Prep Baseball Report

Top-10 Stories of 2021: Inaugural Illinois Summer Championships helps identify break-out prospects

By Andy Sroka
Illinois and Wisconsin Assistant Director

At the end of each calendar year, our staff reflects on the most interesting stories of the past year. Through the end of the month, we’ll be counting down some of the most impactful headlines that affected Illinois’ baseball community, ending with our No. 1 story of 2021 revealed on New Year’s Day.

This year, the PBR Illinois staff organized and hosted the inaugural Illinois Summer Championships from June 24-27, formerly known as the Illinois State Games. This event came together with one goal in mind: to provide a platform for Illinois-based programs to compete against each other in a more central location within the state, the brand new facility near Champaign called the Rantoul Family Sports Complex in Rantoul, Ill.

Year one can be considered a great success, as it allowed our staff to witness some of the state’s best players, ranging from ages 15U through 17U, helping us identify even more need-to-know prospects spanning the entire state.

Inside this piece, or No. 10-ranked story of the year, we’ll highlight some of the best performances at our inaugural Illinois Summer Championships, which will help us set the table for our sold-out 2022 event, set for June 23-26, and our new 13U and 14U event, the Illinois Junior Summer Championships, July 7-10.


Jack Bach RHP / Normal University, IL / 2022

The highly physical Bach is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and he showcased a fastball that sat 88-89 mph, touching 90, that exploded through the zone from out of the bullpen. Bach parlayed this performance into a leap up the state’s 2022 rankings, currently No. 26 overall, and is now committed to Central Michigan.

Henry Brummel RHP / Pontiac Township, IL / 2024

Brummel got the start from the mound on Day Two of the event and delivered three scoreless innings with a fastball sitting 83-85 mph early. Curveball worked 67-68 mph with 11/5 to 10/4 shape. Also, mixed in a mid-70s changeup to round out an impressive three-pitch mix. Brummel, listed at 6-foot-2, 165-pounds, oozes upside. The arm is loose, clean and quick and the ball comes out of the hand with ease, creating an exciting ceiling for this sophomore righty-hander.

Wandel Campana SS / 2B / Havana, IL / 2022

Campana was impressive for the Illinois Steel throughout the tournament. The 6-foot, 165-pound, wiry/athlete, hits from the left-side of the plate and has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup. He is a comfortable, confident look at the plate, lets the ball travel and uses the whole field. Campana’s confidence spills over to all parts of his game, defending with bounce, pace and sure-hands. Campana is comfortable on the move, plays with body control and his arm plays strong and accurate across the diamond.

Cole Crafton SS / 3B / Lincoln-Way West, IL / 2024

Crafton entered the tourney heralded as one of the state’s top ‘24s, already committed to Louisville, and he proved his status at the top of the class throughout the weekend. He has a 6-foot-2, 175-pound, highly-athletic, high-waisted, frame and has been driving balls with authority all tournament. Crafton is quiet and relaxed in the box with minimal moving parts; he stays short and quick through the zone and creates extremely easy bat speed. Crafton launched a deep home run to right-field in his second at-bat and then lined a double into the right-center field gap in his third at-bat of Day Three.

Eric DeCosta 3B / C / Wheaton Warrenville South, IL / 2024

DeCosta created some buzz early in the year as a high-follow member of the state’s 2024 class, and he made his presence felt at this tourney almost instantly. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound prospect is a physical right-handed hitter and he carries one of this class’ most potent offensive ceilings. DeCosta also took the mound in a relief role and pitched a scoreless frame where was up to 83 mph and he struck out a pair.

Sean Episcope RHP / INF / The Latin School of Chicago, IL / 2022

Among the tournament’s biggest winners was Episcope. His 86-87 mph fastball was living at the top of the zone, where its late life played especially well, generating plenty of swings and misses, compounded by a high-spin curveball measured at 2,500-plus rpm, 72-74.

Gavin Parkerson RHP / 3B / Armstrong , IL / 2023

Led the 16U Illinois Braves by throwing four strong innings and he struck out nine while allowing only one run. Parkerson is a compact athlete who reaches above-average velocity with a clear ease, and he showed the feel to dial the fastball’s velo up and down when necessary – up to 88 mph in the first, coasting in the mid-80s otherwise, as it was all he need to earn swings and misses at the top of the zone. He also utilizes a breaking ball that flashed sharp 11/5 action that he landed for strikes frequently. Offensively, Parkerson’s a right-handed hitter with a smooth, fluid swing, and he showed off the ability to use the entire field by smashing a triple off the right field fence, and launching a homer to his pull-side later in the game.

Tony Pluta RHP / C / St. Viator, IL / 2022

Pluta had really started to amass some interest in the spring at his high school, St. Viator, and it all started to come together in the summer. Here at this event, Pluta was productive offensively and looked the part at catcher, but he stole the show in a relief look from the mound on championship Sunday. There, Pluta sat in the upper-80s and reached back for 91 mph several times attached to a biting, aggressive slider that spun at a high rate. His live arm continued to tick up throughout the summer and fall, and he’s now committed to Arizona and he’s ranked inside the state’s top-25.

Matt Sauser RHP / Normal University, IL / 2023

Sauser’s a long-levered 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, and he reaches upper-80s velo with ease, touching 89 mph on the opening day of the tourney. He also showed off what’s become known as trademark high spin, snapping off some biting sliders measured in the 2,300-plus rpm range. The combination of his size and stuff makes him one of the top players in the state’s ‘23 class, and it’s a group that’s becoming an historic one.

Brady Small OF / Lemont, IL / 2022

Small continued to show as one of the top uncommitted hitters in Illinois’ 2022 class here at this tournament, now committed to Midwest JUCO power Iowa Western CC. Small has a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, strong, wide-shouldered frame and he steps into the box looking to drive the ball with authority. He features present bat speed and bat strength while consistently competing in the box and using the whole field. Small homered to left field off a tough left-handed arm in his first at-bat and then worked a long count, fouling off a number of firm fastballs before drawing a walk.

Jake Swartz RHP / Normal University, IL / 2022

The 17U Chicago Elite squad provided some late-night fireworks from the mound on the first day of the tournament, headlined by Swartz, who pitched five strong against a quality lineup, featuring some of the event’s most electric stuff. Swartz lived in the 88-89 mph range, reaching 90-91 at times, with premium arm speed he also applied to his breaking ball, 77-79 mph, a slider-like offering with short, late action that earned some ugly swings and misses under the zone – though he also landed a handful in the zone to catch batters looking as well.

Tanner Thomas RHP / OF / Arcola, IL / 2025

While pitching for the Illinois Black Sox’s 15U team, Thomas garnered a ton of attention right away, becoming a high-follow 2025 prospect in the process. He’s since committed to Louisville after a productive fall, Thomas kicked off his summer here at this event where he was up to 81 mph from a clean arm action combined with the advanced feel to spin a breaking ball. He climbed a few more ticks in the fall and landed an early commitment to the Cardinals along the way.

Jackson Ugo LHP / Andrew, IL / 2024

Ugo came in relief for Chicago Elite 15U Royal on Day Three, tossing four scoreless innings with five strikeouts. A lean, lanky frame, listed at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, the left-hander throws from a short, loose arm action out of a high ¾ slot. Ugo controlled the zone with a two-seam type fastball at 78-80 mph. He also flashed feel for the zone with an upper-60s curveball that spun off a 1/7 plane.

Ysen Useni RHP / Crystal Lake South, IL / 2022

Our first look at Useni since the 2020 PBR Future Games was a particularly good one. Useni, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound, physical, right-hander created tilt to his fastball, which he located at the bottom of the zone at 85-87 mph. Useni also showed a feel for a three-pitch mix; an advanced changeup in the mid-70’s and a 71 mph curveball.

Charlie Vercruysse SS / RHP / Normal University, IL / 2024

Playing up two age levels, incoming sophomore Vecruysse found barrels all game with a sharply hit single early on, and he helped pour it on late by slugging a homer in the final frame of the ballgame. He was one of, if not the, most impressive all-around performer of the tournament and used this platform to become one of the state’s breakout 2024 players, where he’s now ranked No. 11 overall in Illinois.

Blake Wolters RHP / Mahomet Seymour, IL / 2023

A recent Purdue commit, Wolters first emerged here at this tourney for the Yard Goats where the 6-foot-3, 175-pound, high-waisted righty K’d eight in a complete game effort. Wolters held his velo throughout sitting 82-83 mph, topping at 84, with a viable breaking ball that flashed potential to become a quality secondary offering.