Junior 3B batted .451, showed off glove in big spots
By Ken Jackson
In the past few seasons, Osceola High’s baseball team’s success has been based on the sum of its parts.
Without one huge blue-chip bat or arm to build around, Coach Scott Birchler asks all of his players to carry an equal piece of the load, whether it be on defense, on the mound, or strategically getting around the basepaths while maybe taking a risk or two.
Then, Frankie Santaniello came along for his junior year.
The Kowboys’ third baseman went from being a prototypical “program kid” — progressing from the junior varsity as a sophomore to the varsity as a junior with the prospect of having a big senior year next year.
But Santaniello blossomed a season early, batting .450, leading the club with 20 RBI and tying with 32 hits, despite hitting farther down the order than Diego Arroyo, who had 14 more plate appearances.
“Coming in from the fall ball season, I just wanted to help the ball club win,” he said. “I started off hot and just kept it going. There were parts of the year where I was able to slow the game down and see everything.”
His mix of timely offense and lock-down defense at third were what propelled him to this year’s honor as Osceola News-Gazette Baseball Player of the Year.
Best of all, Birchler said, Santaniello’s season came out of left field, so to speak.
“It wasn’t a year we anticipated,” Birchler said. “He was coming off a great JV year so we anticipated good things, but not all this. He worked really hard in fall ball and in the weight room, as hard as anybody else. He’s a great kid with a great family backing him up.”
Over the course of the season, he moved from the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup to the cleanup spot and in the end the No. 3 to get more at-bats in big spots, Birchler said.
Santaniello’s solid season wasn’t confined to the plate; he made some big plays in the field as well, including a diving stab of a line drive against Oviedo in the regional playoff quarterfinals with two out and two Lions on and the Kowboys clinging to a 3-1 lead.
“Prayer answered,” he said after the game. “As soon as it hit my palm I whispered, ‘Thank God.’”
“That line drive probably saved us for another game,” Birchler said. “He’s developed a great arm across the infield, and he worked at it every day.”
And, the work’s just starting, the coach said.
“He won’t be sneaking up on anybody next year,” Birchler said. “He’s put himself on the map and now he’s got to get to work to adjust to that and get better.”
Being “on the map” is fine for Santaniello, he said, because this summer he’ll start looking for a landing spot to play college ball.
“I want to stay in Florida in possible,” he said, narrowing his choices a bit.
Player of the Year: Frankie Santaniello (OHS, Jr.)
All-county team: Gateway: Melvin Cotto, Wyatt Pascual, Emile Perez. Osceola: Diego Arroyo, Keneth Badillo, J.P. Clement, C.J. Oliveria, Hamilton Martinez. St. Cloud: Darren Friedman, Alex Hernandez, Ty Hoyle, Gio Berio. Celebration: Justice Candelario. Harmony: Jackson Sibbitt. Liberty: Zach Tayes.