By: Brandon Vickrey
June 19, 2015 – With over 25 players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in the Midwest Collegiate League’s five-year history, there are no shortage of success stories among former players.
However, Paul DeJong may very well rank at the top of that list.
DeJong played for the Will County CrackerJacks in 2012 before spending the 2013 season with DuPage County Hounds. Less than two years later, the Illinois State utility man heard his name called by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“It was pure excitement,” DeJong said. “The Cardinals pick was coming up, and I knew the Cardinals were interested because I had gone down to Busch Stadium right before the draft. We were hoping the Cardinals would pick me. I saw my name come across the board. We got a call from the Cardinals; I was so excited and celebrated with my family. It was an amazing moment.”
DeJong batted .260 in the spring of 2013 at Illinois State prior to his summer with DuPage County. In 2014, he enjoyed a breakout season, compiling a .349 average while launching nine home runs and 48 RBIs. He followed that up by hitting .333 with 14 long balls and 48 driven in during the 2015 campaign.
Being drafted is not a first-time experience for DeJong, as he was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 38th round a year ago, but he chose to instead return to Illinois State for one final season instead of signing to begin his professional journey. It paid off, as his stock improved considerably following the 2015 season.
This time, DeJong has already inked his contract with the Cardinals. He has reported to the Johnson City Cardinals Rookie Ball affiliate in Johnson City, Tennessee. The Johnson City Cardinals open their season on Tuesday, June 23 at Kingsport.
DeJong has played five different defensive positions during his time at Illinois State. The Cardinals announced him as a third baseman after he played mostly second base for the Redbirds.
He has fond memories of the two summers he spent in the Midwest Collegiate League, and had particularly high praise for Hounds manager Sean Osborne.
“Stadiums like the Hounds and Oilmen were very nice and it was a great experience with the fans,” DeJong said. “The level of play was good. It was great for my development. I was still developing as a catcher at that point, and Sean Osborne really helped me learn the fundamentals and fix some things in my game. Overall, Sean Osborne was great.”
DeJong remains in touch with teammates from both summers he spent in the Midwest Collegiate League. He advises current MCL players to treat summer ball seriously, strive for improvement and establish lasting connections with coaches and teammates.
“Never stop working hard, and you never know what could happen,” DeJong said. “If you would have asked me in the MCL if I was going to be a fourth-round pick in 2015, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’ but I kept working.”
Since his initial breakout season came right on the heels of his summer with DuPage County, DeJong recognizes the role his time in the MCL played in his development.
“I want to thank the Midwest Collegiate League for helping me,” he said. “They were a part of my development and allowed me to get better at the game. They obviously made a difference in where I got today, especially Sean Osborne with the Hounds organization. They couldn’t have been more gracious.”
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