Mater Dei graduate Zach Haake has no second-guesses about his decision to leave Arkansas State for John A. Logan College in 2016.
Haake, a right-hander, parlayed the transfer into a dream job with the Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference, a league in which he had always wanted to pitch.
“Any college kid who wants to play baseball, their dream is to play in the Southeastern Conference,” said Haake, 21. “It’s the best conference for baseball.”
But it’s only part of Haake’s mission for the future. His long-term vision remains to pitch professionally, perhaps as early as next summer.
Haake should get his wish. Baseball America, which specializes in evaluating amateur talent, has ranked him the 49th-best college prospect heading into the 2018 draft.
“I’ve learned how to pitch,” said the 6-foot-6, 207-pound Haake, who was 8-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 games — 13 of them starts — last spring with John A. Logan, located in Carterville.
Haake, who will be a junior at Kentucky, throws a fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball velocity has climbed into the mid- to upper-90s, but he considers the slider his “strikeout pitch.” Haake fanned 91 in 78 2/3 innings at John A. Logan.
“I’m hitting spots, not just going out there throwing,” Haake said, crediting Highland High School and metro-east pitching coach Sam Weber for his contributions. “He’s good; he knows his stuff. I like to call him the pitching nerd. He got my mechanics back to normal, got me pitching to the outside part of the plate and establishing the inside corner.
“Everybody in the SEC can hit, so you have to pitch inside and out.”
An elbow injury limited Haake to pitching one-third of an inning as a senior at Mater Dei in 2015. As a freshman at Arkansas State in 2016, he was 2-0 with a 6.57 ERA in 11 games and two starts. Haake described his injury at Mater Dei as “growing while throwing.”
“My bones were growing too fast, (but) my ligaments and tendons were not growing fast enough,” said Haake, who threw 20 1/3 innings as a junior. “In the long run, if I had pushed it (my senior year), something might have happened. I haven’t had any problems since then, knock on wood. The doctor said all I needed was rest and to let my body grow.”
Haake, the son of Bryan and Teresa Haake, of Breese, explained that Arkansas State wasn’t a good fit.
“I’m happy with the move I made,” said Zach Haake. “It’s been going good so far, so I’ll keep it going. ... I want to perform well. I’m eligible for the draft. I was (this) year, too, but this year is really the big year, I think.”
If Haake winds up being a weekend pitcher for the Wildcats and puts together another productive season, this time at a top-flight Division I program, he’ll have plenty of leverage entering the draft in June.
Haake can first see what round he’s drafted, then weigh a financial offer. If it’s to his liking, Haake can sign and begin his pro career. Otherwise, another healthy year and effective season at Kentucky would only boost his stock for the 2019 draft.
“It’s a win-win situation, for sure,” Haake said.
Haake, who is majoring in communications, is having fun with Baseball America ranking him among its top 50 college prospects.
“It made me feel pretty good, honestly,” he said. “Coming from freshman year of college, which was really my first year of pitching, to now being the 49th prospect, that’s nice.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm