St. Charles East coach Len Asquini put the names of all the former Saints who were drafted into professional baseball on the side of the press box.
Asquini, who coached several of those players, believes he will have to reserve a spot on the list for junior third baseman Jake Zitella.
“He’s going to be on that board,” Asquini said of Zitella. “He’s the next player who is going to go up there.”
That’s also part of the plan for Zitella, who committed to Illinois before this season.
“My overall goal is to be drafted and be drafted high,” Zitella said. “I want to say I always wanted to play Major League Baseball, but I started taking it more seriously freshman year.
“My grind doesn’t stop now.”
Asquini took notice of Zitella when he was 13 years old.
“You could see his bat speed and the ball sounded different off his bat then,” Asquini said. “You knew there was something. He was just a little bit ahead of everybody. He’s stayed better than the others.”
Talent evaluators across the state also took notice.
According to Prep Baseball Report, Zitella is the top-ranked third baseman in his class in the state and No. 21 overall in the 2023 class. That led to his early commitment to Illinois.
“I went there multiple times to make sure I wanted to be there,” Zitella said. “I just want to get to work right away. They said there is a good chance I could play early if I keep doing what I’m doing.”
Having that commitment under his belt means teams pay more attention to him. That started in the season opener against Barrington.
“I’m targeted, so they’re really trying to get me out,” Zitella said. “I noticed it the first game. I was batting second. I got two curves in a row and I was down 0-2. This is what I have to get used to.”
It didn’t take long for Zitella to catch up, however. He homered Monday and Tuesday in wins over Lake Park, giving him three homers in St. Charles East’s first seven games.
“Jake is an impressive hitter and player for that matter,” Asquini said. “We’re real excited for his start to the year. The (rankings) and stuff like that, they get it right most of the time. If they see a kid enough, they’re going to get it right.
“They’ve seen Jake enough and they know what we know because we see him all the time. He’s a very talented young man and his ceiling is even higher. He’s got a potential for some gaudy stats.”
Asquini knows Zitella isn’t going to rest this season on his early success, either.
“The ceiling is real high,” Asquini said. “He’s not anywhere near tapped out. He grinds it and he wants to get better. He has a lot of growth still in him.
“That’s one of the exciting things for his future. That’s exciting for him and his family. He wants more out of himself.”
Zitella doesn’t have to look too far for motivation on his journey.
Former St. Charles East pitcher Wes Benjamin appeared in parts of the past two seasons with the Texas Rangers. He’s now pitching for Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox’s system.
Benjamin is the second former Saint to make it to the major leagues, and Zitella is following him closely.
“Knowing he came from my high school makes it feel like it’s more possible,” Zitella said. “I know I can do it. My overall goal is to play in the majors and face Wes Benjamin.”
Paul Johnson is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.
Source: Berkshire mont