Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 3 Normal University


By Drew Locascio
Illinois Scouting 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: Normal University
Preseason Rank: No. 3
2019 Record: 28-9
Conference: Central State 8
IHSA Class: 2A
Head Coach: Steve Paxson

TOP PLAYERS

NAME POS CLASS COMMITMENT
Karson Bonaparte 3B/RHP 2021 Notre Dame
MacCallan Conklin  RHP/OF 2021 Illinois State
Daniel Mosele MIF 2021 Heartland CC
Trevor Young LHP  2021 Southwestern Illinois JC
Chase Adams OF/LHP  2022
Matthew Armstrong MIF/RHP 2022
Jack Bach RHP/1B 2022 
Carson Beal 1B 2022
Evan Jones OF/RHP 2022  
Evan Kochel C/3B 2022
Jake Swartz RHP/INF 2022 Illinois
Matt Sauser RHP  2023  Iowa
Charlie Vercruysse SS/RHP 2024

STAT RAT

7: Seven arms for Normal University topped out at 88 mph or harder during their tryouts. Of those seven, five touched at least 90 mph. On top of that, a total of 10 arms on their staff were 84 mph or harder.

UNDERCLASSMAN TO WATCH

Matt Sauser, RHP, 2023: Iowa commit Matt Sauser, has one of the higher ceilings in the class and continues to improve every time we see him. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound, long-limbed, projectable arm has some of the best spin metrics across the board for a 2023 with a loose/athletic arm action and polish to match. Sauser, up to 89 mph at tryouts, was also up to 89 mph at the Underclass Invitational where he put together one of the top ‘pens of the day. Sauser pitches with minimal effort and his mid-70s curveball has sharp/late action, spinning as high as 2,669 rpm in the past. With the depth of the arms on staff, it is still uncertain what kind of role Sauser will have this spring but he is a name to certainly keep on the radar moving forward.

Matt Sauser (9/16/20)

X-FACTOR

Evan Kochel, 2022, C: Given the abundant amount of high-quality arms the Pioneers possess, one of the biggest questions is who will be catching them all? Junior Evan Kochel, a natural corner infielder, saw the need the team had behind the plate and began to transition for the role. Kochel’s transition to behind the plate will arguably be the biggest key to Normal Universities success this spring. If Kochel can stick behind the plate and do the job needed, there are very few holes across the entire Pioneer roster.

OUTLOOK

The pitching staff that the Pioneers possess in 2021 is one of the most impressive high school staffs we have seen in a long time... and they are now in Class 2A. As mentioned above, there is all kinds of velocity within the staff but there are also high-level pitchers in the group as well, with four already committed to Division-I schools, and likely more to come. Of all the impressive arms they possess, two that have really stood out in early season work are junior RHPs Jake Swartz and Jack Bach. Swartz, an Illinois commit, has continued to see his frame lengthen out, now standing 6-foot-1, 165 pounds. At the Preseason All-State showed off a quick arm and fastball that sat 89-90 mph with his best secondary on the day looking to be a sharp curveball thrown with aggression at 78-80 and at an average spin rate of 2,324 rpm. Bach is 6-foot-4, 210-pound, uncommitted arm who we have seen up to 88 mph and by all reports has shown vastly improved command and feel for his three-pitch mix.

Jake Swartz (3/20/21)

In the same breath as Swartz and Bach, are senior RHPs Karson Bonaparte (Notre Dame commit), MacCallan Conklin (Illinois State) and juniors RHP Evan Jones and LHP Chase Adams.  Bonaparte, who is also one of the more talented position players on the team, has been running his fastball up to 92 mph while Conklin and Jones have been touching 90. Adams and senior Trevor Young also give the Pioneers quality left-handed arms to call on as well. Adams, who will see plenty of time in the outfield, is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound, left/left prospect who has been up to 87 mph for us with an average spin rate of 2464 rpm on his curveball. Young is a loose-armed left-hander with pitchability and has been 82-84 mph in the past but reports have him firmer early this spring. 

If that is not enough arms to try to take in, the Pioneers have a highly-athletic freshman, RHP/INF Charlie Vercruysse, who runs his fastball into the mid-80s and senior MIF/RHP Matthew Armstong, who will compete for a spot on the infield and pitches in the low- to mid-80s as well. 

Chase Adams, Evan Jones and MacCallan Conklin, three top arms mentioned above, are slated to start in the outfield for the Pioneers as well. Jones has big pull-side power in his right-handed swing, is 92 mph from the outfield and runs a 7.03 in the 60. 

Evan Jones (3/20/21)

Adams and Conklin are also equally as impressive with the bat as they are on the mound. Bonaparte, mentioned above, should be the everyday third baseman, when not on the mound. Bonaparte has a 6-foot, 200-pound, muscle-bound, strong frame and continues to improve his overall skill set. Bonaparte runs a 6.72 in the 60, is 89 mph across the diamond and has registered a 103 mph exit velocity in the past. He is a well-above-average defender at the hot corner with a big/accurate arm across the diamond and should sit somewhere in the middle-of-the-order with pull-side power.

Up the middle of the diamond should be Daniel Mosele (Heartland CC) at shortstop and Armstrong at second base with Swartz, one of their top arms, battling to see time as well on the infield. At first base, junior Carson Beal and Bach should see the majority of the time. 

BOTTOM LINE

The team is full of impactful juniors and seniors with the likes of sophomore Sauser and freshman Vercruysse ready to make an impact, if needed. It's a balanced offensive lineup with some speed at the top and bottom and physicality in the middle. The arms are as good as you will find anywhere in the state and they should be very steady on the infield, defensively. If Kochel can handle the duties behind the plate, this team should be one of the favorites to win state, in any class. 

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

Find more information on the 2021 Pioneers below:

+ Team Website

+ Team Schedule

+ Team Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN