Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 18 Minooka


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The Illinois high school season kicks off on March 12th, the first day for regular season games.

Leading up to the opening week of games we will be rolling out team previews of high school teams all across the state and across all classifications, eventually launching our Preseason Power 25.

We will bring you a snapshot of what to expect along with top players and keys to success for that particular team.

Team: Minooka
Preseason Rank: 18
2017 Record: 23-11
Conference: Southwest Prairie
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Jeff Petrovic
Playoff Run: Lost in Regional Championship
2017 Final Rank: 22
Returning Starters: 4
Returning Pitchers: 2

KEY PLAYERS LOST

Nick Airola, C (Joliet JC)
Jonny Butler, OF (North Carolina State)
Deston Martin, OF (Purdue-Northwest)
Antonio Milazzo, SS (Dominican, IL)
Jackson Shepherd, OF (Mesa CC)
Devin Smith, LHP (Joliet JC)
Tyler Talbot, LHP (Lewis)

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment
Hayden Laczynski
IL Minooka 2018 SS Western Illinois
Cherokee LeBeau
IL Minooka 2018 3B Oakland
Luke Faifer
IL Minooka 2018 RHP/C Maryville 
Seth Gutknecht
IL Minooka 2018 RHP/OF Aurora
Simon Herold
IL Minooka 2018 LHP Benedictine (IL)
Zach Stoner
IL Minooka 2019 INF
Dean Procarione
IL  Minooka 2019  RHP  
Noah Sustaita
IL  Minooka 2019  RHP/OF
Cooper Herold IL Minooka 2020 RHP  

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

RHP Dean Procarione underwent an offseason transformation this past winter headed into his junior season. We saw Procarione in the summer when he was sitting in the low-80s with his fastball, to go along with a standard 12/6 curveball and changeup mix. But when he took the mound at our Lockport event three weeks ago, his fastball velocity shot up to 87 mph.

Considering the Indians are going to be in the market for arms this spring, the development of Procarione couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The spike in velo could allow the junior to cement himself in a rotation that’s presently unsettled.

Dean Procarione (2.19.18)

X-FACTOR

Sophomore RHP Cooper Herold, the younger brother of senior LHP Simon, was invited to last month’s Underclass Invitational event where he looked highly impressive. Herold topped 89 mph with his running fastball and added a slider and changeup combo that might be good enough to give him regular innings at the varsity level this spring, though that’s just speculation.

As mentioned previously, Minooka’s pitching staff is in need of a shot in the arm, especially after a large contingent of its outs last year came from arms who have since graduated. Opportunities may be available for someone like Herold and he has the skillset to make the most of it.

Cooper Herold (2.18.18)

OUTLOOK

Despite being crowned the champions of the Southwest Prairie Conference, beating Plainfield South for that honor last May, the biggest accomplishment the Indians may have achieved in 2017 was push a 35-win Neuqua Valley team to the ropes and into extra innings in their regional championship meeting. The Wildcats lost twice in the regular season last year and made it all the way to the super-sectionals, but their biggest test in the postseason until then was probably against this Minooka squad.

But that year’s team and this year’s will look quite different.

The anchors of that conference-winning team, Nick Airola, Jonny Butler, Devin Smith, are all graduated and playing college ball these days. This year’s senior class isn’t short on talent, but it is a little short on depth. Hayden Laczynski will return to shortstop where he’s resided ever since he was a freshman. He’s an all-around performer and leads off for this Indians team. They’ll rely on him to jumpstart the offense and captain the infield, too.

Fellow senior Cherokee LeBeau (Oakland), this team’s starting third baseman for the third straight season, returns. He’s an aggressive, free-swinging hitter and can be leaned upon to be the one typically driving in Laczynski from scoring position. And the senior behind the plate, Luke Faifer (Maryville), is also back for his third season of varsity ball. He’s another one of the offensive weapons Coach Jeff Petrovic is going to be able to pencil into his lineup game in and out.

Defensively, Faifer is going to be receiving for senior starters RHP Seth Gutknecht and LHP Simon Herold. Both will be steady arms for Minooka all year long. Faifer’s role on the team will be expanded as Coach Petrovic seeks out the juniors and even the sophomores who can contribute to this team’s pitching staff. Faifer’s senior leadership will come in handy when he’s working with the less-experienced members of the Indians’ rotation.

With a top-heavy lineup mostly set in stone, Minooka’s early season challenge is going to be finding the missing pieces, not only to eat innings, but to become go-to arms on this pitching staff. With the leaps in velocity Procarione made over the winter and the advanced arm of the sophomore Herold, the Indians might have the staff to keep them more than competitive in the cutthroat Southwest Prairie.

BOTTOM LINE

Having a solid core of seniors to set and forget within this lineup should allow Coach Petrovic to get a headstart on sorting out the order of operations in his rotation. Gutknecht and the senior Herold are a sigh of relief for a staff that’s going to be largely inexperienced after their turns on the mound. Procarione has the talent to bust into this staff and even become a high-leverage arm to depend on in big games. Cooper Herold also has the skill to add to this staff, but it’s unknown how big of a role he’ll see.

Either way, the Indians are an annual nuisance for whichever team they match up against in the postseason. Coach Petrovic always finds a way to make this team fundamentally strong and a tough out as the summer approaches. This year shouldn’t be any different.

Find more information on the 2018 Indians below:

+ Full Schedule
Team Website
+ Gamechanger
Twitter

Make sure to follow @pbrillinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the season.

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN