LOVES PARK, Ill. – Rockford Rivets manager Brian Smith is bringing in a backstop he said is one of the best freshman catchers in the country.
Rockford’s new Northwoods League team announced on Thursday that it has added University of Nebraska catcher Jesse Wilkening to the roster. After a record-breaking high-school career, Wilkening put a possible major-league future on hold to play for the Cornhuskers.
“He isn't the flashiest of players but after watching him play a few times, it is evident that he is a top of the line receiver, blocker and thrower,” Smith said. “He has a very quiet approach at the plate, allowing him to find solid contact more often than those hitters who have a lot of movement. It's nice being able to watch these guys on WatchESPN or the Big Ten Network.”
Through 11 games this spring, Wilkening is hitting .238 with a home run and seven RBI. He has thrown out 40 percent of attempted base stealers.
“Having been a 28th-rounder last June, Jesse has the ability to play at the next level,” Smith said. “It's going to be fun working with him and watching him grow as a player.”
As a high-school player, Wilkening had an Indiana state record 206 hits in four years at Cedar Lake Hanover Central High School. In each of his last two years of high school, Wilkening was named to the All-State first team by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. The Arizona Diamondbacks picked him in last year’s draft, but major-league teams will have to wait until 2018 to get another shot at him.
Rockford is a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League, which will play its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball in 2016. The Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 140 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers), Curtis Granderson (New York Mets), Lucas Duda (Mets) and Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website, NorthwoodsLeague.com.