VERONA — In two weeks, a valuable piece of information will be revealed and determine the next steps in Verona senior Ben Rortvedt’s future.
The Major League Baseball first-year player draft is set for June 9-11, and Rortvedt is heavily invested in the results of that selection process.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Rortvedt is considered the best offensive catcher in the country among high school players at the position, which could make him the first prep catcher selected, according to MLB.com. Two projections have him ranked 52nd and 55th among draft prospects nationally, which, if accurate, would indicate a second-round call for Rortvedt.
“We’ve had some good players here,” said Verona baseball coach Brad D’Orazio, in his 10th season as varsity coach and his 15th in the program. “(Rortvedt) is the best high school player I’ve ever seen in my coaching. It is not just the physical skills he has, but the way he works. All winter, all summer. Before practice, after practice. His work ethic is amazing. The combination of the two makes him unbelievable.”
At a recent Wildcats’ practice at Stampfl Field, Rortvedt’s focus was with his teammates and how the Wildcats’ season would play out. The WIAA baseball postseason begins today in some divisions, though second-seeded Verona (14-7 overall, 12-5 Big Eight Conference) doesn’t open play in Division 1 until June 2 against the winner of Tuesday’s Stoughton-Monona Grove game.
“Right now, it’s all about the team winning,” Rortvedt said. “If we’re winning and I’m contributing, then it means I’m doing something right. Hopefully, they like what they are seeing.”
“They” are the numerous major league baseball scouts who flock to Verona games or attend practices.
“No matter where we go, they always beat us there,” said D’Orazio, who chatted with Milwaukee Brewers senior advisor Doug Melvin, the team’s former general manager, at Verona’s game two weeks ago at Beloit Memorial.
After previously being kept busy fielding communications from college recruiters, D’Orazio this school year gladly spends time responding to major league teams’ inquiries.
“I usually have a lot of eyes on me,” Rortvedt said. “I try to block them out the best I can.”
But there is no blocking out his thoughts about the draft.
The 18-year-old Rortvedt, who is scheduled to graduate June 12, previously committed to play baseball at Arkansas and also committed to play this summer with the Madison Mallards.
Those plans could change.
“It’s on my mind every day,” said Rortvedt, who has discussed the next course of action with his family. “I want to play professional baseball, but I have a great school lined up to go to. It’s a win-win situation.”
The decision for Rortvedt, who recently received his course schedule from Arkansas, will arrive when he finds out his draft position.
Rortvedt said he has a plan in mind depending on what round he’s selected and has given the teams a signing-bonus figure, which he declined to disclose. He said his uncle, Jeff Curtis, who used to work as an area scout in the San Diego Padres’ organization, is providing advice.
“As a little kid, everyone aspires to be a major league baseball player,” Rortvedt said. “I wanted to be a college baseball player, and I have accomplished that (committing to Arkansas). My next goal was to get drafted.”
Rortvedt, a coaches’ first-team All-State selection as a junior, recalled his start in baseball when he was 4 or 5, picking up a bat to play T-ball. He wasn’t happy after his initial experience hitting the ball off a stand.
“I came home and told my dad, ‘I don’t like T-ball. Can you throw the ball to me?’ ” he said.
Rortvedt’s draft status skyrocketed last summer after a series of tournaments and showcases in Florida, North Carolina and California. For instance, after the 2015 Tournament of Stars in North Carolina, which was presented by Major League Baseball, USA Baseball announced he was selected for the 40-man roster for the 18U national team trials.
“Being from Wisconsin, it is really crucial when you see good pitching that you are hitting it really well,” Rortvedt said.
Rortvedt, a left-handed hitter, isn’t seeing as many good pitches to hit this high school season as opponents pitch around him, D’Orazio said. When Verona struggled to score runs earlier in the season, Rortvedt sometimes led off, because even a walk was beneficial.
Rortvedt, often third in the order, entered the week hitting .393 with 11 walks, five doubles, three triples, 10 RBIs and 17 runs scored. He had a .506 on-base percentage and a .574 slugging percentage.
“I’m not seeing the pitches,” he said. “I’m taking what they give me.”
According to an MLB.com scouting report of the top draft prospects: “Rortvedt has a smooth left-handed swing that generates a lot of bat speed. He’s strong and barrels a lot of balls, producing power without swinging for the fences.”
Rortvedt said he believes he’s catching well and throwing accurately; his throwing ability itself is a draw to watch Verona games. In addition, D’Orazio praised Rortvedt’s understanding of the game. The past two seasons, D’Orazio said the Wildcats’ staff has had Rortvedt call the game for the pitchers.
D’Orazio said he knew Rortvedt was a potential Division I college player when he saw Rortvedt as a freshman.
Now Rortvedt will go into the draft as Baseball America’s No. 55 prospect and No. 52 by MLB.com, which also listed him among the top 50 high school prospects, including three prep catchers.
“Only six Wisconsin high schoolers were selected in the top two rounds of the first 51 drafts, but the Badger State may have two this year in shortstop Gavin Lux (an Arizona State commit from Kenosha Indian Trail) and Rortvedt,” according to the MLB.com scouting report. “The latter is the best offensive catcher in the 2016 prep ranks and could be the first high school backstop picked in June.”
Soon Rortvedt will learn if that projection is correct and where that will take him.