Spillane drafted by Reds

Spillane drafted by Reds

CHAMPAIGN — Bren Spillane knew there was a chance he could be selected toward the end of the first day of the MLB draft, so the Illinois first baseman gathered his family and friends together.

Some anxiousness existed in the room, but they were ready to celebrate should his name be called.

Several hours and 78 picks later, Spillane was still waiting.

The first two rounds and four shorter compensatory rounds passed without his name flashing on the MLB draft board.

So Spillane got in a workout Tuesday morning to take his mind off when he may be selected. The same group of family and friends gathered again — for a much shorter wait this time around.

Spillane had to wait just four picks into Tuesday’s selections to see his name.

The Cincinnati Reds picked the Big Ten Player of the Year, multiple First Team All-American selection and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year with the fourth pick in the third round. Spillane was the 82nd overall selection — nearly 50 spots higher than his projection as the 130th best prospect in the draft — and drafted as a right fielder by the Reds.

“It was, not a wakeup call, but it’s something where you wake up with a little bitter feeling,” Spillane said about not being selected in the first two rounds. “You wanted to get picked (Monday) night, but it didn’t work out. (Tuesday) worked out well, and I’m happy about that.”

Spillane will begin his professional career after putting together one of — if not the — best seasons in Illinois history. The Wheeling native was the only player in the nation to hit 20-plus home runs and steal more than 15 bases. He also led the Big Ten in batting average (.389), slugging percentage (.903), on-base percentage (.498), OPS (1.401), home runs (23), RBI (60) and total bases (158).

Spillane’s slugging percentage was the best in the country since 2009 when Middle Tennessee State’s Bryce Brentz slugged .930.

Spillane, however, is the first player to top .900 in the BBCOR bat era.

Even with all that success at the plate, Spillane sees areas where he can improve at the next level.

“I’d like to shorten up my swing,” he said. “That goes hand in hand with strikeouts. Also along with that is pitch selection. At the next level I know there’s going to be good pitchers with good stuff, and you’re going to have to have a really good game plan going up (to the plate) to be successful.”

Spillane is Illinois’ first draft pick since five players were selected in 2016.

While former Illini pitchers have been selected in the first and second rounds, Spillane is the highest-drafted position player in program history.

Former catchers Chris Robinson (No. 90 overall) and Lars Davis (No. 102 overall) were also third-round selections in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

“That’s something that’s really cool and something you dream of when you get to the University of Illinois,” Spillane said. “Not to worry about the draft itself, but to go down as one of the highest-drafted players is something that’s really cool.”

This is the second time Spillane has been drafted. He was a 34th-round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates coming out of high school but opted to attend Illinois instead.

This time, though, he’s picking professional baseball.

“Champaign will always be home to me,” he said. “It’s been there for my ups and downs. It’s bittersweet, but at the end of the day this is something that you dream of as a kid. Being able to go out and pursue your dream is something you have to do at some point. I’m really happy I’m able to do it now.”