Central Illinois Open: Catching Analysis



By Ryan Quigley
Illinois Scouting Director

The Central Illinois Open took place on Wednesday, August 6th on the campus of Normal West HS.  The open showcase featured prospects from the 2015-2018 classes in Illinois.  The Central Illinois Open is a long standing event in the PBR schedule and has unveiled several high end prospect over the years including such names as Cole Daily (Sacred Heart Griffin, 2015, Notre Dame), Cole Bellair (Lockport, 2015, Illinois) and Connor Manous (Munster, 2016, Miami).  Several players impressed at this year’s event, and may see similar success over the next two years.  Over the next week we will reveal the top players at each position, and then finish with the top overall prospects from the event. 

CLICK HERE for the article on top statistical performers from this year’s Central Illinois Open.

CLICK HERE for last Friday’s article on the Top Outfielders at the Central Illinois Open. 

Today we’ll move behind the plate and analyze the catchers, which may have been the deepest and most talented position in attendance at the Central Illinois Open.  The competition for the top three spots was stiff, and Joe Aeilts from Champaign Central took home top honors thanks to both is offensive and defensive abilities.  Normal West’s Mitchell Fairfield already possesses a pro-frame and impressed more at the plate with his future power potential.  Maroa-Forsyth’s Cooper Hitchens may have been small in stature, but was arguably the top catch-and-throw prospect at the event, impressing with both his pop times, and the ability to put the ball right on the bag consistently.  Peoria Richwood’s Alex Peters, who registered the lowest pop times of the event, and Normal’s Zach Frey round out our top five, which again was impressive to see five 2016 catchers all consistently reeling off pop times in the low 2.0’s.

Let’s take a look at the top catchers at this year’s Central Illinois Open.

Top Catchers

1. Joe Aeilts, 3B/C, Champaign Central, 2016
6-foot-2, 185-pound right-handed hitting third baseman/catcher currently ranked No. 56 in Illinois’ 2016 class impresses both behind the plate and at the hot corner defensively.  Started as a sophomore at third for Champaign Central’s 35-3 Regional Championship squad.  Hits from a wide, balanced setup, front foot starts closed, utilizes a leg kick getting down late at times during batting practice.  Short, uphill, inside-out bat path drove several pitches to opposite field during BP, with 85 mph exit velocity off the tee.  At shortstop, throws from long, high ¾ arm slot with accuracy 83 mph across the diamond.  Showed average hands, clean exchanges, playing through the baseball.  Shows off similar arm strength behind the dish at 79 mph from the crouch with pop times ranging between 2.00-2.08, with accuracy and shortened arm action.  Quick feet on the transfer, lower half stays open.  Ran a 6.99 60 and 4.68 seconds from home to first.  Aeilts has versatility and should be able to catch and play third in college.

2. Mitchell Fairfield, Catcher, Normal West, 2016
6-foot-2, 190-pound right-handed hitting catcher currently ranked No. 59 in Illinois’ 2016 class.  Strong, athletic build, hits from a wide, balanced setup, short stride, high back elbow, hands load smoothly, producing level bat path with extension creating backspin line drives from gap-to-gap.  88 mph exit velocity off the tee.  Defensively, threw 80 mph from the crouch from short, high ¾ to over the top arm slot.  Raises throwing elbow above shoulder lengthening pop time, which ranged between 2.01-2.07.  Showed soft hands receiving during pitcher’s bullpens.  Ran a 7.48 60.  Fairfield already has a great frame, and has not fully matured yet which could be scary for opposing pitcher’s the next two seasons.  He’s a prospect to watch closely, and could potentially be Normal West’s next draft prospect.

3. Cooper Hitchens, C, Maroa-Forsyth, 2016
5-foot-9, 145-pound catcher, athletic build. Right handed hitter, balanced stance, short stride, smooth loading action, partial lower half involvement. Showed barrel awareness, above average bat speed with extension, showed the ability to impact the baseball, offensive potential. 75 mph exit velocity from the tee. Defensively showed well above average abilities behind the plate, feet work well out of the crouch, softer hands and efficient transfer. Arm action is short, over the top slot, accurate arm at 73 mph from the crouch.  Pop times ranged from 2.03-2.12 to second base. 7.58 runner in the 60.

4. Alex Peters, C, Richwoods, 2016
5-foot-11, 175-pound right-handed hitting catcher hits from an athletic, open setup, short stride, hands start high, load back smoothly, producing balanced, short, level bat path with 85 mph exit velocity and line drives from gap-to-gap.  Defensively, rattled off the top pop times at the Central Illinois Open between 1.94-2.01 seconds.  Throws from an extremely short, ¾ arm slot, at 75 mph from the crouch.  Elbow stays below shoulder height, pushes the baseball but puts the ball on the bag. Transfer from glove to hand is extremely fast.  Does a good job of gaining ground/moving forward during transfer, may lose time in game action having to stay on the pitch.  Ran a 7.56 60, and 4.84 from home to first.

5. Zach Frey, C, Normal University, 2016
5-foot-10, 150-pound catcher, thin build with athleticism. Defensively showed advanced catch and throw skills for his age. Traditional catchers arm action, short over the top slot, arm has carry, 79 mph out of the crouch. Posted pop times at 2.01-2.11, softer hands, mechanically sound blocker. Right handed hitter, balanced stance, short stride, athletic setup. Loose hands, slight pull side, 78 mph exit velocity from the tee. Ran a 7.23 laser timed 60.

Best of the Rest (Listed Alphabetically)

Jordan Buhs, C/OF, St. Joseph-Ogden, 2016
5-foot-10, 165-pound catcher with strength, solid build. Right handed hitter, balanced stance, short stride, good balance. Bat speed present, short path, some line drive approach, showed the ability to find the barrel, path stays inside the baseball. Defensively uses a short arm action, over the top slot. In the outfield showed a quick clean exchange, 76 mph from the outfield. Behind the plate posted 2.11-2.27 pop times, 68 mph from the crouch. 7.74 runner in the 60.

Collin Mormann, Catcher, Morton, 2016
6-foot, 175-pound right-handed hitting catcher hits from an open setup, short stride; short, slightly uphill bat path produced line drives to the opposite field during batting practice with 83 mph exit velocity.  Defensively behind the plate, pop times ranged between 2.17-2.32 from short, high ¾ arm slot with some accuracy.  Threw 72 mph from the crouch.  Ran a 7.55 60, 5.08 from home to first.

Michael Ryan, C, Springfield Southeast, 2015
5-foot-11, 180-pound left-handed hitting catcher hits from a tall, narrow, open setup, hands load back, producing level bat path with some loft and 80 mph exit velocity off the tee.  Defensively, pop times ranged between 2.12-2.26, from short over the top arm slot.  Threw 71 mph from the crouch.  Ran a 7.56 60 and 4.90 from home to first.

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