MLB throws curveball to high-school draft prospects

  • Carmel pitcher Ben Wiegman delivers a pitch during last season.

      Carmel pitcher Ben Wiegman delivers a pitch during last season. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • St. Viator pitcher Jack Mahoney bites his jersey while shaking hands during sectional action last season.

      St. Viator pitcher Jack Mahoney bites his jersey while shaking hands during sectional action last season. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Reece Lawler hoped to pitch for Warren his senior year after playing for his travel team last spring.

      Reece Lawler hoped to pitch for Warren his senior year after playing for his travel team last spring. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/15/2020 5:59 AM

At 6 feet 4 and nearly 225 pounds, with a mid-90-mph fastball and belief that he's professional-baseball ready, Ben Wiegman couldn't wait to unleash his potential this spring.

The Carmel Catholic senior planned to forego his senior season of high school ball to play instead for his Hitters travel team. He felt the more competitive atmosphere would enhance his potential to be selected in the early rounds of the MLB Draft in June.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I busted my butt this off-season," Wiegman said. "I had gotten my velocity up and everything was doing really good. [Choosing to play for Hitters] was just a decision I made after talking to my adviser and my family."

Wiegman is signed with the University of Louisville, which boasts hard-throwing Bobby Miller, a McHenry graduate who's projected to be drafted late in the first round. And while Wiegman says it's always been a dream of his to play for Louisville, where his brother Drew is a freshman infielder, he has positioned himself for a pro-ball career, as well, as an 18-year-old.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball. Wiegman has been throwing to players such as Dodgers top prospect Gavin Lux and fellow Wisconsin native Alex Binelas of Louisville at Hitters Baseball Academy in Racine, but he needs to be pitching in games.

The right-hander says he received good feedback from scouts after throwing 93-94 mph in Prep Baseball Report's Super 60 Pro Showcase and touched 97 mph two weeks ago.

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"It's tough because it was looking pretty good [to be drafted early]," Wiegman said. "The feedback we got was that if I was to do that consistently throughout the spring, I definitely would have been able to get the [financial] numbers that I was trying to get."

When MLB announced this week that it was shortening the draft this year from 40 to 5 rounds, it was especially bad news for high-schoolers, who haven't been able to show off their talent to scouts this spring. The draft is expected to be college-heavy.

That means "Hello, college" for most high-schoolers.

Warren senior pitcher Reece Lawler, who's signed with the University of Iowa, says he had been talking to 8-10 MLB scouts. The 6-3, 180-pound righty throws in the low-90s and was confident his velocity would be higher this spring after he added about 20 pounds to his frame since last year.

"I talked to the Texas Rangers scout and he was telling me that it helps that he had seen me the past few summers and that they were going to follow my spring," Lawler said. "With (the draft) being only 5 rounds, I'm probably leaning toward college."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Which isn't a bad thing for Lawler. While he called it "super disappointing" that the high school season was canceled, he'll study business at Iowa.

"I worked super hard all winter to put on the weight," said Lawler, who played for Hitters last spring. "I wanted to prove myself and show what I've been doing, what I've done and how much I've improved. (The scouts) haven't seen the new me."

Before he broke his left tibia in football last fall, St. Viator senior Jack Mahoney was considered a good candidate to be picked in the MLB Draft. The 6-2 right-hander drew the attention of scouts last summer after consistently hitting 93 mph on the gun.

Hitting the weight room four times a week during football helped get his weight up to 210 pounds. The three-sport athlete got back on the basketball court late in the season and helped the Lions advance to a Class 3A sectional final.

"I started throwing bullpens with the guys late February, early March, and I could already tell by those bullpens that I was going to be bringing it a little bit this spring," Mahoney said. "I really did work my butt off to get back healthy for the end of basketball and also for the start of baseball. I felt really, really good about where I was at, so it was a little disappointing that I didn't get to show everything."

Even if he had been able to play baseball this spring, however, Mahoney was set to honor his commitment to play for the University of South Carolina. He verbally committed to head coach Mark Kingston in the fall of his sophomore year.

"(The situation) would have to be perfect to take me away from that," said Mahoney, who also plays third base and shortstop. "While I always looked forward to the draft to see what teams thought of me, I've also been ecstatic and so overly anxious to get down to Columbia for the past three years."

Wiegman, who scored a 28 on his ACT and values the opportunity to receive an education from Louisville, remains in communication with pro scouts.

"My mindset now is just to be ready for whatever happens," he said. "My (adviser) said there's still a chance (to be drafted). It just comes down to being on one of the team's draft boards. But I think right now it's most likely that I'm going to end up at Louisville."

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