Prep Baseball Report

Illinois Prep Stars in MLB Postseason

By Phil Kerber
Associate Scout

With the 2017 MLB Postseason getting under way, there are a number of former Illinois prep stars littered throughout the rosters of the 10 (now eight) playoff teams.

After Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, in which the Yankees prevailed 8-4, the obvious place to start is with up-and-coming Yankees relief pitcher Chad Green (Effingham, 2010). While at Effingham, Green was a three-time All-Conference selection, two-time All-Area and was an All-State selection his senior year. As a junior he posted a 9-1 record with a 1.85 ERA and two shutouts, fanning 98 in 68 innings pitched.

Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 37th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Green opted to honor his commitment to play collegiate baseball at Louisville. This proved to be a wise decision, as Green left Louisville in 2013 as the school record holder in career ERA, at 2.38.

The Detroit Tigers selected Green in the 11th round of the 2013 draft. He was traded to the Yankees in the winter of 2015. From there Green has developed into one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the MLB this season. Over the course of 69.0 innings, Green struck out 103 batters with a 1.83 ERA, issuing a mere 17 walks.

There are the usual suspects, established MLB veterans like National’s teammates Jayson Werth (Glenwood, 1997) and Tanner Roark (Wilmington, 2005), the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist (Eureka, 2001), Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis (Glenbrook North, 2005), and the Dodgers’ Curtis Granderson (T.F. South, 1999).

Werth led Glenwood High School to an IHSA state title in 1996 as a junior. He followed that up by batting .616 and belting 15 home runs in 31 games his senior year. Committed to play at the University of Georgia, Werth decided to turn pro out of Glenwood after being drafted 22nd overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997 draft.

Werth made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002 and has been a mainstay in the big leagues ever since, winning a World Series with the Phillies in 2008 before signing as a free agent with the Nationals. Expect to see Werth as the starting left fielder for the Nationals this postseason.

Werth’s teammate Tanner Roark had an illustrious prep career that included two state titles in 2003 and 2005 for the Wilmington Wildcats. From there Roark’s career took an unconventional route. He went on to star for the University of Illinois over his freshman and sophomore seasons, leading the Big 10 in wins (8) in 2007. Roark left Illinois in January of 2008, prior to his junior year. He signed with the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League.

The Texas Rangers still took a shot and drafted Roark in the 25th round of the 2008 draft. The Rangers traded Roark in 2010 to the Nationals, whom he made his MLB debut for in 2013. Since then, Roark has been a fixture in the Nationals rotation and projects to be the fourth starter in their postseason rotation.

Then there is the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist, a Eureka High School product, who took a just as conventional route to the bigs as Roark did. Coming from a town of just over 5,000 people, Zobrist flew under the radar during his days at Eureka. So much so that no professional scout nor collegiate program took notice of him. Ready to give up the game upon graduation, Zobrist attended a showcase in Peoria, IL as a last ditch effort.

This proved to be a life changing event as Olivet Nazarene University offered him a scholarship as a two-way player. Zobrist promptly accepted and excelled, eventually transferring to Dallas Baptist University for his senior year, where he started at shortstop.

Drafted as a shortstop by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2004 draft, Zobrist was traded to the Rays in 2006. He would go on to make his MLB debut for the Rays that same season. Zobrist was traded from the Rays to the Athletics and then to the Royals over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He immediately became an impact player for the Royals, batting second and starting every game at second base in their World Series run that concluded with Royals defeating the New York Mets four games to one.

In 2016, in a homecoming of sorts, Zobrist signed with the Chicago Cubs. Zobrist was instrumental in the Cubs 2016 World Series, earning World Series Most Valuable Player after driving in the go-ahead run in the top of 10th inning of Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians. Zobrist will feature as a utility man for the Cubs this postseason, seeing playing time in the outfield and at second base.

Hailing from the northern suburbs of Chicago, Jason Kipnis made his mark at Glenbrook North High School, earning three letters for the Spartans. Kipnis was a utility man, pitching, playing shortstop and center field in high school. As a junior, Kipnis batted .455 with a school-record 11 home runs. His senior year was even more impressive, as Kipnis batted .521 with .690 OBP and a perfect 32-for-32 on stolen bases, earning first-team All-State recognition to go along with all-conference awards his junior and senior years.

Undrafted out of high school, Kipnis played two years at the University of Kentucky before transferring to Arizona State University for two years. Kipnis was drafted by the Padres in the fourth round of the 2008 draft following his junior season, but turned it down to return for his senior year at ASU.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Kipnis in the second round of the 2009 draft. He climbed the rungs of minor league baseball, making his MLB debut in the summer of 2011. Kipnis would become Cleveland’s every day starting second baseman by Opening Day 2012 and has not relinquished the spot since.

This season, while fighting through injuries, Kipnis has spent time at second base, and more recently, made a move back to his old stomping grounds in center field. Just as he has for the past seven seasons, Kipnis figures to be one of the driving forces behind Cleveland’s success.

Arguably one of the most well-known players to come out of the state of Illinois and the Chicagoland area, Curtis Granderson has made a name for himself through his athletic feats on the diamond in addition to his involvement in the local communities he has played for. Granderson was a career .369 batter with 11 home runs and 88 runs batted in at T.F. South, earning All-State honors his senior year.

Undrafted out of high school, Granderson originally committed to the University of Illinois-Chicago on a basketball and baseball scholarship, but gave up basketball a few weeks into his freshman year to focus on baseball. During his junior year at UIC, Granderson batted .483, second in the nation to only Rickie Weeks. He received numerous All-American selections and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the 2002 draft.

Granderson made his MLB debut for the Detroit Tigers in 2004, but would not become a permanent member of the big league roster until the 2006 season, when he won the starting center fielder job.

Following the 2009 season, Granderson was traded to the New York Yankees, where he starred in the outfield for four seasons. Upon his contract expiring, he moved across town to the New York Mets in 2014. The Mets traded Granderson this summer to the Los Angeles Dodgers. To this day, Granderson holds the distinct honor of being the only UIC baseball alum to play in the MLB. Look for Granderson to start in the corner outfield position for the Dodgers this postseason.

Another veteran journeyman who you may see on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ postseason roster is infielder Adam Rosales (Maine South, 2001). A number of arms will look to make contributions out of the bullpen this postseason as well, including: Cleveland’s Zach McAllister (Illinois Valley Central, 2006), Arizona’s T.J. McFarland (Stagg, 2007), Los Angeles’ Tony Cingrani (Lincoln-Way Central, 2007) and Brock Stewart (Normal West, 2010), and Houston’s Luke Gregerson (Morton, 2002).

A number of younger players who saw action for their big league clubs, but may not make the postseason roster are: 2011 PBR Illinois Player of the Year, Boston’s 1B Sam Travis (Providence, 2011), the Rockies OF Mike Tauchman (Fremd, 2009), and the Twins’ LHP Dietrich Enns (Lincoln-Way East, 2009).

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