Rockford Rivets manager Brian Smith is bringing in a backstop he says 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.
Last week, the Rivets signed a trio of Ohio State players: pitchers Seth Kinker and Yianni Pavlopoulos and outfielder Jacob Vander Wal.
Vander Wal, a freshman from Forest Hills Central High School in Michigan, is an outfielder and son of 14-year Major League veteran John Vander Wal.
“Jacob is coming to the Rivets with high recommendation from the Prairie Gravel Baseball group,” Smith said. “I grew up playing for Prairie Gravel and have the utmost respect for the guys who run it. They have influenced my baseball career greatly so when they have suggestions, I’m going to listen.”
The Rivets also added Ball State University shortstop Alex Maloney to the roster. Maloney, a junior general studies major, is a three-year starter for the Cardinals.