Robinson looks to draft

JON COOK -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Three years ago Chris Robinson was on pins and needles as he prepared himself to fulfill a dream and be drafted by a Major League Baseball team.

Predicted to go in the first 10 rounds of the MLB amateur draft, the Dorchester, Ont., catcher was disheartened not to hear his name called until 897th pick, by the New York Mets in the 30th round.

"I think I listened a little too much to what people were saying about where I'd go and I looked at too many lists," admitted Robinson, who won't let himself get as carried away as he awaits next week's draft (June 7-8). "This time around I'm a little more mature and realize I can't control it."

The six-foot, 190-pounder, who just completed a great junior year at the University of Illinois, is Canada's top catching prospect and may be the best defensive catcher eligible for the draft anywhere.

All the 21-year-old did for the Fighting Illini this season is throw out more than 40 per cent of would-be base stealers and pick off seven runners at first. Both were tops among Big Ten catchers. He also hit .350, with an on-base average of .430 and drove in 36 runs in 49 games, on his way to being named to the All-Big Ten first team for the second consecutive year. Robinson's effort helped Illinois win their first Big Ten conference since 1998.

"He seemed to gravitate towards catching," said his father, Don, who after enduring knee surgeries, tried to steer his son away from the rigors of the catcher position. "By the time he was 10 he was winning MVPs at the Ontario Baseball Championships. He was gunning guys at second base when he was in Mosquito and the umpires would just shake their heads and tell me this isn't supposed to happen."

HIGHLY REGARDED

Despite the early success, Robinson was not always so enamored with the position.

"It was a little boring when not much was going on," admitted Robinson, the No. 2-ranked Canadian prospect heading into next week's draft, according to a scout's list compiled by The Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott. "As I advanced and started calling the games more, I liked catching better. Now I think it's the most exciting position."

His strongpoints in the classroom is another one of those kind of intangibles that has Robinson's teammates, coaches and scouts singing his praises.

"Chris is thought of very highly in the scouting world," said Illinois assistant coach Eric Snider, who recruited Robinson after seeing him dominate as a 17-year-old at a Canada Cup tournament in Melleville, SK. At that tournament Robinson was playing third, because Mississauga native Chris Leroux (drafted in the ninth round -- 254th overall -- by Tampa Bay in 2002) was catching.

However Snider saw he'd make a good catcher and when the Illini lost a catcher to injury, Snider offered Robinson a full scholarship. Robinson, who was also heavily courted by Winthrop, signed a letter of intent for the 2002-03 academic year.

Legendary Illinois head coach Richard "Itch" Jones, who has watched many of his players make it to the majors over his 40-year NCAA career, believes Robinson can also join those elite ranks. Robinson is projected as the 185th-best draft-eligible prospect on Baseball America's Top 200 list of high schoolers and collegians.

"We hear between the third and fifth round, but you never know," said Jones, the Big Ten coach of the year. "I look at the catchers we've seen this year and as far as an all-around catcher, he's the best one I've seen. A certain organization that I talked to the other day told me that they compared him to Joe Girardi, who had a great career."

Robinson's dream scenario would have him drafted by the Blue Jays, who he grew up watching.

"The Blue Jays have been one of my favourite teams for some time, but it just takes one team to like you," said Robinson.


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