Gavin Kilen is the latest highly-touted prep star from Wisconsin, which has transformed into a growing hotbed for talent in recent years.
Former Kenosha Indian Trail shortstop Gavin Lux started the trend of premium prep MLB draft picks from Wisconsin. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Lux 20th overall in the 2016 draft. Recently, prep position players Jarred Kelenic and Noah Miller went in the first round in the last four years.
Kilen has a contact-oriented approach and the tools to stick at shortstop long term. Scouts project the Milton (Wis.) High School shortstop as a potential early-round pick in this year’s draft with the potential to surge into first-round consideration with a strong spring season.
“I try not to focus on the draft stuff, honestly,” Kilen said. “My goal is just to play baseball every day as hard as I can, win games and do everything I can to the best of my ability to help my team win. The guys in front of me paved the way for guys from our area to get looks. Now, it’s just performing.”
Kilen is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound shortstop with a notable toolset from the left side of the plate. He is a mature hitter with a balanced setup and uses a quick swing to drive the ball to all fields.
Kilen is a line-drive hitter who has a notable feel for the strike zone. However, he likely will increase his power potential as he matures physically in the future.
Kilen also prides himself on his pitch recognition and ability to thrive against premium arms. He credits his offensive skill set and success to his father, a former college left-handed pitcher.
His father, Chris, was a standout player at Janesville Parker (Wis.) High School and drafted in the 58th round by the Minnesota Twins in 1993. Chris excelled in college before an arm injury derailed his career. His success has aided in his son’s development.
He throws Kilen batting practice daily at the family’s in-home batting cage, allowing Kilen to refine his craft, especially against a lefty pitcher.
“Since a young age, my dad has taught me to have a really good approach,” Kilen said. “I’ve always tried to look for the pitch in. I am always looking fastball and to strike baseballs early in the count. I have a good eye to see pitches, working counts and back spinning baseballs to the gaps.”
Besides his advanced offensive skills, Kilen also is a respectable defensive player. The prep shortstop possesses above-average arm strength and the instincts, hands, and range to play the position at a high level. Scouts believe he will remain at shortstop long term.
“Overall, I have a really good baseball IQ,” Kilen said. “I know where the ball needs to go before it’s going to be hit. I understand my feet and hands and have been working on them for a long time. The amount of reps I take allows me to have confidence when I am out there. Anything that happens, I can make the play and do it to the best of my ability.”
Kilen’s skills will be on full display when the high school season begins this spring. After playing in the Hitters Spring League last year, Kilen will suit up for Milton High School this spring. He wants to spend his final prep season playing with the friends he has played with since he was young, he said.
After his high school season, Kilen will have to decide between honoring his commitment to the University of Louisville or starting a pro career.
“Being from here and growing up here, it is just something to prove,” said Kilen on playing for his high school team this spring. “We are a very small school. We played in a Division II conference, and no one really expects us to do a whole lot. I think we will surprise a lot of people. It is going to be fun.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.