Logan Mason enters his senior season next week at Hunterdon Central having recently committed to his college of choice and returned to excellent health.
The second part of that equation is big news for a Hunterdon Central team with lofty expectations in 2022.
When the 6-2, 190-pound outfielder/relief pitcher begins his long tosses during he and his teammates’ first spring practice on March 8, he will do so under the cover of darkness in a sense. The preferred term is “under the radar.”
Mason batted .297 for Hunterdon Central (23-3), the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament champion last spring, and had some critically important hits – he converted 19 hits into 15 RBI. And he added a few vital relief stints to that resume. So, while the contributions were certainly there, Mason’s 2021 high school season would turn out to be a bit disjointed courtesy of a shoulder ailment.
“They called it Little League shoulder,” said Mason, who committed to Scranton University the week before Christmas. “We thought it was tendonitis at first.” The ailment would relegate the outfielder to a DH role as he rested the shoulder and that, of course, kept him out of the bullpen rotation.
Mason’s right shoulder started barking after a May 13 relief outing against Bridgewater-Raritan. Logan had pitched a hitless inning and threw just 10 pitches without issue. But, “when I got home my shoulder started getting sore,” he said. He knew something wasn’t right
“The prescription was rest and Mason would not stride back onto the mound until June 3, 21 days later. Interestingly enough, the opponent, again, was Bridgewater-Raritan.
“That was my recovery game,” said Mason. “I felt good.” Indeed, he came in to get the final two outs of an inning in middle relief and threw just eight pitches. It appeared his shoulder issue was behind him. Two days later, Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi would go to Mason in a much bigger spot. As big as they come.
The Red Devils were in a tense one-run affair against North Brunswick in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 quarterfinals. Cuozzi called for Mason to get the last out of the sixth inning and Logan would do that and more, getting the final seven outs as Hunterdon Central rallied to win 4-3 in eight innings. He shut down the Raiders on two hits, struck out two and walked one in the biggest outing of his life.
“That was a big game for me,” said Mason, who also chipped in with a pair of base hits in the game. “I had faith in myself to get outs in that situation. I think my shoulder was a little sore that game but not uncomfortable, plus I was working on adrenaline”
Mason’s last game of the season would also be his team’s as Hunterdon Central fell to eventual Group 4 champion Middletown South, 12-7, in a sectional semifinal stopped twice by rain. Mason entered in the fourth and got the last two outs of the inning without incident, but the news wasn’t good for him either.
“My arm felt terrible,” he said. No, it wasn’t tendonitis after all. Little League shoulder is defined as an injury that causes stress to the arm bone (humerus) nearest to the shoulder. The treatment prescribed is simply rest.
Mason had pitched just 6.1 innings on the season in five appearances but his effectiveness was obvious. He allowed no runs on three hits, struck out nine and walked two while recording a 1-0 record and registering two saves.
The timing of Mason’s injury was not good for his recruiting fortunes. He had already lost his sophomore season to COVID and now part of his junior season and summer were compromised by a barking shoulder.
Mason’s competitive throwing was shut down for the summer and he was, again, limited to a role as a designated hitter for the Diamond Jacks 17U Gold team. An outfielder isn’t much without an effective arm and Mason had seemed to put his on the shelf by pitching, a position he was drawn to only because of the strength of that wing.
“I never started a game in my life,” says Mason, describing his pitching role from his earliest youth ball days as a baseball fire extinguisher. “I was always able to throw hard. I remember relieving when I was 11 years old. I could always throw strikes out of the bullpen.”
But along the way, he never truly put a focus on pitching and that left him wanting a bit mechanically. That is, until he enlisted the help of a pitching coach this summer. He, slowly and carefully, began to work himself back to health.
“I never really used my legs before when I pitched,” said Mason. “I saw a pitching coach in Delaware and he worked with me, using my legs and started building me up. I always had arm strength and used it in the outfield.”
What followed in the fall changed everything for Mason. Even his timing improved. That is, being in the right place at the right time.
“My first week back throwing in September, my Diamond Jacks team played in a Perfect Game event,” said Mason. “We were playing against Baseball U and their coach is a Scranton assistant (Mike Guy). I hit well and he asked me to attend a camp at the school. I happened to hit the right balls in front of the right coach at the right time.”
What coach Guy, the owner of Baseball U. Pa., and Scranton University didn’t know at that point that they were recruiting a multi-dimensional player who had been operating unintentionally, but deftly, under the radar.
“Scranton recruited me as a hitter,” Mason said. “They didn’t know I could pitch. When I went to the camp, I threw in the high 80s. Then they wanted me to apply for early action (admission) to get me on campus. When I got there I loved everything I saw.”
The attention Mason received in the fall was initially for his bat, but once he began pitching again, his recruitment accelerated. He hadn’t pitched since the first week of June, but it certainly didn’t seem so.
“I hadn’t been seen (by college recruiters) that much this summer because of my shoulder,” said Mason, “Then I was pitching an inning at the end of most games in the fall and, all of a sudden, I was getting offers.”
Mason’s quickly developing arsenal hardly resembles one of a seldom-used reliever. His fastball sits in the mid-80s and has touched 89. He pairs that with a slider that his coaches refer to as “nasty” and he calls “at times untouchable.”
“I’m learning to become a pitcher instead of a thrower,” he says. “I’ve developed new pitches to work batters and my mechanics are getting better. I have a circle change and I’m healthy now.”
He’ll be in right field for Hunterdon Central this fall as the pre-season Top 5 team chases a state title. And he’ll be ready to come charging in to put out fires for the Red Devils starters.
“Logan has the ability to play a lot of roles,” says Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi. “He’s going to take people by surprise this year on the mound. We saw something special before he got hurt. He’s pretty dynamic on the mound and at the plate. He’s a hidden gem.
Cuozzi says he intends to set up Mason for success this spring.
”He’ll play right field and we’ll use him either in long relief or to close,” said Cuozzi. “We can move him to DH to protect his arm, depending on his innings and pitch count. We’ll work slowly to get his stamina up on the mound.”
Mason’s first relief outing in early May last spring got the attention of Immaculata coach Kevin Cust, who doubles as Diamond Nation’s Director of Baseball Operations. Mason limited the Spartans to one hit over 2.1 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking one in a 7-4 Hunterdon Central victory. Mason flashed his nasty slider in that effort.
“Kevin was in awe of that slider,” said Cuozzi. “It’s got a hard cut and he’s extremely accurate with it. His fastball is easy mid-80s. He’s one of the more dynamic high school pitchers I’ve seen. And he’s never been serious about pitching until this year.”
Chris Banos coached Mason in the fall with the Diamond Jacks 18U Gold squad and got to see a more polished version of the righthander.
“Logan’s pitching really got the ball rolling with the colleges,” said Banos, also the Somerville High head coach. “He hit 89 in one of those games and he was already having a good season as a hitter. But the pitching vaulted him up to another level. He was 87-88 without even trying to hump it up.”
Banos also views Mason as a player a high baseball IQ.
“He studies pitchers and always has a plan at the plate,” said Banos. “He’s smart on the base paths and makes things happen. He’s a line drive hitter and always finds the barrel. He’s a baseball player, always in the middle of things.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: There very is little surprise about the athletic ability Logan Mason possesses. His mom, Jeannette, earned All-American honors playing soccer at Monmouth University. His dad, Kevin, played baseball at Monmouth, his older brother, Colin, is a junior playing baseball at Binghamton, and his sister, Emily, is a freshman soccer player at Rutgers and is a member of the U.S. Under-20 National Team. Emily was the National Gatorade Player of the Year her junior season at Hunterdon Central and is a two-time NJ Gatorade Player of the Year.
Scranton has 12 players with roots in the Garden State, including former Diamond Jack and Immaculata grad Dan Johnson, his brother, Kevin Johnson, a Hunterdon Central grad, and Immaculata grad Justin Pinckert. The Johnsons turned on the Flemington charm when they learned Mason had turned his eyes toward Scranton.