The 2015 Major League Baseball Draft marked one of the most memorable weeks in Midwest Collegiate history.
The league’s ability to aid in the developmental process of professional talent was on full display as nine players who at one time donned MCL uniforms gained entrance into professional baseball via the annual June draft.
When the draft ended and the league had lifted its drafted player total to 26, it was only the beginning of a successful summer for MCL alumni.
Former DuPage County Hounds infielder Paul DeJong, the first MCL name called in this year’s draft, was selected in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Illinois State. It only took 10 games with Johnson City of the Appalachian Rookie League for the Cardinals to give DeJong the first promotion of his pro career.
DeJong compiled a .486 average, boasted a .578 on-base percentage, launched four home runs and racked up 15 RBIs in only 37 at-bats at Johnson City. Those numbers earned his advancement to the Class-A Midwest League. He batted .288 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 56 games for the Peoria Chiefs.
Between the two levels, DeJong finished his first professional season with a .316 batting average. DeJong played multiple positions throughout college, but the Cardinals made him a full-time third baseman.
After the season, John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com profiled DeJong as a “Prospect on the Rise” in the Cardinals organization. Sickels described DeJong as a player from the college ranks who outperforms his natural tools and made comparisons to Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter.
DeJong is expected to be a top 20 prospect in the Cardinals organization when preseason lists are released and will likely start the year at High-A Palm Beach.
“I want to thank the Midwest Collegiate League for helping me,” DeJong said in an interview in June. “They were a part of my development and allowed me to get better at the game. They obviously made a difference in where I got today, especially Sean Osborne with the Hounds organization. They couldn’t have been more gracious.”
After being taken in the ninth round by the New York Mets, former Southland Vikings outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski continued the success that he enjoyed during his senior season at Evansville in the spring. After leading all Division-I players in batting average (.465) and triples (nine) with the Purple Aces, he reported to the Appalachian Rookie League to play for Kingsport.
Kaczmarski enjoyed strong success in 2016, batting .355 with a .415 OBP and 20 stolen bases in 64 games. Kaczmarksi and DeJong both made their professional debuts in the same late-June series between Johnson City and Kingsport. DeJong debuted on June 23, and then both former MCL stars played in the second and third games of the series.
Kaczmarski was named a 2015 Appalachian League All-Star and finished the year as the league’s batting average champion.
Former Vikings slugger Jeff Boehm was picked in the 13th round by the Angels out of UIC. He reported to Orem out of the Pioneer Rookie League, where he batted .306 with 45 RBIs in 65 games. Following the season, Boehm was ranked as the No. 72 prospect in the Angels organization by Scout.com.
Former DeKalb County Liner Luke Harrison, who owns one of two no-hitters in MCL history, thrived in his first season playing for State College, the Cardinals’ Class-A affiliate in the New York Penn League. He posted a sparkling 1.02 ERA in 17 relief appearances.
Former MCL players Jake Lanning (2012 Rockford Foresters) and Kurt Hoekstra (2013 Foresters) were teammates this summer on the Danville Braves in the Appalachian League. Lanning batted .273 in 40 games, while Hoekstra hit .257 in 48 games.
Ryan Hinchley (DuPage County Hounds / UIC) went 3-2 in 26 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for Great Falls, the Rookie Ball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Tyler Follis (2012 Illinois Lincolns) batted .282 in 23 games for the Boise Hawks, the Class-A Short Season affiliate of the Rockies. Josh DeGraaf (2013 Zephyrs) posted a 3.30 ERA in 17 games (three starts) in the Blue Jays organization, splitting time between Rookie Ball Bluefield and Class-A Short Season Vancouver.
While 2015 marked the largest number of MCL draftees in league history, players from previous draft classes also continued their professional careers during the 2015 season. Justin Ringo, who played with the Southland Vikings during his MCL days, was DeJong’s teammate with the Peoria Chiefs. This was Ringo’s third professional season. Danny Lietz, drafted by the Blue Jays in 2013, pitched in 15 games and made five starts in Rookie Ball and Class-A in the Toronto organization.
Matt Borens (2012 CrackerJacks) appeared in 15 games and had nine starts in the Yankees organization this season. Tomas Michelson (2014 DuPage County Hounds) pitched in 15 games for Hudson Valley, Tampa Bay’s Class-A affiliate.
One former MCL player has reached the ultimate goal of playing Major League Baseball. Just two years after playing in the league with the Illinois Jayhawks, Tony Cingrani made his big league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. He has now appeared in 74 games and compiled a 3.84 ERA in four big league seasons.
With each passing winter day, the start of the 2016 Midwest Collegiate League season draws nearer. As that takes place, the MCL grows closer to welcoming in its next crop of players looking to develop their talent and hone their skills in a competitive summer setting.
Photo Credit: Allison Rhoades/Peoria Chiefs.