Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 3 Janesville Craig


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

The WIAA high school baseball season opens on March 26, the opening day for prep baseball in Wisconsin.

Leading up to the opening week of action, we’ll be rolling out team-by-team previews, counting down to our state’s preseason No. 1-ranked program for the 2019 season. We’re combing over all classifications and corners of the state to determine our top-25 ranked teams ahead of what’s sure to be an historic campaign, with the merging of the spring and summer divisions into one single WIAA season.

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 analysis.

Our 2019 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Janesville Craig
Preseason Rank: 3
2018 Record: 23-6
Conference: Big 8
WIAA Division: 1
Head Coach: Victor Herbst
Playoff Run: State Semifinal
2018 Final Rank: 4
Returning Starters: 5
Returning Pitchers: 4

TOP PLAYERS

Name State School Class Pos Commitment

Dan Blomgren

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

SS

Michigan

Mitchell Woelfle

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

RHP

Air Force

Micah Overley

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

INF/RHP

Milwaukee School of Engineering

Clark Schmaling

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

C


Tressin Kussmaul

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

OF


Ryan Herbst

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

INF/OF

Wisconsin-Stout

Jacob Hessling

WI

Janesville Craig

2019

INF

Lake County CC

Eric Hughes

WI

Janesville Craig

2020

RHP/OF


Colin Hageman

WI

Janesville Craig

2020

INF


Connor Clark

WI

Janesville Craig

2020

1B/OF


Gavin Kilen

WI

Janesville Craig

2022

SS/RHP

Louisville


KEY PLAYERS LOST

Jacob Campbell, C (Illinois)
Noah Berghammer, SS (Minnesota)
J.J. Brennan, OF (Judson)
Ross March, INF/OF
Luke Malmanger, 1B

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Freshman Gavin Kilen is an exciting two-way prospect who committed to Louisville at the end of October before even stepping foot between the varsity lines at Craig. As one might expect, he’s an extremely gifted prospect and has the tools to contribute from day one in Janesville, on both sides of the ball.

Right now, his fastest track to varsity may be on the mound, given the Craig infield is so jam packed. Kilen is even ranked inside the top 100 nationwide, according to our national team. Back in October, just before he verbally announced his commitment, a member of our staff caught him at an event in Florida where he showed an athletic, quick arm. He’s 5-foot-10, 140 pounds, so there’s plenty of room for growth physically, but Kilen is already sitting in the 78-82 mph range with life. On the infield, he’s a natural defender, and though Craig boasts a handful of talented up-the-middle defenders, Kilen could find time on the dirt in some capacity, sooner than later. He hits left-handed and his size limits him at the plate, but only presently. As he continues to mature and develop, his smooth bat will get better and better – though, it might be too greedy to rely on him making progress at the plate in 2019, some have dropped the comparison of Gavin Lux on the young shortstop.

Gavin Kilen (10/22/18)


X-FACTOR

Our staff was happily surprised to discover junior two-way prospect Eric Hughes at the South Milwaukee Preseason I.D. earlier this month. He’s set for an everyday role on this Craig team as yet another dependable up-the-middle defender. Hughes will probably command center field defensively and looks the part from the right-handed batter’s box. He ran a 7.09 mark in the 60-yard dash at the event, too, and has top-of-the-order qualities. Hughes is a great candidate to relieve Dan Blomgren from the lead-off spot so Blomgren can drop one or two spots down to become the team’s primary run producer.

Hughes also worked a strong bullpen on the mound at Hitters Academy, and can really add to a steady staff. The 6-foot-1 righty sat 81-83 mph and was up to 84 mph with his running fastball, and backed it up with a solid breaking ball and an above-average changeup thrown at arm speed with fade.

He’s only a junior, getting his first reps as an everyday varsity player, but look for Hughes to take on a critical role for a Craig team looking for a couple extra anchors on offense – who also offers some added depth from the rubber.

Eric Hughes (3/3/19)


OUTLOOK

The Craig Cougars have made the trip to state in three of the past four seasons, and have the squad in 2019 to make it four in five, despite graduating one of the best players in its program’s history: Jacob Campbell. The backstop had a claim as one of the best defenders in the country and also offered Craig a ton of bat strength from the right-handed box. They lost four other everyday players who started in the state semifinal loss to Arrowhead, too, including current Golden Gophers middle infielder Noah Berghammer.

Filling in the blank spaces that were previously occupied by the likes of Campbell, Berghammer, and others is typically an impossible chore, but Craig is always able to restock on talent and its coaching staff, led by Victor Herbst, always seems to get the best out of his group each spring.

With Berghammer off Craig’s campus, senior Dan Blomgren should be able to coast comfortably to his left on defense to take over the shortstop position. If Kilen emerges as a contributor at the plate and in the infield, he could either fit as Blomgren’s up-the-middle partner at second base, or push Blomgren back to his previous home at third, where Craig might have a need in 2019. Either way, the Ann Arbor-bound senior is a top-10-ranked prospect in the state’s 2019 class and is one of the best defenders on any diamond he’s put on. He primarily led off for last year’s Cougars, and hit .365, but he might be asked to fill a more middle-of-the-order role with last year’s boppers gone.

Dan Blomgren (2/25/18)

With so much of last year’s run production graduated, seniors Micah Overley, Clark Schmaling, Tressin Kussmaul, Ryan Herbst, and Jacob  Hesseling will each have to take offensive gains in order to account for at least some of the machine-like offense that motored the Cougars back to state in 2018. Overley is a two-way player who’s set to be the staff’s No. 2, as he was last spring, but will also have some sort of important duty on offense, as he returns a .300-plus batting average from the left side. Schmaling has the unenviable task of replacing Campbell behind the plate, but he’s got the bat to help him get there, and he hit .310 with regular at-bats out of the DH slot last year. Kussmaul hit in the five-hole in the state tournament last year, Hesseling started at second, and Herbst was a utility piece. All three have expanded roles in 2019 and will be critical to the success of Craig this spring.

Joining Hughes as impact juniors on this team are Colin Hageman and Connor Clark. Hageman is an athletic infielder who’s another reliable glove in this dugout. He hit switch in the past, but only took reps from the right side in a March showcase. Hageman has a simple, level stroke with some above-average bat strength and viable speed on the basepaths. Clark should be able to offer his services at either first base or in the outfield, and we haven’t yet seen what he’s capable of first-hand from the batter’s box.

And while the aforementioned Overley, a second-team all-conference pick last spring for his 1.69 ERA, returns to his No. 2 spot on the staff, Mitchell Woelfle is back as this team’s go-to arm. The Air Force commit had a 2.70 ERA last spring but was counted on in this team’s biggest games, in a loaded conference. He pitched the entire game in the team’s postseason defeat to Arrowhead, a narrow 2-1 loss. Woelfle is a top-10-ranked right-hander in the state’s 2019 class and uses a heavy mid-80s fastball to get most of his outs. He’s been up to 87 mph in front of our staff before, and couples his fastball with a big 12/6 breaker, and also has a split-change that he relies on less often.

Woelfle and Overley will be integral all season long, but are especially important at the start of the spring, as the Cougars find their identity on a talented, but new-look offense.

BOTTOM LINE

In the last decade, there are a few Division-1 teams synonymous with success, and Janesville Craig is among them. The Cougars won state in 2015 and made it to the semis in 2018 with arguably its most talented roster in recent memory, but lost a heartbreaker in the bottom of the seventh.

Coach Herbst and his staff have encouraged this different-looking dugout to brush off and move forward in what’s set to be another year of state-bound goals on Craig’s campus.

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

Find more information on the 2019 Cougars below:

+ Full Schedule
+ Team Website
+ Twitter

PRESEASON POWER 25 COUNTDOWN