A productive relationship between senior catcher Jeff Korte and freshman backstop Jacob Campbell has led Illinois to its best start since 2015.
In the Illini’s six wins to open the season, Korte and Campbell have gotten starts behind the plate, with Korte starting four times and Campbell starting twice.
Both catchers have caught redshirt senior starting pitcher Andy Fisher so far this season and he has seen good results. Fisher threw 5.2 innings, allowing two runs and punching out seven batters when Jacob Campbell was catching him against Wake Forest two weeks ago. Fisher followed that up this past Saturday with six innings of one-run baseball and nine strikeouts with Jeff Korte behind the plate against Florida Atlantic.
“They each call their own game for the most part,” Fisher said. “It’s just how they receive the ball and how they throw guys out at second, which they’ve both done a great job of.”
Fisher added: “They’re both pretty good receiving, they’ll get you those borderline pitches, make them called strikes instead of balls... and they don’t get mad at me when I shake them off three or four times.”
Korte homered twice in Friday’s win over Florida Atlantic. He is batting .250 with six runs driven in through the team’s first six contests.
In regards to the competition for Korte’s position, he stressed that he is not afraid of it.
“It’s always good to have competition. We had good competition last year with Skonie (Mark Skonieczny) and David [Craan] and I think this year could be even better with the addition of Jacob [Campbell].”
The senior also added that growing up in the state of Florida provided him with a fierce environment.
“I’m from Florida so like there’s always been competition down there so I’m not really afraid of it. I think it’s great we have good competition to motivate each other.”
Korte also made it clear he wants to help Campbell.
“I think from the beginning of fall I’ve been able to help Jacob, just like get familiar with the pitching staff,” Korte said. “I think the biggest thing as a catcher is you gotta have the pitchers be comfortable with who’s behind the plate so I think that that’s the biggest thing I’ve been trying to get him to do.”
The Chicago Cubs selected Campbell in the 36th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, but he decided to come play at Illinois. The catcher arrived at the University of Illinois as the eighth-ranked freshman catcher in the nation, and the highest ranked prospect in the Big Ten.
Still hitless so far in seven at bats, Campbell’s high ranking as a prospect has not added much pressure to him.
“It’s just the same mentality everyday, just get better in practice,” Campbell said, “and as long as we’re getting Ws at the end of the day that’s all that matters.”
Campbell has also not looked past the fact that Korte has been helping him early in his collegiate career.
“I definitely learn from him,” Campbell said. “As a senior he’s got a lot of knowledgeable things that I can pick up from and you know whoever goes out in the field on any given day, it’s just about winning.”
The Illini put their unblemished record on the line this weekend against Coastal Carolina, Northeastern (twice) and Connecticut.
But it is still up in the air in terms of who is starting behind the plate this weekend.
“I hope throughout the year we have multiple options because guys are playing well,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “I hope to keep moving guys around a little bit and keep guys fresh.
“Throughout the year all of our guys catch each other in scrimmage situations,” Hartleb added. “I try to go with the guy that I think is the best matchup, for a number of different reasons.”
It is yet to be determined who that best matchup is. However it is important to note Jeff Korte bats left-handed and Jacob Campbell bats right-handed, and you can expect to see both of them behind the plate this weekend.
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