Top-10 Stories of 2019: No. 4 Former IL standouts go from college to the pros

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer, Associate Scout

Last June’s MLB Draft was packed with former Illinois prep standouts who only got better in college. Every year, we’ve become accustomed to watching former Illinois prepsters get to hear to their names called (or called again) en route to fulfilling their Major League dreams. This year was no different, led by LHP Antonie Kelly (Maine East, 2018) who spent one season thriving at Wabash Valley JC which helped him go from the 381st overall pick in the draft out of high school to the 65th overall selection in 2019. He was a hulking 6-foot-5 lefty at Maine East and continued trending up as a raw flame-throwing southpaw at the JUCO level. He was selected in the second round in June by the Brewers.

Antoine Kelly (4/13/19)

Middle infielder Michael Massey wrapped up his prep career at Brother Rice as the No. 21-ranked prospect in the state and really began to hone his craft at Illinois where he hit .330 as a freshman and kept up a similar momentum throughout his three years with the Fighting Illini. Ultimately, he landed a fourth-round pick with the Royals.

SS Tyler Fitzgerald was one of the top prep talents in the country coming out of Rochester High in 2016, ranked No. 34 nationally, No. 120 on the PBR Draft Board, and was the No. 2-ranked prospect in Illinois’ ‘16 class. After an uneven freshman year, he picked things up as a sophomore and totally took off as a junior, where he hit .315 with eight homers and a team-high 65 RBIs all while operating as the team’s everyday shortstop. The San Francisco Giants called Fitzgerald’s name in the fourth round.

Tyler Fitzgerald (2/7/16)

The Illinois State program has been gaining some serious mid-major momentum for awhile now and Jon Rave (Bloomington Central Catholic, 2016) is just the latest Redbird product turned pro. Rave started almost every single game in his three years in Normal. He’d generated a reputation as one of the best defenders in the country for his work in center field and he also slashed .347/.402/.571 as a sophomore. He took a slight step back offensively as a junior, but Rave was still plenty good enough to hear his name called in the fifth round of the MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals.

The New Trier product, LHP Ben Brecht (2016), started 16 games as a junior and punched out 101 batters in 90 innings attached to a 4.10 ERA. His junior-year statistics, in combination with his huge 6-foot-7 frame and left-handedness, carried him to the fifth round of the MLB Draft where the Rays selected him out of UC-Santa Barbara.

Cooper Johnson (Carmel Catholic, 2016) was the top-ranked prospect in our state’s 2016 rankings, primarily for his defense. His defined 6-foot frame worked exceptionally well from behind the plate and it earned him praise as the top prep catcher in the country coming out of high school. For the most part, that reputation remained intact at Ole Miss, but his bat has somewhat lagged behind despite carrying some real pop. Regardless, Johnson has a chance to be a sixth-round steal for the Detroit Tigers.

Cooper Johnson (2018 Cape Cod)

Vanderbilt’s Drake Fellows was a high-profile righty out of Joliet Catholic and he was one of the few arms to walk onto head coach Tim Corben’s campus as a freshman and make an instant impact. He was the team’s Friday starter as a sophomore and its go-to arm again as a junior, finishing his career with 308 strikeouts, good for sixth all-time in Vandy’s history. He’ll take his reliability to the San Diego Padres’ system, where he was drafted with the team’s sixth-round pick.

Drake Fellows (2/7/16)

RHP Tanner Gordon (Champaign Central, 2016) spent two years at John A. Logan before transferring to Indiana where he pitched very well in his first year on a Big Ten campus. He flew under the radar as a prepster but his success at Logan and eventually at Indiana helped him break through onto the pro radar where he was eventually drafted in the sixth round by the Braves.

From Belleville East, Drew Millas followed up his brilliant sophomore season at Missouri State with another solid junior spring. He was one of the best hitters on a strong Bears squad in 2018, leading the team in RBIs (61) with seven homers. Last spring, Millas hit .275 with five homers, but he still earned his seventh-round selection by the Oakland A’s.

LHP Brent Headrick (Reed-Custer, 2016) is another ISU Redbird who earned a nod in last June’s MLB Draft. He led the Missouri Valley with 115 Ks in 96 innings of work and recorded an ERA of 3.47, too. Headrick’s 2019 on-field highlight was, no-doubt, his 14-K performance against the Big Ten champs, Indiana, in the NCAA tournament. The Twins picked Headrick in the ninth round, capping a big 2019 for the former Reed-Custer standout.

Fighting Illini senior Jack Yalowitz (Loyola Academy, 2015) wrapped up his collegiate career in 2019 and ultimately landed as a 10th-round pick in the draft when the Colorado Rockies selected him on Day Two. He hit .295 last year with 21 extra-base hits, including five homers, and was a steady force in Illinois’ competitive lineup. His senior season was a big bounceback from a down junior year and he’ll get a shot at pro ball now because of it.