Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 4 Lincoln-Way West

By Andy Sroka
Illinois & Wisconsin Assistant Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 13, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next two weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2023 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

 Our 2023 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Lincoln-Way West
Preseason Rank: No. 4
2022 Record: 25-7-1
Conference: South West Suburban
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Jake Zajc


Kaleb Wilkey C
Lincoln-Way West 2023 -
Colton Kachinsky LHP Lincoln-Way West 2023 Western Illinois
Reagan King RHP Lincoln-Way West 2023 Triton JC
Cam Buckley OF Lincoln-Way West 2023 Alvin CC
Tyler Koscinski SS/RHP Lincoln-Way West 2023 Aurora
Jake Dahlin OF Lincoln-Way West 2023 -
Dan Heise RHP Lincoln-Way West 2023 St. Norbert
Dominic Saso 1B Lincoln-Way West 2023 -
Cole Crafton OF/SS Lincoln-Way West 2024 Louisville
Anthony Massa 3B/1B Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Ben Shea INF/RHP Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Josh Howard C/INF Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Colin McCarty LHP Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Stuart Jackman RHP Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Zach Pieczynski 1B/C/OF Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Danny Hodel UTL Lincoln-Way West 2024 -
Conor Essenburg 1B/LHP/OF Lincoln-Way West 2025 Kansas State
Lucas Acevedo RHP/MIF Lincoln-Way West 2025 Illinois-Chicago
Cameron Armstrong RHP Lincoln-Way West 2025 -


+ LHP Nolan Larson (Triton JC)
+ C Harrison Scroggins
+ 2B Aidan Healy
+ OF Luke Swallow
+ 3B Brandon Pritchard (North Central College)


From just about every perspective, Lincoln-Way West enjoyed a hugely successful 2022 season, and in 2023, they return primary contributors and they’re boosted by a collection of sophomores that should keep them competitive in future seasons, too. Two in particular come to mind: LHP/1B Conor Essenburg (Kansas State commit) INF/RHP Lucas Acevedo (Illinois-Chicago). Both received a little bit of varsity playing time as freshmen, and the two are expected to see much more this spring.

Essenburg is especially key to this team’s 2023 outlook as a two-way factor, while replacing the innings of since-graduated seniors like Nolan Larson. We have Essenburg ranked inside of our top-10, currently, and he’s a high-end prospect on both the mound and from the right-handed batter’s box. Essenburg was in attendance at February’s Preseason All-State event where he reached an 88 mph high from the mound while also swinging a fluid, powerful bat that projects to generate plenty of runs for the Warriors as soon as this season.

Like Essenburg, Acevedo is a two-way prospect who projects to play a role on both sides for West. He’s an athletic right-handed-hitting middle infielder who’s projected to take over the starting second base spot that opened up this season. And as gifted as he is as a position player, Acevedo also brings with him a quick, live arm on the mound, with mid- to upper-80s velocity, reportedly, and should further stabilize West’s increasingly deep pitching staff.

The pair of sophomores are joined by fellow ‘25s INF Kaden Kopacz and RHP Cameron Armstrong. It remains to be seen what kind of role, if any, these two will have on varsity this season, but Armstrong is a name that popped this winter, following a loud bullpen in which he reached an 87.2 mph high which could help him earn some innings as an underclassman this spring.


The Warriors bring back a huge portion of last year’s sound roster, though that does not include the since-graduated Harrison Scroggins, the catcher who hit .330 for West in 2022. For most teams, that would create a huge question mark at one of the most critical positions on the diamond, but this is also an area where head coach Jake Zajc can be reassured headed into the spring as senior Kaleb Wilkey is more than capable of taking over full-time. He’s shown excellent defensively in the past for us, and his above-average athleticism helped him gain playing time elsewhere as a junior last year. This year, however, his reliability at catcher will help hasten the confidence of aforementioned sophomores like Essenburg and Acevedo to varsity ball.

Wilkey’s also an especially impactful hitter who’s set to return to the heart of this lineup again in 2023, inside one of the most balanced lineups in the area. He hit .375 in 2022 and recorded the second highest OPS on the team (0.972) and he walked more than he struck out, 13 to 11.


Lincoln-Way West surprised the South West Suburban by placing first in the conference at 7-1 overall and they marched all the way to the edge of a state tournament berth, squaring off with Brother Rice in the Super-Sectional round, ultimately losing, 5-1.

Yet, West can be just as hopeful about its 2023 outlook, as this group returns three core arms from a season ago, in addition to three of its four most productive hitters. All the while, the two sophomores we highlighted above strike our staff as the kinds of underclassmen that hit the ground running at the varsity level, even at their age.

So, mash those ingredients together and you have the recipe for continued success out of Lincoln-Way West.

We mentioned Wilkey’s importance to the team as whole, as the pitching staff’s rudder in addition to the competitive right-handed bat he brings to the plate, but he’s joined by OF/MIF Cole Crafton (Louisville) in the middle of the order. Speaking of sophomores adjusting to varsity quickly, Crafton excelled as one himself in 2022. As the top-ranked position player in Illinois’ 2024 class, Crafton still managed to exceed expectations for the Warriors last year, pacing the offense by slashing .386/.462/.675, tallying 17 total extra-base hits (7 HR) and a team-high 35 RBIs. He was named the PBR Illinois Player of the Week on March 23, following an 8-for-10 week in which he hit three homers for the Warriors, and it’s going to be exciting to see how he follows up such a successful sophomore season.

Joining Crafton and Wilkey in the center of the order is senior center fielder Cam Buckley (Alvin CC), who was one of four Warriors to finish 2022 with an OPS above .900. Buckley’s an athlete who has another up-the-middle position covered for LWW this season, and he brings with him some interesting left-handed strength in the batter’s box, and he reinforces what should be one of the most productive lineups in the state.

Elsewhere, senior SS/RHP Tyler Koscinski (Aurora) returns to shortstop where his defense makes him particularly valuable, and he’s also a competitive right-handed hitter who managed to reach base nearly 40 percent of the time as a junior. Junior 3B Anthony Massa did not see the field as a sophomore in 2022, but he has the inside track to playing time this season as West needs to replace its innings at third base. Massa showed well offensively at the Lockport Preseason ID in late February where his loose, easy right-handed swing complemented his natural strength well, creating the possibility that he could manufacture some runs on his own for the Warriors.

The balance in the lineup is matched on the mound, where the Warriors return the majority of their innings.

Seniors RHP Reagan King (Triton JC) and LHP Colton Kachinsky (Western Illinois) made up nearly half of LWW’s innings pitched in 2022, and both are etched into the starting rotation ahead of the talented sophomores we mentioned earlier. King K’d 59 batters in 41 innings as a junior, and finished the year with a 2.05 ERA. Kachinsky led the team in innings (47.2) and he punched out 62 batters over that stretch, though walks reduced how effective he could be. We’ve been high on the arm talent attached to Kachinsky’s upside 6-foot-2 size, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him take an even bigger step forward in his senior spring. 

So, while the Warriors will miss the durability of Larson from a season ago, there’s a ton of capable arms in this rotation ready to take on that challenge.


Lincoln-Way West were an exciting team that emerged from off the radar in 2022, and we couldn’t make the same mistake again this year. Examining the roster, many of the contributors that made the 2022 spring a fun one are back again this year, and the Warriors are also set to be buoyed by some impact sophomores that can give West a little bit more star power along the way. We view the Warriors as SWSC favorites again in 2023, and a serious threat to be the ones hoisting the 4A trophy in June.

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2023 season.

Find more information on the 2023 Warriors below:

+ Team Website
+ Team Schedule
+ Team Twitter