By: Brandon Vickrey
Chicago, Ill. – June 20, 2016 – The Midwest Collegiate League has become a breeding ground for future professional talent over the course of its first seven seasons.
Players from the league being selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is no longer an uncommon occurrence, with at least 33 players drafted over the last seven seasons.
Corey Ray reached new heights for an MCL alum in this year’s draft, as the former Southland Vikings outfielder was taken No. 5 overall by the Milwaukee Brewers. He became the first first-round selection in Midwest Collegiate League history.
“I’m definitely happy for him; I know how hard the kid worked,” former Southland Vikings manager Chris Cunningham said. “He went to Louisville and had an unbelievably successful career there. I’m extremely happy and proud.”
Ray, a graduate of Simeon High School, became the first Chicago prospect drafted in the top 10 since 1989. The former Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite program member is a former teammate of several current MCL players on the Northwest Indiana Oilmen and Southland Vikings.
Ray played in the Midwest Collegiate League immediately after his senior season at Simeon. He hit .328 in 17 games with the Southland Vikings after being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 33rd round out of high school.
In an interview in 2014, Ray said Vikings players like Jeff Boehm helped him make the transition from high school baseball to the wood bat summer collegiate league.
“I remember the pitchers telling me that it was going to be a rough transition,” Ray said. “It’s not like high school any more. They told me to keep my head down and keep my mouth shut and work. That’s what I did, and I think that helped a lot.”
Ray said the experience competing against collegiate talent in the MCL helped ease his transition to Louisville.
This spring at Louisville, Ray crushed 15 home runs, drove in 60, stole 44 bases and compiled a .396 on-base percentage in 62 games.
The left-handed hitting Ray, who has one season of college eligibility remaining, has not yet signed with the Brewers. According to MLB.com, the value of the No. 5 overall pick is $4,382,200.
When Ray played in his first college-level games as a member of the Vikings, it didn’t take players or coaches from the league long to recognize his talent.
“I remember an 18-year-old kid who didn’t seem like an 18-year-old kid,” Cunningham said. “He was a man. He was a solidly-built kid. You knew he was something special as soon as you saw him. He hit the ball off the 410 sign at Oil City Stadium and we were like, ‘Holy cow, this kid has got something.’”
Cunningham recalls Ray being very polished for a player coming straight from high school. But it was how Ray carried himself that impressed the 2013 Vikings skipper most.
“It was his maturity and how he handled his teammates,” Cunningham said. “Everyone knew he was a good player. It didn’t matter whether Corey was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he would be cheering on his teammates. He was a hard-nosed kid.”
Cunningham said he heard Ray was “pretty good” in high school, an understatement that was confirmed during the first day of batting practice.
“This kid is right out of the Chicago Public League and he’s the best player in the league,” Cunningham said. “I remember telling people, this is the best player in the league. I said that with conviction. I believed it, and it amazed me, truthfully. He’s a really good kid.”
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