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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Cheer local for Eastern and Western Illinois

Two area schools might produce some talent for next year’s draft.

Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images

As I meander through the in-state Division 1 baseball schools, Eastern and Western Illinois seem to link fairly well. Neither were powerhouses in 2018, though both had multiple players from their squads play in pro ball in 2018. As such, even a team in a mid-major scenario with a sub-.500 record can have professional talent. Until you realize that, the entire point of tracking local schools can seem a bit pointless.

Eastern Illinois (Charleston) plays in the Ohio Valley Conference. The temptation would be to call the OVC a one-bid conference, but I doubt that applies anymore. Last season, Tennessee Tech advanced to the Field of 64 after being eliminated in the OVC tourney. Belmont, Austin Peay, and Tennessee Tech are entirely valid programs. I’d probably peg the OVC as a 1.7 bid league.

Eastern went 12-18 in conference, and 23-31 overall. Dougie Parks took his 15 2018 homers to the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, where his power failed to translate over 31 at-bats. Catcher Hunter Morris hit 11, and returns for his senior season. He may well have a pro baseball career awaiting him in June. Lefty hitting catchers with a degree of power and plate command when hitting often get a look.

Joseph Duncan, Jimmy Govern, Jimmy Huber, and Ryan Knernscheid provide more returning offensive pop than might be expected. As a squad, they hit .271 with an OPS of .797, hitting 64 homers in 54 games.

Their pitching was a bit unsightly in 2018. Their squad ERA was 6.28. Nonetheless, two members of the 2018 staff pitched later in the year in pro ball, including relief ace Michael Starcevich, who pitched well for the Southern Illinois Miners. I’d even go so far as to say he’ll probably get a long look in a minor league spring training chance.

6-5 Tyler Jones is their dude. He was 7-3 in 2018, and allowed less than a hit per inning. He fanned 54 in 69 innings. If he upgrades that even a bit, he should get drafted, mid-major or not. Teams have at least six affiliates to stock. If Jones improves, he’s worth a senior-sign deal, especially at 6-5.

The Panthers have an easy first weekend assignment in mid-February. They start against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Good luck with that. On the other hand, if Jones can avoid getting tossed into a volcano early, scouts might curry him some early props.

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Western Illinois (Macomb) has about as bizarre of a full season/conference record as I’ve run into. They were 17-31 overall, but 14-12 in the league. They were 3-19 outside of the Summit League. Their two innings leaders from 2018 were signed as non-drafted free agents. The Reds signed Ian Koch and Ryan Dunne.

The Leathernecks offense scuffled to a .255 average, a .670 OPS, and 20 homers in 48 games. Most of their offense, including Deion Thompson (six homers and .772 OPS) return. As Thompson also filched 17 bases, he’s the likely scouting draw, here.

Pitchers Javin Drake and Jordan Mikel look to be the top returning arms. As both fanned over a hitter per inning on average, either could be of interest. The Reds have seen them both pitch, likely.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone outside the area focusing attention on either side. However, if Charleston or Macomb are a 15-mile drive or less, they’d be very reasonable college follows. Both have talent that might be drafted, and your presence at any game would be appreciated.

Eastern’s schedule has been released. Western’s is still pending. I’d have no worries with the Cubs selecting either Thompson or Jones in the middle of the third day, on my pre-season expectations. Morris might even make sense in round ten.