Numbers add up for Huntley's Skonieczny
Huntley junior Mark Skonieczny's highly successful baseball season was all in the numbers.
The first number anyone should associate with the 17-year-old Algonquin resident is five, representative of the five tools he worked long hours to develop.
Skonieczny (pronounced Skuh-nez-nee) does it all. He hits for average, hits for power, possesses great speed, has above-average arm strength and is an excellent defender behind the plate or in right field.
That explains why the University of Illinois coaching staff monitored his progress through months of summer and fall showcases before offering a scholarship in January he gladly accepted.
Skonieczny (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) batted second in the Huntley lineup this spring between Louisville-bound senior Colin Lyman and Nebraska-bound senior Bryce Only. The results were impressive.
He led the area in RBI (36) and runs scored (43), finished second in home runs (7), third in batting average at .432 (51-for-118) and tied for fifth in doubles (11) and stolen bases (12). No area hitter could match his .720 slugging percentage or staggering 1.185 on-base plus slugging (OPS).
For a prolific junior season in which he helped propel Huntley to a split Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title with Crystal Lake South, Mark Skonieczny has been named an honorary co-captain of the 2013 Daily Herald All-Area Baseball Team in the Fox Valley.
He shares the award with CL South senior Tyler Hall, who on the mound went 9-2 with 61 strikeouts and a 2.17 ERA in 58 innings and batted .417 (30-for-72).
'This year was probably the most fun I've had playing baseball with my teammates," said Skonieczny, who raised his batting average 92 points from his first varsity season in 2012. "Every player had a bond with each other and we all played really well together. Chemistry wise, when you're having fun and playing good baseball with those kids, it's probably the best feeling ever."
Defensively, Skonieczny split the catching duties with senior Tyler Mindak and played several games in right field, a versatility that will serve him well at the college level. His pop time -- a measurement of how long it takes a catcher to throw out a runner attempting to steal second base -- has been clocked by Huntley coaches at 1.93 seconds. Professional scouts say 2 seconds is the major league average, according to multiple sources.
This is no slow-footed, lumbering catcher. Skonieczny runs the 60-yard dash in 6.85 seconds. Anything under 7 seconds is considered fast, particularly for a backstop. That partly explains why Skonieczny was able to score 6 more runs than any player in the area.
How the powerful right-handed hitter has been able to reach so many baseball high-water marks at such a young age speaks to his dedication to fitness and preparation. He began training as a freshman two years ago with powerlifting coach Greg Swanson, his former youth football coach who trains a small number of McHenry County athletes at his private gym in far northwest suburban Union.
Skonieczny set state and national records in the 181-pound weight class for his age group at the Illinois Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships in March 2011. He squatted 375, benched 248 and deadlifted 397 for a total of 1,020 pounds. He was 15 at the time.
No longer a competitive powerlifter, he stays chiseled with a routine that includes three sets of 10 on the bench with between 225-245 pounds on the bar. He completes a similar squat workout within a 300-315-pound range.
"The guy is just absolutely ripped," Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. "There's not an ounce of fat on that guy's body. And he's flexible too. After he lifts he stretches himself out and his flexibility is unbelievable."
Still, no amount of muscle accounts for Skonieczny's uncanny hand-eye coordination, which results from the most amazing number of all. The Huntley slugger said his mighty swing was honed by taking an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 cuts annually since the age of 12. He credits his father, Mike, for working with him since tee ball.
"I grew up with my dad as my coach and he always liked having me hit off a tee," Skonieczny said. "I never really liked it, but as I got older I started to see the importance of hitting from a tee and taking soft toss in a cage. He always drilled me on the basics of hitting and we started when I was young. Whenever I would fall into bad habits, he was always willing to go find a field somewhere and throw to me until we worked it out."
Skonieczny also credits Mick Matsie, a Huntley graduate and current assistant varsity coach who works at Pro Player Consultants in McHenry, for helping him the last few years.
When it comes to goals for next season, the senior-to-be who mimics Albert Pujols's wide stance already has another number in mind.
"My goal is to hit 100 points higher next year," he said this week. "It's a tough goal, but I think I have a chance to do that."
A word of advice to opposing pitchers when it comes to Skonieczny reaching his goals: Don't count him out.
Follow Jerry on Twitter: @jerfitzpatrick
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