Over this past summer and fall, and seemingly for many more summers and falls to come, some of the top high school pitchers in the country emerged from Perfect Game’s Midwest Region, a six-state area that includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
And this year, the young arms wrestling for prominent positions in the spotlight are arriving in high numbers from high schools in Illinois and Indiana, and from the Chicago suburbs, in particular.
There are Perfect Game All-Americans and alumni of the Perfect Game National Showcase and PG Junior National Showcase among them, but over the next several months they will be intent on leading their respective high schools to state championships. And, it’s worth noting, none of these top pitchers attend the same high school although several pitch for the same travel ball teams during the summer and fall.
While these guys may not share the same high school fight song, they often share the same physical and mental attributes that assures they will pitch beyond their prep days at either the collegiate or professional level, most likely the former followed by the latter.
Travis Kerber is a former minor league pitcher and highly regarded pitching instructor who is working with the Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training and its founder Justin Stone. Quite a few of these young arms, including highly ranked 2015 right-handers Trent Johnson (Metamora HS, East Peoria, Ill.), Mack Rosman (William Fremd HS, Iverness, Ill.) and Noah Burkholder (Crown Point HS, Crown Point, Ind.), are working with Kerber at Elite Baseball.
“We’ve got a lot of projectable kids,” Kerber said in a recent telephone interview. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have prototypical big league bodies, kids that are 6-(foot)-1, 6-2 up to Noah Burkholder, who’s 6-7. They’re all built well and they’re all high-end guys already. Typically you don’t get a group of kids … that are all throwing 90-plus (mph) at such a young age.”
Five of the top 2014 pitchers in the Midwest Region attend high schools in the far-reaching Chicago suburbs, including 2013 Perfect Game All-American Brandon Murray, a senior at Hobart (Ind.) High School. Murray is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander ranked the No. 68 national prospect in his class (No. 1 in Indiana) and is also ranked the No. 121 overall prospect in the 2014 MLB draft. He has signed with South Carolina.
The other top 2014 arms belong to guys from the Chicago suburbs on the Illinois side, including PG National Showcase standout Jake Godfrey, a senior at Providence Catholic High School from New Lenox, Ill. Godfrey is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound righty ranked 42nd nationally and 102nd in the 2014 draft class.
Six-foot-six, 215-pound right-hander Brad Bass (Lincoln Way Central HS, New Lenox, Ill.), 6-foot-2, 185-pound lefty Jake Latz (Lemont Township HS, Lemont, Ill.) and 6-foot-2, 205-pound righty Bryan Pall (Carl Sandberg HS, Orland Park, Ill.) round-out the top 2014 Chicagoland arms. Bass joins Godfrey as a Notre Dame recruit, while Latz has signed with Louisiana State and Pall with Michigan.
All four of those hurlers are part of the Illinois Sparks/Cangelosi Baseball/Bo Jackson Midwest organization and all pitched for Cangelosi Baseball at the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., last October.
Jonah Patten, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-handed from Ossian, Ind., and a senior at Norwell High School, is another 2014 from the region that has made a name for himself. An Arkansas recruit, he is the No. 2-ranked prospect in his class in the state of Indiana (No. 135 nationally) and plays summer ball with the prestigious Lids Indiana Bulls organization.
Godfrey and Latz spent a week in the Arizona desert last July pitching for the EvoShield Canes at the 2013 17u Perfect Game World Series. The two top prospects benefitted from the experience in a variety of ways but perhaps most by getting to work with Jamie Evans, the Canes’ pitching coach for the event.
Evans is a former minor league pitcher who now works as a consultant with the Toronto Blue Jays and is co-owner of the National Pitching Association with former big-league pitcher Tom House. PG had the opportunity to speak with Evans about the two top-notch Illinois prep pitchers.
“One of the things that we’re always looking for is bulldogs – guys that are going to go out there, pound the zone and have a couple of different pitches – and we’ve seen that out of both of these guys, one from the right side, one from the left,” Evans said in July. “One of them (Godfrey) is a righty that comes at you hard and the other (Latz) is a lefty that has good velocity but he also has finesse to go with it.
“From that perspective they’re completely different, but as far as their mentality on the mound they’re both the same and geographically they’re both the same.”
As prominent as those high school seniors have become, the juniors and sophomores from Illinois and Indiana may set the bar even higher. Many, but not all, work with Kerber and Stone at Elite Baseball Training-Chicago and are reaping the benefits.
One 2015 that does not is sterling right-hander Bryan Hoeing, a junior at Batesville High School in Batesville, Ind., a small community located in the far southeast corner of the state. Hoeing is a 6-foot-6, 200-pound Louisville commit ranked 21st nationally in his class (No. 1 in Indiana) who at this early stage is also considered the No. 46 overall prospect in the 2015 draft class. Hoeing plays his summer ball with the Lids Indiana Bulls organization.
Burkholder, at 6-foot-7, 190-pounds, fits perfectly the prototype body Kerber referred to and is one of Elite Baseball Training’s rising stars. He is ranked No. 54 nationally, No. 3 in the state of Indiana and No. 121 in the 2015 draft class. Behind those two Indiana kids, the focus in the 2015 class goes right back to Illinois.
At 6-foot-4, 240-pounds and 6-foot-6, 200-pounds, the previously mentioned right-hander Trent Johnson and the left-hander Kyle Shimp (Yorkville High School, Yorkville, Ill.) lead the Prairie State’s 2015 class. Johnson, an Arizona commit, is ranked 101st nationally (No. 1 in Illinois) and Shimp, an Iowa recruit, is No. 280 and No. 11, respectively. Rosman (6-foot, 195) is ranked the No. 2 right-handed pitcher in the state of Illinois behind Johnson.
Perfect Game was able to catch up with Elite Baseball Training-Chicago founder Justin Stone at last year’s PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he explained how he and Kerber are able to use advanced technology such as high-speed video analysis and Digital Motion Analysis (DMA) to help the prospects improve.
“We want to take the guess-work out of it,” Stone said. “At one time or another we’ve had seven guys in the 2015 class throw 90-plus, and that’s not by chance. That’s the work they’re putting in and also the efficiency of the movements that they’re learning that comes from our pitching coach and our technology team.”
Among those reaping the benefits is a pair of highly ranked Illinois right-handers from the 2016 class: Anthony Holubecki, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore at Kaneland Senior High School from Elburn, Ill., and Drake Fellow, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound sophomore at Jolliet Catholic Academy from Plainfield, Ill. Holubecki is a Notre Dame commit ranked No. 7 nationally (No. 1 Illinois) and Fellow has committed to Vanderbilt and is ranked No. 11 nationally (No. 2 Illinois).
Holubecki called his association with Elite Baseball Training-Chicago “an excellent experience” when he was in Cedar Rapids for the PG Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase earlier this month. Kerber said is seeing more gifted all-around athletes like Holubecki coming in and wanting to learn how to pitch.
“It’s not like there’s a magic pill,” he said. “Some of the athletes we’re getting already are a little bit ahead of the curve, and I think we run into some that are different than others. Somebody like Anthony (Holubecki), he came in for a lesson one day last year and he threw the ball to me about four times and I immediately asked him how old he was. … I knew at that point we needed this kid in our organization.”
Kerber indicated that Holubecki’s status was not all that unique when compared with other young pitchers from around northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana.
“They’re extremely hard-working and we put them in an environment where learning becomes a big part of what they do. The competitive juices flow when you get a bunch of guys together that are kind of competing against each other a little bit, too, and that makes for a really good environment for growth.”
Working with the prospects that are 14 years old and younger presents some unique challenges. Kerber said that as a general rule, Elite Baseball Training won’t allow pitchers younger than 15 to throw breaking balls, with very few exceptions. They try to teach the young teenagers to first dominate with their fastball and develop the secondary pitches later in the process.
“I’ve been working with some of our eighth-grade pitchers, as well, and watching some of those guys throw already you can tell that their movements and their makeup are going to lead to them being high-end guys,” he said. “As far as the pitchers in this area, I see this as something that is going to continue and be a big part of what the Elite Baseball (Training) program is all about.”
Whatever it is pitching coaches and instructors like Kerber and others in Illinois, Indiana and the rest of the PG Midwest Region are teaching, it seems to be sinking in with the students.
In addition to the Illinois and Indiana pitching prospects mentioned here, the region is also home to Perfect Game All-American right-handers Zach Shannon (Anderson HS, Cincinnati, Ohio) and Cameron Varga (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Loveland, Ohio), both in the class of 2014.
Shannon, a two-way standout, is an Ohio State signee ranked No. 16 nationally and Varga, a North Carolina recruit, is ranked No. 45 nationally. Both are projected to be selected in the early rounds of the MLB June draft.
Seeing these young pitchers accept scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools and possibly getting an opportunity to play professionally is what drives instructors like Kerber.
“I’m just giving them advice and honestly, giving them the opportunity to play baseball as long as they want is extremely gratifying, just giving them the opportunity to live out a dream,” he said. “To give these guys an opportunity at a young age to be able to commit to a dream school, it’s gratifying to see them do that.
“I tell them that once they make that commitment your objective now is to figure out a way that you can play basketball longer than that and hopefully you can take care of your family by playing baseball one day.”