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Top 10 pick from Wisconsin? Kelenic could be 1st

High school outfielder is MLB Pipeline's 8th-ranked Draft prospect
MLB.com @jonmorosi

Didi Gregorius, the reigning American League Player of the Month, was born in Europe.

April's Rookies of the Month in each league, Shohei Ohtani and Christian Villanueva, are from Japan and Mexico, respectively.

Didi Gregorius, the reigning American League Player of the Month, was born in Europe.

April's Rookies of the Month in each league, Shohei Ohtani and Christian Villanueva, are from Japan and Mexico, respectively.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Major League Baseball's three youngest players are on the Braves' roster, and each was born outside the United States: Venezuela's Ronald Acuna Jr., Canada's Mike Soroka and Curaçao's Ozzie Albies.

When his name is called June 4 in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, outfielder Jarred Kelenic -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 8 prospect in the class -- will further illustrate the sport's geographic diversity.

He's from Waukesha, Wis.

With Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann on the disabled list, there are no Wisconsin natives active in the Major Leagues. Al Simmons is the most recent Wisconsin-born baseball Hall of Famer, and he played his final big league game in 1944. In the past 30 years, all Wisconsin high schools and colleges have combined to produce one first-round Draft pick: Shortstop Gavin Lux, the Dodgers' No. 13 prospect, selected 20th overall in 2016 from Indian Trail High School in Kenosha.

In more than a half-century of MLB Draft history, no Wisconsin-developed player has been selected with a Top 10 pick.

What would it mean to become the first?

Video: Mayo on if Kelenic would be a reach for the Tigers

"I think, for a very short time, it would probably be very cool," Kelenic told MLB.com this week in a telephone interview. "At the same time, the Draft is a stepping stone. After that, if I'm fortunate enough to be picked and everything works out, then it's about getting to the big leagues as fast as I can."

High schoolers from the Great Lakes region rarely advance quickly through the Minor Leagues. But after shattering norms already, Kelenic plans to continue altering the perception of what's possible for an 18-year-old who lives about 15 miles west of Milwaukee's Miller Park.

"I've met Jarred Kelenic -- he's an outstanding young player," Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who grew up in Wisconsin, said recently on MLB Network Radio. "I think what's changing is ... there's a lot of [indoor] facilities being built that are allowing kids in Northern states to keep up their practice in the winters. It's allowing them to keep up with kids from Southern states."

Over the years, Wisconsin's amateur baseball system has produced a relatively small number of Major League stars. So Kelenic and his family built their own program from scratch -- physically and competitively.

In 2010, Kelenic's parents, Tom and Lisa, purchased about 70 acres of farmland, a five-minute drive from the family's home in Waukesha. Tom, a general contractor by trade, supervised the construction of 10 baseball fields on the property. The Kelenics now manage a busy schedule of games and tournaments at the complex, known as Infinity Fields/5 Diamonds.

The family also owns buildings in Waukesha where the Stiks Academy batting cages and NX Level sports training facility operate. National Football League brothers J.J., Derek and T.J. Watt -- who grew up nearby -- have worked out at the latter location.

Kelenic has not played baseball at his high school, in part because its varsity season begins in May (due to weather patterns in the area) and conflicts with some travel baseball tournaments. Instead, Kelenic has joined the Rawlings Hitters travel program out of Caledonia, Wis., every spring.

Jarred also graduated from Waukesha West High School one semester early, allowing him to focus exclusively on preparing for the Draft since January.

"I would argue there's no one [in this Draft class] who's seen more pitches, from January to January, than Jarred," Tom Kelenic said. "Because he graduated early, for the last five months, he's done nothing but train. Some of that has been indoors, but he's been hitting baseballs and doing his outfield drills."

On days when the Hitters don't have games, Jarred said he goes through a morning baseball workout that includes roughly 300 swings. He breaks for lunch and then heads to the weight room for a trainer-led 90-minute session. As Kelenic goes through the routine, he's not consumed with which team will call his name on June 4. He's pursuing a more enduring goal.

"He wants to be in the Hall of Fame," his father said. "I know a lot of guys have probably said that, but the Draft to him is a day. He looks forward to it getting here, and he looks forward to getting it over. He's a 'next-step' kind of kid."

When that quotation was relayed to Jarred, he replied, "He hit it right on the head. If and when I get to the big leagues, that's not going to be enough for me. I'm always looking for the highest competitive opportunity and biggest stage. Ever since I was really young, I wanted to play this game for a living and be considered alongside the best people ever to play the game."

Kelenic's matter-of-fact confidence recalls a young Bryce Harper, and that is probably not by accident: Kelenic said the Nationals' superstar -- who graduated early from high school and turned pro at 17 -- is one of his favorite players. And just as Harper's dominance against junior college competition cemented his status as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, Kelenic's play for USA Baseball's 18U National Team over the past two years erased doubts as to whether a cold-weather high school outfielder belonged near the top of the Draft.

"The biggest thing [for my confidence] was playing for USA Baseball," Kelenic said. "When I first had my tryouts for Team USA, it was a huge learning experience. I got to play with guys from all around the country and see where I stacked up against them. On a positive note, I stacked up really well."

Matt Blood, program director for the 18U National Team, invited Kelenic to USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in 2016 -- when he was only 16 years old and among the youngest players in the selection camp. To outside observers, Kelenic looked like a long shot to make the team. But when Blood and the coaching staff named their final 20-man roster, Kelenic's name was on it.

Video: Jarred Kelenic is selected to the 18U National Team

"What stood out was how physical he was and how far he hit the baseball -- harder than everybody else, even though he was younger," Blood said. "He plays the game with a fierce intensity. He can affect the game with all five tools .... He's one of the most intrinsically motivated, dedicated and focused workers you'll ever find."

Only three of Kelenic's USA teammates in 2016 were younger than he was (Hunter Greene, last year's No. 2 overall pick, was one). Kelenic started all eight games for Team USA in the 18U Pan-American Championships and posted an OPS above 1.200, earning the tournament Most Valuable Player Award in Monterrey, Mexico.

In the gold medal game against Cuba, Kelenic's late home run helped seal a 6-1 victory for Team USA. In the stands, his father was overcome by emotion.

"It's the only time he's ever seen me cry," Tom said. "I'm a 6-foot-3, 260- or 270-pound guy. I'm probably a little rough around the edges. But he hit that home run, and I saw it off the bat. We had a lot of dads all sitting together, and they dogpiled me right there in the bleachers."

The moment also revealed Jarred's baseball acumen: The home run came against a pitcher who had struck him out in an earlier at-bat.

"[Jarred] came back in the dugout and said, 'If he throws me that breaking ball again, I'm going to hit it out of here,'" Blood recalled. "When he came up again, he was still on the mound. He threw him a breaking ball, and he was ready."

Kelenic returned to the 18U National Team last year and helped the Americans to a perfect 9-0 record in the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup. Between the two gold medals and his 2016 MVP Award, Kelenic is among the most decorated teenagers in recent American baseball history. Now he wants more. He's on the verge of joining Lux -- his friend and frequent offseason training partner -- among the select company of first-rounders from Wisconsin. And that's only the start.

"He played with us [on a travel team] when he was 15, and we were 17 or 18, and he was still one of the best -- if not the best -- players on the field every time," said Lux, who has posted a .910 OPS for the Dodgers' Class A Advanced affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., this season. "I thought, 'Wow, this guy's only 15.' He can run, he can hit, everything. I was really impressed. He's a great kid.

"Honestly, whenever he steps on the field, he wants to be the best player. He wants to win, no matter what. He doesn't care who you are or what you're doing. He wants to be the best. He just pushes himself harder than anyone else."

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.