We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the senior class the past couple months with COVID-19 wiping at its final year of high school and college baseball.
But the coronavirus has had a debilitating effect, as well, on the junior class, not to mention those of us who enjoy watching those players blossom into full-blown high school stars.
Ricky Erbeck, a hard-throwing righthander from the Hun School in Princeton and the Diamond Jacks Super 17 squad, is certainly one of those players who come to mind.
Erbeck’s high 80s fastball and knuckle curveball had turned the heads of scouts his sophomore season and throughout the 2019 summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team. But this spring was sure to be Erbeck’s true high school coming out party.
“Ricky would have been one of our horses,” says Hun assistant coach Steve Garrison, a former major league pitcher. “We missed not being able to see what he could have done this season because his role was going to be drastically expanded. But we are excited to have one more year with Ricky.”
The 6-0, 175-pound righthander did put an important chore behind him last September when he gave his verbal commitment to play baseball at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Ricky’s brother, Jack, a former Diamond Jack, just completed his freshman year at Fairfield. Jack, a 6-3, 210 righty, made four appearances in Fairfield’s 11 games before the pandemic cut the season short.
“I think it’s pretty exciting to be brothers and teammates on the same team throughout high school and college,” said Jack Erbeck. “It will be fun to see Ricky learn and grow during his early years and see how he adjusts to the struggles of D-1 baseball.”
Ricky Erbeck’s recruiting experience, like his brother’s, would lead to the same destination.
“The recruitment for me started last spring when some of the big schools started calling,” said Ricky Erbeck, who eventually had offers from Bryant University, Rutgers, Seton Hall and Fairfield. “I had a really good spring season. I did well against some good teams.”
Erbeck pitched a no-hitter against Trenton Catholic and worked two critically effective innings against statewide power St. Augustine, the eventually NJSIAA Non-Pubic A state runner-up, in 2019. “Ricky entered in a tough situation against St. Augustine and he was just blowing his fastball by guys,” says Garrison. “He went after them, like, try and hit this.
“And watching Ricky pitch the no-hitter, you knew no situation is too big for him. It’s so much fun to coach a guy with that much confidence on the mound.”
Erbeck’s 2019 high school season consisted of just 18 innings on a powerhouse Hun team that boasted a 22-2 record and victories over traditional state powers St. Augustine, Seton Hall Prep and Steinert and a dominant run to the NJISAA Prep A championship.
“I was used more as a reliever last spring,” said Erbeck. “My fastball started to shine. It’s my strongest pitch.”
Erbeck does have an unusual arsenal for a high school pitcher, one that could make him one tough customer for hitters to deal with. His fastball sits at 86-88 and has topped out at 89. He also offers hitters the unpleasant off-speed arsenal of a knuckle curveball and circle changeup.
“I’m definitely most comfortable with my fastball and I’m pretty satisfied at his point with my changeup,” Erbeck says. “With my knuckle curve, I put my index finger on the seam and it makes the ball dive down. I’d say I’m more comfortable in a big spot with the curveball. When I’m feeling it I can go to it in any spot.”
Erbeck has been surrounded by quality pitching people, whether at Diamond Nation or Hun. Garrison, who went 25-4 in a remarkable high school career at Hun, was drafted in the 10th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005 and eventually reached the major leagues in 2011 with the Yankees.
“Ricky really does have a good changeup but he’s a little reluctant to throw it because his fastball is so good,” says Garrison. “He has a plus fastball and his curveball is plus, too, when it’s on. Ricky’s confidence level is truly remarkable. It doesn’t seem pressure gets to him. He knows how to get the job done.
“He locates very well, especially his fastball. From any high school pitcher, you want strikes. Ricky can cut the plate into fifths. If you can locate on the corners you will be very effective. When he develops the changeup he’ll have three plus pitches and that will make him a dominant force on the mound.”
Garrison says Jack Erbeck throws the knuckle curveball, too. “Jack’s a little more consistent with it but Ricky’s hands are so big he’s able to manipulate it. He gets on top of the ball and gets great spin.”
Steve DiTrolio, Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator and Erbeck’s coach last summer on the DJacks Super 16U squad, has seen that spin flummox hitters quite often.
“Ricky has some serious upside on the mound,” says DiTrolio. “He is very athletic, has a very quick arm and some electric stuff. He spins the baseball as well as I’ve seen at the high school level. I was excited to see him this spring off a winter when he really worked at becoming a better pitcher. Ricky will be one of the top arms in the state this time next year.”
Once Erbeck leaves the comforts of his tutoring at Diamond Nation and Hun, he’ll join an impressive baseball environment at Fairfield. Jordan Tabakman, an outstanding right-handed pitcher at both Pequannock High School and UConn, just concluded his first year as the Stags’ pitching coach.
“The Fairfield coaches are great,” says Erbeck. “I really like (head) coach (Bill) Currier and their new pitching coach. My brother goes there, so that was a big influence on me. It’s the perfect sized school for me; not to big, not to small.” Currier has guided the Stags to new heights, posting four 30-win seasons in his first seven years at the school.
Garrison believes Erbeck made the right choice.
“The coaching staff fits Ricky well,” says Garrison. “I’m glad he chose a school where he feels comfortable and confident. I think Jack being there certainly was a big draw. It’s amazing what Ricky can do when he’s confident. He flips a switch and gets it done.”
His future teammate, Jack Erbeck, is pumped for his brother’s arrival to Fairfield in September of 2021.
“We certainly have a special connection,” says Jack. “I can’t wait to see him grow as a player alongside me. It should be a blast.”
NOTES: The Hun coaching staff is baseball-rich and cohesive unit. Head coach Tom Monfiletto, the school’s associate director of marketing and communications, and Garrison were high school teammates at Hun. Garrison is the school’s associate director of admissions. Assistant coach Patrick Jones is a math teacher at Hun.
… Garrison was in his sixth season of minor league ball when the Yankees called him up in July of 2011. Garrison was sent to the mound with one out in the ninth inning of an eventual 10-3 victory over Seattle on July 25. He got the last two outs of the game, retiring the only two batters he ever faced in the major leagues.
… Garrison ended up in the Atlantic League his last couple seasons of pro ball (2014-’15) and returned, at that point, to Hun and began coaching the middle school basketball team. That’s where he first encountered the athletic Erbeck. Garrison has been coaching baseball at Hun the past four years.
…“My last couple years playing, after my last shoulder surgery, I played Independent ball and, because of our late start, was able to coach at Hun. There are great people here at Hun. Our coaching staff is great. My mom is a teacher here. It’s nice when the values of a place synch up with your personal values. And coaching kids like Ricky is a lot of fun.”