Illini Sign 8 to National Letters of Intent

Head coach Dan Hartleb announced the signing of eight student-athletes to national letters of intent on Wednesday.
Head coach Dan Hartleb announced the signing of eight student-athletes to national letters of intent on Wednesday.

Nov. 9, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois coach Dan Hartleb announced the signing of eight student-athletes to national letters of intent Wednesday. At this point, the 2012 signing class is composed of RHP Nick Blackburn, of Naperville, Ill., RHP Ryan Castellanos, of Davie, Fla., LHP Kevin Duchene, of Joliet, Ill., C Jason Goldstein, of Highland Park, Ill., LHP Tyler Jay, of Lemont, Ill., OF/IF Ryan Nagle, of Streator, Ill., LHP J.D. Nielsen of Winterset, Iowa, and SS Adam Walton of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

"We are extremely excited about our 2012 signing class," Hartleb said. "We have a group of gifted athletes who will be very instrumental in our future success. We were able to fill needs at a number of positions while also bringing in a number of very talented pitchers. The entire class has the ability to have an impact on our team very early in their careers. We were able to find a group of well-rounded student-athletes who also have proven to be good people away from the field, which is important to us.

"The identification and recruitment of these athletes is a long process. (Associate head) coach (Eric) Snider was very instrumental in gaining key commitments from several of these student-athletes over the past 24 months. (Assistant coach) Drew Dickinson has been a key part of the recruitment of one of our strongest pitching classes that we have had during my time at Illinois."

Biographical sketches of the 2011-12 Illinois baseball signees:

RHP Nick Blackburn

Nick Blackburn, RHP
6-2 // 185 // R/R // Fr. // Naperville, Ill. // Neuqua Valley HS
Notes: Listed as the No. 28 prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report...Led Neuqua Valley to an IHSA Class 4A regional title in 2011, earning the victory in the regional championship game...Went 4-3 with a 4.70 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings in 2011...Went 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 15 innings during the 2011 summer state tournament...Named to the 2011 Phil Lawler Summer Classic All-Tournament team...Named Academic All-Upstate Eight Conference in 2011.

Assistant coach Drew Dickinson on Blackburn: "Nick has a strong arm and solid four-pitch mix. To go along with his good fastball, he has two plus breaking balls that he can use at any time. With his size and athletic ability, Nick will only get better once he arrives on campus. I believe Nick will be an instant contributor at Illinois and I look forward to helping him flourish."

RHP Ryan Castellanos

Ryan Castellanos, RHP
6-3 // 185 // R/R // Fr. // Davie, Fla. // Archbishop McCarthy HS
Notes: Helped Archbishop McCarthy to a 29-3 finish in 2011 and a Florida Class 4A state championship, their second-straight title...Archbishop McCarthy was recognized as the 2011 high school national champions by Baseball America, Perfect Game, USA Today and the National High School Coaches Association...Named honorable mention All-Broward County by the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2011...Won the CY pitching award...Brother, Nick, was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the supplemental first round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Associate head coach Eric Snider on Castellanos: "Ryan is a projectable right-handed pitcher with excellent make-up and maturity. He has a solid fastball that sits at 86-87 mph with good spin and he has a feel for a changeup. And he knows how to pitch."

LHP Kevin Duchene

Kevin Duchene, LHP
6-1 // 200 // L/L // Fr. // Joliet, Ill. // Joliet Catholic Academy
Notes: Listed as the No. 18 overall prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report... Named a Perfect Game All-American honorable mention selection...Went 8-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 2011 with 71 strikeouts and 14 walks in 52 innings pitched... Named an All-East Suburban Catholic Conference selection in 2011...Has a 15-4 career record... Named to the World Wood Bat Association World Championship All-Tournament team after leading Cangelosi Baseball to the round of 16 at the tournament in October 2011...Didn't allow an earned run and struck out 12 with one walk in seven innings at the WWBA World Championship...Threw a no-hitter in a 2011 IHSA Class 4A regional game.

Coach Dickinson on Duchene: "Kevin is a good athlete who understands the game of baseball and even more so understands how to pitch at a high level. He is a winner who will work hard and do whatever is necessary. Kevin has a solid fastball and curveball, and a plus changeup that he can throw in any count. He has a lot of upside for continued development and will make an immediate impact on our team. I look forward to working with him and helping him realize his tremendous potential."

C Jason Goldstein

Jason Goldstein, C
6-0 // 190 // R/R // Fr. // Highland Park, Ill. // Highland Park HS
Notes: Ranked the No. 4 catcher in the country and the No. 71 prospect nationally in the class of 2012 by Perfect Game...Participated in the 2011 Area Code Games and the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic...Named to the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic team...Named to the Area Code Games second-team all-tournament after hitting .363 at the event...Ranked the No. 2 overall player, the best catcher and a top-five hitter in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report...2011 Perfect Game preseason All-American...Named a 2011 top prospect at the Super 60 Showcase...Named an Under Armour preseason All-American in 2010 and 2011...Member of the 2010 Cincinnati Reds scout team...Three-year varsity starter at Highland Park, where he has hit .394 with 37 doubles, 11 home runs, 77 RBIs, a .650 slugging percentage and a .470 on-base percentage...He holds the HPHS career doubles record, ranks third in career home runs and fourth in career hits (108)...Two-time All-Area and All-Central Suburban League selection...Captain of both the baseball and football teams at Highland Park...Led Highland Park to two Central Suburban League championships.

Coach Snider on Goldstein: "Jason is an athletic, competitive catcher with outstanding make-up and maturity who will be an impact player as a freshman. He's a natural leader who will be another coach on the field for us and he is very good at handling a pitching staff. He has above-average blocking, receiving and throwing skills, and has a solid middle-of-the-field hitting approach with gap power."

LHP Tyler Jay

Tyler Jay, LHP
6-1 // 170 // L/L // Fr. // Lemont, Ill. // Lemont HS
Notes: Ranked a top-100 player in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report...Went 4-3 with two saves in 2011, with both losses coming to eventual IHSA Class 4A runner-up Providence Catholic...Struck out 70 in 40 innings while posting a 2.80 ERA in 2011...Earned the win in Lemont's 2011 IHSA Class 3A regional title victory, striking out 11 against Yorkville...Named to the 2011 Lisle Reporter honorable mention Spring South DuPage All-Area Boys Team...Went 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings as a sophomore in 2010...Holds a career record of 9-3 with a 2.91 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 28 walks in 74 2/3 innings...Member of Team Illinois...Has helped Lemont into the quarterfinals of the 2011 IHSA Class 6A state football playoffs with an 11-0 record...Has 22 receptions for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season while serving as Lemont's punter and primary return man.

Coach Dickinson on Jay: "Tyler is an athletic pitcher with a very quick arm and an outstanding breaking ball. With his athletic ability, I believe Tyler has a high ceiling for his continued development. He is a hard worker and a winner, which can be seen both on the baseball field and on the football field. I look forward to having Tyler as a part of the pitching staff and I think he will contribute immediately."

OF/IF Ryan Nagle

Ryan Nagle, OF/IF
6-1 // 190 // L/R // Fr. // Streator, Ill. // Streator HS
Notes: Ranked the No. 22 overall prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report ...PBR lists him as one of the top two left-handed hitters and a top-5 overall hitter in the class of 2012 in Illinois...Hit .459 with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 2011... Named the 2011 Co-MVP of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference and first-team All-Conference.

Coach Snider on Nagle: "Ryan is a competitive, athletic, hard-nosed player and he has a high baseball IQ. He has a sweet left-handed swing with power and I expect him to be an impact player as a freshman. He's a hard worker who projects as a middle-of-the-order type of hitter, and he can play multiple positions."

LHP J.D. Nielsen

J.D. Nielsen, LHP
6-6 // 205 // L/L // Fr. // Winterset, Iowa // Martensdale St. Mary's HS
Notes: Went 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA while striking out 72 and walking 19 in 53 2/3 innings in 2011...Led Martensdale St. Mary's to its second-straight Iowa Class 1A championship in 2011, extending its winning streak to a national-record 87 games...Held opponents to a .146 batting average in 2011...Also hit .425, third-best on the team, with 10 home runs, eight doubles, and a team-best 62 RBIs...Named to the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State second team in 2011...Named to the IHSBCA All-Southwest District first team...Named first-team All-Pride of Iowa Conference in 2011...Father, Dan, played football at Waldorf College and Drake University, and mother, Lonna, played basketball at Waldorf.

Coach Dickinson on Nielsen: "J.D. is a very tall, athletic lefty with a lot of upside. He has solid, repeatable mechanics and the ball jumps out of his hand. J.D. also has a very good breaking ball with late bite. Plus, he is a hard worker and winner. I believe J.D. is going to blossom into an outstanding pitcher and I am excited for him to become an Illini."

IF Adam Walton

Adam Walton, IF
6-1 // 185 // R/R // Fr. // Buffalo Grove, Ill. // Stevenson HS
Notes: Ranked the No. 20 overall prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report ...PBR lists him as one of the top two athletes in the class of 2012 in Illinois...Hit .370 with three home runs, seven doubles, two triples and 43 RBIs in 2011...Named a 2011 Under Armour Preseason All-American top 25 prospect...Named a 2011 Perfect Game Preseason High Honorable Mention All-American and 2010 Perfect Game Preseason Honorable Mention All-American...Named a 2011 All-North Suburban Conference first-team selection.

Coach Snider on Walton: "Adam is very athletic with excellent speed and base-running instincts. He has soft hands with good range and quickness in the field. His arm strength will allow him to play shortstop, third base or second base at Illinois. He has a solid approach at the plate and a tremendous upside."