Prep Baseball Report

MLB Draft Recap: Illinois

By: Gavin Smith
Area Scout

The 2023 MLB draft was held in Seattle, WA this year with the first round beginning on July 9th and the final pick being called on July 11th. This year, just like every year, the state of Illinois was well-represented, and we’re going to spend some time dissecting those draft picks and their future destinations. We will break down the players that were drafted out of college and high school, beginning with the high school prospects.

drafted out of high school

Dillon Head OF / LHP / Homewood Flossmoor, IL / 2023

Round 1, Pick 25, San Diego Padres

“Clemson commit. Currently the No. 1 ranked prospect in Illinois, No. 23 nationally. Ultra-athletic, 6-foot, 180-pound frame, round shoulders with a developed lower-half, present strength with room to add on more as he continues to mature. Started in center field and hit out of the leadoff spot, finished the day 4-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, two runs scored and a walk. The left-handed hitter has a loose/athletic swing, staying short and direct to the ball with an aggressive approach in this look, going after the first couple pitches in his at-bats consistently. He has game-changing speed, jumping out of the box almost immediately after contact and is always looking to take the extra base, stealing two bags in this look while also recording a 4.13 down the line on a turn. Elite defender in the outfield with ulta-quick jumps, covering ground with ease. He boasts confidence and smooth actions to pair with a high-level arm, playing with back-spin and accuracy to his targets with clear life out of the hand. High-level 2023 draft follow.”

Blake Wolters RHP / OF / Mahomet Seymour, IL / 2023

Round 2, Pick 44, Kansas City Royals

“Arizona signee and one of the top pitching prospects in the country. Physical, prototypical starter’s like frame at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds. Took the mound for Mahomet-Seymour in an eventual conference clinching win, striking out 13 in a no-hitter, which was his third of the season. Simple delivery, rocks into his backside and stays on it to front foot strike, transfers weight efficiently. Closed throughout, works in line to target and finishes consistently onto a stable lead leg. Continues to produce high-end velocity without needing much effort. Fluid and continuous arm swing that has some length on the backside, finishes clean from a high ¾ slot that accelerates out front. Fastball sat 95-98 mph in the first, pitched in the low-to-mid-90s throughout, touching 96 in the fourth and 95 in the fifth. Easy with life up in the zone at times, controlled waned early but settled in as his outing went on. Threw a tight slider more often than we’d seen from him in the past in this look at 79-82 mph, landing it for strikes with consistency. Manipulated the action to it, creating more vertical break and downer spin as a get-me-over, while spinning it on more of a lateral plane for whiffs. Continues to ascend as a high-end MLB Draft prospect for this year’s cycle, drawing plenty of professional attention each time he toes the rubber.”

Zander Mueth RHP / Belleville East, IL / 2023

CB-B, Pick 67, Pittsburgh Pirates

Ole Miss signee and one of the nation’s top pitching prospects, slotted at No. 27 overall on the PBR National Rankings. Lanky, long-limbed 6-foot-6, 210-pound athlete with lean strength and room for more projection. Toed the rubber in a Southwestern Conference win for the Lancers, punching out seven over 4 ⅓ innings of work while surrendering only a hit. Loose, fluid, and rhythmic downhill mover, stays connected to the rubber, finishes onto a stable lead leg at footstrike with a consistent linear direction to target. Still developing a consistent feel for his long levers, is as good as anyone in the country when he’s in sync. Showed some mound presence and poise in this look, pitching through early adversity and dominating as the game went on. Long, loose, and continuous arm swing, finishes from a loose ¾ slot that accelerates out front of his body. Fastball sat 95-97 mph in the first, settling at 92-95 mph with rise and run traits at times, while also flashing sink into the lower half of the zone. Turned to his slider more often in this look, showing tight bullet-like spin at times, while landing it for strikes more consistently than we’ve seen this spring at 78-81 mph. Continues to garner plenty of professional attention each time he toes the rubber and is a name-to-know MLB Draft prospect for this year’s circuit.

George Wolkow 3B / OF / Downers Grove North, IL / 2023

Round 7, Pick 209, Chicago White Sox

“Making his PBR showcase debut on Sunday was OF/CIF Goerge Wolkow (Downers Grove North, 2023; South Carolina commit). Currently ranked No. 3 in the state and No. 40 nationally, Wolkow’s presence is immediately felt at first sight thanks to his sheer size; standing 6-foot-7, 237-pounds with broad shoulders and an athletic, trim build. He started off his day by running to a 6.75 in the 60, using long/athletic strides to gain ground quickly. At the plate, the left-handed hitter works with a fluid tempo into his load, using a short toe-tap timing trigger and quiet hand load before creating effortless bat speed through the zone and jump off the barrel. Throughout his rounds, Wolkow averaged 94.2 mph (T101.8 mph) off the bat with a max distance of 410’ (best of the event), staying short with his levers to work elevated contact consistently to the middle of the field and to his pull-side. He took defensive reps both at third-base and in the outfield, showing off a strong arm from both positions (T89 mph INF, T92 mph OF), pairing with steady hands and reliable glove-work, allowing him the ability to play either corner-infield position or patrol the outfield. His bat alone is enough to raise serious intrigue among the scouting community, but what really separates Wolkow from other ultra-large prospects is his athleticism and the ease in which he can create power.”

Jake Zitella 3B / SS / St. Charles East, IL / 2023

Round 16, Pick 486, New York Mets

Illinois commit. Currently ranked No. 14 in the Illinois’ 2023 class and No. 409 nationally. 5-foot-11, 195-pound, physical, broad-shouldered, right-handed hitting third baseman. Hit leadoff and played third base. Highly-impressive all-around day. Got things going right away with a leadoff home run in the top of the first inning. Followed it up with an even further home run in his third at-bat; this time a two-run home run to a similar spot in deep left-center field. Arguably his hardest hit ball was a double off the top of the center field wall in his final at-bat of the day. Finished 3-for-4 with two home runs, a double, three RBIs and two-runs scored. Selectively aggressive in the box with all kinds of presence and physicality. Long, fast swing with natural lift through the zone and some of the top bat strength in the Midwest (103 mph exit velocity with wood bat at the Preseason ProCase this winter). Zitella was just as impressive defensively throughout the day. He made a number of plays over the course of the game, testing his ability on the move, as well as his hands on a few in-between tough hops that he handled with no issue. Clean footwork, smooth double play feed, soft confident hands and advanced internal clock where he rarely had to show off his full arm strength. Arm played clean with feel and accuracy across the diamond. Continues to impress everytime we see him.”

Dominic Voegele RHP / SS / Columbia , IL / 2023

Round 20, Pick 595, Arizona Diamondbacks

“Kansas signee and amongst the top prospects in the state’s senior class, currently slotted at No. 9 overall. Athletic, well-proportioned 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame with lean strength and room to add more as he continues to mature physically. Took the mound for the Eagles in a Sectional Championship win, striking out 12 over 6 ⅔ innings of work, while allowing three runs against a top-ranked Father McGivney squad. Athletic and rhythmic tall/fall type delivery, stays connected to the rubber, works down the mound in line to target, repeats. Long and continuous arm path that finishes from a high ¾ slot, comes out clean with easy arm speed out front. Fastball sat at 91-94 mph, didn’t throw a fastball under 92 mph until the fifth inning, and touched 95 mph on the final bullet of the sixth inning. Plays straight, did flash late arm-side life at times in this look. Continues to spin the baseball at an advanced rate, utilized both of his breaking balls effectively in this look and threw them often with confidence. Curveball played at 78-82 mph with downer spin off an 11/5 plane, landed it for strikes with more depth and shape. Slider has more swing-and-miss traits at 81-84 mph with hard lateral break. Plays well off an arm-side fastball, comfortable spinning it for strikes while also spotting it out of the zone for whiffs. Also showed a firm changeup at 86-88 mph, using it mostly to left-handed hitters. Has a 1.16 ERA over 60 ⅓ innings at the time of this report, pitching to a perfect 9-0 record with 102 strikeouts to just 15 walks. Yet another dominant look at one of the state’s top arms, regardless of class, that continues to generate professional buzz each time he toes the rubber.”

drafted out of college

Jack Mahoney SS / RHP / St. Viator hs / 2020 (SOUTH cAROLINA)

Round 3, Pick 77, Colorado Rockies 

“Stepping up for the Gamecocks while Sanders has struggled and Noah Hall was lost for the season with an injury, Mahoney spun a gem during game two of the Arkansas’ series. He survived a few attacks by the Razorback hitters playing pepper with his shoe tops on high EV batted balls to post seven shutout innings on 90 pitches. He scattered five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. A big-time competitor, Mahoney showed control of four above average to better pitches. The strong-framed 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander attacked downhill with a 92-95 mph fastball that touched 96 a few times. The pitch had strong sink down in the zone and solid carry when elevated. He kept the Hogs off-balance with a well-located changeup to both sides of the plate. It was a plus pitch with sink and low-spin (1450-1650 rpm). Mahoney also showed two better than average breaking balls in his 78-80 mph curve and mid-80s slider. After missing all of the 2022 season with Tommy John surgery, he has continued his rise to become a potential top two round prospect for this summer’s draft. A very good athlete who was a two-way player as a freshman, Mahoney should be picked in the same area on Day One as his teammate Sanders.”

2023 STATS: | 7-4 | 84.1 IP | 86 H | 45 R | 39 ER | 8 HR | 29 BB | 84 K | 4.80 | 1.36 |

Isaiah Coupet LHP / Homewood-Flossmoor HS / 2020 (Ohio state)

Round 4, Pick 109, Colorado Rockies

“He has superb feel to spin both a slider at 81-84 and a big downer curve at 72-74. Early in the game, he relied mostly on the slider as his out pitch, then gradually started mixing in the curveball early in counts to steal a strike. He used the curve more liberally toward the end of his outing, and he even used it as the putaway pitch to strand the bases loaded in the fifth, ending his outing. He also showed a quality changeup at 83-87 to induce soft contact against righties — it doesn’t have huge action most of the time, but it helps keep hitters off his fastball, which was 91-92 early and mostly held at 89-91 throughout his 106-pitch performance.”

2023 STATS: | 4-3 | 50.2 IP | 41 H | 23 R | 20 ER | 5 HR | 16 BB | 72 K | 3.55 | 1.13 |

Emmett Olson LHP / Maine West HS / 2020 (Nebraska)

Round 4, Pick 110, Miami Marlins

USA CNT TRIALS: Another breakout star as a sophomore this spring, Olson posted a 2.86 ERA and a 65-16 K-BB mark in 66 innings for the Cornhuskers. He got hit around in his lone two-inning appearance for Team USA, but he still showed plenty of potential, with the makings of a four-pitch arsenal and good arm strength. Olson certainly looks the part of an innings eater at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. His delivery has some funk and features a very high leg lift, and he works downhill from a high slot. Olson’s fastball ranged from 91-94 and sat mostly 92-93 in our look, with low two-seam spin rates in the 1800s-1900s. His changeup was inconsistent but flashed above-average potential, serving as the strikeout pitch against blue-chip righties Dylan Crews and Brock Wilken. His 81-82 slider was mostly fringy but flashed average, and he also showed a below-average curveball in the mid-70s. Overall, it’s a nice pitch package and a great frame, making Olson an intriguing prospect who could make a jump up boards with a strong junior year.”

2023 STATS: | 6-3 | 82 IP | 68 H | 46 R | 41 ER | 14 HR | 30 BB | 80 K | 4.50 | 1.20 |

Christian Knapczyk SS / 2B / Joliet Catholic HS / 2020 (LOuisville)

Round 5, Pick 161, Cleveland Guardians

Knapczyk is the Cardinals’ engine and table setter at the top of the lineup. At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds he’s undersized and possesses traditional lead-off characteristics, including a patient approach, high level bat-to-ball skills and a heady presence on the bases. He regularly puts the ball in play (less than a 10% strikeout rate) while demonstrating a solid feel for the zone. As a defender he shows athletic, clean actions and an average arm that all play better at second base than shortstop. Most area scouts like Knapczyk, but are not sure how much they would pay to get him. Although his Blast scores bode well for the future, his current light ISO (.090) is an analytic red flag for many organizations. In pro ball those light on power are challenged in the zone and forced to put the ball in play, diminishing walk totals and therefore on-base percentage.”

2023 STATS: | 212 PA | 169 AB | 40 R | 56 H | 8 2B| 1 3B | 1 HR | 24 RBI | 19 SB | .331 | .455 | .408 | .863 |

CJ Weins RHP / 3B / Lockport HS / 2018 (Western KentuckY)

Round 6, Pick 178, Boston Red Sox

Weis started his collegiate career at Wabash Valley, one of the nation’s premier junior college destinations. In two seasons with the Warriors, he accumulated a 5-0 record with seven saves and 54 strikeouts in 27.1 innings pitched. He was also named an All-American in his freshman season at Wabash. Weins then transferred to South Carolina before transferring to Western Kentucky for his fifth season. After throwing a combined 22.2 innings in two seasons for the Gamecocks, he finally found his groove for the Hilltoppers, throwing 31 innings pitched and striking out 42 to only eight walks.

2023 STATS: | 1-2 | 31 IP | 18 H | 15 R | 15 ER | 2 HR | 8 BB | 42 K | 4.35 | 0.84 |

Jack Wenninger RHP / Cary-Grove HS / 2020 (Illinois)

Round 6, Pick 186, New York Mets

“A huge bright spot on the Illini pitching staff this season, Wenninger is a top 10 round prospect who topped out at 95 mph while showing three distinct off-speed offerings. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander began the year with an impressive start against Youngstown State where he set a career high in strikeouts with 11 and has continued his breakout season from there. With a tall and fall delivery Wenninger works downhill with a high release point. His delivery is very linear and slow-paced. He will likely find more velocity in the future by speeding up his pace and incorporating his hips and legs to help produce the velocity. He showed four pitches that included a 76-79 mph curveball, an 81-85 split change and an occasional 79-81 slider. His 12/6 curve is the best of the three showing big depth; maxing out at -17.8” and averaging -14.8” (MLB average is -9.0”). It's late drop into the strike zone froze some and whiffed others. For the season Wenninger has posted a 4.36 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched. He profiles as a back end starter on a MLB staff.”

2023 STATS: | 6-4 | 80.1 IP | 69 H | 42 R | 41 ER | 10 HR | 28 BB | 76 K | 4.59 | 1.21 |

Chase Gockel RHP / Edwardsville HS / 2018 (Quincy University)

Round 9, Pick 264, Los Angeles Angels

Gockel started his collegiate career at Parkland College, transferred to Charleston Southern, Illinois State, and finished his career at Quincy University, one of the top NCAA Division II programs in the Midwest. Struggling at his two previous stops, Gockel found time as a reliever for the Hawks, finding success in his time where he struck out 57 in 32 innings of work.

2023 STATS: | 3-0 | 32 IP | 12 H | 11 R | 8 ER | 20 BB | 57 K | 2.25 | 1.00 |

Charlie Szykowny INF / Shepard HS / 2018 (UIC)

Round 9, Pick 270, San Francisco Giants

Szykowny was a standout at Wisconsin-Stout for four years, batting over .300 in each of those seasons with 22 home runs, 96 RBIs and 47 extra base hits. He transferred to Illinois-Chicago for his senior season where capped off his stellar collegiate career with 16 homers and 55 RBIs, batting to a .355 average, earning him the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year Award. Szykowny finished off his collegiate career hitting .368 with 38 home runs, 151 RBIs and 61 extra base hits.

2023 STATS: | 237 PA | 203 AB | 47 R | 68 H | 11 2B | 3 3B | 16 HR | 55 RBI | 2 SB | 21 BB | .355 | .426 | .655 | 1.081 |

Riley Gowens RHP / Libertyville HS / 2018 (ILlinois)

Round 9, Pick 279, Atlanta Braves

Gowens missed the 2019 and 2020 seasons at the University of Illinois due to injury, but was able to play three seasons injury free for the Fighting Illini. Gowens earned All-Big Ten freshman honors after striking out 58 in 50.1 innings pitched in 2021, also earning the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Week in that same season. He finished his college career with 201 strikeouts to 71 walks, throwing 177 innings for the Illini.

2023 STATS: | 2-3 | 60 IP | 71 H | 47 R | 42 ER | 10 HR | 16 BB | 75 K | 6.30 | 1.45 |

Jack Payton C / Brother Rice HS / 2020 (Louisville)

Round 11, Pick 330, San Francisco Giants

“After splitting duties behind the plate last spring with Dodgers’ second rounder Dalton Rushing, Payton took over for the Cardinals behind the dish this season. Some high-level evaluators have seen a quality receiver with good side-to-side actions. Other scouts who have seen extended looks at his defense are not sold on his receiving, regardless of what the statistics show with only one passed ball this season. Payton also shows fringe-average arm strength and less than ideal arm action that leads to below average throwing accuracy. However, it’s his bat that draws the most interest. He shows a strong feel for the strike zone and generates good bat speed with a swing that keeps the barrel in the zone for an extended period of time. After leading the ACC in doubles (23) last season, Payton leads the Cardinals in all three triple crown categories with a .390 batting average, eight home runs and 27 RBI this spring. He has also stolen seven bases in 10 attempts. The crop of 2023 draft-eligible backstops does not present much depth, giving Payton a chance to really push himself up draft boards between now and July. He currently ranks fifth behind Kyle Teel, Calvin Harris, Luke Shliger and Jared Dickey. With offense over defense his profile is most similar to Dickey.”

2023 STATS: | 214 PA | 179 AB | 43 R | 67 H | 10 2B | 1 3B | 12 HR | 41 RBI | 8 SB | 22 BB | .374 | .472 | .643 | 1.115 |

Cole Conn C / OF / St. Charles East HS / 2020 (UIC)

Round 12, Pick 346, Oakland Athletics

Conn spent three seasons at Illinois-Chicago, and after an impressive freshman season where he hit 10 home runs with 34 RBIs, Conn earned Freshman All-American honors, was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year, and All-League Second Team. Conn led the team in home runs his freshman year, tied for second his sophomore year, and tied for third his junior year. He finished his college career with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and a .273 batting average.

2023 STATS: | 230 PA | 181 AB | 45 R | 42 H | 12 2B | 1 3B | 7 HR | 26 RBI | 16 SB | 33 BB | .232 | .377 | .425 | .803 |

Bryan Broecker C / 3B / Notre Dame HS / 2020 (Michigan state)

Round 13, Pick 393, Tampa Bay Rays

Broecker spent three seasons at Michigan State University, but only played two due to  redshirting his first season. In his first freshman year, Broecker was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team after a successful spring where he had eight extra base hits, 25 RBIs and a .271 batting average. He added more power this past season, hitting eight home runs, 36 RBIs, 10 extra base hits, and a .318 batting average. He was named to the Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Award Watch List.

2023 STATS: | 213 PA | 170 AB | 39 R | 54 H | 8 2B | 2 3B | 8 HR | 36 RBI | 1 SB | 31 BB | .318 | .441 | .529 | .971 |

Ernie Day RHP / Taft HS / 2020 (Campbell)

Round 14, Pick 427, Seattle Mariners

Day played two seasons at Iowa Western and posted an overall record on the mound of 8-1. He transferred to Campbell where he made 14 appearances and started two games. He struck out 28 in 21.1 innings of work.

2023 STATS: | 1-1 | 21.1 IP | 23 H | 23 R | 16 ER | 2 HR | 19 BB | 28 K | 6.75 | 1.97 |

Connor Oliver LHP / Oak Forest HS / 2019 (Miami OH)

Round 17, Pick 499, Kansas City Royals

Oliver started his career at Wichita State before transferring to Wabash Valley where he posted a 9-1 record on the mound with a 1.87 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 57.2 innings pitched. He then transferred to Texas Christian University before finishing his career at Miami University where he earned Second-Team All-MAC honors, finishing the season with a team-best 3.89 ERA.

2023 STATS: | 2-6 | 78.2 IP | 71 H | 51 R | 34 ER | 4 HR | 46 BB | 102 K | 3.89 | 1.49 |

Drew Pestka RHP / Carterville HS / 2022 (John A Logan)

Round 18, Pick 528, Cincinnati Reds

“Freshman. 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame, appears to be taller than listed. The right-hander sat 91-93 mph with his fastball, reaching up to 15.3” of horizontal movement with a max IVB of 17.4. He showed feel for his downer 11/5 breaking ball, sitting 74-76 mph (T2480 RPM). His final offering was a changeup with developing feel and action at 78-80 mph, playing mostly straight.”

2023 STATS: | 7-2 | 68.1 IP | 60 H | 36 R | 28 ER | 31 BB | 85 K | 3.69 | 1.33 |

Matt Jachec RHP / Hampshire HS / 2019 (INDIANA STATE)

Round 18, Pick 548, Cleveland Guardians

“Setting the gold standard in the MVC the past two seasons, Jachec is not a top round prospect, but he’s undoubtedly a top pitcher in the country (5-2, 3.13 ERA, .244 OPP AVG). He has consistently pounded the zone throughout his Sycamore career and has appeared on Control Artists each of the past two seasons, including our most recent update on April 25. His repertoire all starts with an average slider in terms of velocity and action, yet it plays up due to his plus feel and command. He can nimble with it to the better hitters and wipe out the weak in a lineup. The tailing life on his 88-91 fastball is just as impressive, consistently missing barrels and collecting soft contact outs.”

2023 STATS: | 7-4 | 104.1 IP | 101 H | 51 R | 47 ER | 15 HR | 17 BB | 104 K | 4.40 | 1.13 | 

Derek Salata RHP / 1B / Nazareth HS / 2018 (Illinois State)

Round 19, Pick 556, Oakland Athletics

Salata headlinded the Illinois State pitching staff in 2023, capping off a successful career in Normal. This season, he threw 75 innings and struck out 88 while pitching to a 4.08 ERA. Salata was also named the Collegiate Baseball News National Pitcher of the Week after tossing six innings with 11 strikeouts in a game against Belmont.

“vs Missouri: On the mound for Illinois State Derek Salata pitched the first three and two-thirds innings, mixing a 89-91 fastball with good down plane and a quality straight changeup.”

2023 STATS: | 5-6 | 75 IP | 72 H | 35 R | 34 ER | 6 HR | 27 BB | 88 K | 4.08 | 1.32 |

Ryan Ignoffo SS / RHP / Cary-Grove HS / 2018 (Eastern Illinois)

Round 20, Pick 593, Miami Marlins

Ignoffo played five seasons at Eastern Illinois, and really started to excel his last two seasons with the Panthers, posting a .395 batting average with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 2022, earning First-Team All-OVC honors for his efforts. Ignoffo led the OVC in batting average, home runs and RBIs in both 2022 and 2023, and in 2023 he earned first team All-Region honors by the ABCA and was a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.

2023 HITTING STATS: | 286 PA | 236 AB | 65 R | 79 H | 13 2B | 2 3B | 15 HR | 60 RBI | 29 SB | 36 BB | .335 | .434 | .598 | 1.031 |

2023 PITCHING STATS: | 1-1 | 44 IP | 36 H | 26 R | 24 ER | 7 HR | 24 BB | 49 K | 4.91 | 1.36 |