Right-handed pitcher Tanner Houck, a Collinsville High School graduate who recently completed his junior season at Missouri, heads the list of metro-east players who are planning, or hoping, to hear their name called in the amateur draft.
The draft begins Monday with the first two rounds, continues Tuesday with the third through 10th rounds and concludes Wednesday with the 11th through 40th rounds.
The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Houck was 4-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 14 starts and 94 2/3 innings, with 24 walks and 95 strikeouts. He limited hitters to a .220 average and allowed just five home runs.
Houck is expected to be chosen in the first round. He is represented by Jason Wood, a 1995 graduate of Granite City High who serves as president of baseball for CSE Talent. Wood founded Arland Sports in 2006; CSE purchased Arland Sports in April.
“I think the entire first round is open,” Wood said. “I’ve heard (Houck) going as high as the top 10 (picks); I’ve heard him going late, in the back end of the first round.”
Houck is rated the 22nd-best prospect in the nation by Baseball America, which ranks him second in Missouri behind Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger, ranked 20th.
Rankings, however, reveal very little about how the draft will unfold.
“There are so many factors that go into this,” Wood said. “The best player isn’t always chosen first. Sometimes that’s a little odd to hear for the baseball fans, because they think the best player should go first, the second-best player should go second, and (so on). It doesn’t always happen that way.
Even though he had success at the University of Missouri, as a professional he’ll probably experience even greater success because his game translates to the major-league game much better than most college pitchers.
Jason Wood, sports agent on client and Collinsville graduate, Tanner Houck
“There are different philosophies. Some (teams) draft based on need, some draft based on talent, some draft based on signability and what the player’s requesting financially. So there are all kinds of variables that go into these decisions by the clubs. It’s very difficult to speculate where players may end up.”
Houck has a solid frame, a 94-mph fastball with sink that makes him especially effective against right-handed batters, a slider and a changeup. Houck is unconventional in that he throws across his body, adding to his deception against same-side hitters.
“He can strike guys out; he can run it up there pretty good,” Wood said. “But I think if you ask any major-league hitter, they will tell you velocity usually isn’t an issue for them. It’s the movement of the pitches. It’s the pitchers who have that vertical or horizontal movement on fastballs that are at 93 or 94 that really throw off their game plan. So I don’t think it’s the velocity that stands out for Tanner. I think it’s the movement of his pitches.
“When you play against wooden bats, that’s a tremendous weapon to have. He induces a lot of ground balls. Even though he had success at the University of Missouri, as a professional he’ll probably experience even greater success because his game translates to the major-league game much better than most college pitchers.”
The higher Houck is taken, the more money he will receive. Each major-league team has a value assigned to its first-round pick.
If, for example, the 20-year-old Houck is selected first through 12th overall, he could command a signing bonus between $4 million and $8 million. If he is chosen from 13th to 30th overall, the figure drops to between about $2.2 million to $3.9 million.
Even if he wanted to, Wood couldn’t hazard a guess as to which team would select Houck.
“Some organizations that pitch in small ballparks may really like Tanner because he does induce a lot of ground balls,” Wood said. “He may be less appealing to teams with bigger ballparks. He may be more appealing to teams with a better track record of developing elite arms. There are all kinds of variables that go into why a team chooses who they choose.”
Chad Spanberger, Granite City
The 6-3, 235-pound Spanberger is the No. 1 hitter from the metro-east expected to be chosen. Baseball America ranks him the 163rd-best prospect by Baseball America, including the second-best in Arkansas behind teammate Blaine Knight, rated 87th overall.
Spanberger recently completed his junior season at Arkansas. The former right fielder converted to first base and batted .305 with 13 doubles and led the Razorbacks with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .619 slugging percentage in 60 games and 239 at-bats.
Spanberger caught fire at the right time. In the Southeastern Conference Tournament, he batted .421 (8-for-19) with three doubles, five home runs and 10 RBIs in five game. He set Arkansas single-game records with three homers and seven RBIs in a 12-0 win over Auburn.
“He got hot at a unique time,” said Wood, an adviser to Spanberger. “All these area scouts that scout him had their reports in on him. They turned them in. Then he goes to the SEC Tournament and he’s a lot better in front of all these scouts’ bosses.
“So it presents a unique situation because the bosses are sitting there saying, ‘Wait, what I just saw doesn’t match the report you just turned in. What are we going to do with this guy?’ I’m sure they’re having a lot of internal debate over how to select him or where to select him in this year’s draft.”
Spanberger said recently that he expects to be taken in the first 10 rounds. If that occurs, he will sign and forgo his senior season at Arkansas. He could be chosen in the first five rounds.
“Chad is special in that he has a lot of athleticism,” Wood said. “He can play the outfield, he can play a corner infield position. He’s a big left-handed bat with power, which is very hard to come by. I would anticipate he goes a lot higher in this draft than most people would expect.
“Chad’s accomplishments are impressive because he’s done them against the best players in the country at the SEC level. He had a heck of an SEC Tournament and he really helped his draft stock.”
Zach Haake, Mater Dei
Haake is a 6-5, 190-pound right-hander who originally signed with Arkansas State, but left there and pitched this season at John A. Logan College in Carterville.
Haake thrived, going 8-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 games and 13 starts. In 78 2/3 innings, he allowed 56 hits, walked 37 and struck out 91.
Baseball America lists Haake as the 121st-best prospect in the draft, and he’s No. 2 in Illinois behind left-hander Brendan Murphy of Mundelein High (119th overall).
Haake regularly works between 90 and 95 mph and also throws a slider and changeup. He could be selected between the third and fifth rounds, but is expected to honor a scholarship to Kentucky unless a team overwhelms him with its financial offer.
Josh Fleming, Columbia
Fleming, a 6-foot, 180-pound left-hander, turned in a remarkable junior season at Division III Webster University in Missouri.
Fleming, ranked the 210th-best prospect by Baseball America, was 8-1 with 0.68 ERA in 13 games, all starts, with eight complete games and two shutouts. In 92 2/3 innings, he yielded just 54 hits, walked 12 and struck out 115. Opponents batted .169 against Fleming, whose low-90s fastball is complemented by a changeup and curveball.
“I would say I’m more of a power pitcher than a pitch-to-the-defense guy,” Fleming said. “When there are games I don’t have my best stuff, that’s when I kind of have to adapt into that let-the-defense-work kind of pitcher.”
Fleming could become the first Webster University player ever selected in the draft.
“Whichever team takes me, I’ll be ecstatic,” said Fleming, adding that there’s little to no chance he will return to Webster University for his senior season. “It would be cool to see the Cardinals take me, but you never know. Honestly, I’ll be happy to be selected whenever. But if it’s in the top 10, which is what I’ve heard, that would be even better. Awesome.
“Just thinking about it is crazy. It’s going to be a dream come true, hopefully.”
Fleming said he couldn’t have dreamed of having a better season.
“I was able to get ahead in most of my counts,” Fleming said. “I didn’t walk too many people, which really helped. Just throwing strikes was a key for me because I had a great defense behind me. Our shortstop (Matt Wollnik) had a gold glove from his freshman year. Any ball put in play, I was pretty confident in my defense to make the play.”
Fleming fashions himself after former major-league pitcher Johan Santana.
“I don’t know what stuck out to me with him, but I loved watching him throw,” Fleming said. “His changeup was something I tried to copy. I tried to perfect that changeup because he had one of the best changeups in the game when he was around. He was kind of the guy I tried to model myself after.”
Brady Schanuel, Belleville East
Schanuel, a right-hander, was 10-1 with a 2.13 ERA at Parkland College in Champaign, where he had 35 walks and 130 strikeouts in 14 games, all of them starts.
Schanuel surrendered just 44 hits in 80 1/3 innings and allowed three homers.
Schanuel originally committed to Mississippi, but left last fall and joined Parkland. He has signed with Iowa, where he will be a junior, and more than likely will honor the commitment. However, Schanuel said recently that he could turn pro if he is taken in the top 10 rounds.
Schanuel was a 36th-round draft choice of the Oakland A’s last June.
“Brady’s progress has been quite impressive,” said Wood, Schanuel’s adviser. “I expect, if he does end up at the University of Iowa, he can significantly improve his stock for the 2018 draft. That still remains to be seen whether he ends up there or not, but if he does end up there, I have a lot of confidence he’s going to continue to get better and better and better.”
Erik Kaiser, Waterloo
Kaiser, a senior right-hander, was 3-3 with a 1.17 ERA this spring for the Bulldogs, with 36 walks and 87 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.
The 6-4, 205-pound Kaiser, whose fastball is in the low- to- mid-90s, committed to Vanderbilt in fall 2015 after a strong summer in which he turned plenty of heads. He is expected to attend the SEC school this fall.
“There may be a team that takes a chance on him, but he made it pretty clear early on in the process that he was going to be asking for a significant amount of money,” said Wood, who advises Kaiser. “It always deters teams a little bit when you have a college behind you that has a good academic reputation, a good athletic reputation, like a Vanderbilt, a Stanford, a Notre Dame. These are all schools that I think are very hard to sway players from attending, regardless of financial considerations.”
Other players hoping to receive a call in the draft include:
▪ Infielder-outfielder Adam Bauer, a Belleville West graduate who batted .308 with 10 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 38 RBIs, 56 runs scored and a .433 on-base percentage at Murray State. Bauer previously played at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
▪ Aaron Meyer, a Belleville West graduate at Missouri State, hit .292 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 30 RBIs in 41 games. An torn patellar tendon in his right knee suffered during an April 25 game clouds his prospects, but he says he’s been in continued contact with professional clubs.
▪ Left fielder Wes Degener, a Gibault High graduate from Columbia who batted .408 with nine doubles, five triples, two home runs, 35 RBIs and 21 stolen bases for Lindenwood-St. Charles. Degener had 31 walks against just 11 strikeouts in 223 at-bats.
▪ Outfielder Cody Siebenberger, a Freeburg High graduate from Smithton who batted .267 (12-for-45) at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo. Siebenberger has signed with Missouri.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm