High school baseball in Illinois has thrived since the days of Lou Boudreau. Did you know that Nokomis, a tiny Montgomery County town of 2,300 located 50 miles south of Springfield, has produced three Hall of Famers--Red Ruffing, Jim Bottomley and Ray Schalk?
The list of major leaguers produced in this state is impressive. It also includes Ted Kluszewski, Kirby Puckett, Phil Cavarretta, Greg Luzinski, Dave Kingman, Denny McLain, Bill Skowron, Cliff Floyd, Tom Haller, Dan Wilson, Curtis Granderson, Bill Gullickson, Paul Splittoff, Jim Bouton, Brett Butler, Ray Fosse, Ed Farmer, Jim Clancy, Steve Trout, Jim O'Toole, Mark Grant, Wes Chamberlain, Dave Otto, Jesse Barfield and Mike Marshall.
While Illinois hasn't produced many major league draft selections in recent years--the class of 2005, which featured first-round pick Michael Bowden, was exceptional--the state has an exemplary track record and continues to send talented prospects to big-time college programs.
According to Sean Duncan, who covers high school baseball for the Sun-Times and is publisher of Prep Baseball Report, the state of baseball in Illinois is "very good." Historically, Illinois ranks fourth among all states for producing major leaguers and is annually is among the leaders in the number of draftees.
"For a cold-weather state, baseball in Illinois is very good," Duncan said. "The class of 2009 is down compared to past years such as 2005 and 2007. But this class isn't bad. It doesn't feature a lot of draftable players but there are a lot of good college players."
Why is the talent level in Illinois as good as it is?
"A lot of kids train year-round, even indoors," Duncan said. "The Chicago area is very competitive. There are a lot of good travel teams that play national schedules. And a lot of kids are involved in private training. Kids in the 10-12 age group participate on travel teams and play 100 games in a summer.
"I don't necessarily agree that all of that competition is good for young kids. But it isn't bad. It breeds better players. It all depends on who leads the program, what the kids are learning. They are better skilled than ever before. Some are well-training, some aren't. But so many more kids have raw skills, things you can't teach at an academy."
The summer is the big recruiting time for high school baseball players and Duncan annually evaluates as many as 10,000 kids, a game a day from June to August. He also runs scouting combines and has published Prep Baseball Report for the last five years. "I see more baseball than my wife would prefer," he said.
Among the leading underclass prospects in the Chicago area, according to Duncan, are shortstop Kevin Koziol of Brother Rice, catcher Jeff Jackson of Wauconda, pitcher Mike Foltynewicz of Minooka and outfielder/catcher Tim Barry of Oak Forest.