Chad Spanberger and Tanner Houck are two of the top senior baseball players in Southern Illinois. They see each other so often at showcases and camps they have developed a good friendship.
Both were among the most sought after players in the region and both have a legitimate shot at being selected in the Major League Draft next June.
Spanberger, a hard-hitting catcher from Granite City, will sign with the Arkansas Razorbacks this week. Houck, a 6-foot-5 right-hander from Collinsville, is signing with the Missouri Tigers.
They are part of a strong crop of metro-east senior baseball recruits landing numerous Division I scholarships.
The list includes Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruits Ryan Netemeyer (Mascoutah) and Michael Klein (Wesclin), Eastern Illinois recruit Joe Duncan (Highland), Austin Peay State recruit Zach Neff (Gibault) and former Marissa standout Logan Tabor (Indiana-Purdue-Ft. Wayne).
On the Division II level, Gibault standout Wes Degener is headed to Lindenwood-St. Charles and Carlyle High left-handed pitcher and power hitter Matt Hilmes will sign with Quincy.
Spanberger committed to Arkansas as a sophomore, so he's eager to finally sign his letter of intent. The Razorbacks have made three College World Series appearances and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances under coach Dave Van Horn.
"I've been looking forward to it for a while," said Spanberger, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior who hit .398 last spring with 11 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs. His memorable two-out grand slam in the top of the seventh inning beat O'Fallon in the regional semifinals.
"He's got everything the scouts look for," Granite City coach John Moad said. "He's 6-foot-3, he's a left-handed hitter and he does a lot of things well. Then they realize he's got a good bat, throws the ball pretty well and his receiving is only going to get better."
Spanberger's bat is his best asset, but so is the versatility that allows him to play third base or even shortstop if necessary. He also got plenty of exposure last summer playing with the St. Louis Pirates travel squad.
"He's one of those kids that's the best player wherever you put him," said Moad, who mentioned the above-average attention Spanberger is getting from pro scouts. "Obviously a big year's going to help that, but I know he's on everybody's radar. He's in a real good situation; if he has a breakout year here he's going to get drafted and if he doesn't he's going to go to Arkansas and play in the SEC (Southeastern Conference)."
The lure of playing in one of the nation's top college baseball conference was strong.
"The coaching and the facilities they have are definitely top-notch in the country," Spanberger said. "It's not too far away and not too close to home, so it should be perfect."
Older brother Cody Spanberger is a pitcher at Southeast Missouri State.
Another player with unlimited upside is Houck, who drew raves this summer after his performance at the Kansas City Midwest Select 50 Showcase. The event featured top prospects from 12 states and Houck's big frame and 92-mph fastball quickly endeared him to the scouts.
"He was 92-93 (mph) all around the strike zone and they fell in love with him," Collinsville coach Pete Trapp said of Houck, who also played for the Rawlings Prospects travel team. "He had a really good summer and he really turned a lot of heads on the professional level. There are some scouts that have really jumped up and taken a big-time liking to him."
Houck said players were supposed to be split into different teams to play games, but rain wiped that out.
"We just went in and threw a nice bullpen session, about 30 to 40 pitches," he said. "I had the adrenaline going that day, I wanted to show them what I've got."
It must have worked because Houck has a home visit Sunday with the Seattle Mariners and the Boston Red Sox are also schedule to visit.
"I'm getting a lot of questionnaires and information sheets from a bunch of teams," Houck said.
Houck was 4-5 as a sophomore with 2.53 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 58 innings, then went 3-4 as a junior with a 2.10 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 50 innings.
He spent the offseason adding 10 or 15 pounds of muscle and also smoothing out his mechanics. The result could be a monster senior season.
"My junior year I felt like I didn't have my best season, but this year I have a feeling I'm going to have the best season of my life," said Houck, who fell in love with Missouri on his first campus visit for a baseball camp.
It didn't hurt that Mizzou has a new $2.1 million stadium loaded with improvements. Tigers coach Tim Jamieson has taken his team to eight NCAA Tournaments in the last 10 years.
"There was something about the atmosphere down there, the town around it," he said. "The staff is just amazing there, I love all the coaches there I was instantly sold. They were the friendliest bunch of guys I'd ever met."