Baseball: Ex-Libertyville pitcher Booden signs with St. Louis
Libertyville High School grad Jacob Booden, shown here pitching for Bradley University, has signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. | Bradley University
Updated: August 20, 2012 1:54AM
Former Libertyville High School right-handed pitcher Jacob Booden always dreamed about playing professional baseball beyond his college years at Bradley University, from which he recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electronic media.
But he didn’t quite expect it to happen the way it did.
Instead of being selected in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft earlier this month, Booden received a phone call well after the draft had ended. It was the St. Louis Cardinals on the other end of the line.
“In a span of about 18 hours, I had to drive from downstate Illinois back to the suburbs, then catch a plane early (the next) morning,” Booden said. “Two days after that, I officially signed my contract. It’s something that’s always been a dream, and a goal of mine.”
That contract was to play for St. Louis’s Rookie League affiliate, the Johnson City Cardinals, the two-time defending champions of the A-Ball Appalachian League, in far eastern Tennessee.
“I always knew I’d be playing baseball somewhere after college, even if it wound up being in an Independent League or something,” Johnson said. “But I never expected the defending World Champs to call and want to sign me. It’s quite an honor.”
Booden’s path to the pros wasn’t always so seemingly clear-cut. In fact, his 10-10 overall career record, and 5.04 ERA while at Bradley — opponents batted .277 overall against him — aren’t the type of numbers that would normally stand out to scouts.
However, a sudden change from Bradley’s starting rotation to the bullpen for his senior season made all the difference in the world. After posting ERAs of 7.40, 3.99 and 5.36 in 2009, ’10 and ’11, respectively, 2012 was his breakout year.
This spring, working almost exclusively in relief, Booden was 2-2, with a 2.84 ERA in 28 appearances.
Those 28 appearances were also a single-season school record. He stuck out 42 batters in 31-plus innings, allowing just 24 hits and holding opponents to a meager .216 batting average. He also ranks third all-time at Bradley in career appearances, with 65.
Booden will pitch out of the bullpen in the late innings for Johnson City, too. He worked a scoreless inning out of the ’pen during a preseason exhibition game. His club’s regular season schedule was slated to begin on June 19.
“Jake is a special young man,” said Bradley assistant coach John Corbin. “After we changed his role, we saw his velocity increase almost immediately. He went from throwing 86-89 mph as a starter to a consistent 88-93 out of the ’pen.
“I definitely think the Cardinals got a steal by signing him to a contract separate from having to draft him,” Corbin added. “And I think he’s good enough to play in the big leagues someday. He’s got an 85-mph slider that’s really tough to pick up on. He’s a pretty good leader, and guys on the team respected him because he was a tremendous teammate. When you get to this level, that’s important. Guys who like and respect you are gonna play defense behind you that much harder because of it.”
Booden seemingly is an intimidating character who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 235 pounds. He tries to use that size to his advantage.
“The good thing about being 6-9 is that when you release the ball, it’s closer to home plate than some of the other pitchers,” Booden said. “Which is beneficial, because in college and the minor leagues, there are already so many guys who can throw 90, or even 95 mph anyhow.”
Booden’s coach at Libertyville, Jim Schurr, was glad to see the Cardinals sign the 2008 grad, a Vernon Hills resident.
“(Jacob) had every belief and feeling that he was gonna get drafted outright,” Schurr said. “The week of the draft, he was checking his phone, like, every 10 minutes. When his name wasn’t called, he was slightly disappointed. After that, I called a few people for him and said, ‘Hey, here’s a guy that I think should’ve been picked. He’s out there and you’ve got a free agent opportunity, so please don’t lose sight of him.’ The team that picked him up — the Cardinals — wound up not even being one of the teams I called. My high school coach is a White Sox scout, my college coach is an Angels scout, my neighbor works for the Cubs. I called all those guys and it wound up being someone else, so you never know.”
Booden, 21, was a four-year varsity player for Schurr. During his senior season, he posted a 5-2 record and a 1.32 ERA, and earned first-team all-conference and all-area honors.
In college, Booden also made the Bradley University Athletic Department’s honor roll no less than six times between 2008 and ’12.
“It’s always been my goal and my dream to make it to the majors,” Booden said. “Hopefully, I can keep working hard and make that happen.”