Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 18 Libertyville


By Andy Sroka
Illinois and Wisconsin Assistant Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on April 12, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next several weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2021 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, leading into a countdown 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 2021 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Libertyville
Preseason Rank: No. 18 
2019 Record: 21-14
Conference: North Suburban
IHSA Class: 4A
Head Coach: Matt Thompson

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Gavin Bennett C 2021 Illinois
Jack Gillespie RHP 2021 -
Jacob Johnson INF 2021 -
Connor Lockwood RHP 2021 Valparaiso
Conner Lutes RHP 2021 Northern Illinois
Dillon McDonald INF 2021 -
Matthew Robertson 1B 2021 -
Brady Wells RHP 2021 Western Illinois
Michael Addari RHP 2022 -
Jonathan Ciullo RHP 2022 -
Cole Collins LHP/OF/1B 2022 -
Connor Dickson OF 2022 -
Dylan Holmes C/INF 2022 -
Michael Kelly INF 2022 -
Brenden Max LHP/OF/1B 2022 -
Ryan Thrawl OF 2022 -
Connor Walters RHP 2022 -

STAT RAT 

Of the four arms expected to dominate the majority of the starter's innings on this staff, their average height comes in around 6-foot-4. Here's two who stood our just this past January:

At the Unsigned Senior Showcase, Libertyville righties Conner Lutes and Jack Gillespie both reached 88 mph highs with their low-spin, heavy fastballs. Similarly, the pair are also built at physical 6-foot-4 statures and utilize unique deliveries to home that make it extra tough to barrel up their arsenals. There's even more physicality elsewhere on this staff, as we'll get into later on.

X-FACTOR

Gavin Bennett, the latest Illinois recruit headed to Champaign via Libertyville, will be tasked with handling this talented crop of arms from behind the plate. It's a big responsibility, but his quiet and sturdy skillset as a receiver is the engine the powers this pitching staff. A capable, senior catcher will allow this quality rotation to pitch with the utmost of confidence that Bennett can suffocate balls in the dirt and stick pitches around the zone, further allowing Libertyville's arms to focus on dodging barrels and earning swings and misses.

Gavin Bennett (2/9/20)

Additionally, Bennett swings a simple left-handed bat that will be relied on near the top of the order. As deep as the Wildcats are on the mound, they'll need seniors like Bennett to take on a larger role in producing enough runs for their arms to push them over the finish line.

OUTLOOK

There simply aren't many, if any, programs in Illinois who can line up the number of strike-throwing, high-caliber pitchers day after day as Libertyville. In addition to the aforementioned Lutes and Gillespie, the Wildcats will lean on Valpo recruit Connor Lockwood as their go-to arm, most likely. Lockwood jumped out to our staff around this time last year, for his lean athleticism and loose/quick arm that produced mid-80s velocity compounded by swing-and-miss offspeed that he lands for strikes. A No. 1 option like this, flanked by fellow seniors Lutes, Gillespie, and Brady Wells, is practically as good as it gets – and there's juniors looming who are plenty capable of handling large roles as well, either in relief or in spot starts.

Connor Lockwood (2/9/20)

Speaking of Wells, the strong 6-foot-4 senior is yet another imposing on-mound presence. The WIU recruit has a high-spin four-seam fastball that we've seen into the upper-80s, though more effective in the mid-80s range seen last summer. Regardless, Wells is a talented arm for someone expected to slot in as a No. 2 or 3 starter, because he has front-line upside at this level, certainly.

Juniors Michael Addari, Jonathan Ciullo, Connor Walters, and Brenden Max are four of the 2022s who can expect to play roles in the Wildcats' season. Addari and Ciullo both attended winter showcases and reached 86 and 85 mph highs, respectively. Addari is an athletic 6-foot-4 athletic righty with a mid-80s fastball that possesses some swing-and-miss traits on its own, featuring spin and carry through the zone, and he can spin a breaking ball. Walters emerged at the O'Hare I.D., up to 85 mph with above-average spin and ride on fastball that could miss bats, too, in addition to a short, effective curve.

Max is a two-way athlete who will be more valuable as some sort of middle-of-the-order bat while operating a corner outfield spot. He'll hit near senior 1B Matt Robertson, whose right-handed bat owns this lineup's biggest power potential. Juniors OF Connor Dickson, DH/1B/OF Cole Collins, and OF Ryan Thrawl will fill out the rest of the order in some form. Dickson has lead-off upside, as a 7.05 runner with huge arm strength, topping 93 mph to home back at the O'Hare I.D., where he also recorded some impactful right-handed contact from his strong 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame. A breakout season from him could swing Libertyville's chances at a deep playoff run. Collins has left-handed bat strength that will bolster the middle to back-half of this order, too.

BOTTOM LINE

We've been used to seeing Libertyville as a preseason rank ahead of each IHSA Opening Day, but this year feels a little different. The Wildcats authentically own one of the deepest rotations in the state, and there's enough offense in the order to envision the combination taking this team to the top of the North Suburban, and beyond.

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2021 season.

Find more information on the 2021 Wildcats below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN