08/05/2013 6:34 PM -
Although the Northwest Indiana Oilmen season concluded on Sunday, the Oil City Stadium diamond will not remain dormant for long. Major League Baseball’s newest high school scouting effort will make its way to Whiting on Tuesday and Wednesday in the form of the first ever Midwest Professional Showcase.
This showcase features all high school student-athletes that are incoming freshmen or sophomores. According to Major League Baseball Manager of Baseball Operations Chuck Fox, this event gives scouts a chance to witness competitive play between the best high school players in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
“The concept we’re trying to go after from the Commissioner’s Office standpoint is to try to arm the kids with the right information,” Fox said. “There are so many sources and people that start coming into their lives that we think it’s important to get the information from the horse’s mouth and we put together a very informative guide that walks through the whole process.”
Fox and Illinois University head baseball coach Dan Hartleb were the keynote speakers at the event’s introductory session, which was held at Triton College on Monday afternoon. Fox said he was excited to speak to the group of underclassmen because it was likely their first interaction with Major League Baseball.
“The goal is to arm those kids with the right information in preparation for what’s going to lie ahead for them this coming year,” he said. “The more we put the right information in front of them; it’s going to help the process along.”
Hartleb stressed the importance of student-athletes working hard in the classroom as well as on the field. In his opinion, two hours should be spent on school work for every one hour playing baseball. He also recommended that players select a school that allows them to earn the degree that fits their interests.
Fox believes that attending events like the Midwest Professional Showcase is one of the best ways to gain exposure from both colleges and big league teams.
“Obviously, the end talent is the ultimate,” he said. “If you can play, scouts are going to find you. The key is getting our focus away from, ‘You’re going to be a big leaguer.’ That’s not the honest answer, but an event like this can help a kid get identified and lead to a college scholarship, whether it’s at the junior college level or going to Stanford or whatever.”
Fox said he enjoys seeing the best high school baseball players have the opportunity to play together and interact with one another.
“This is about getting the best kids and bringing them together,” he said. “The other cool thing about these events is that kids become friends.”
The 54 players selected to participate in the Midwest Professional Showcase will be divided into three teams with each squad playing two games during the two-day event. Players will run, throw and take batting practice beginning at noon on Tuesday. That will be followed by the first game of the showcase, with the final two games taking place on Wednesday beginning at 4 p.m.
Midwest Collegiate League commissioner Don Popravak has worked with his contacts with the Chicago White Sox and Major League Baseball for the last year in an effort to land the Midwest Professional Showcase at Oil City Stadium.
“It’s a chance for us to present the Midwest Collegiate League since these kids are in high school and we do take in some high school guys that have just graduated,” Popravak said. “They want to get started on their college career by playing a high level before they go to college.”
Rising Hobart sophomore Andrew Niksich will have the distinction of being the closest player to home as the lone representative from Northwest Indiana.
“It feels really great to have someone recognize you as being an elite ballplayer,” he said. “I just want to show them my ability and hopefully catch someone’s eyes so I can play at the next level. It feels really good to represent Indiana and the Region.”
The first Midwest Pro Showcase is part of the initial steps toward Major League Baseball’s vision of holding more exposure events held by the league that do not require players to pay to participate. Fox stressed the importance of having all 30 Major League clubs involved.
“Everybody involved with this wants to help the kids,” he said. “I think events that Major League Baseball can put together, get behind and have the best people available involved in, go a long way to really creating a great program for the kids. It gives them the right information and allows them to have options when they come out of high school.”