Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 12 St. Laurence


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: St. Laurence
Preseason Rank: No. 12
2019 Record: 35-6
Conference: Chicago Catholic League – Blue
IHSA Class: 3A
Head Coach: Pete Lotus

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Jimmy Gurgone INF 2021 Illinois Wesleyan
Jason Krol C 2021 Lewis
Mike Laudando INF/RHP 2021 -
Kevin McCormick 1B 2021 Evansville
Morgan McFarlane LHP 2021 Illinois Wesleyan
Anthony Tado INF 2021 Carroll (WI)
Osvaldo Ballesteros Jr. RHP/C 2022 -
Joshua Bell OF 2022 -
Ryan Carroll RHP 2022 -
Ty Czub RHP 2022 -
Mike Gentile UTL 2022 -
Jalen Headley OF/LHP 2022 -
Angelo Luna OF/RHP 2022 -
Dennis Helwig Jr. RHP 2023 -
Rodney Lester LHP 2023 -
Johnny Wendling INF/C 2023 -

UNDERCLASSMAN TO WATCH

Listed at 6-foot-4, 165 pounds, RHP Dennis Helwig Jr. stands out, literally, from the mound. A couple stellar performances in 2020 landed Helwig an invitation to participate at the PBR Future Games in August as one of the event’s few 2023 players. We got our latest look at Helwig at the Underclass Invitational last month where he was up to 87 mph, sitting in the mid-80s. His long levers and upside frame combine for a high ceiling, and Helwig’s present stuff should be enough for the Vikings to rely on him as one of their go-to arms in 2021.

Dennis Helwig (8/2/20)

X-FACTOR

St. Laurence is without its usual extensive list of impact seniors, but 1B Kevin McCormick is its best and most important. The Vikings’ success will ultimately be determined by how quickly their 2022-23 classes adjust to varsity gameplay, but seniors like McCormick can hold things down out of the gate. The Evansville recruit found his way into 10 games for the stacked 2019 squad, and his red-hot bat was vital to the team’s offense down the stretch. He hit .611 as a sophomore with three doubles, and relying on him to do the heavy lifting in his senior spring will be essential to St. Laurence’s chances to make it back to the 3A title game.

OUTLOOK

We’ve been used to calling St. Laurence one of the most experienced and deepest teams, on paper, in the state. While, yes, the Vikings’ depth chart is jam-packed across the diamond, they’re atypically young and inexperienced – and that’s factoring in the lost 2020 season.

St. Laurence projects to start a handful of sophomores everyday, including the likely choice to man the top of the rotation: Helwig. Fellow Class of 2023 players like C/INF Johnny Wendling and OF Luke Stulga help ensure continued success in Burbank, it’d also be fair to expect some growing pains to their youthful core while they come to adjust themselves to the speed of the varsity level. Wendling, just recently seen at the Underclass Invitational, has middle-of-the-order upside with his impactful right-handed bat. His best position might be catcher long-term, but his versatility will be most useful at third base, most likely, in 2021. As for Stulga, he broke out at an open showcase in the fall where he ran a 6.85 in a wiry 6-foot-3 frame, featuring a fast, simple right-handed swing that landed him a spot on the following ‘23 rankings update.

Luke Stulga (10/25/20)

This junior group will be especially critical to Laurence’s season, starting with OF/RHP Angelo Luna. He’s a high-level athlete who can provide his team with reliable coverage of any of the three outfield spots, and he should occupy a spot inside the top half of this everyday lineup.

Angelo Luna (6/14/20)

Juniors UTL Mike Gentile, OF Josh Bell, OF/LHP Jalen Headley, and RHP/C Osvaldo Ballesteros Jr. will extend the depth of this lineup and pitching staff. Gentile’s quick feet and above-average athleticism will help him fill any defensive gaps game in and out, and he has some inherent strength attached to his righty bat as well. Bell has a stout, strong build that shapes a right-handed swing that looks capable of becoming a source of run production. Headley’s a raw, highly athletic player with upside as a left/left two-way option for the Vikings to utilize. And Ballesteros is an aggressive mid-80s arm who might be best used in a high-leverage relief role.

Returning a senior like McCormick is crucial for a young squad like this one, and C Jason Krol also found his way into a lot of playing time as a sophomore in 2019. Krol played in 15 games during the Vikings’ runner-up finish at 3A state, and he hit .259 along the way. Senior INF/RHP Mike Laudando is another senior to monitor, as he’s expected to take on spot in the starting rotation, and he projects to be the team’s starting shortstop when he’s not on the mound.

More seniors like INF Jimmy Gurgone and INF Anthony Tado help underscore the depth of this Laurence squad, ensuring that the team’s daily lineup is without much of a weak spot; and LHP Morgan McFarlane should earn some quality appearances from out of the bullpen as well.

And, while Helwig and Laudando seem penciled into the top of the starting rotation, you can expect a few other names to compete for a starting role on staff. LHP Rodney Lester is yet another sophomore expected to see varsity action in 2021, and his skillset seems to fit the starter’s profile. Juniors RHP Ryan Carroll and RHP Ty Czub are a pair more arms capable of covering the back-end of this rotation efficiently.

BOTTOM LINE

Even inside the Chicago Catholic League, the Vikings have a hard-earned history of squeezing the most out of the talent they have inside their dugout. They’re a well-coached, fundamental unit that is accustomed to winning come playoff time, and it’s fair to call this group the 3A favorites yet again. Managing the youth and inexperience inside the lineup might make Coach Pete Lotus’ job a little more difficult in 2021, but it’s nothing this elite program can’t handle.

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

Find more information on the 2021 Vikings below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN