Cornell-bound Jayden Shin ready for big senior season

By Bob Behre | January 25, 2024

Hopewell Valley coach Ken Harrison refers to Jayden Shin as, “One of the best student-athletes that has played for me in 20 years.”

Kevin Cust, Shin’s coach with the Diamond Jacks Super 17U squad out of Diamond Nation boasts, “Jayden is a very smart player, but, more importantly, those smarts translate well to the field and games. He knows what he’s doing.”

Those two thoughts would be a good starting point in dissecting the athletic abilities and mindset of Shin, who committed last winter to Cornell University.

Shin squeezed in an interview last week with Diamond after a basketball practice at Hopewell Valley High School and before he got down to business with the academic portion of his evening.

The Hopewell Valley basketball team is Shin’s predominant athletic destination after school hours in the winter and the 6-2, 185-pound two-sport athlete has been a productive rebounder and distributor for the 10-2 Bulldogs. His seven rebounds in a recent five-point loss to Hamilton West matched his season high.

“I’m usually the first one off the bench and I sub in for the bigs,” said Shin. “I do a lot of rebounding and passing, not a lot of scoring.” Anyone who knows a little bit about basketball understands the value of having an athletic presence on the floor. The forward position was one Jayden grew into as a junior after playing guard for much of his basketball existence.

“Basketball really helps me get in shape for baseball,” said Shin. “You’re competing and it’s a different level of competition. We have a lot of close games. There’s a little more pressure playing those Friday night games in front of a crowd. It’s a great athletic environment.”

Baseball is never far from Shin’s heart and mind, though, as he incorporates batting practices and weight lifting into his winter athletic training regimen.

Jayden Shin has been on base an awful lot the past 12 months.

“I try to lift three or four times a week,” he said. “Sometimes I lift in the morning before school and sometimes after.” Marrying weight training and basketball can be a challenge, admits Shin, but, he says, “I don’t want to push weight lifting out of the equation in the winter.”

He hasn’t pushed his swings out of the equation either, traveling to King of Prussia two or three times a week to get his cuts in at Brains & Barrels. “I have to credit them for helping with my hitting,” says Shin.

While Shin will be acutely focused on the rest of the Bulldogs basketball schedule and a potential postseason run, he knows there is much to be excited about with the quickly approaching spring. Baseball practice begins on March 11.

Harrison’s Hopewell Valley charges this spring will return all but the three seniors who graduated from a 13-11 squad last June, so optimism should be the word at the Mercer County program.

Shin returns off a season in which he led the team with a .388 batting average and he contributed 17 runs, 15 RBI, 8 doubles, 2 triples and a home run. He also drew 15 walks to post a gaudy .506 on-base percentage. His 11 extra-base hits helped to produce a .612 slugging percentage and an even gaudier OPS of 1.118.

Jayden Shin batted .388 and played three infield positions for Hopewell Valley.

Teammates Blake Echternacht, a longtime Diamond Jack, and Branyan Hoppe had terrific 2023 seasons for Hopewell, as well. Echternacht batted .309 as a sophomore last spring and pitched to a 2.92 ERA over 38.1 innings. Hoppe, a catcher and outfielder, had a very productive junior season. He batted .364 and led the team with 18 RBI. He joined the Diamond Jacks the previous fall – and participated in the program’s winter training – but shoulder surgery after his high school season knocked him out for summer and fall ball. Hoppe, according to Shin, will be ready for his senior season this spring.

“He is a great player and he had a great season,” said Shin of Hoppe.

Shin is a corner infielder, but Harrision utilizes his athleticism where most needed in a particular game.

“One of Jayden’s strengths is his positional flexibility,” says Harrison. “He has played first base, third base and shortstop for us and he also pitches.”  Shin did throw 11.2 innings in 2023, striking out 10 and walking just three as he posted a 2.40 ERA, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Harrision lean on the senior a bit more.

However, it will be Shin’s work in the field and at the plate that will have the biggest day-to-day impact on the Bulldogs season.

“Jayden bats in the top three spots in the lineup,” said Harrison. “He can drive the ball in the gap and over the fence. He also has the bat control to hit the ball the other way with two strikes.”

Cust saw a lot of that with the Diamond Jacks Super 17U team over the summer and through the fall.

“Jayden’s bat really came along and improved all summer and fall,” said Cust. “He’s a lefty bat and a big kid. He’s not skinny but has room to fill out more. The strength piece will come along in college and you’ll see his power jump.”

Shin received the usual full throttle approach from coach Cust.

“I loved playing for coach Cust,” said Shin. “He’s a great coach. He’s upfront with you. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. If he gets on you, it’s all for the good. He really helped with my swing this summer. He’s taught me so much about baseball.”

The teaching, learning and hard work reaped rewards in the form of good at bats and obvious improvements in the field.

Shin made huge gains last summer in his play at first base.

“It really impressed me how much Jayden improved at first base this summer and fall,” said Cust. “We put him there a lot and he committed to improving there. He was making game-saving plays and picking everything. He started moving around the bag well. He’s going to be really good at playing first base.”

Recruiting Jayden Shin

Shin focused on high academic schools during the recruitment process and his attention would focus particularly on the Ivy League programs before Cornell landed front-and-center last February.

“I started going to camps at the end of summer and in the fall of my junior year, ” he said. “Then I put a hitting video together last winter. Cornell’s assistant coach (John) Toppa spotted me and liked my video.”

Shin then received a text from Cornell head coach Dan Pepicelli, who set up a Zoom meeting to get to know Shin. “He told me he wanted to bring us (Shin’s family) up for a visit and introduce the program. I felt welcomed and I warmed to the program. I received a tour of the campus, saw a scrimmage and was offered a spot on the team.”

Shin took his official visit this past September and got another look at Cornell’s new baseball facilities near completion. “I heard it’s finished now. It’s beautiful.”

Shin joined the Diamond Jacks as a 16 year-old, drawn to the program by the endorsements of Echternacht and Hopewell Valley grad Liam Cleary, a former Diamond Jack and current coach in the program. Of course, Liam’s older brother Walt is Diamond Jacks’ 14U-18U Coordinator. 

“My dad knew Walt and reached out,” said Shin. “I heard good things from Blake. It was all about exposure and playing in good tournaments. The Georgia trip gave me a lot of exposure.”

And Cleary found a player who quickly fit right in with his Diamond Jacks teammates.

Lefty-hitting Jayden Shin has shown gap-to-gap power.

“I had the opportunity to coach Jayden when he first came into the program,” said Cleary, “and he made an immediate impact. He played third base and first base for us and hit in the middle of the order.”

Shin would play on the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team his first year in the program under Cleary’s direction. “Coach Walt was great to me and helped with my confidence. He believed in me.”

It turns out, a lot of people believe in Jayden Shin.

“Jayden’s the type of player you want because he has high character, he’s respectful and extremely coachable,” said Cleary.

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