The decision wasn’t all that difficult for Jesse Wilkening. Barring an unexpected twist, he would embark on a professional baseball career.
The Nebraska junior catcher informed his coaches of his plan before the Major League Baseball draft began this week and stuck by it when the Philadelphia Phillies snatched him up in the 14th round (407th overall) Wednesday morning. He confirmed with The World-Herald he will indeed sign, forgoing his senior year with the Cornhuskers.
“I might never have an opportunity like this again in my life,” Wilkening said. “…That’s why I want to go now. I might never have the opportunity again to pursue my dream. You never know what might happen. This is my time, I think.”
Wilkening’s decision most directly impacted the Nebraska program on Wednesday, when the draft concluded with rounds 11-40. Meanwhile, senior pitcher Luis Alvarado went to the Los Angeles Angels in the 17th round (511th overall). Incoming two-way recruit Spencer Schwellenbach was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 34th round (1,033) but confirmed through his Twitter account he still plans to join the Huskers.
Senior Scott Schreiber landed with the Houston Astros on Tuesday, going in the ninth round (282nd), to round out the Husker players chosen.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Wilkening was also drafted out of high school in 2015, when Arizona nabbed him 419 spots later in the 28th round. This time he was at his parents’ home in Cedar Lake, Indiana, when his phone buzzed with the good news after an anxious Tuesday ended without seeing his name.
“There were some tears of joy,” Wilkening said. “I had a horrible night’s sleep (Tuesday) but I’ll have a good one tonight.”
Wilkening broke out for a team-best .372 batting average and 56 RBIs along with nine home runs to become one of college baseball’s most productive backstops this spring. He credited Nebraska coach Darin Erstad for giving good “career advice” during the preseason: Be the best teammate he could and let the rest sort itself out.
That — combined with a successful summer-ball campaign that had his confidence soaring — added up to the chance for a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan to fulfill a childhood hope.
“Mentally, physically, I devoted my time to my team,” Wilkening said. “I didn’t really think about the draft. I played for my team, I played with the boys. That’s what I got better at was staying within my team. But this has been a dream for a long time. It’s finally here.”
Wilkening’s departure leaves a bigger void in the middle of the NU lineup after senior Scott Schreiber was drafted Tuesday. Sophomore-to-be Gunner Hellstrom played catcher in 16 games this spring while junior-to-be Luke Roskam manned the position 13 times. Hellstrom hit .310 with one double and 13 RBIs while Roskam batted .269 with 13 doubles and five homers.
Erstad said last month there’s no question Wilkening can help a team at the next level.
“You find a catcher that can hit like he can … and he’s starting to show the power that’s in there,” Erstad said. “He can really receive well, a great blocker. I know receiving is a big deal now and he has very strong hands, really gets the low strike for our pitchers well. And he can really throw. Fortunately his shoulder, there’s really nothing structurally wrong with it, which is good. So that’s the stuff that they’ll see. But I think he has a bright future.”
Alvarado was taken by a professional team for a third time following Boston (33rd round, 1,004 in 2014) and Seattle (13th round, 393 last year). The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Alvarado began his college career as a hitter before transitioning into a co-closer in 2017 and a starting pitcher this spring.
Alvarado posted mixed results as a starter, beginning as NU’s Friday hurler before sliding back to Saturday late in the season. He finished with a 4.89 earned-run average and struck out 65 batters in 70 innings. Walks were also an issue at times, though he allowed just 28 free passes in all.
The only child of parents with university degrees made a vow to his mother he would put his studies ahead of going pro, which was a key factor in him lasting four years at Nebraska. Now graduated, he offers a high-upside, low-mileage arm at the next level.
“Even though I had a chance from the Red Sox — and it’s a big deal — I was like, ‘I made a promise and this is what I want,’ ” Alvarado said last year. “I wanted to study first, and whatever happens after that happens.”
Schwellenbach is a 2018 signee and the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan. The two-way standout told Mlive.comlast week that a hired advisor who told him he would be selected between rounds 5-10. Instead he lasted well into Wednesday, with many teams presumably passing on him after that because of signability concerns.
The No. 1 high school player in the state according to Prep Baseball Report ended May with a 0.50 ERA along with 66 strikeouts in 42 innings. He was also hitting .372 with a .560 on-base percentage alongside five doubles and 39 runs scored in 89 at-bats.
Schwellenbach told Mlive.com that Erstad came to visit him and advised the teen do what’s best for his own career.
“He actually came to see me here in Saginaw, and we talked about what was going to happen,” Schwellenbach told the website. “He said no matter what, he supported my decision. He said that if I signed to make sure I got enough money to still go to college. He didn’t try to sway me one way or the other. That meant a lot to me. He understands. He played.”
Creighton’s Michael Emodi one of four Creighton players selected on final day of MLB draft
For the first time since 2006, four Creighton players were selected in the MLB draft Wednesday. And three will have decisions to make.
Junior catcher Michael Emodi, a Creighton Prep product, went in the 11th round (332nd overall) to the Kansas City Royals. Emodi batted .282 with nine home runs in 2018.
The expectation from the CU coaching staff heading into the draft was that Emodi would sign a professional contract and forgo his senior season. No decision was announced Wednesday.
The Jays knew that All-America pitcher Ryan Tapani would not be returning.
The senior exhausted his eligibility after going 10-1 with a 2.38 ERA this season. Tapani got drafted in the 21st round (641st) by the Washington Nationals.
Sophomore pitcher Jacob Voss and junior center fielder Clark Brinkman were also picked.
Voss made eight appearances this season, but the 6-foot-9, right-hander showed glimpses of his potential during limited outings in his first year at Creighton. The Los Angeles Angels drafted him in the 27th round (811th).
Brinkman, who hit .317 and stole 24 bases, was selected in the 32nd round (945th) by the Detroit Tigers.
The deadline for players to sign a professional contract is July 6.