As a sophomore this spring, Jayden Bloch is already one of the best catchers in central New Jersey. That’s impressive enough on its own.
But it’s even more impressive when you consider that Bloch wasn’t even a catcher before this baseball season.
In 2018, Bloch pitched and played first base for Hillsborough High School’s freshman team. Catching wasn’t even on his mind.
“I was just really determined to make it up here (to varsity),” Bloch said.
Last year, two days after Hillsborough’s 3-2 loss to East Brunswick High School in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament, Bloch figured out his path to the varsity team.
A varsity starting pitcher, Ishaan Parikh, called Bloch and asked him to come catch for him at a bullpen session. Parikh knew that Bloch had a good arm, and might make a solid catcher. He also knew that the Raiders were losing their starting backstop, Steve Grober, to graduation.
Then the session happened, and Bloch exceeded his pitcher’s expectations.
“He did everything well, framing, blocking, everything,” Parikh said.
The right-handed pitcher called Hillsborough’s coach, Eric Eden, and told him that Bloch should be the team’s catcher in 2019.
Bloch still had to beat out a couple competitors for the job in March. But after catching for Parikh and other Hillsborough pitchers all offseason, Bloch had no trouble winning the job during the formal competition.
The rest, as they say, is history…or perhaps current events.
Hillsborough is enjoying its best season years. The Raiders are 10-1 overall and the No. 1 seed in the Somerset County Tournament. They will play as the host to eighth-seeded Montgomery High School in a county quarterfinal on May 4.
Bloch is one of the most important players on a team with mostly upperclassmen. He is the bedrock of a pitching staff with a 1.52 earned run average in 65 innings. He is also batting .321 with a team high 11 runs batted in.
“He has really proven himself,” Parikh said.
Most high school baseball coaches call pitches for their hurlers. But sometimes, Eden lets his sophomore backstop handle that task. After all, Bloch’s teammates trust him.
Parikh throws a fastball, a curveball and a changeup. His curveball and changeup dip away from hitters and into the dirt. They are not easy pitches to handle. But with Bloch, Parikh is not afraid to throw those pitches in any situation.
“He knows when it’s going to move or not, which is a great thing for me,” Parikh said.
With his brawny frame and broad shoulders, Bloch has the build of a catcher. But he also has the build of a power hitter. And despite playing such a demanding position, Bloch has also developed into a middle of the order bat.
He was so hot during the season’s first month that his teammates nicknamed him, “Mr. April.”
“I don’t think anyone works as hard as he does,” Eden said. “He was in the weight room and catching those bullpens all offseason.”
“I just knew being a catcher I had to be comfortable with my pitchers,” Bloch said.
No one can argue with that logic. But the key part of that sentence came near the beginning, when Bloch said, “…being a catcher…”
“I’m a catcher, definitely,” Bloch said, grinning. “I really enjoy it now.”