Not being selected in June’s Major League Baseball draft was a difficult blow for Ian Koch.
“I was a little depressed after the draft because I thought I wasn’t good enough,” said Koch, a Crystal Lake Central graduate. “I doubted myself a little when I wasn’t taken.”
After a junior season at Western Illinois University in which the right-handed pitcher was a first-team All-Summit League selection, Koch was left with an uncertain future.
He accepted a contract with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League, an elite summer league for top college players, and the same team he shined with last season.
“I made it my mission to get a free-agent deal,” he said. “I just put my mind to it to prove people wrong.”
On Wednesday, he agreed to a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Reds organization after a strong first half with Falmouth.
“It’s a dream come true,” Koch said.
He drove home from Massachusetts on Thursday and planned to fly Sunday morning to meet with Reds officials at the team's spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona. Koch said he will take a physical and officially sign his contract there before learning about his first professional assignment.
Two possibilities are the Greeneville Reds, located in Tusculum, Tennesse, which play in the rookie-level Appalachian League, or the Billings Mustangs in Montana, the Reds’ rookie team in the Pioneer League.
“I’ve thrown a lot of innings this year, so they want to get me just a few pro innings before next year,” he said.
During the spring, he posted Western’s eighth-highest single-season innings total in school history (86 1/3) while striking out 83 batters, which is WIU’s sixth-best season strikeout total.
When he arrived in Falmouth, he quickly met the expectations of major league teams who continued to scout him.
“I came out here and teams said, ‘We’ll give you a shot if you make the all-star team,’” he said.
Koch became the first WIU player to be chosen a Cape Cod All-Star by posting a 0.82 ERA in his first nine outings. He gave up no runs in his first six appearances.
“I was able to not give up any runs for the first month and get the all-star selection, and they said that wasn’t enough,” Koch said. “They said I had to throw 95 (mph) in the all-star game, and I hit 95.”
Koch politely declined to discuss financial details of his contract, but added, “I got what I was looking for.”
Cincinnati is an organization that was familiar to Koch.
Area scouting supervisor Andy Stack, who covers the Midwest for the Reds, was the first pro scout to send Koch a player questionnaire in high school, Koch said.
“The Reds were interested the whole time, and they wanted to see how I developed,” Koch said. “I know they’re a small-market team. They promote from within, and joining their organization is like joining a family. If they invest in you, they want to see you succeed.”
Dunner is Mr. Versatility: Ball State junior running back/kick returner Malik Dunner (Dundee-Crown) was honored this week as one of more than 40 nominees for the Paul Hornung Award.
The award is given annually to college football’s most versatile player.
Dunner led the Cardinals with nine touchdowns last season, including eight on the ground and one via a kick return. Dunner produced 440 rushing yards last season, along with 24.4 yards a kick return and 18 receptions for 139 yards.
Ashland recognition: Ashland (Ohio) University is ranked in the top 15 in NCAA Division II in three preseason polls.
The Eagles’ roster includes senior quarterback Billy Bahl of Marian Central, a transfer from Miami (Ohio).
Ashland is ranked No. 10 by College Football America, No. 13 by Street & Smith’s and No. 15 by Lindy’s.
In three seasons at Miami, Bahl started 15 games. Last season, he threw for 820 yards and five touchdowns. He is likely to compete for the starting job at Ashland.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.