Prep Baseball Report

Illinois 2020 Rankings Updated

By Andy Sroka & Drew Locascio
Illinois Staff

Every year, the rankings update following our preseason showcase circuit is among the busiest and most transformative. After an offseason of growth and hard work, we measure the evolution of the state’s top prospects and re-order and expand the list as they enter the high school season. This year's junior class is as deep as any in recent memory.

No prospect in the state, region, and arguably even the country did more to propel their personal stock up the 2020 rankings than Ben Hernandez. De La Salle’s right-hander is committed to Illinois-Chicago and made the leap in front of our staff at our Preseason All-State event last February. There, Hernandez showed off a leaner, toned-up frame that he used to fill up the strike-zone with a fastball that sat 93-94 mph with notable ease. He complements that heavy fastball with a power, swing-and-miss changeup that has consistently shown plus action with late arm-side sink. He’s also begun to polish off a tighter curveball, too.

It’s this combination of repertoire and upside that has him on the 2020 MLB Draft radar, up four spots on the top 10, sitting at No. 2 in the state and is all the way up to No. 20 in the overall rankings.

Ben Hernandez (2/10/19)

Retaining his No. 1 ranking in this update is Mount Carmel’s shortstop Ed Howard. Like Hernandez, Howard is climbing up the national board, too, and is currently a few spots ahead of the De La Salle ace. The Oklahoma commit continues to add quality strength to his frame, has consistently improved offensively and is one of the most deft defenders in the entire country. He plays a confident and natural shortstop with the hands, footwork and arm to excel at the position, with a tendency to make the difficult look routine. Howard is one of the best shortstops to come out of Illinois in recent memory and there is no telling how high his stock will be next spring heading into the 2020 MLB draft. 


1 Ed Howard IV
IL Mount Carmel 2020 SS Oklahoma
2 Ben Hernandez IL De La Salle 2020 RHP Illinois-Chicago
3 Christian Knapczyk IL Joliet Catholic 2020 SS Louisville
4 Jack Mahoney IL St. Viator 2020 RHP/SS South Carolina
5 Jack Payton IL Brother Rice 2020 C Louisville
6 Ben Wiegman IL Carmel Catholic 2020 RHP Louisville
7 Briar Stinson IL Rushville-Industry 2020 OF Kentucky
8 Jack Crowder IL Plainfield East 2020 RHP Illinois
9 Drake Westcott IL Edwardsville 2020 1B Louisville
10 Clayton Johnson IL Prophetstown 2020 RHP Illinois

Joliet Catholic shortstop Christian Knapczyk checks in at No. 3 on our board, making way for the ascent of Hernandez. But the Louisville-committed spark plug has done nothing to harm his own prospect status. Knapczyk is a premium athlete who plays with bounce and an energy throughout his game that impacts the scoreboard in a multitude of ways. His left-handed bat profiles atop the lineup considering he has a keen eye, controls the barrel and sprays the ball around the yard with sneaky pop. On defense, he’s a savvy defender, with a high baseball IQ who can make all the necessary plays on the left side of the diamond.

Jack Mahoney (St. Viator; South Carolina commit) and Jack Payton (Brother Rice; Louisville) check in back to back on the rankings again, at Nos. 4 and 5. Not too much has changed here since we last updated the 2020 rankings in November. Mahoney is still one of the state’s best pitchers, with a highly athletic and clean arm who has feel for three pitches, along with plenty of upside. As for Payton, he’s an advanced backstop who also knows how to call a game. His strong hands, receiving skills, and quiet confidence from the crouch are all impressive traits, and his physical bat has middle-of-the-order potential, too.

And despite some shifting ahead of him, right-hander Ben Wiegman, another Louisville commit on this list, is up a spot on the rankings since the November update. Wiegman has a big and broad 6-foot-3 frame and one of the strongest arms in the class. Wiegman pitches with an edge on the mound and pairs his low-90's fastball with a power, swing-and-miss breaking ball. 

No. 7-ranked OF Briar Stinson (Rushville-Industry; Kentucky), No. 8 RHP Jack Crowder (Plainfield East; Illinois), and No. 9 1B Drake Westcott (Edwardsville; Louisville) are ranked back-to-back-to-back on the 2020 board today, for various reasons. Stinson is a right-hand-hitting outfielder with electric hands who has, possibly, the best power-hit combo in the state’s junior class. Crowder is a strong, durable right-hander who sat in the 87-90 mph range, touching 92 mph, in his start just a few week's ago against ranked Providence Catholic. Crowder has continued to improve his three-pitch repertoire as well. As for the first baseman Westcott, he has among the easiest and most powerful left-handed bats in the region and repeatedly peppers the gaps with hard contact and has the power to leave any part of the yard – he plays light on his feet with feel for the first base bag, too.

Drake Westcott (2/10/19)

Finally, there’s Prophetstown’s imposing, physical RHP Clayton Johnson, who made a tremendous charge up the board in this update. We got to see Johnson for the first time in person at Preseason All-State, after he had committed to Illinois just a couple weeks beforehand. At the invite-only event, the 6-foot-7 right-hander sat at an easy 87-88 mph, touching 89 mph, with long and loose arm action. His changeup is currently his best out-pitch but his curveball showed the shape and spin to be a potential weapon in the future. Johnson’s 47-spot climb up the 2020 board is among the largest in this update, and certainly one of the most impressive, considering the kind of talent he leapfrogged for a seat inside the top 10.

Clayton Johnson (2/10/19)

Keep checking back for additional coverage regarding the state’s updated 2020 rankings. We’ll introduce you to new prospects who debuted within the class' top-200, and we’ll also dissect the prospects who have climbed the most spots north up the board.

CLICK HERE for a complete look at the Illinois' 2020 Rankings.