One draft, approximately forty rounds, around 1,400 picks, and just a few chances to make it to “The Show”. That’s what each high school, or college baseball player faces heading into the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft, which will be held on June 8th, 2015.
Players coming out of high school always seem to be a hot commodity, albeit riskier given their sometimes unwillingness to sign professional contracts. They’re younger, and sometimes flash more potential than college players do (despite the fact that said college players might be more major league-ready on draft day).
Looking back at the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft, 15 of the top 34 picks were drafted straight out of high school, including three in the top five selections. Of these 15 high school ball players, 10 of them were drafted as pitchers. In a league where a strong pitching staff can do wonders for a team, every front office is trying to grab a young, upside arm with their pick.
Looking ahead to 2015, it’s nearly impossible to predict how the draft will play out. For all we know, the entire first round could be all shortstops, and a pitcher might not be selected until round 25. But, taking history into account, that’s highly unlikely. Teams will still be looking to add to their pitching staffs, as the league is caught in a literal arms race. One of the first names that could be rolling off of the board hails from Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania.
Mike Nikorak, a senior at Stroudsberg High School, has put his name onto the map, and into the handbooks of many pro scouts. Measuring in at a lofty six-foot-five, the righty has compiled an impressive ensemble of pitches used to sit batters down faster than you can say “strikeout”. An Under Armour All-American, and an alumni from several Perfect Game showcases, the University of Alabama commit has put together an impressive resume for a high-schooler. “I think being an All-American has given me the experience to pitch against the best competition throughout the country,” Mike explained, “and perform at the next level, whether it’s college or pro ball.”
While it would be easy just to coast off of accolades and previous accomplishments, Nikorak is choosing to go the extra mile, and improve himself as much as he can. “It’s been an amazing ride this summer, but I wouldn’t say the hard work has paid off just yet. ” Nikorak explained. “I’ve been training since my last outing this past summer, and have been doing everything that I can to be that first-round pick.”
Like many elite high school baseball players, Nikorak faces a difficult dilemma; go to school, and play baseball at a top Division 1 program, or sign a professional contract, and try to live out his dream as a major league baseball player. It’s still early, and Nikorak seems to be taking up a “wait and see” method. “When the time comes, I’m going to be able to make the best decision for both myself and my family.”
Committed to University of Alabama since the end of his sophomore year, Nikorak knew from the beggining that it was the school for him. “That is the school for me. I wasn’t interested in any other college.” Nikorak just began to see professional scouts as a junior, and looks forward to impressing them in his senior year.
Professional baseball is no foreign idea in the Nikorak household, as Mike’s older brother, Steve, was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2012 draft by the Chicago White Sox. Given the fact that he has already been through the draft process, Steve has been helping his younger brother along. “I just keep reminding him to stay level-headed.” Steve said. “Just to continue to work hard, nothing is set in stone. Despite all of the mock drafts that have been put out, you still need to give it your all.”
What separates Mike from many other young men is that his father passed away, when Mike was at a young age. “Mike was real young when my dad passed away,” Steve said. “But it forced myself, Mike, and all our other brothers to stick together.” It caused the Nikorak brothers to grow up quickly, while being raised by the help of their mom, grandparents, and many others. “To see Mike reach the level of success that he’s at now despite everything he’s gone through, it’s an amazing feeling.” Steve said.
Phil Stokes, the head coach of Stroudsberg’s baseball team, has been coaching Mike for four years, and has had the chance to watch him grow as both a player and a person. “I knew he was good, but I never thought he would get to this level.” Stokes explained, on Nikorak’s fast rise to becoming one of the best high school arms around the country. What impresses Stokes most with Nikorak, is the way that he can hold a conversation with anybody. “What he does on the field, he’s a tremendous athlete. But as a social person, he’s pretty good too.”
As great of a guy that Mike is, teams aren’t looking at him in the first round because he has a great personality. It’s because of his overwhelming talent on the mound.
It was his freshman year at Stroudsberg that Stokes said he saw what Nikorak could really be as a pitcher. Around halfway through the season, Mike was given the chance to start against their rivals, and he effectively kept shutting them down, with pitches hitting in the mid-to-high-80’s. “He was racking up strikeouts, I don’t even remember if he even gave up a hit. I was really excited.” Stokes said.
Everyone got a small chance to see what Nikorak could do, and one could only hope that his success would carry on. With a strong sophomore year, and chances to shine for various teams in the summer, it became clear that Nikorak was more than your average high school pitcher. Preparing for his junior season in the winter, Nikorak was throwing heat in the low-90’s, and it only seemed to get higher as the months rolled along. “It felt like there was no ceiling.” Stokes added.
With a four-seam fastball that tops out at 97 mph, and a mix of off-speed pitches, his deadly two-seam fastball might be the most effective pitch in Nikorak’s arsenal. “He’s really worked on it, it’s a phenomenal pitch.” Stokes explained. “With the two-seam, it only takes one pitch, and they’re out. I mean I know he has the stuff to strike a lot of guys out, and he knows that too, but early in a game when you need a quick inning, just stick to the two-seam.”
As his senior season approaches, Mike has been working hard to improve himself. Adding 20 pounds of weight, as well as beginning a throwing program with Eric Cressey and Matt Blake, Nikorak is doing everything he can to put himself in the best position. “As the time approaches, I’m looking forward to being able to locate my pitches, and dominate the competition this spring.” Mike added in regards to his off-season training.
While praise from family and coaches are great, it’s impressive to see teammates, and even potential opposition someday, talk about Nikorak the way they do.
Demi Orimoloye, a University of Oregon commit and a talented recruit in his own right, first met Nikorak at the East Coast Pro Event. “He’s a great guy, nice to talk to, he works hard. ” Orimoloye explained. “His hard work shows up on the field, because he’s a great pitcher, one of the best.”
Nikorak has come along way, from first playing baseball at age four, growing up idolizing the ever-classy Derek Jeter, to being named one of the top recruits in the entire country, and a potential first-round draft choice. With a supportive family behind him, and a coach that’s been working with Mike for years now, it’s impossible to see anything but a bright future for the gifted right-hander.