Transfers Hit It on the Head
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Last week we took a look at what former Illini left-hander Dave Seifer, now the Director of College Scouting for Prep Baseball Report/D1baseball.com saw from the Illini pitchers over the course of two days at the Orange & Blue (& Gray, don't ask) World Series last week at the newly re-turfed Illinois Field. Today, let's look at what he saw position-wise.
Side note: Kudos to Josh Whitman for approving the re-turfing of Illinois Field and helping secure the financing for the Atkins Baseball Training Center. Last thing on the list is improvements to the seating at Illinois Field. Just get that done and I promise I'll stop bothering you!!!
So now it's on to Seifert's observations about what the returning Illini and the newcomers bring to the field positionally.
The player that most impressed Seifert? JUCO transfer Ryan Hampe.
Hampe has kind of an interesting story, perhaps a preview of what may be coming down the pipe if the NCAA approves the one-time transfer exception currently on the table for a vote in January.
Hampe started his career at UIC and was a standout -- earning Freshmen All-American honors after hitting .351 with 5 home runs, 14 doubles and 48 RBIs. But then, in mid-June 2019 the New Lenox native decided to head for John A. Logan College, alma mater of Illini head coach Dan Hartleb, and one of the best JUCO programs in the country and also where Hartleb's younger son, Zak, was playing.
Hitting, for Hampe, has never been a problem.
"He's always on the barrel," Seifert said. "He'll probably hit in the 4-hole for them."
With improving defense/arm strength behind the dish and a bat that has always raked, Ryan Hampe crushes his 2nd double of the a.m., this one to LF after short-hopping the CF wall in his previous AB @IlliniBaseball @d1baseball pic.twitter.com/DHv1Wf5GD7— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) October 24, 2020
What impressed Seifert the most was the improvements Hampe made defensively.
"I saw him in Rockford this summer and he was 2.10 with this pop time," Seifert said. "Now, he's 2.0 with throws right to the bag.
"He's always received well, but Dan has done what he's always done and made his catchers better. "
Hampe's arrival has created some options/issues. While returnee Jacob Campbell is perhaps more pro-ready, Hampe's bat is far and away more ready.
"I could see them DHing Hampe a bit, especially if they go to four-game series," Seifert said. "Or I could see them going to a kind of "catching closer" where Hampe starts and then Campbell comes in for the later innings."
Among the other newcomers that impressed Seifert were Jackson Raper, a grad transfer from D2 Catawba (N.C.) College. Raper is a raker. Over four seasons at Catawba he hit .296/.356/.352/.436. That's not too shabby against some of the best D2 competition in the country (And to be clear, D2 baseball is wildly different from its football and basketball brethren. A lot of D2s would be easily capable of competing in the low-major D1 conferences).
As a senior at Catawba, through 22 games, Raper was hitting .436 with 9 home runs and 35 RBIs. That plays, particularly from the left side. Seifert likes the bat, but isn't sure if the power will translate.
"I see him more in the lower third of the lineup, that 7-8-9 spot in the order," Siefert said. "Not a middle of the lineup guy, but he'll put the bat on the ball."
What really impressed Seifert was Raper's versatility. With a couple of players sitting the scrimmages out, Raper saw time at third, shortstop and second base. Seifert sees him settling in at third base, freeing returnee Cam McDonald to move to left field.
"He's got a good, quick release and a strong arm," Seifert said. "He can stick on the left side."
*As for the returnees on the infield, shortstop Branden Comia has picked up right where he left off. Through 13 games, Comia was hitting .426 with 3 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 10 RBIs. *
"A lot of my scouting friends have him as a top-5 round pick in 2021," Seifert said. "I'm not quite there yet, but it's out there."
The other infield spots figure to be occupied by returnees Brody Harding (2nd base) and Kellen Sarver (1st base).
In the outfield, look for some combination of Cam McDonald, Nathan Aide, Danny Doligale and Taylor Jackson.
Overall, Seifert seems bear-ish on the Orange and Blue.
"It's a tough look right now," Seifert said. "Everybody think they're better and they probably are because they got guys back for another year or added transfers who got waivers, but the season is gonna start and pretty soon everybody is gonna realize that it wasn't just them who got better, it was a lot of teams.
"Overall, though, I can see them finishing in the top half of the league."