ROCKTON, Ill. - Tyler Statler's journey as a professional baseball player is set to begin this weekend.
Statler, the Hononegah ace who was recently named MVP of the NIC-10, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of Wednesday's Major League Baseball draft.
Statler wasted no time in declaring his intention to sign with the Cardinals and begin his professional career instead of going to school at Southeast Missouri.
It was far from an average Wednesday in the life of Statler, who won't celebrate his 18th birthday until July 1.
"My phone hasn't stopped ringing today," Statler said. "I think the shortest time it's been dead has been about five minutes. It's been a great day. I knew it was between the Cardinals, Cubs and White Sox, and it's seemed like the Cardinals have always shown the most interest. I'm looking forward to learning how to live on my own, see new places and get out of Illinois."
It was actually Tyler's father Phil who fielded the phone call from Cardinals area scout Nathan Sopena.
"We had a couple of teams texting us back and forth yesterday and even into this morning," Phil said. "The area scout that we had been talking to called us and said he was sitting right there with the scouting director. They told us what they had to offer, and Tyler is just chomping at the bit now. He did a couple of pre-draft workouts last week, one at Wrigley Field and one at Busch Stadium. I think at that point he had his bottom line a little bit higher. But he got the feel of those Major League ballparks and realized what could be was just to much to resist the temptation of turning pro."
The Statler's have always been big Cubs fan, but Phil said he's willing to make an exception in this special case.
"I've been a Cubs fan my whole life," Phil Statler said. "I'm not going to lie, this hurts a little bit wearing this red stuff. But I'm going to sure put it on when he pitches."
Statler said he believed there was a chance he could've been taken on day two of the draft.
"The Cardinals told me they thought they would pick me somewhere between the fifth and the eighth round yesterday," Statler said. "But after yesterday, they said for sure it would be today. We got the call at about 11:45, and that's when they told me I was a St. Louis Cardinal. I was with my family, and we were watching the draft on the computer when the call came in."
The Statler story wouldn't be complete without mentioning the significant adversity he's faced. A year ago at this time, Statler couldn't see out of one eye after suffering an injury against Boylan on May 4.
The recovery process was a slow one, and Statler even had a doctor tell him it was like he wouldn't see out of his left eye again.
Reconstructive surgery was necessary, and after about six weeks, his vision started to return. It wasn't long after that Statler began to prepare for his senior season.
It was a dominant year for Statler, who carried an ERA under 1.00 for the majority of the season. Indians coach Matt Simpson said
"It's just crazy the mental toughness and the maturity that he's shown," Simpson said. "The work ethic that it took for him to come back at the level that was necessary for him to be where he's at right now, that's significant."
Simpson said that when Statler refines his secondary pitches to go along with a fastball in the mid-90's, the Cardinals will have quite a prospect on their hands.
"The biggest thing for him is working on his secondary stuff," Simpson said. "When you throw as hard as Tyler does, you can get through entire games at the high school level just throwing fastballs. If he can continue to develop those other pitches and repeat his mechanics, he could rise up through that system pretty quickly."
After Statler signs his professional contract (by virtue of him being the youngest Cardinal drafted at 17, he'll need his parents help with that), he's set to head to Jupiter, Fla., Friday or Saturday.
Jupiter is the spring training headquarters and home of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, which is set to be Statler's first professional team.