By Mark Gregory
It is often difficult for baseball players from small schools to grab the attention of the top colleges and professional scouts.
That was never the case for Joe Donovan.
Sure, his brother Charlie paved a road for Joe, but the younger Donovan hit that road like a runaway 18-wheeler.
As a freshman, he was the starting catcher on a Westmont team that placed fourth in the state in Class 2A and he spent the next three seasons assaulting the Sentinel record books – ending his career holding 20 career records.
He holds the mark for team wins (97), games played (145), runs scored (205), hits (210), extra base hits (99), home runs (36), grand slams (4), RBI (154) and slugging percentage (.891).
This season, Donovan batted .523 with a .628 on base percentage and a 1.171 slugging percentage – all Westmont single season records.
For all of that, Joe Donovan is the first-ever recipient of Voyager Media’s Charlie Donovan Player of the Year Award.
This season is the first year the award is named after Charlie Donovan, who was a three-time Voyager Media Player of the Year and died in November of 2015. It will continue to bear his name going forward.
“This year was a lot of fun,” Joe Donovan said. “I had a part where I had a mini slump, but I came out of it and just had so much fun.”
Playing for a Class 2A school like Westmont, often times Donovan’s numbers are not looked upon as serious as those by players in Class 3A or 4A.
“In my opinion, I can hit at any level,” he said. “We played 4A schools. I hit two doubles and a homer off Mt. Carmel and they are as good as they get. Sometimes it can be even harder to hit at a 1A or 2A level. In the summer, I am pounded with fastballs in the 90s and high 80s and legitimate sliders and breaking balls that you get zoned in to a certain way of hitting and then in the spring there are some kids that can hardly get the ball to the plate on a consistent manner. I would argue that for good hitters, it is almost easier to hit good pitching. That is no excuse for not hitting off bad pitchers, because I think good hitters can hit any pitching.
“I have friends that go to big schools and I get text messages and Snapchats joking around saying that if they were at my school, they would be doing the same thing I am and it gets taxing. As much as I just have to play my game, when the awards come and your peers qu estion the level of competition, it is aggravates me.”
Offense is not the only part of Donovan’s game, as he is one of the top defensive catchers in the state as well.
“From his sophomore year through his senior year, he called almost every single pitch,” Westmont coach DJ Cocks said. “He shut the running game down. We hardly had anyone steal on us. He creates strikes for our pitchers by the way he sets up and frames. He is the best blocker I have seen back there as a high school kid and I played college baseball and I think he was better than a lot of the guys I saw in college.”
Donovan said his mental make-up is the reason for his well-rounded success.
“I attribute my success in baseball to my mind and how I go about it,” he said. “Granted, I very fortunate to be blessed with athleticism and I have put in the work to be a good physical baseball player, but my mindset is more important. I go into it, realizing I can fail so if I do, it doesn’t affect me. I think the biggest thing is compartmentalizing my analytical baseball mind, my emotional baseball mind and my present baseball mind. Those three subsets of consciousness are so intertwined that they can really mess up each other. You have to realize when emotion is necessary, when diving deep into the analytics is necessary and when to just tone all that out and just make an athletic move.”
While Donovan is headed to the University of Michigan next season, he was drafted a few weeks ago by the Chicago Cubs in the 33rd round of the MLB Draft.
If not for his plans to head to Ann Arbor next year, he would have been a much higher selection.
“It was unbelievable (to be drafted),” Donovan said. “Had I wanted to sign professionally, I would have been a higher draft pick, so that was really nice, but that being said it was an incredible honor to be drafted. I grew up the biggest Cub fan, Charlie was a huge Cub fan, last year I went to the World Series Game 5 – I might have shed a few tears when they won the World Series. I was one of those dummies at the Cubs’ parade sprinting to be up front. So, just the culmination of all my life as a Cubs’ fan and getting drafted by then, it was unbelievable and even though I knew I wasn’t going to sign – a few tears were shed.”
The rest of the All-Area team is:
Jake Anderson, Bolingbrook
Senior middle infielder hit .301 with five doubles and 12 stolen bases.
On the mound, he was 8-2 with a pair of complete games and one shutout. In 44 innings pitched, he had an earned run average of 2.69, striking out 44 batters and 11 walks.
Konnor Ash, Plainfield South
Hit .326 with three homers and drove in a team-best 35 RBI for the Cougars. On the mound he was 7-3 with a 1.37 ERA. He struck out 91 batters in 61 innings.
Tyler Bautista, Benet
Second baseman hit a team-best .410 with 18 RBI. He scored 31 runs and stole 12 bases.
Joe Butler, Minooka
Batted .423 with two home runs and 23 RBI for the Indians.
Kyle Cockrell, Plainfield Central
On the mound this season he was 6-2 with a 1.42 ERA, while batting .290 with a home run and 16 RBI.
Brady Corrigan, Plainfield North
Senior pitcher was injured late in the season, but in 31.2 innings, he was 5-0 with a .442 ERA and a .947 WHIP. He struck out 45 batters and walked 18. He was an All-SPC selection.
“He has been our best pitcher for the last two years,” North coach John Darlington said. “He has a great work ethic.”
Marty Dosen, Benet
Batted .358 for the Redwings, driving in 32 runners. He had five home runs and 14 extra base hits on the season.
Gavin Doyle, Plainfield North
Junior shortstop batted .336 with 40 hits, eight home runs and 33 RBI and 36 runs scored. He was an All-SPC selection.
“He has had a tremendous season for us,” coach John Darlington said. “Gavin is a great hitter and has lead our team in almost every category.”
Simon Grasshof, JCA
Had a .359 batting average with 33 hits and 31 RBI for the Hillmen.
Jordan Jackson, Bolingbrook
Senior first baseman hit .360 for the Raiders with five doubles, six home runs, 26 RBI and stole 10 bases.
Jackson Kaplowitz, Notre Dame
Posted a .417 batting average for the Dons with a .454 OBP and .657 slugging percentage.
He posted 45 hits with 30 RBI and scored 29 runs.
Haydon Laczynski, Minooka
Batted .369 with three homers and 25 RBI.
Thomas Langley, Joliet Central
Senior posted a .363 batting average with a .422 OBP, 1.015 OPS on the season. He had 33 Hits, four home runs and 27 RBI, batting .450 with runners in scoring position. He will be attending Robert Morris in the fall.
“Tom hit in our four hole all season long and leads our team in RBI,” said Central coach Kevin Fitzgerald
Austin Marozas, Plainfield South
Senior went 3-3 on the mound this season with a 0.91 ERA for the Cougars. Will play at Kentucky next season.
Nicholas Mayerhofer, Plainfield South
Shortstop hit .429 with one home run and 20 RBI for South. Will play at UIC next season.
Jojo McNair, Joliet Central
Senior was an outfielder and pitcher for Central. He batted .438 with a .500 on base percentage racking up 39 hits, nine RBI, 26 runs scored and stole 29 bases while being caught only once. He will play baseball and football at Wartburg.
“Jojo is a three-sport athlete who has been at the top of our lineup throughout the season,” said Fitzgerald. “He leads our team in batting average, on-base percentage, hits, runs and stolen bases and has taken away several extra base hits in the outfield.”
Jordan Mikel, Plainfield South
Western Illinois-bound senior was 4-3 on the hill with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 65 batters in 45 innings. He hit .330 with 10 homers and drove in 24.
Brady Miller, Plainfield North
At the plate, he hit .333 with a .393 on base percentage and a .547 slugging percentage. He has 39 hits with six home runs, with 36 RBI and scored 25 runs. On the mound, he had a team high 60 innings pitched with a 4-3 record and a 1.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, while posting 68 strikeouts. He was an All-SPC¬ selection.
Logan O’Brien, Minooka
Batted .356 with three home runs and 30 RBI.
Connor Peplow, Plainfield North
As a pitcher, he posted a 6-1 record, hurling 54 and had a 1.296 ERA and .944 WHIP. He had 36 strikeouts.
At the plate, he batted .303 with 17 RBI, with a .366 on base percentage and .378 slugging percentage.
Tyler Rosen, Downers North
Senior pitcher and infielder, was 6-1 with one save on the season. In 44.2 innings, he struck out 55 batters and walked only eight. He batted .271 on the season with a .354 on base percentage and led the team with 17 RBI. He will play next season at the College of DuPage.
Antonio Saldana, JCA
He was 7-2 on the season with a 1.173 ERA for the Hilltoppers, recording 82 strike outs in 59.2 inings.
Jackson Shepherd, Minooka
On the mound was 8-0 with a 1.42 ERA for the Indians.
Nick Strysik, Lockport
Outfielder batted .372 with 16 RBI and eight stolen bases.
“Nick was three year starter on varsity for us,” said Lockport coach Andy Satunas.
“He took on the role as our three hitter and excelled against a very difficult schedule.”
Alex Steinbach, Plainfield North
Senior third baseman posted a .412 batting average, .537 on base percentage and .676 slugging.
He had 42 hits, seven homers, 33 RBI and 35 runs scored. He was an All-SPC selection.
“He has been a great player for two seasons,” Darlington said. “One of the best we have ever had play the position.”
Aiden Tyrell, JCA
Batted .321 for the Hilltoppers, collecting 25 hits and 24 RBI, with a .451 on base percentage and scored 22 runs.
Nathan Yusko, Plainfield Central
He was 7-1 on the mound with a 2.23 ERA this season for the Wildcats.
Brendon Wills, JCA
Was 6-2 on the bump with a 1.454 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 43.1 innings pitched.
Senior batted .390 with two homers and 20 RBI for the Bengals.