Top 10 Stories Of 2017: No. 3 Cole Kmet, 2017 Illinois Player Of The Year


By Illinois Scouting Staff

Over the next few weeks, in addition to highlighting the Top 10 Player Profiles of 2017, we will also highlight the Top 10 Stories in Illinois High School Baseball during the 2017 calendar year.

Today, we’ll take a look at No. 3 Cole Kmet, Illinois Player of the Year

The St. Viator LHP/OF was named the Illinois PBR Player of the Year in 2017 after leading St. Viator to its first ever state championship. Kemt was not only one of the top baseball players in the state but was also he was a Top 100 football recruit by multiple recruiting websites. Here is the Player of the Year story on Kmet from June.

Story from June 19th

2017 ILLINOIS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: ST. VIATOR OF/LHP COLE KMET

 By Mike Helfgot

You can't miss him.

Six-foot-five, 252 chiseled pounds, the first thing that stands out about Cole Kmet is the way he stands out.

He fills out a baseball uniform in a way that would make most Major Leaguers envious, let alone high school players, and he's got a versatile skill set to back up his A-plus grade on the eye test.

Explosively powerful right-handed bat. Unusually good speed for his size. A 90-plus-mph fastball complemented by an above-average slider.

Kmet's size and skills translated to equally impressive stats.

The St. Viator slugger reached base in 73 of his 145 plate appearances this spring, batting .443 with 12 home runs, 18 doubles, 46 RBI and a .918 slugging percentage.

Equally as impressive on the mound, the hard-throwing left-handed pitcher struck out 105 batters in 62.1 innings, compiling an 8-3 record with a 2.02 ERA.

The best part about Kmet may be what can’t be measured. As far as St. Viator coach Mike Manno is concerned, Kmet’s character, his attitude, his leadership may have been the most crucial component to the Lions’ first-ever state championship. 

Put it all together and Kmet is the 2017 Prep Baseball Report Illinois Player of the Year.

“I’ve coached 19 years of baseball, basketball and soccer and I haven’t been around a more intriguing kid,” Manno said. “His leadership qualities, the characteristics of being a great human being, being selfless, putting the team first … for how good he is, you never see that out of a kid that good.

“To have been able to coach him is something I cherish.”

You can’t miss him.

The question is, how best to use him.

In the outfield or on the mound?

The plan is to do both at Notre Dame, but it’s not the only question confronting Fighting Irish coaches.

Running routes or throwing blocks?

He’ll do both of those too.

Long before Kmet made a name for himself on the baseball diamond during St. Viator’s surprise run to the Class 3A championship, he was well-known in football circles as one of the top recruits in Illinois’ Class of 2017.

A tight end whose father was a football star at Hersey and Purdue and played briefly in the NFL, Kmet committed to Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly in October of 2015, choosing the Irish over the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Tennessee and a host of others.

Even after securing a future at among the most storied programs college football has ever known, the idea of giving up baseball didn’t sit well with Kmet.

Then he went out and put together a huge junior baseball season, hitting 11 home runs and going 10-1 with a 2.39 ERA in leading St. Viator to a fourth-place finish in Class 3A as a junior.

“He said to me, ‘You know what, I don’t think I have to drop it,’” Frank Kmet said, recalling a conversation with his son. “I said, ‘Nobody is asking you to. Don’t worry about it.’ I’m not telling that kid he can’t play baseball.”

Kelly wouldn’t tell him that either. Kmet said he has his future football coach’s full blessing to turn to baseball as soon as the football season is over, even though that means being absent from spring practice.

“My family has talked with them about that,” Cole Kmet said. “It was a concern but they completely cleared that up for sure. Once springs hits I will play baseball. They are awesome with it. They think it is great for the school and it will keep me competing. There will be no added pressure to play football.”

“Coach Kelly knows Cole’s ability in baseball,” Frank Kmet said. “He has been very upfront with us about what they’re going to do. Cole knows it is juggling act. They’ve done it before with players. He is backing up Cole. He knows academically Cole can handle it, and he knows he has the maturity to handle it.

“I would say nine out of 10 kids would not be able to handle it, but he has maturity beyond his years. He is the type of kid you’re not going to stop.”

You can’t miss Cole Kmet, but you had to know where to look to find him.

Travel-ball tournaments, showcases? No Kmet there.

Football camps, combines and 7-on-7 tournaments? He didn’t bother with those either.

“My dad never bought into it,” he said. “He always said, ‘If you’re good enough, they’ll find you, it will happen.’”

“Maybe it is old school,” Frank Kmet said. “I believe if you are talented, they are going to find you. Recruiters, scouts, I think it is their job to find you, and not just on the internet. They should go see you play. They should be part of the kid’s life.”

The Kmets aren’t naive to the fact that showcase events in both sports have given thousands upon thousands of kids exposure to recruiters and scouts they probably wouldn’t have received otherwise.

Kmet, though, is an extraordinary prospect, one who couldn’t be missed.

College football is a billion-dollar industry, so it stands to reason that the recruiting process would start earlier.

The first scholarship offer, from Iowa, came in May of his sophomore year, and Northwestern, Ohio State and Notre Dame had all offered by the end of June.

It wasn’t that Kmet liked playing football better than baseball, but with those kinds of opportunities, it was only natural that people, including Kmet, assumed football was his sporting future.

“The (baseball) scouts were in a little last year, noticed him, asked around,” Frank Kmet said. “At that time we didn’t want to look in that direction.”

They came back toward the end of the regular season this spring, but, “like everyone else, they thought he was football first,” Manno said.

A couple scouts persisted anyway. These were the guys who impressed the Kmets, who took the time to find out baseball was Cole’s first love, that playing in the Major Leagues might just be mean more to him than the NFL.

The Kmets engaged in serious draft talks with two teams, and Cole even staged a private workout for one of them.

The workout obviously went well, because prior to that team’s selection in the fifth round of the draft last Tuesday, Kmet said a member of the organization called and told him they would take him if he would sign.

The offer, though, wasn’t enough to pry him away from playing baseball and football at Notre Dame.

“They said they didn’t have enough history with me to make the full commitment and I understand that,” Kmet said. “I can look at it now and say, ‘What if I did that, what if I put myself out there more?’

“But I’m not a ‘what if?’ guy. Maybe if I got started a year earlier things would have been different, but I still get to go to a great university and get to go play both sports.

"Right now this is what I prefer anyway. No matter how much money, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to play Saturday football at Notre Dame, play baseball in the spring and get a great degree.”

TOP STORIES OF 2017

+ No. 3 - Cole Kmet, 2017 Illinois Player Of The Year
+ No. 4 - The Year of Alek Thomas
+ No. 5 - Neuqua Valley Goes From Preseason Unranked To 35-2-1
+ No. 6 - Teutopolis Wins Third State Title In Last Eight Years
+ No. 7 - Peoria Heights Wins First State Title In School History
+ No. 8 - Two Veteran IHSA Coaches Reach Milestone Victories
+ No. 9 - Ryan Sublette's Postseason Gem
+ No. 10 - Inaugural Metro East Kickoff Classic

PREVIOUS ILLINOIS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR 

2016: Mike Madej, 2B, Providence Catholic HS

2015: Bryan Hudson, LHP, Alton HS

2014: Jake Latz, LHP, Lemont HS

2013: Ryne Roper, SS/RHP, Harrisburg HS

2012: Zack Weigel, OF/LHP, Oak Park-River Forest HS

2011: Sam Travis, 3B, Providence Catholic HS

2010: Shane Conlon, LHP/1B, Naperville Central HS

2009: Nick Tindall, C, O'Fallon HS

2008: Jake Odorizzi, RHP/SS, Highland HS

2007: Jake Smolinski, SS/RHP, Rockford Boylan HS

2006: Connor Powers, 1B. Benet Academy HS

2005: Michael Bowden, RHP/3B, Waubonsie Valley HS