Draft : : State Preview
Monday, May 30, 2011

State Preview: Illinois

Allan Simpson         David Rawnsley        

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Illinois State-by-State List

Illinois Overview:
Much of Early Optimism For Strong 2011 Illinois Draft Class Fizzled in Spring

Over the course of the last two years, there were strong indications that the Illinois 2011 high-school draft class would be one to behold. As recently as last winter, area scouts were optimistic that the talent they saw last summer and fall would step to the forefront this spring and produce one of the best crops in the state in years.

But through injuries, lack of natural development and other assorted reasons, that didn’t happen. Few players stepped up, as expected, and the player that has emerged as the clear-cut top candidate in the state, New Trier outfielder Charlie Tilson, was barely on the prospect map a year ago at this time.

Tilson hit .449 with 27 stolen bases as a junior at New Trier, and yet was essentially known to only area scouts at the conclusion of the 2010 season. But the entire scouting world stood up and took notice of Tilson last summer when he put on an eye-opening performance for the White Sox entry in the Area Code Games. He stole seven bases in three games and was the only player over the five-day event to go deep at spacious Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif.

From a pure tools standpoint, Tilson showcased excellent speed (6.54 seconds in the 60) and prototypical center-field skills. He also had a strong lefthanded swing with mainly gap power, but surprising pop. His arm action and bat path generally needed some refinement, but Tilson won over a huge delegation of scouts at the Area Code Games with his impressive performance, all-out hustle and quick-twitch athletic actions. He had scouts comparing him to younger versions of big leaguers Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury.

As the 2011 season unfolded, there were strong indications that Tilson might become the first Illinois high-school position prospect to be drafted in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997. Much of that optimism waned during the course of the spring, though, as area scouts who have been slower to warm up to Tilson’s overall package refused to buy into all the national hype. Tilson should still easily be the first player drafted in the state, but more likely in the sandwich or second rounds.

That Tilson remained relatively anonymous so deep into his high-school career is somewhat surprising, considering his obvious talent and solid track record of success throughout his career at New Trier, but Tilson’s high school, located on the north side of Chicago, historically plays together as a team in the summer and doesn’t travel. So Tilson had never been exposed to national-level scouts before appearing in Long Beach late last summer.

Prior to Tilson’s sudden breakthrough, a number of other prominent Illinois players were jockeying to become the top prospect in the state, notably hard-throwing Downers Grove South High righthander Nick Burdi.

There were even early indications this spring that Burdi might challenge Tilson to become the state’s top draft. He touched 97 mph last summer, but his maximum-effort delivery has been a constant concern for scouts, and he pretty much took himself out of the running when he missed about a month of action this spring due to illness and a back injury, and never did show the same type of stuff.

Several other pretenders popped into the picture at various times, but few had any staying power. Among some of the more-promising Illinois prep pitchers who hit a speed bump this spring were, in alphabetical order:

Joey Ceja, rhp, Marquette HS.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Louisville signee was 90-92 mph in the summer and fall with a plus curve, but has since had surgery for bone chips in his elbow.
Tyler Farrell, rhp, Galesburg HS. He topped out at 93 mph during an indoor winter showcase, but has been more in the mid-80s, touching 90 rarely, during the spring.
Joey Filomeno, lhp, St. Rita HS. Another Louisville signee, Filomeno was throwing 90-92 mph before suffering a back injury in a car accident.
Nick Hibbing, rhp, Lakes Community HS. Scouts considered the 6-foot-5, 175-pound Iowa signee a potential Top-10-round pick before he missed a start with a tender ulnar nerve in his forearm.
Bryant Holtmann, lhp, Breese Central HS. Prior to sitting out all spring after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound Holtmann was a classic projection, with an upper-80s fastball and a loose, easy arm.
Joe Perricone, rhp, Hersey HS. The converted outfielder touches 93 mph, but is so raw with his off-speed stuff that he seems destined to honor his scholarship to Coastal Carolina.

Such unfulfilled promise was not so readily evident with the state’s top position players, with the exception being Marquette High shortstop Mason Snyder, Ceja’s teammate. He was the state’s top hitting prospect until undergoing labrum surgery on his right shoulder.

Through all the various maneuverings this spring, it now appears that there could be as few as four high-school players selected in the top 10 rounds, with power-hitting Waterloo High outfielder Garrett Schlecht and Rock Falls High two-way talent Jake Junis in the mix with Tilson and Burdi.

The ceiling on the talent in Illinois’ college ranks was much lower to begin with, and the 2011 season played out pretty much as expected, though University of Illinois catcher Adam Davis made a late charge and likely will be the first college player drafted. He was selected MVP of the Big Ten Conference tournament as Illinois, even with a 25-25 record entering the six-team event, won both the Big Ten regular-season title and post-season conference tournament crown in the same season for the first time in school history.

Davis is the latest in an impressive line of catchers produced by Illinois, and follows in the footsteps of Chris Robinson (3
rd-rounder, 2005), Lars Davis (3rd-rounder, 2007) and Aaron Johnson (28th-rounder, 2010). All three of Davis’ predecessors, coincidentally, were from Canada, while Davis hails from the suburbs of west Chicago.

Davis excels defensively and may have the best arm of any Illinois catcher that passed before him. He regularly pops times in the 1.85-1.9-second range. With regular work this spring, his receiving and blocking skills have improved significantly. Scouts still question Davis’ upside at the plate, but he has a solid approach and hit .328-6-44 last summer as a Northwoods League all-star, and stroked the ball at a steady .300-5-33 clip this spring. A good athlete, Davis runs unusually well for a catcher and stole 15 bases this spring. By most accounts, he projects as a fifth- to sixth-round pick.

A rapidly-improving Illinois State program appeared to field the strongest college team in the state for most of the spring, and entered Missouri Valley Conference tournament play with a 35-16 record. But the Redbirds dropped two games to Indiana State and were quickly eliminated. Senior righthander Corey Maines, who came to Illinois State as an outfielder, is a quality senior sign and will likely be the first player selected from the team. He 9-4, 2.87 and struck out 110 in 93 innings.

Heartland lefthander Jerad Grundy and Olney Central righthander Jerad Eickhoff were expected to challenge each other to become the top junior-college draft in the state, but Lincoln Trail righthander Justin Hancock made a late move on the outside to emerge as the top candidate.

The key to Hancock’s rise in status stems from adding up to 40 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame since enrolling at Lincoln Trail. The added strength enabled him to improve the velocity on his fastball to 90-94 mph, topping at 95. He also has command of two other pitches.

Illinois in a Nutshell:

High-school arms.
WEAKNESS: Premium college prospects.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.

BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Providence Catholic HS, New Lenox.

Garrett Schlecht, of/lhp, Waterloo HS, Belleville. Schlecht has a classic 6-foot-3, 200-pound build and solid overall right-field tools, plus an upper 80s arm as a lefthanded pitcher. The tool that has most attracted the attention of cross-checkers this spring, though, is his power potential.

Nick Burdi, rhp, Downers Grove South HS, Downers Grove. Burdi’s pitching mechanics, arm action and command have never thrilled scouts, but his mid-90s velocity kept them coming back. That type of stuff raw was rarely there this spring as Burdi battled illness and a back injury.

: Charles Tilson, of, New Trier HS, Winnetka. The scouting directors and cross-checkers that saw Tilson dazzle at the Area Code Games last August have a higher opinion of the fleet outfielder than most area scouts. Though the national-level scouts may have their say when time comes to drafting Tilson, it should also be noted that Tilson’s father is a very prominent Chicago attorney and scouts say that Tilson’s signature on a contract will likely be neither easy nor inexpensive.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Illinois Connection:
Tony Zych, rhp, University of Louisville (attended high school in Monee).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Brett Lilek, lhp, Marion Catholic HS.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Brock Stewart, ss, Illinois State University.

Draft History: Danny Goodwin, c, Central HS, Peoria (1971, White Sox/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Joe Benson, c, Joliet Catholic HS (Twins/2nd round).
2007 Draft: Jake Smolinski, 3b, Boylan Catholic HS, Rockford (Nationals/2nd round).
2008 Draft: Jake Odorizzi, rhp, Highland HS (Brewers/1st round, 32nd pick).
2009 Draft: Tyler Kehrer, lhp, Eastern Illinois U. (Angels/1st round, 48th pick).
2010 Draft: Mike Foltyniewicz, rhp, Minooka Community HS (Astros/1st round, 19th pick).

Best Hitter: Charlie Tilson, of, New Trier HS, Winnetka.
Best Power: Garrett Schlecht, of, Waterloo HS, Belleville.
Best Speed: Charlie Tilson, of, New Trier HS, Winnetka.
Best Defender: Charlie Tilson, of, New Trier HS, Winnetka.
Best Velocity: Nick Burdi, rhp, Downers Grove South HS, Downers Grove.
Best Breaking Stuff: Corey Maines, rhp, Illinois State Univetrsity.


(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. CHARLIE TILSON, of, New Trier HS, Winnetka
++ speed (6.54 in 60)/CF defense are best tools; strong LH swing, gap power; high marks for hustle/effort.

(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

2. ADAM DAVIS, c, University of Illinois (Jr.)
Well-rounded tool set at 6-0/215; quick/agile defender, + arm; line drive/gap power (.300-5-33, 15 SB).
3. NICK BURDI, rhp, Downers Grove South HS
6-5/225 power arm, 91-94 FB/T-97, 85 SL; effort in low ¾ slinging release, lacks command, fluidness.
4. JUSTIN HANCOCK, rhp, Lincoln Trail JC (So.)
Late bloomer; got much stronger, bumped FB to 90-94/T-95; also has 12-6 CU, CH inconsistent; arm works.
5. GARRETT SCHLECHT, of, Waterloo HS, Belleville
+ build (6-3,200), LH bat, powerful swing with lift; RF tools, 7.0 in 60, upper-80s arm; .521-6-35 in 2011.
6. ZACH BORENSTEIN, of, Eastern Illinois (Jr.)
Solid speed/throw tools, has played 3B/RF/CF extensively, best in OF, LH bat, flashes bat speed (.349-7-29).
7. JERAD EICKHOFF, rhp, Olney Central CC (So.)
Projectable 6-4/205 frame, FB 88-92, more in tank, also + 84-85 cutter; + 2011 season (10 W, 89 IP/116 SO).
8. WILLIE ARGO, of, University of Illinois (Jr.)
6-1/215; + speed (66 SBs last 2 years), 2010 wrist injury sapped power (12 HR as FR, 8 since), .286-4-26.
9. JERAD GRUNDY, lhp, Hancock CC (So.)
Ex-Miami LHP went 7-2, 3.38 for nation’s top-ranked JC D-II team; FB up to 94, SL to 82; Kentucky signee.
10. JAKE JUNIS, rhp-3b, Rock Falls HS
2-way talent, + strong/athletic at 6-3/210; loose arm; FB 88-91, sharp 78 CU, nice CH, powerful RH bat.

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