Chase Williams’ baseball career has barely started, yet he’s already a draft pick and may be one again in June. He is also signed with Wichita State as part of coach Todd Butler’s pitching-heavy first full recruiting class.
Williams and Cowley College pitcher Storm Rynard signed with WSU last week. WSU is waiting on the paperwork from Willie Schwanke, a two-way player from Grayson (Texas) who is orally committed. In the fall, WSU signed 14 scholarship players including junior college pitchers Isaac Anderson and Sam Hilliard.
The Shockers will need to replenish their staff and that group, plus some high school recruits, are the first wave. WSU will lose senior weekend starter Cale Elam and senior relievers Aaron LaBrie and Foster Vielock. Junior starter A.J. Ladwig is a likely draft casualty.
“Pitching was the big key,” Butler said. “The majority of our scholarships will be in our pitching. We tried to get guys that can locate and run it up there pretty good, and I think we’ve done that.”
Williams, a redshirt freshman, once considered basketball his path because of his 6-foot-6 height. He played basketball for Broken Arrow (Okla.) as a sophomore and junior before an injury sent him back to baseball as a senior. He pitched two innings for the varsity, in relief of Archie Bradley, the No. 7 overall pick of the 2011 draft by Arizona. The scouts who hung around to watch Williams saw enough potential, after also watching him throw in practice, that Colorado drafted him in the 39th round.
“That’s how talented he was, and still is,” Eastern Oklahoma State coach Craig Price said.
Williams is in need of a lot of polishing. In 14 2/3 innings this spring he has walked 23 and hit four batters, while striking out 18. He throws 92-95 mph after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow in June 2012. He didn’t pitch last season.
“All things considered, he’s doing pretty good,” Price said. “This is really his first year, and when you’ve never been on a varsity baseball team and there’s lot of scouts watching, you’re puckered up a little bit. He’s athletic and he’s the hardest worker on our team.”
Butler sees the same things scouts do: A big kid who throws hard.
“Probably a little bit behind; probably needs the advantage of coach (Brent) Kemnitz to get him where he needs to be,” Butler said. “But could be a big-time arm for the Shockers. He’s very intriguing to major-league baseball.”
Butler also expects Rynard to get drafted, perhaps in rounds 10-20. He committed to Arkansas before graduating early from Raymore-Peculiar (Mo.) in hopes of getting drafted. When he was not drafted, he went to Cowley.
“He would have two years here to play, and I think that’s an advantage for him to be in a program as a sophomore and then prepare for his junior season,” Butler said. “He would be comfortable with the new atmosphere, the new coaching staff. Then in two years he would be drafted again.”
Schwanke, a 6-1 sophomore, played for Butler at Arkansas last season and started 22 games in the field. He hit .214, hitting lefty, and did not pitch. At Grayson, he is hitting .305 with four home runs and 32 RBI entering the weekend. He is 2-5 with a 3.76 ERA while playing through a foot injury that hampers his effectiveness on the mound.
Schwanke, whose father, Jim Schwanke, is a former assistant coach at Oklahoma State and LSU, said he also considered Texas and Dallas Baptist. WSU’s willingness to let him hit and pitch figured prominently into his decision.
“I've been doing that since high school,” he said. “It's a little more consuming at the college level. You've got to have the mind-set. You can't be thinking about one thing while you're doing the other.”
Butler cannot comment on Schwanke until WSU receives his signed letter.
Rynard, a 6-foot-1 freshman, is ranked No. 20 on Perfect Game’s ranking of junior college recruits. Schwanke is No. 27. Anderson, a 6-1 right-hander from the College of Southern Idaho, is No. 55 and Williams is No. 67. Hilliard, a 6-5 lefty from Crowder (Mo.) College is No. 86.
On Friday, he swung the bat for the first time since the injury and is playing catch. He wears a black brace to protect the knee.
“I’m doing some jogging, lateral motions,” he said. “Turning on the knee, just making sure everything feels OK. I feel like I’m on track.”
Harbutz is targeting a return in early May, perhaps for the series against Bradley at Eck Stadium.
Harbutz played in 13 games, starting 11, this season and hit .286 before the injury. Butler will welcome back a switch-hitter who has started 170 games in his career.
“A much-needed player,” Butler said. “I’m disappointed in what has happened, because it’s his senior year.”
Harbutz is doing what he can to make his return smooth. Once he is healthy, he wants to contribute quickly in the final weeks of the season. His season started with a nine-game suspension as he was one of eight Shockers who missed games due to their role in an NCAA investigation into improper apparel benefits.
“I’m doing a lot of watching pitchers, because we’ll see these guys in the Missouri Valley tournament,” he said. “I’m trying to pick up any small details and keys that I can. The good thing is, I guess I’ll be fresh. Hopefully, there’s a significant portion of the season left.”
Maybe too big, as far as a college coach is concerned when the June draft comes to mind. Rader, a third baseman, was hitting .452 with an on-base percentage of .523 and 12 home runs and 39 stolen bases in 45 attempts through 42 games. He also has 13 doubles and four triples.
Rader, from Shawnee, twice earned NJCAA national player of the week honors in March. His 12 home runs set the school record, beating the mark of nine by assistant coach Danny Marcuzzo in 2010.
WSU received seven of the 10 first-place votes to finish ahead of Southern Illinois and Indiana State. Illinois State, the defending champion, is picked fourth in a tie with Missouri State.
WSU has finished in the top six in its four spring tournaments and won Kansas City Shootout earlier this month. Three Shockers rank in the top 10 of the MVC’s Golfstat player rankings — No. 6 Bryce Schroeder, No. 7 Meghan Schuetz and No. 8 Maria Alejandra Villalobos.
Play in the three-day tournament begins at 9 a.m. Sunday. The champion advances to the NCAA regionals.