Reigning MVC Champions Announce Fall Signing Class
NORMAL, Ill. - Six student-athletes have signed National Letters of Intent to play baseball at Illinois State, including a Prep Baseball Report top-five prospect, the Redbird baseball office announced Wednesday.
The 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Champions inked three infielders, including Matt Anderson (Hinsdale, Ill.) Zac Johnson (Bloomington, Ill.) and Joe Kelch (East Peoria, Ill.). Three pitchers, including left-handers Dylan Craig (Murphysboro, Ill.) and Joel Learnard (Catlin, Ill.), and right-hander Chris Razo (Chillicothe, Ill.), also signed to play for the Redbirds. Craig is the No. 5 prospect in the 2011 Illinois class according to the latest Prep Baseball Report rankings.
"We are proud to announce this group as future members of Redbird baseball," said ISU head baseball coach Mark Kingston. "They are very talented and have the work ethic that is vital in our program. Assistant coach Bo Durkac worked extremely hard putting this class together, with the assistance of Bill Mohl and Mike Current. These guys all have great futures and we are excited that they have decided to join our program. This is a great time for Redbird baseball."
With the signing of Johnson, the 2012 Redbirds will feature four Bloomington-Normal natives, and Johnson has connections to each of the other three. As a Normal Community graduate, Johnson played with sophomore outfielder Chad Hinshaw. Johnson also has ties to Normal West graduate and freshman infielder Brock Stewart, because Johnson's father, Tim, was ISU's pitching coach under Stewart's father and former Redbird head coach, Jeff Stewart. Additionally, Johnson and Bloomington High School graduate and freshman infielder Bryan Huff played together at Heartland Community College during 2010.
Johnson and Razo are both in their sophomore seasons at Heartland Community College. They are the only junior college transfers in the six-man signing class, and with their addition to the roster, the 2012 Redbirds will feature a total of five Heartland transfers.
The 2011 Illinois State baseball season begins Feb. 18 at Belmont, as the Redbirds begin the quest to defend their Valley title.
Matt Anderson | INF | Hinsdale, Ill. | Hinsdale Central
Notable: Hit .436 with 13 doubles and five home runs as a junior ... named to the West Suburban Silver All-Conference team, and earned all-area selections from Pioneer Press and Suburban Life ... as a sophomore, hit .414 with four home runs and seven doubles.
Mark Kingston on Anderson: "Matt is as good a pure hitter as we saw this summer. He has a pure left-handed swing with plus power. He is a good defender who has shown the ability to play third base, shortstop and second base well. He works very hard at the game, and we cannot wait to continue his development."
Tom Dorrance (Hinsdale Central) on Anderson: "Matt is one of the best pure hitters that I've had in my 25 years of coaching. His swing is effortless. His defense benefits from a very strong arm and quick hands. Despite all of his abilities, accolades and competitiveness, Matt remains humble and down to earth. He is an extremely coachable young man. I expect Matt to have an outstanding career at ISU."
Marc Cuseta (Bayside Yankees) on Anderson: "Every once in a while, you get a player who has that `gleam in his eye,' that burning desire to not only be a great player, but a great teammate and a team leader who elevates all the players around him to their maximum potential. Matt possesses that positive energy and is a pleasure to be around, both on and off the baseball field. Matt is going to be an impact player on the Division I college level. His ability to process information and make in-game adjustments will take him a long way in baseball, far beyond the college level."
Dylan Craig | LHP | Murphysboro, Ill. | Murphysboro
Notable: Listed as the fifth overall 2011 Illinois prospect and No. 1 left-handed pitcher according to the current Prep Baseball Report ... has amassed a high school career ERA of 1.97, striking out 276 with 65 walks, 11.5 strike outs per game, a .373 batting average and 13 home runs in three seasons ... earned Southern Illinois River to River All-Conference and All-South honors ... also received all-conference recognition in basketball ... was a linebacker, wide receiver, kicker and punter for Murphysboro's football team.
Mark Kingston on Craig: "Dylan has been ranked as the best high school lefty in the state. He is a gifted athlete who makes pitching look easy. His fastball is in the upper eighties, and his off-speed pitches have a chance to be very good. With his size and athleticism, we see a great future here for Dylan."
Jeff Keener (Murphysboro) on Craig: "Dylan will be a four-year baseball starter this spring for Murphysboro High School. He is an outstanding baseball talent who does everything he is asked and then some. I am very glad he is going to an excellent baseball program. Illinois State is getting not only a great player, but also a great competitor and kid. Dylan is the type of kid that if you know, you will root for, and now we will be rooting for ISU as well."
Joe Kretz (Southern Illinois Bullets) on Craig: "Dylan is the type of kid that every coach would like to have play for his team. He is a hard worker who is always looking to improve his abilities. He is a great athlete who excelled in three sports at the high school level. On the mound, Dylan is a fierce competitor who welcomes the challenge of the opposing team's best hitters. Dylan has the ability and drive to do well at Illinois State."
Zac Johnson | INF | Bloomington, Ill. | Heartland CC | Normal Community
Notable: Hit .358 with 62 hits and 47 RBI as a freshman for a Heartland team that was 45-11 ... named All-Midwest Athletic Conference Second Team and Academic All-Conference ... played with future teammates Eric Aguilera, Bryan Huff and Chris Razo ... while at Normal Community, earned 2008 All-Big 12 Conference honor ... also received football all-conference recognition as a quarterback ... son of former ISU pitching coach, Tim Johson.
Mark Kingston on Johnson: "Zac is the best junior college hitter in the state this year. A shoulder injury slowed his progress, but now that he is healthy, he has shown an advanced feel for hitting. He comes from a baseball family and has a good understanding of the game. With his size and pure swing, he should have a nice impact."
Ryan Short (Normal Community) on Johnson: "I'm extremely excited that Zac has committed to continue his academic and baseball career at Illinois State beginning in the fall of 2011. Zac was a three-year starter at Normal Community High School before being unable to play his senior season due to injury. Zac was an excellent defensive shortstop at NCHS and a solid offensive player as well. Zac is a very talented young man whose best baseball is surely ahead of him."
Nate Metzger (Heartland Community College) on Johnson: "Zac is a true student-athlete, excelling in the classroom and on the field. He has the ability to defend very well as a corner infielder, and he also has a very good gap-to-gap, line-drive swing that should produce plenty of hits in the MVC."
Joe Kelch | INF | East Peoria, Ill. | East Peoria
Notable: As a junior, hit .527 with 44 runs scored to lead East Peoria to a share of the Mid-Illini Conference title ... earned 2010 Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 3A All-State selection ... named to the 2010 Peoria Journal Star All-Area baseball team ... as a sophomore, hit .536 with 48 runs scored to help the Raiders to a share of the conference championship ... in three years as a varsity starter, Kelch is 90-for-91 in stolen bases ... also earned all-conference and all-area recognition for basketball.
Mark Kingston on Kelch: "Joe is as exciting a player as I saw all summer. He is a 6.5 (60-yard dash) runner who can really make things happen on the bases. He also has an extremely quick bat and can drive the ball. Defensively, he has the versatility to play infield or outfield. Most importantly, he is a true gamer who loves to play the game and will run through a wall to win."
Ben Diggle (Central Illinois Outlaws) on Kelch: "Joe is that rare player who possesses both the talent and the drive to be successful as he moves up the ladder of the baseball world. In short, he's a very talented grinder. I am thrilled that he has chosen a collegiate home where he will get top-flight coaching and a chance to prove he can compete with the very best players in the country, and I have no doubt that he will."
Joel Learnard | LHP | Catlin, Ill. | Catlin
Notable: Went 8-2 with a 0.80 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched as a junior ... hit .396 with nine home runs and 40 RBI ... received All-Vermilion County and All-Vermilion Valley Conference honors in both baseball and basketball, and was named to the IHSA 1A All-State teams in both sports ... first cousin of current Redbird pitcher JD Learnard.
Mark Kingston on Learnard: "Joel has as much upside as anyone. Left-handed pitchers who are as big and athletic as he is are hard to find. He has good arm strength and a feel for his offspeed pitches. With development, Joel could really be something special."
Gary Hansgen (Catlin) on Learnard: "Joel is a top-notch student and an all-conference, all-county and all-state performer in both baseball and basketball. Joel has taken the right steps to be where he is today. He has learned to compete hard and is very respected for his ability to control a game. Along with pitching, he can also hit from the plate with good power. Joel hit four-consecutive homers in one stretch. He is the best first baseman I've had here in my 30 years as a head coach. I think he will be a great fit on the fastest-improving program in the MVC."
Kevin Koslofski (Decatur Commodores) on Learnard: "Rarely will you find a young man with this much ability with the character to match. Joel has what it takes to become a big-game pitcher at the Division I level, and I know the staff at ISU will help him unlock his tremendous upside potential. The sky is the limit for Joel."
Chris Razo | RHP | Chillicothe, Ill. | Heartland CC | Illinois Valley Central
Notable: As a freshman at Heartland, amassed a 9-3 record with a 3.98 ERA in 61 innings pitched for a team that was 45-11 ... played with future teammates Eric Aguilera, Bryan Huff and Zac Johnson ... while playing for Illinois Valley Central, was a four-time All-North Central Illinois Conference selection ... earned Peoria Journal Star 2009 Co-Player of the Year and four-time all-area selection honors ... helped the Grey Ghosts to a 130-24 record during his four years of varsity baseball, including a 2006 state championship and a 2008 second-place finish ... also earned all-conference football honors as quarterback and punter.
Mark Kingston on Razo: "Chris is as intense a competitor as you will see on the mound. His fastball will reach 91, and his slider is a true `out' pitch. He wants the ball in big situations, and he thrives on the pressure of big games. He is a winner, and I know Coach Mohl can't wait to start working with him."
Jerry Rashid (Illinois Valley Central) on Razo: "Chris Razo has been a great ballplayer since his freshman year in high school, when he helped lead IVC to a state championship in 2006 and to a second-place finish in 2008. He has shown great competitiveness and leadership throughout his career and will be a great asset to the ISU baseball program. The Redbirds have a winner in Razo."
Nate Metzger (Heartland Community College) on Razo: "Chris Razo is a top-of-the-rotation right-handed pitcher who has good feel for four pitches. Chris really knows how to compete, and his work ethic is very good. Chris should have a very good career in a Redbird uniform, and he should end up as a pretty good draft pick for someone."