When SIU recruit Zach Stoner was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 12th round of the Major League Baseball draft June 5, it left the Salukis with a hole in its roster.
Stoner was supposed to be the heir apparent at first base after Chris Serritella was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth round of the draft, but Stoner decided to sign a professional contract and skip college baseball.
SIU baseball coach Ken Henderson tabbed junior college first baseman Ryan Casillas to fill the void left by Stoner and complete SIU’s nine-man recruiting class.
Casillas is from Chandler, Ariz., and originally signed on to play baseball as a freshman at the University of Arizona in 2011. Assistant SIU baseball coach Ryan Strain said Arizona wasn’t a good fit for Casillas and that’s why he decided to leave and play junior college ball at Central Arizona Community College for two years.
The 6-foot 3-inch right-handed hitting first baseman wasn’t scouted by SIU initially because Henderson said the team didn’t have a need for a first baseman. Once Stoner signed professionally, Henderson made a short list of potential recruits and another recruit the Salukis signed for next season, catcher Matt Jones, mentioned Casillas’ name.
Jones also played at Central Arizona Community College for a year after he left a Division I program. Jones played one year at Northern Colorado and was recruited by Strain when Strain was an assistant at Northern Colorado.
Strain left Northern Colorado to become an assistant coach at SIU before the 2011 season, so Jones never played for Strain. Jones hit .450 with 17 RBIs in 19 starts at catcher his freshman year at Northern Colorado, but left because he didn’t really like the coaching staff, Strain said.
Strain said the Salukis were looking for a junior college catcher, and he still had a good relationship with Jones through his time in junior college. Strain said the coaching staff was looking for an athletic catcher to replace two graduating seniors at the position, and Jones fit the bill perfectly.
“We were looking for an athletic catcher — somebody that could be an infielder if he had to be,” Strain said. “Look at the guys who are playing in the big leagues now, most of the catchers are pretty good athletes.”
Jones hit .375 with 37 RBIs last season with Central Arizona Community College and signed with SIU in the early signing period in November. Henderson said Jones could hit in the two-hole, while his teammate Casillas will likely be a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Henderson said the coaches looked for several junior college players who could contribute right away, including both pitchers and position players.
Another junior college position player SIU snagged is shortstop Ryan Rosthenhausler.
Henderson said Rosthenhausler will most likely start at shortstop next season, which allows a few players to move back to their stronger defensive positions. Juniors Donny Duschinsky and Jake Welch split time at shortstop last season, and Henderson said Duschinksy will likely start at third base next season while senior Austin Montgomery will move back into the outfield.
Henderson said Rosthenhausler is very athletic with speed, and his defensive prowess at short is something the team didn’t have last season.
“You want a defensive shortstop who’s not a liability offensively,” Henderson said. “Donny did a very good job filling in there, but he’s not a shortstop.”
Another move that Henderson said provides the team with depth is corner infielder Cody Daily out of Southwestern Illinois Community College. Henderson said Daily will likely share time with seniors Wes Neece and Brock Harding as utility infielders.
SIU also needed to fill a void left by two starting pitchers who left — Cameron Maldonado because of graduation and Nathan Dorris because the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the 17th round.
Pitching coach P.J. Finigan said they wanted a few junior college pitchers who could compete for a spot in the weekend rotation right away, and the coaching staff feels like they’ve got three pitchers who could vie for that spot.
Left-handed pitcher Aaron Hauge will get the first opportunity to pitch in the weekend rotation, Finigan said. Hauge had 106 strikeouts to 19 walks in 74 innings pitched as a starter for Heartland Illinois Community College.
Finigan said Hauge was a lot like senior left-hander Cody Forsythe in terms of size, competitiveness and demeanor. Finigan said Hauge has a better breaking ball, though, and that’s how he gets a majority of his strikeouts.
Right-handed pitcher Bryce Sablotny and left-handed pitcher Derek Fogel will also get a chance to start, Finigan said. Sablotny, who played for Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, has command of three pitches, although Finigan said he relies on his sinker and his slider to get outs.
Fogel posted a 2.38 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched for Cowley Community College.
SIU signed two pitchers out of high school, and Finigan said one of them will get time in the back end of the bullpen to try and hold leads for closer Todd Eaton. Right-handed pitcher Jacob Williams out of Monticello High School will help the Salukis in an area Finigan said they had trouble with last season.
“We think he can help from day one back there in the back end,” Finigan said. “He’s going to be a tough kid; he throws two pitches for strikes. He has a lot of fastball command and a lot of velocity.”
Williams also features a very sharp curveball that tops out in the low 80s, Finigan said.
Finigan said Shimkus is also very competitive with a good repertoire of pitches, although the coaches will watch where Shimkus’ velocity is at when he comes to Carbondale. Finigan said if he puts on some weight and his velocity continues to grow, he’ll likely be in the weekend rotation later in his career with the Salukis.