Prep Baseball Report

Illinois 2021 Rankings Updated

By Andy Sroka & Drew Locascio
Illinois Staff

The first official day of fall is right around the corner, but the summer baseball season is over with school in or nearing session for most high school athletes. With that, the PBR Illinois staff is gathering and assessing its scouting reports, video, and notes collected throughout this past summer’s atypical circuit.

At the end of August, the PBR national team updated the country’s Class of 2021 Rankings, a top-500 list that included 11 prospects from Illinois.

The state’s 2021 class has seen some turbulence at its top, after previously top-ranked player Vytas Valincius (Baylor School, TN) transferred to Tennessee last summer. Inside this update, LHP/OF Drew Gray was all set to become the state’s brand-new No. 1 until he announced that he would be transferring to IMG Academy in Florida ahead of the school year. Gray’s been one of the buzziest prospects in the country this summer, and it’s been reflected on the national board, as he’s now ranked No. 14 overall in the country.

That leaves the state’s current No. 1 spot up for grabs, and physical right-hander Ben Hess (Charleston; Indiana commit) lunged for the place. Up four spots, from No. 5 to the top, Hess’ huge summer culminated in a big uptick in velocity that saw him touch 94 mph in front of various PBR staff, all while wielding an advanced three-pitch mix. Standing in at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Hess is an imposing presence on the mound and his frame and stater’s arsenal, in conjunction with his low-90s stuff, have helped him garner attention ahead of next year’s MLB Draft.

Ben Hess (7/7/20)

At No. 2 is SS Noah Smith (Marist; Louisville), who's a highly athletic prospect. He's been adding strength which is helping him remain a high follow within this Midwestern draft class, considering he's already one of the top defenders in the state, if not the country.

Nicholas DeMarco (St. Charles North; Notre Dame) has been a steady force and constant inside the top of the rankings and he really has only reasserted that notion this summer, most notably at the PBR ProCase Midwest. There, ever the competitor, DeMarco battled through stitches on his foot and still managed to come away with one of the day’s more memorable performances. A three-sport standout at St. Charles North, DeMarco’s athleticism fits seamlessly on the left side of the infield and he swings a strong, timely right-handed bat that has shown some power to his pull-side. And DeMarco also has a serious chance of contributing on both sides of the ball at Notre Dame, as he’s been up to 90 mph with a sharp 12/6 breaking ball. He’s back up to No. 3 in the class.

Nicholas DeMarco (7/7/20)

RHP Brennyn Cutts (Toledo-Cumberland; Indiana State) is another power arm who has been stapled to the top of the state’s rankings ever since they first debuted. He’s back to No. 4 in the state after a marvelous outing at the ProCase, where he sat at a clean and easy 90-91 mph, up to 92, with a heaviness to it. That ProCase event also provided us with a look at Cutts’ slider, a sharp offering that was up to 81 mph with tight spin, at a rate of 2,384 rpm on average, per TrackMan. The pitch was better than we’d seen it to this point, granting Cutts the chance to utilize it as an out-pitch at the next level. His size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and stuff have helped him point his prospect arrow up ahead of the fall.

Brennyn Cutts (7/7/20)

Minooka’s LHP Reed Gannon (Kentucky) moves up a spot on the 2021 board after showcasing an uber easy upper-80s fastball this summer in front of our staff. He topped 89 mph at a PBR Wisconsin tournament where he pumped in strike after strike with the fastball with precision command – his control over the fastball is arguably the state’s best. In the past, Gannon has used a couple kinds of breaking balls, both with distinctly different action. Another upside frame on this list with starter traits, Gannon comes in ranked as the new top southpaw in Illinois.

A third straight update in which he’s risen, C Ty Batusich (Joliet West; Western Kentucky) has a claim to be the state’s best bat. He, too, was at the ProCase in July where he demonstrated some elite bat speed paired with the best bat-to-ball skills at the illustrious event. His hand/eye coordination is off the charts, and it helps him land barrels on repeat from the left-handed batter’s box. These skills, plus his physical bat strength, help him create a significant power profile as well. He’s also improving as a receiver and he’s equipped with some real arm strength from the crouch – and he ran a 6.86 most recently.

Ty Batusich (7/7/20)

RHP Kyle Walter (Minooka; Louisville) has a 6-foot-5, 235-pound build that looks like it’ll earn pro scout looks on its own, combined with his short, easy, and clean arm action that gets to low-90s velocity, up to 93 mph as seen in a June bullpen. Another starter’s profile with a eye-catching frame to keep tabs on in the spring, climbing eight spots within this update.

Kyle Walter (6/1/20)

Back-to-back left-handers are ranked at Nos. 8 and 9: Eric Orloff (Glenbrook North; Arizona) and Adam Dowler (Oswego East; Louisville). Orloff was previously one of the top-ranked uncommitted prospects in the region, headed into the ProCase. A few days following the event, Orloff committed to Arizona and he’s also steadily climbed his way into the highest place he’s ever been on the state’s rankings. He’s deceptive from a cross-body, high-front delivery and he’s still able to attack the strike zone consistently. Orloff was 88-89 mph at the July event with a sharp breaking ball and a straight change, giving him a three-pitch mix that should keep him locked in a starter’s role long-term.

As for Dowler, he’s another top-10 mainstay who hasn’t done anything to detract from that. He’s a durable lefty built at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with an upper-80s fastball attached to one of the state’s best sliders, thrown with feel and tight action, and he regularly opts for it regardless of the count.

Back healthy this summer, RHP Zach Kempe (St. Charles North; Notre Dame) was one of the biggest risers in the class within this update – and not just in Illinois. With an ultra-quick arm, Kempe’s spin rates are measured at elite marks. His low-90s fastball averages over 2,300 rpm and got all the way near 2,500 at the ProCase, but his biting, vicious slider is his best pitch. In the 78-79 mph range, Kempe’s slider features hard action at 2,800 rpm. He capped off a tremendous summer with a commitment to Notre Dame, where he’ll attend alongside fellow North Star and top-10 prospect DeMarco.

Zach Kempe (7/7/20)


1 Ben Hess IL Charleston 2021 RHP Indiana
2 Noah Smith IL Marist 2021 SS Louisville
3 Nicholas DeMarco IL St. Charles North 2021 SS Notre Dame
4 Brennyn Cutts IL Toledo-Cumberland 2021 RHP Indiana State
5 Reed Gannon IL Minooka 2021 LHP Kentucky
6 Ty Batusich IL Joliet West 2021 C Western Kentucky
7 Kyle Walter IL Minooka 2021 RHP Louisville
8 Eric Orloff IL Glenbrook North 2021 LHP Arizona
9 Adam Dowler IL Oswego East 2021 LHP Louisville
10 Zach Kempe IL St. Charles North 2021 RHP Notre Dame

We'll be breaking down the updated and expanded rankings further, but to see the 2021 board in full, click here.