Asmussen | Spillane may capitalize on monster season

Asmussen | Spillane may capitalize on monster season

You have three more chances to watch him in person. And that's probably all.

Illinois junior Bren Spillane, the best hitter in the Big Ten, closes the regular season starting tonight against Nebraska.

We know for sure he will be playing in next week's Big Ten tournament. And he hopes to continue his year in the NCAA tournament.

After that, there is a great chance he moves on to pro baseball.

Spillane's monster season, plus his size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and skillset, have earned him plenty of looks from MLB scouts. He is likely to hear his name called early in baseball's draft, scheduled for June 4-6.

Not that he is thinking about it.

"All that stuff is going to take care of itself," Spillane said.

His coach understands Spillane's appeal. Dan Hartleb has worked with oodles of draftees over the years.

"He has helped himself tremendously," Hartleb said.

Spillane went from "might want to take a look" to "make sure you have his contact number."

"I'm hoping he'll be somewhere in the top five rounds," Hartleb said. "I think he's deserving of that. But don't ever try to figure out the draft."

The coach and player haven't talked about the draft. Not until after the season ends.

"If guys start worrying about the draft, trying to look ahead, all of a sudden they plummet out here. You have to worry about the team. You have to worry about going out to help the team. As soon as you start focusing on yourself as an individual, you'll tighten up and you won't have success."

Bright future

Spillane is very easy to root for. The Wheeling native is polite and respectful. "It's been fun to watch Bren," Hartleb said. "One, he's a great person. He's worked extremely hard, been through some ups and downs in his career with some injuries."

Spillane is not the type to brag about his accomplishments. Which, by the way, are impressive. He leads the Big Ten in hitting and is just the second Illini in history to smack at least 20 homers in a season.

"He is fairly reserved," Hartleb said. "But when he gets around his friends, he is right in the mix. He'll joke around. He's got some punchlines on some guys. He's a great teammate. He was very well respected before he started putting up the numbers."

Spillane is enjoying the team success.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "Winning is always a good thing,"

Spillane admits his numbers "surprised myself a little bit. I knew it was possible. It was just a matter of going out and doing it."

When Spillane turns pro, Hartleb likes his chances to advance.

"He'll work at it and he'll do all the right things," Hartleb said. "It's not easy to make it to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball, but I would love to have him in my organization."

In a perfect world for Spillane, that organization would be the Cubs. Wheeling is 25 miles from Wrigley Field and Spillane has been a fan for life.

Spillane won't be new to the draft. He was picked in the 34th round by the Pirates as a high school senior.

He chose to come to school.

"I think that this was definitely the right decision," Spillane said.

Family matters

Last week, Hartleb talked to Spillane's mom Lynn about what her son means to the team.

"I told her, 'I know you're proud of him as a player, but the type of person he is is what makes him special,'" Hartleb said.

Parents like to hear those kind of things said about their kids.

And Lynn will like what Bren had to say about her,

"She's the reason that I'm here. She's the reason I go about my day," Spillane said. "She's my everything."

During his junior year in high school, Spillane lost his father Patrick to colon cancer.

"He has been through a lot in life," Hartleb said.

Patrick Spilane was 52 at the time of his death.

"I know he's with me," Bren Spillane said.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.