Champaign, Ill. — The Illinois baseball team’s class of newcomers for this season is ranked No. 22 in the nation by D1Baseball.com, the website released Monday. Illinois was previously ranked No. 24 in the nation by Baseball America.
“This is probably one of the top classes that we’ve had in my tenure,” head coach Dan Hartleb said during his Signing Day press conference in November. “It’s pitching heavy, which is so important in the game of baseball. And we met a lot of needs as far as athletes and position players.”
Two student-athletes were picked in the 2018 MLB Draft before choosing to honor their commitments to Illinois. Catcher Jacob Campbell was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 36th round and pitcher Aidan Maldonado was picked two rounds later by the Milwaukee Brewers. Both were in Baseball America’s top 300 prospects and were considered top 5-10 round talents at the conclusion of their senior years of high school before falling in the draft due to signability. Maldonado was up to 96 MPH this fall during his first semester on campus.
Pitcher Garrett Acton was also drafted out of high school in 2016 to make it three of 10 newcomers that have been selected by MLB clubs. Acton is one of three junior college pitching signees that are set to help the staff.
“These are some of the higher rated kids that we’ve had,” said Hartleb. “A lot of these players had committed or were on our radar from back in 2015 year.”
Illinois had an unprecedented season in 2015, winning 50 games and the NCAA Champaign Regional on the way to hosting the program’s first ever Super Regional. The Illini also had back-to-back seasons with a first-round pick in 2015 (Tyler Jay) and 2016 (Cody Sedlock) and the 2018 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year in Bren Spillane, who became Illinois’ highest-ever drafted position player in June.
“I’m really excited about this group,” said Hartleb. “It meets what we’ve always tried to do as far as good student-athletes and guys that will try to work hard and get better.”