Andrean graduate Podkul, Hanover Central product Wilkening chosen in MLB draft
Like many kids, Nick Podkul played catch in the yard with his dad, imitating a big leaguer, in his case, Sammy Sosa.
The Andrean graduate and Notre Dame junior thought of those times Tuesday when he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft.
“That was the really emotional part,” said Podkul, whose father Frank, the former softball coach and athletic director at Andrean, died in 2013. “I wish he was here. But he knows that my dream’s coming true, that I’ve finally reached my goal.”
Podkul was at home with his mom, Jackie, and brother, Frank, watching the draft on a computer when the Blue Jays called him. It was actually the third or fourth call, Podkul couldn’t remember exactly, that he had received, though the others proved to be false alarms.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “The whole day was an emotional roller coaster. You’re thinking you’re going to go and then you don’t. You’re mad, you’re sad. They called me about seven picks before, then I waited for it, I still had my fingers crossed and sure enough, they took me. It felt like forever. We all kind of screamed and hugged each other. It’s reality when you see your name pop up on the screen.”
Primarily a second baseman the last two seasons at Notre Dame, Podkul hit .312 with a team-leading 23 extra-base hits and 33 walks to go with eight home runs, 40 RBIs and nine steals.
“No. 1, you’re always excited for the kids,” Andrean coach Dave Pishkur said. “I’m excited for Nick, I’m excited for his mom, for his brother. They’d become pretty darn close, especially after their dad passed. It’s a dream come true for Nick, like so many kids. With the athletic ability and confidence he had, I thought he had a chance. He plays all four (infield) positions, he’s 6-2, 198 and could easily become 6-3, 220 as he gets bigger and stronger.”
Podkul, 21, said he was scouted by Matthew Huck going back to the fall and is Huck’s first draft pick.
He follows Kevin Biggio, his predecessor at second base at Notre Dame, to Toronto. According to mlb.com, Podkul’s draft spot (207th) has an approximate pick value of $211,900. Its analysis said, Podkul doesn’t wow you with his skills, but he’s hit in the ACC, he has a good feel for the game and he’s a solid defender.
“(Biggio) texted me, saying welcome to the family,” Podkul said. “(Toronto and I) haven’t discussed much detail, but in general, they liked that I’m versatile, how I can play multiple positions and have a pretty steady bat. I’ve never played the outfield, not ever, but I might end up in the outfield. First, second, third, wherever they want to put me, I’m ready to go.”
He anticipates signing a contract in the coming days and reporting to Dunedin, Florida, where the Blue Jays’ Advanced-A minor league team is based. Podkul said he plans to finish the final year of school work on his American Studies degree at Notre Dame as he acclimates to baseball.
“I’m pretty much set to start my professional career,” he said. “We have to work out the details but it’s pretty much go time with the Blue Jays. I’m excited to become a professional, to learn how to be a professional, what to do, what not to do.”
Phillies take Hanover’s Wilkening: Jesse Wilkening wasn’t ready to make the jump when he was drafted out of Hanover Central by the Diamondbacks in the 28th round three years ago. When the Phillies tabbed the Nebraska junior catcher in the 14th round Wednesday, there was no doubt about what’s next.
“I’m going pro. It’s a done deal,” Wilkening said. “I’m going to sign. I had an idea they were going to take me, I talked to my advisor and the offer reached my expectations. It was very reasonable. It’s a good deal. I’m so glad they picked me. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Wilkening broke out for a Nebraska-best .372 batting average and 56 RBIs along with nine home runs this spring.
“He’s one of the more pure hitters I’ve seen come through here,” Cornhuskers coach Darin Erstad said to the Omaha World-Herald. “I think he’s developed a lot of confidence and his experiences helped him get to where he is and a lot of hard work. He’s always been there and he’s just starting to put it together.”
Three semesters away from his degree in criminal justice with a business minor, Wilkening said he plans to return to Lincoln eventually to complete his graduation requirements.
The 5-10, 200-pound backstop expects to get his assignment in a few days once he puts pen to paper.
“My goal is to be a big leaguer,” he said. “I can’t wait.”