Joliet, IL – Close to 350 hopefuls worked out at Joliet Route 66 Stadium across two days earlier this week for an opportunity to call one of 10 professional organizations their workplace. Ultimately, 27 players were selected in the 2019 Frontier League draft.
Awarded the first pick following a last place finish in 2018, the Gateway Grizzlies selected right-handed pitcher Reign Letkeman. Letkeman is entering his first season in the Frontier League and fourth professionally.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 23rd round of 2015. Letkeman signed out of Big Bend Community College and compiled 51.2 innings across 24 appearances (three starts) in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues as a member of the Rays.
Throughout his career in Tampa Bay’s Rookie-ball affiliate, Letkeman struck out 40 compared to only 17 walks. Letkeman’s command influenced Grizzlies manager Phill Warren to take the 6-3, 180-pound righty first overall.
“There were probably two guys who stood out to us – Reign being one of them – that really looked like he threw with a plan,” Warren said. “He wasn’t the highest velo guy here, but [he threw] 90-91-92 mph and he used both sides of the plate. He throws three pitches for strikes and has a good history behind him, competes well, good kid with good size to him and he’s durable so we can probably use him in different roles.”
As Spring Training begins across the Frontier League on April 25, Warren will get enough of a look at Letkeman to determine what he considers the best plan of attack prior to Opening Day on May 10.
Being used predominantly out of the bullpen as an affiliated player, Letkeman offers versatility as a multi-inning reliever or within a high-leverage situation late in the contest. The No. 1 overall draft pick has thrown more than one inning in 18 of his 24 career appearances throughout Rookie-ball.
The Gateway skipper elected on an arm with the first overall pick in 2019, which continues a string of five consecutive pitchers taken in the first slot dating back to 2015. Approaches may fluctuate as it pertains to evaluating someone like Letkeman, as certain variables make each Frontier League club’s selection process unique.
“There’s definitely a balance between what you already have coming into camp and what’s out there,” Warren said. “There’s also salary implications, classification rules and then, of course, you’re usually surprised because the best player available might be better than who we’re thinking about taking because of our situation. So, yeah, you have to weigh all of those factors.”
Teams are allotted a maximum of 34 roster spots across Spring Training but must be cut down to 24 by Opening Day. Warren’s current Grizzlies roster includes Letkeman, but second baseman Gunnar Buehner and catcher Fernando Villegas will also join the club after being selected 3rd and 9th overall, respectively.
“For us this year, we took a pitcher, a catcher and an infielder,” Warren said. “All three of those guys will compete for a job with our guys and we think they complement who we have coming in and they will certainly drive the competition even more.”
Depth remains a necessity for teams across the League, as rosters are adjusted daily. Warren and the Grizzlies believe the draft allows Frontier League managers to remain flexible as they pencil in their depth charts prior to the start of a season.
“When you get to the draft, you have a bit of uncertainty and unknown about your own roster,” Warren said. “You’re just trying to add to your depth, increase the competition between all the guys, but also look for guys not just to daft, but to make the team. If they do well, then they’ll force my hand.”
The Grizzlies open the 2019 season at home against the Schaumburg Boomers on May 10. The Frontier League kicks off on Thursday, May 9 at Joliet Route 66 Stadium as the defending champion Joliet Slammers take on the Windy City ThunderBolts at 7:05pm CT.