Tag Archives: Cornhuskers

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keegan Watson is back in his home state for college baseball.

After playing at the University of Nebraska in 2018 and 2019, transferring and sitting out the 2020 season, Watson is eager to shine as a two-way player at Indiana State University.

The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers

Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester. 

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence. 

Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.

After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”

He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.

Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.

While he did not play last summer, Watson was with the Tim Brown-coached Lake Erie Monarchs of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2018.

This summer, he is close to home as a member of the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Entering play on July 6, the team coached by Ben Norton and Jake Ratz is 5-4-1. 

Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.

“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.

“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”

Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.

He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.

“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”

Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.

His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.

Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.

“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal. 

“Whatever got the job done.”

Keegan Watson, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, played two baseball seasons at the University of Nebraska and has transferred to Indiana State University for 2020-21. He is with the Local Legends in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Ind. (University of Nebraska Photo)

Former Hanover Central, Nebraska catcher Wilkening now catcher in Phillies organization

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jesse Wilkening remembers well the advice given by Doug Nelson, his head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind.

“Have some fun,” says Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate and first-year professional in the Philadelphia Phillies organization (he was selected in the 14th round the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft). “Let the game just be the game. Don’t let it get too big. Play for your school, the people around you and yourself.

“I love where I’m from. That was pretty easy for me to do.”

Wilkening had plenty of fun and success with the Hanover Central Wildcats, setting the Indiana prep record for career hits with 206.

“It is very cool to have that (record),” says Wilkening, who finished his HC career with a .516 average, 20 home runs and 156 runs batted in. “But they are meant to be broken. Hopefully, one day someone will go out and do it.”

Wilkening was by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 28th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, but decided to accept an offer to play at the University of Nebraska.

From the time he visited the Lincoln, Neb., campus, it just clicked for him.

Continuing his academic performance from high school, he was named to the Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll three times and Academic All-Big Ten twice as a criminal justice major and business minor. Three semesters short of graduating, he plans to keep working toward his degree in the off-season.

During his time with the Darin Erstad-coached Cornhuskers, he was also named to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team three times for his part in community service.

“It’s very important,” says Wilkening of his helping at charity events, talking to school children and visiting hospitals. “They give so much to us, we have to give something back.”

On the field, the righty-swinging catcher performed well for Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad — particularly in his junior season of 2018.

Playing in 52 games, Wilkening hit .372 with nine home runs, 14 doubles and 56 RBI and was named ABCA/Rawlings First-Team All-Region and Second-Team All-Big Ten.

He was on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in both 2017 and 2018. The award goes to the top catcher in NCAA Division I baseball.

What makes the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder a good catcher?

“I’m very good with leadership,” says Wilkening. “I’m a pretty personable guy. I work with the pitchers and can be one of them. That’s huge.

“I know their strengths and weaknesses and how to calm them down or pump them up. I know what to say to them in different situations throughout the game.”

In the batter’s box, Wilkening has learned to be disciplined.

“I’m swinging at good pitches and having quality at-bats,” says Wilkening. “I don’t worry about the outcome.

“Hard barrel contact is a win for me no matter where it goes.”

In his short time in pro ball with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League‘s Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters, Wilkening sees the biggest differences from college ball are wood bats vs. metal bats, the language barrier (many pro players are from Spanish-speaking countries) and the uncertainty of player movement.

Wilkening got his baseball start at Cedar Lake Little League and played for several travel teams through his high school years, including Playmakers, Region Rippers, The Future, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Prairie Gravel and — for one tournament — Evoshield Seminoles. He played in Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association Underclass World Championships for Evoshield in 2013 and the WWBA 17U National Championships in 2014 for Prairie Gravel.

Based in Hinsdale, Ill., about 50 miles from Cedar Lake, Prairie Gravel is owned by Al Oremus. Wilkening’s coaches were Sam Sorce and Mike Casey.

Jesse is the son of Todd and Julie Wilkening. His father has been fire chief in Cedar Lake for about a decade.

What comes next in the Phillies system? The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers, Reading (Pa.) Fightin Phils and Lehigh Valley (Pa.) IronPigs.

JESSEWILKENING

Jesse Wilkening, a former Hanover Central High School and University of Nebraska player, is now a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters. (Williamsport Crosscutters Photo)