, who batted .389 with 42 hits, 23 runs and 14 RBI, has moved from second base to shortstop.
Andrew LaMura, Red Bank Catholic
Heading to East Carolina, the senior center fielder tracks down just about anything hit in his vicinity. With the bat, he carved out a .413 batting average, fueled by 19 multiple-hit games. He knocked in 32 runs and scored 35 more out of the No. 2 spot in the order last year.
Nick Liggett, Red Bank Catholic
The senior right fielder was an unsung producer for the Caseys last spring. Liggett finished with 33 hits, 27 runs, five home runs, 25 RBI and a .398 batting average.
Chris Liquori, Ramapo
Liquori, a senior right-hander who will see some time on the mound, bolsters the infield and the offense (.360, five homers, 23 RBI).
Nick Maguire, Mendham
Maguire was instrumental in a post-season charge last spring that saw Mendham begin play in the state tournament with a 7-13 mark only to make a surprising charge to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 championship, where it bowed to Millburn. Maguire batted .480 with 38 RBI.
Tommy Marcinczyk, Middlesex
The junior outfielder projects to be one tough out for the Group 2 contender. Marcinczyk hit at a .495 clip with 47 hits, including seven doubles and nine homers, to go with 34 RBI. He was also 6-3 last spring on the mound.
Michael Mecca, Don Bosco Prep
A quintessential tablesetter at the top of the order, Mecca, a senior center fielder who is going to Villanova, had a .513 on-base percentage last spring and hit .315.
Andrew Niech, Colonia
A senior who has logged time as both a second baseman and catcher, Niech is coming off a steller performance in ’11 when he hit .395 with 10 doubles and six home runs among his 32 hits.
Kevin Nilsen, Brick Memorial
Brick Memorial could be a sleeper in the A South of the Shore Conference and the senior shortstop could play an instrumental role in the Mustangs’ surge. Nilsen is solid at the plate (.414, eight doubles, three homers, 23 RBI) and should team with senior second baseman Ray Triano (.320) to give Brick Memorial quality defense up the middle.
Joe Ogren, Jackson
The senior shortstop, who will continue his career at Bucknell, put together an impressive junior campaign. A consistent contact hitter, Ogren batted .447 with 38 hits and 23 RBI and has hit consistently in the pre-season.
James O’Rourke, Westfield
A superb center fielder who operates under the notion that no fly ball is out of reach, the senior can produce offensively. O’Rourke picked up 42 hits, scored 43 times and knocked in 19 runs to go with a .412 batting average last year’s Group 4 runner-up.
Chris Petiya, Middlesex
Coming off a junior year in which he hit .362 with 42 RBI, 10 doubles and nine homers, Petiya will once again be a vital piece to the Middlesex offense.
Stephen Petriello, South Plainfield
Thirteen doubles, four home runs and a .396 average makes the senior catcher one of many tough outs in the South Plainfield lineup.
Jeff Puckett, Dunellen
His .473 batting average, 28 runs, 23 RBI and 32 stolen bases speak to the multiple ways the senior outfielder/catcher can have an impact on a game. His knack for swiping bases was contagious for a Dunellen squad that plays aggressively on the bases.
Joe Purritano, Don Bosco Prep
One of the anticipated power sources for top-ranked Don Bosco, the Dartmouth-bound outfielder belted five homers, knocked in 35 runs and hit .373 last spring.
Mike Rescigno, Red Bank Catholic
The powerful third baseman flexed his muscle in the pre-season and looks primed to have a breakthrough junior year. He showed signs of his vast potential as a sophomore with four homers among his 25 hits to go with 15 RBI and 26 runs. And, he’s also expected to see time on the hill, where his fastball flirts with 90 miles per hour.
Ian Riddell, Millburn
The junior first baseman, who was 4-0 on the mound with two saves, has a working knowledge of how much pitchers appreciate offensive support, which Riddell supplies with a swing that gave way to a .355 batting average.
Mike Roethke, Immaculata
Not only did Roethke make a smooth transition from center field to catcher last season, he drove in 47 runs while batting .473 with 35 hits, including 10 doubles and three homers. His keen sense of the strike zone enabled Roethke to draw 14 walks while fanning only four times in 74 at bats.
Fernando Rosa, Perth Amboy
Rosa, a junior second baseman, picked up 41 hits, including four home runs, batted .446 and was 5-0 on the hill with a 1.19 ERA.
Kidane Rutty, St. Mary’s (Rutherford)
Whether he’s sitting on a fastball or adjusting to an off-speed pitch, the senior center fielder doesn’t get cheated when it comes to unloading his mighty hacks. Rutty’s left-handed swing blasted nine homers and drove in 53 runs but all that power tends to overshadow a quality hitter that batted .580 a year ago.
Dave Schanz, Union Catholic
Good feet and excellent range make the senior shortstop an invaluable defensive commodity. Equally smooth at the plate, Schanz amassed 37 hits, 30 runs and 31 RBI while batting .495 last spring.
Keith Skinner, Gov. Livingston
Rock solid behind the dish, where the senior catcher erased nearly half of the baserunners willing to test his arm, Skinner is just as capable when he digs in at the plate. He hit .463 with six homers and showed an uncanny knack for finding the gaps.
Matt Thaiss, Jackson
Thaiss will move from right field to behind the plate and the junior catcher, who has made a verbal commitment to Virginia, shouldn’t skip a beat. A quality receiver with a deadly arm, the left-handed hitter has exceptional power. Although he missed eight games as a junior due to injury, Thaiss still hit .310 with 11 extra-base hits, including six home runs.
Matt Tietz, Pope John
The senior has proven to be dependable with his glove and bat. Sure-handed defensively at shortstop, Tietz, who is committed to Rutgers, can be counted on to inspire with the bat (.337, 31 hits, 37 RBI, 20 runs 9 doubles, 19 stolen bases).
Mark Tomei, South Plainfield
Not only does the senior outfielder hit for average, Tomei has explosive line-drive power. A year ago, he collected 20 doubles, five triples, nine homers while hitting .496 with 26 RBI and 47 runs scored.
Grant Van Orden, Don Bosco Prep
The senior third baseman, who is committed to West Point Military Academy, is just one in a long list of lethal hitters in the Ironmen’s batting order. Van Orden hit .375, drove in 18 runs and had a .526 on-base percentage as a junior.
Anthony Vazzana, Freehold Borough
Last spring was a breakout season for Vazzana. The third baseman hit .467 with 11 doubles and 28 RBI as a junior.
Connor White, Wall
Few backstops handle a staff with the confidence of the senior catcher, who protected his batterymates by throwing out 15 of the 18 runners to attempt to steal against his right arm last spring. He had just two errors and allowed only two passed balls. Oh, by the way, White can handle the bat pretty well, too. He hit a school record .513 with 41 hits, including seven doubles, two triples and four home runs. He knocked in 27 RBI, stole 11 bases and scored 25 times.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner