Baseball: Sanchez joins long list of D-I players from Mundelein
"The list" at Mundelein High School just got a little longer.
And it's quite likely that nowhere in Lake County is there a list quite like it. At any school. In any sport.
Since 2000, the Mundelein baseball program has produced 17 Division I college baseball players. That's an average of one Division I college player per year.
A stunning number.
The newest player to grace that impressive list is senior pitcher Steven Sanchez, a 6-foot-7 left-hander who signed his NCAA national letter of intent to Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon in the Mundelein High School cafeteria in front of large group of family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers.
"This has been great," Sanchez said after he put pen to paper while sitting between his mother Ingrid Gonzalez and older brother Wilmer. "This day means a lot to me and the people who mean the most to me are here on this beautiful day.
"The process has been hard and the work I put in was sometimes a struggle. But I have had a lot of people backing me up and supporting me the entire way and that was great. It helped me a lot."
Sanchez, who joins former Mundelein greats such as Ryan Borucki (Iowa/Toronto Blue Jays), Brendan Murphy (Arizona State/Milwaukee Brewers), Clay Kovac (Michigan State) and Kyle Zaleski (Illinois State) on the Division I list, went on his official visit to Arkansas at the end of October but had verbally committed to Arkansas after his sophomore year. He went down there for a camp and instantly loved the campus and the coaches and got a good vibe about how he would fit in.
Arkansas made him an offer during the summer after his sophomore year.
"I liked the coaching staff and the campus and so did my mom and brother. They are really pumped for me," said Sanchez, who also considered Miami of Ohio, Xavier and several other Division I colleges. "The players there are really good guys. The area is nice. They don't have a pro team there so the entire town is into the teams at Arkansas and everyone goes to the games. It's really fun. And the pitching coach seems like a good guy who can help take me to the next level."
And, by the way, the next level is also very much in play.
Like Mundelein's two most recent pitching studs (Borucki and Murphy), Sanchez could very well end up in the Major Leagues. He's on every scout's radar and will likely get drafted in June. How high in draft he goes will determine whether he sticks with Arkansas or jumps straight to the pros.
"I don't want to think about that too much," Sanchez said. "I just worry about what I've got to do now to get better every single day and how I can help my team at Mundelein in the spring. I focus on my training every single day. But it is exciting that something like that could even happen because that (playing in the major leagues) is (the dream) for sure."
Sanchez is an attractive prospect at any level for a variety of reasons. His size certainly sticks out. Sanchez comes from a family of tall uncles. Meanwhile, his brother Wilmer is 6-foot-5 and his sister is 6-feet.
Sanchez also happens to have enormous hands.
Blessed also with a dynamic and engaging personality, Sanchez has shown leadership qualities since his sophomore year when he was getting time on the varsity.
"Even then he was a leader vocally and that's very hard at that age," said longtime Mundelein coach Todd Parola, who resigned at the end of last season after 23 years on the job. "And that year, Steven even pitched for us in the state championship game. As a sophomore. But there was no pushback from anyone on that. He was a leader on the team that other guys (respected). He was very well liked."
Parola says there is a lot to like about Sanchez's game and skills, which is another reason he generated so much interest over the last two years.
"Obviously his physical attributes are special. You can't teach what (Steven) has," Parola said. "He has such an upside there. He hasn't even reached his potential yet, and that makes him attractive to a lot of college and pro scouts.
"But he's also got great command of his second pitch. His curve ball was his go-to pitch last season and he did a great job with it. It was un-hittable for most high school hitters."
Over the years, Parola has seen plenty of pitchers on his staff with that kind of pitch. They are the ones who usually make "the list."
"One thing is that baseball is just big in our community," said Parola, trying to explain his program's sustained success at the high school level and beyond. "We have a good little league program and a good feeder program and we've been very fortunate that a lot of the good athletes in Mundelein want to play baseball. I tell my freshman coaches each year: 'if you've got one job, make sure your better athletes want to continue to play baseball.' That's kind of the philosophy we've had."