PGAAC nod solidifies Schnell

Photo: Perfect Game

Steven Walters
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

While some players know that they want to play baseball when they grow up from the time they can hold a bat, Perfect Game All-American Nicholas Schnell took a little longer to realize that calling.

As a kid, Schnell grew up following his older brother Aaron around, just like many younger brothers do, and followed in his footsteps by playing baseball. Even though Aaron was five years older, he let Nicholas play with him and his friends, which helped Nicholas be around better competition and learn many lessons of the game. Aaron would go on to play at Belmont, continuing to set an example for his younger brother.

“Throughout my whole baseball career, he’s really helped me,” Schnell said of his older brother. “He ended up getting hurt, so he only played two years of college ball, but it ended up benefitting me because he moved back to Indiana. He still loves baseball, knows a lot about the game, so he’s really helped me a ton and really helped me with the mental side of it more than anything.”

Schnell found his own calling to baseball five years ago after playing for Southport Little League in Indiana. The experience gave him the realization that baseball was something that he would want to make a career.

“I didn’t really realize that baseball was what I wanted to do until I was 12. I was playing for the All-Star team, and we ended up making it to state. We didn’t win or anything, but we went state for little league, and I realized it was pretty fun and that’s what I wanted to do, so after 12 I started playing travel ball,” Schnell said. “It kind of progressed after my 12u year when I played my last year of little league and I realized that like that’s what I really wanted to do.”

The Indianapolis, Ind., native continued to make strides in his game each year, and moved on to a more advanced travel team each of the next three years. In that time, Schnell began hitting with White Sox Midwest cross-checker Mike Shirley on a regular basis, continuing to make improvements in his game.

“When I started hitting with him is really when I started taking it to the next level on the hitting side of things, so a lot of the credit I give him,” Schnell said.

Schnell began seeing the hard work pay dividends when he made the Roncalli High School varsity baseball team as a freshman in 2015. Even with the time that he put in, Schnell said that he never realized how good he actually was until he burst onto the varsity scene.

“I came into high school and I knew I had talent, but I didn’t realize how much, and I ended up making varsity as a freshman and about halfway through the year was when I really realized it because I was leading the team as a freshman in batting average, leading the team hitting wise and really realized I’m a freshman playing with upper classmen and then I’m playing with them, so obviously I have the talent. That’s when I really realized it, and that’s when recruiting started happening for me. It was Big Ten, ACC schools, so it was kind of overwhelming at first, but that’s when I realized I had a future in baseball really.”

Even then, Schnell still didn’t think he was good enough to go to top tier schools like his dream school Louisville. That summer, Schnell was invited by high school coach Aaron Kroll to play with his 17u travel team for some games, knowing that he could benefit from the experience playing up. One game brought the Louisville coaches in attendance, and they were able to see the talent that Schnell had. Although they liked him, they thought he was a 16-year-old, and knowing that they had their class filled for that year, ended up not talking to him. It was only after another conversation with the Louisville coaches that Kroll was able to clarify that Schnell was only 15, not 16, and after hearing that they brought him on a visit and eventually signed him.

“It really came down to the coaches. I love coach [Dan McDonnell] and coach [Eric] Snyder and it came down to just being around the best players in the country and making myself better and put myself around the best competition I could to help myself develop,” Schnell said.

Committing to Louisville was another milestone in Schnell’s baseball career that allowed him to understand his talent. He would take another step forward by earning a spot on the Indiana Bulls Black team at 16 years old. There he would have the opportunity to play with founder of the Bulls Dan Held, who has coached Major League talents such as Adam Lind, Tucker Barnhart and Lance Lynn.

“Well what we saw was a lot of athleticism,” said Held of what he saw when Schnell first came to the Bulls. “A kid that had tools, that was able to run really well, had a really strong arm and he could really control the bat, so we saw a lot of positives with his tools.”

“It’s been awesome. They’ve really helped me a lot,” Schnell said. “This was my second year, but last year I had Dan Held as my coach who is the guy that runs the Bulls, and he helped me a ton. This year I had a guy named Sean Laird, and he helped me a tremendously. They don’t help you only in player development, but they also help as actually teaching you how to be a man and really developing you as a young man along as a baseball player.”

It was there that Schnell took off, rising through the Perfect Game high school player rankings and surrounding himself with other top ranked players such as fellow Louisville commits Jacob Gilcrest and Jack Perkins, with the latter also having been named to the PGAAC.

“The Bulls were the first actually who taught me how to be aggressive, taking the extra base when you can, stealing bases,” Schnell said. “I never really knew how to use my speed until I played with the Bulls, and they really taught me to use it to steal bags and really take what people give me.”

Held also recognized Schnell’s advancement in the batter’s box, taking the skills that he already to the next level.

“I think he’s improved in his ability to adjust at the plate. I think he has really good plate discipline. When he gets to two strikes, he’s able to still have a productive at-bat, where some kids may give those at-bats away, so I think that’s where he’s really improved,” Held said.

The lefthanded hitting, righthanded throwing outfielder has drawn rave reviews for his well-rounded game, possessing speed and strength, with many scouts noting that he projects well in all facets. Even though his offense has been a standout ability, it is his defense that he says he really takes pride in.

“I really take pride, everybody enjoys hitting, but I really take pride on the defensive things,” Schnell said. “I really consider myself a one of the top defensive outfielders in the country.”

Those skills put Schnell on the map for the Perfect Game All-American Classic, as he was invited to the PG National Showcase in June. There, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound outfielder showcased his all-around game, running a 6.69, 60-yard dash, reaching 95 mph from the outfield and smashing an opposite field double that hit the bottom of the wall at JetBlue Park. Just the atmosphere of being around the best once again gave Schnell the realization of just how good he is.

“It was incredible. It’s overwhelming because you’re like, okay, I’ve always known I was a pretty good baseball player, but at the same time you didn’t think you were ever at that level, and then you get there and you’re surrounded by all those guys man, and you get to compete with them, so it makes you work even harder and it shows you the next level you can hit. Just all around the experience was awesome.”

The No. 37 ranked player in the class of 2018 per Perfect Game was named to the watch list for the PGAAC and anxiously awaited the call on whether he would be a participant or not. He was at a nearby friend’s house, sorting through his friend’s video games and seeing what they could sell to acquire a PlayStation 4 and MLB The Show 17, when he received a text from Perfect Game National Showcase Director Kirk Gardner telling Schnell to give him a call.

“I knew I was supposed to be getting a text either telling me I made it or didn’t, and so I ended up calling him and at first I was kind of timid because I was like, ‘I really hope I made it, I’m really hoping that this could happen,’ and I called him and he told me I made it,” said Schnell, the No. 1 prospect in Indiana in the class of 2018. “I got off the phone with him, I called my parents and I was extremely happy, I was so happy, because it’s not only that you’re around the best players, but also it makes you feel good because you’re up there with the best players.”

The call cemented Schnell as one of the top 50 high school players in the game, and he will join his peers the weekend of Friday, August 11 in San Diego for the festivities. Although he has not watched the game in the past, he realized the magnitude and stage of the event after hearing about 2017 No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene go through it last season.

“Obviously, the game is really exciting, you want to be playing in it, but I think the coolest part of the whole thing is being able to help the children’s hospital and spend time with the kids because those kids are like us, they have dreams and the fact that we’re living our dreams and getting to help these kids at the same time just really puts things in perspective and makes you really, really appreciate what we have,” Schnell said.

Schnell is certainly appreciative of the skills that he has developed and the road that awaits him, and as his baseball journey has unfolded, he can now be certain that he is one of the best high school players in the country.

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