October, 26, 2011
By Chris Webb | ESPN.com
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSBlake Hickman's future looks to be behind the dish. Here he is at the 2011 Area Code Baseball Games presented by New Balance.
What do Jason Kipins, Cory Luebke, Devin Mesoraco, Jarrod Parker, Drew Storen and Jordan Zimmermann have in common?
Outside of being some of MLB's brightest young stars, each played his high school baseball in the Great Lakes Region.
While high school players in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin may not have the luxury of the year-round baseball, these snowbird states year-in and year-out pump out elite talent.
Since 2007, when Luebke, Mesoraco, Parker and Zimmermann were top 70 selections, to this past June, when Andrew Chafin, Cameron Gallagher, Cory Spangenberg and Charlie Tilson were among the first 80 picks. Those seven states have combined for 42 draft picks in the first two rounds.
That number is expected to rise when the 2012 draft is included.
We highlight by position the top talent, then list a few more players expected to be drafted or early college contributors. Our first part is around the diamond, with catchers, corner and middle infielders.
One of the toughest positions to find an impact player, catcher, the Great Lakes is stockpiled with backstops capable of impacting a major college program or minor league system. Illinois is home to the top two in Jason Goldstein (Highland Park, Ill.) and Blake Hickman (Chicago), both 2011 Area Code Games participants. Goldstein, an Illinois-commit, edges out the Iowa-commit Hickman at this stage due to advanced footwoork, above-average receiving skills and a sub-1.85 pop. Goldstein is an above-average hitter who brings to the plate a good approach with a smooth swing and gap-to-gap power. Hickman is the better athlete of the two, displaying a mid-80s arm, a sub 6.95 sixty, and a 6-5, 210 frame compared to Goldstein's 6'0, 190 stature. But with raw tools, at the present time scouts view Hickman both behind and at the plate, a project that needs improvement with his footwork and release, while shorting his swing and working on timing.
Other notable Great Lakes catchers: Maxwell McDowell (North Hungtinton, Pa.; Connecticut-commit), Casey Schroeder (Ottawa, Ohio; Kentucky-commit), Scott Williams (Berwyn, Pa.; Virginia-commit).
Joining Goldstein and Hickman at the Area Code games was Kevin Ross (Skokie, Ill.), an infielder committed to Michigan. Currently a shortstop, at 6'1, 205, Ross presents a frame that projects for more growth, one that ultimately will see him settle at the hot corner. The future position bodes him well as he carries one of the region's top power-potential bats, good range and a plus-arm. At the plate Ross can spray the ball to all fields, while possessing raw power generated from a pull-approach, and outstanding bat speeed with an attacking uppercut swing.
In Central Ohio, Jeff Murray (Reynoldsburg, Ohio) and Zach Ratcliff (Blacklick, Ohio) have positioned themselves in the region as the top two first baseman. Both are true power hitters, Murray a left-handed hitter while Ratcliff swings form the right-side. Murray has a strong arm, generates good bat speed and carries a projectable frame. Ratcliff is a three-sport athlete who has the potential to see time in the outfield due to his speed and athleticism, while displaying a solid plate approach leading to above-average opposite-field power. The pair will stay in-state collegiality as the 6'4, 225 Ratcliff is committed to Ohio State and the 6'2, 205 Murray to Cincinnati.
Other notable Great Lakes corner infielders: Devin Pickett (Flossmoor, Ill.; Iowa-commit), Joe DeCarlo (Glen Mills, Pa.; Georgia-commit).
Jordan Striegel, a shortstop from Sellersburg, Ind., headlines the crop of middle infielders. With his quick hands and release, a strong arm and above-average range, the Louisville-commit is one of few regional shortstops that a move elsewhere on the diamond is not immediately needed. His defense is combined with a compact, line-drive producing swing, and good speed to make him a solid all-around player.
While currently a shortstop, Travis Maezes (Ann Arbor, Mich.) lags the quick release and ideal rangel for shortstops, but the tools the Michigan-commit possesses will keep him on the diamond. The left-handed hitter has power potential with a controlled smooth swing that sees him barrell up balls and quick to pitches inside. With an above average arm and good speed, Maezes could be suited for second or third base, the outfield, and even catcher where he has a sub 1.90 pop, but lacks development.
Other notable Great Lakes middle infielders: Matt Dauby (Indianapolis;Virginia Tech-commit), Kenny Koplove (Philadelphia; Duke-commit), Forrest Perron (Strongsville, Ohio; Cincinnati-commit).
Chris Webb has covered Midwestern college baseball since 2009 for Buckeye State Baseball as well as in his own personal blog The Webb Log (ChrismWebb.com). Chris is in his second year of covering the area's high school baseball and recruiting for Prep Baseball Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @ChrisMWebb