Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 12 Jacobs


By Andy Sroka
Illinois & Wisconsin Assistant Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 14, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next two weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2022 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2022 preseason coverage continue today.

Team: Jacobs
Preseason Rank: No. 12
2021 Record: 25-8
Conference: Fox Valley
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Jamie Murray

ROSTER PREVIEW

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Drew Bennett INF 2022 -
Quinn Butera C 2022 -
Tanner Carlson C/DH 2022 -
Nathan Chapman RHP 2022 Eastern Illinois
Keegan Connors C/OF 2022 -
Owen Drummond RHP/DH
2022 -
Joe Fiorenza OF 2022 -
Grant Helbig 1B/RHP 2022 -
Brian Kobige RHP 2022 -
Peter Mitchell OF 2022 -
Anthony Edge SS/RHP 2023 Bradley
Gavin Feck RHP 2023 -
Nicholas Gottfried OF/RHP 2023 -
Caden Guenther UTL 2023 -
Christian Graves CIF/RHP
2023 -
Brandon Helbig 3B/RHP
2023 -
Nathan Jonas 1B/RHP 2023 -
Kyler Kennen RHP
2023 -
Ethan Looper RHP 2023 -
Nathan Martinko OF 2023 -
JP Merlak INF 2023 -
Jake Simpson OF 2023 -

KEY PLAYERS LOST

+ INF Kyle Washington (2021; Morton JC)
+ C Tyler Jacobsen (2021; Kishwaukee JC)
+ 1B/RHP Matt Smolzer (2021)

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

(2/12/22)

+ CIF/RHP Christian Graves (2023): Graves is one of the most impactful transfers that we can think of ahead of the 2022 season. Built at a brawny 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, it’s his expected two-way contributions that will welcome him into this dugout right away. His size naturally generates a powerful profile, and his right-handed swing contains some of the best bat strength in the class. Even among a talented field at Preseason All-State, Graves averaged the day’s highest exit speed (96.5 mph), and he swings with a violence that projects to help him clobber baseballs for extra-base hits on the regular. He’s also projected to earn time on the mound, maybe even in a starting role, harnessed with a fastball that sits in the mid-80s – up to 88.4 mph at Preseason All-State – that plays up even more so given its peripheral metrics. And he can also really spin a breaking ball.

X-FACTOR

(7/28/21)

+ SS/RHP Anthony Edge (2023; Bradley commit): It was a really productive year for Edge, who popped up in the preseason and went on to become a crucial two-way player for a talented Jacobs team, and as just a sophomore. He hit .310 and drove in 20 runs for Jacobs in 2021, earning over 100 plate appearances, but his work in a closer role was even more important to this team and the coaching staff. Edge allowed no earned runs in the regular season – and just one in the playoffs – and that was across 15 appearances and 25.2 innings. Over that time, Edge K’d a whopping 39 batters, walking only seven, and limited his opposition to just 17 hits. He went on to earn an invitation to join Team Illinois for the PBR Future Games, committed to Bradley soon after, and is now set to start at shortstop everyday for his high school, still prepared to lock down leads late.

OUTLOOK

Last year’s Golden Eagles were dominated by a mix of juniors and sophomores, yet they carried with them high expectations and they managed to meet them regardless, which is commendable on its own. Despite their youth and varsity inexperience, Jacobs opened on our Preseason Power 25 a year ago and went 9-3 in April, and were dealt a couple useful losses to more experienced teams like St. Charles North and Barrington that they learned from, helping them win 10 straight in mid-May that brought them into their critical two-game set with conference rivals Huntley.

They took it to the Red Raiders on the road, pinning them on the ropes in the seventh, though leads lost in the bottom of both the seventh and eighth might just underscore the inexperience they played with as errors in both half-innings were enough to help Huntley spur rallies and, ultimately, a win in game one. Two days later, the teams met in Algonquin where Jacobs fell short again, making it appear as if they were not quite ripe for state title contention. An unfortunate early exit from the postseason proved that to be true, but it also allowed for the Golden Eagles to look forward to its 2022 season brimming with optimism.

Now a year older, more experienced – returning much of their 25-win roster from last season – Jacobs is primed to compete alongside Huntley in the Fox Valley, with sights set on a deep playoff run.

They’ll miss one of their offensive catalysts, INF Kyle Washington (Morton JC), but they’ll hope ‘Newcomer’ Graves can inject their lineup with a different kind of run-production. Meanwhile, seniors C/OF Keegan Connors (2022), 1B/RHP Grant Helbig (2022), OF Joe Fiorenza (2022) will re-fortify the lineup that surrounds the aforementioned Graves and Edge, making for one very athletic group. Connors’ elite foot speed was used most often in the outfield last year, but he’s also a reliable catcher, and the graduation of senior backstop Tyler Jacobsen (Kishwaukee JC) has him set to take on the behind-the-plate duties, most likely. Connors was featured in the middle of this daily lineup, too, near Fiorenza who usually led off, and the two reached base in well over 40 percent of their plate appearances. Fiorenza, namely, put his speed to use by recording three doubles and three triples as a junior and he surprisingly connected for four homers, too, and led the team in runs scored (41).

Joe Fiorenza (3/20/21)

Junior OF/RHP Nicholas Gottfried (2023) should see more regular at-bats this spring, as a true switch-hitter who also sticks out for his athleticism on the diamond, much like his older teammates – and he’s also shown arm strength from the outfield that could be used occasionally in a relief role on the mound. More juniors like INF JP Merlak (2023), 1B/OF Nathan Jonas, 3B/RHP Brandon Helbig (2023), and OF Jake Simpson (2023) will help fill out the lineup capably.

RHP Nathan Chapman (2022; Eastern Illinois) is a true ace type, and he returns the most innings (47.2) and strikeouts (69) and he allowed only 14 earned runs as a junior, good for a 2.06 ERA. We saw Chapman at our inaugural Preseason ProCase in late January, showcasing his trademark four-pitch mix and upper-80s velocity that should help him overwhelm bats at an even higher rate this spring.

Nathan Chapman (1/29/22)

The staff that backs Chapman in the rotation might be Jacobs’ biggest question mark, but there’s talented options that should resolve those questions sooner than later in the season. Junior RHP Kyler Kennen (2023) is a projectable 6-foot-5, 185-pound arm who may just emerge as the go-to No. 2 on staff, and one you’re confident handing the ball to following Chapman’s turn in the rotation. He was up to an easy 82-84 mph early last summer, and it’s not hard to forecast an increase in stuff with an entire summer, fall, and offseason sandwiched in between looks. Graves and seniors INF/RHP Owen Drummond (2022) and RHP Brian Kobige (2022) are in line to earn more innings to fill things out, helping replace the 40 that graduated with Matt Smolzer.

BOTTOM LINE

Jacobs has the perfect storm brewing to upset FVC heavyweights Huntley – which will be loaded yet again in 2022 – but the combination of returning athleticism and experience gained in 2021 has the Golden Eagles eager to get back to work this season. This memorable Class of 2022 is one of the most talented in head coach Jamie Murray’s tenure, and the supporting cast of juniors is similarly robust. Jacobs returns four to its daily lineup and even more who began to earn more playing time by the season’s end, and its six returning arms have shaped a roster with genuine state tournament goals, repping a conference that’s used to producing authentic contenders.

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2022 season.

Find more information on the 2022 Golden Eagles below:

+ Team Website
+ Team Schedule
+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN