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The 2018 Major League Baseball Draft figures to be an exciting time for Milwaukee-area baseball enthusiasts.

Wisconsin has only recently begun to see a payoff from the proliferation of strong club and traveling programs that began in earnest several years ago. Gavin Lux of Kenosha Indian Trail became the first high-schooler in Wisconsin to get taken in the first round of the MLB Draft in nearly four decades when the Los Angeles Dodgers took him in 2016. A smattering of other local players, such as Menomonee Falls pitcher Ty Weber, Arrowhead’s Nate Brown and Wauwatosa West’s Austin Jones have also been selected, as was East Carolina pitcher Evan Kruczynski, a Franklin alumnus, in 2017.

But the next draft should be a fun one. Waukesha West’s Jarred Kelenic is considered to be a first round talent, while Franklin pitcher Max Alba and Oak Creek infielder Alex Binelas could go as high as the top-five rounds. That doesn’t even count Arrowhead catcher Jeff Holtz, an Indiana recruit who could also hear his name called.

Binelas is unique among that Wisconsin surge in that he plays varsity baseball during the summer. The 2017 All-Suburban Player of the Year loads up his remaining schedule with baseball, though, including post-season appointments with the Area Code Games, a Perfect Game tournament in Iowa with Hitters baseball club and another tournament in Jupiter, Florida.

“I’ve worked so hard to get where I am today,” Binelas said. “Getting recognized and all the stuff that comes with it is just me working hard and pushing. Good things are going to happen.”

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Loaded schedule

The Louisville recruit – he committed before he played his first varsity game at Oak Creek – certainly could have chosen to focus on the travel circuit, though that would make him an outlier in the baseball-rich tradition at Oak Creek.

“The highlight (of the season) was just being out there with my best friends and playing great baseball,” he said. “The best part was we were winning baseball games and having fun at the same time. Nothing compares to playing high school baseball; it’s the most fun you can ever have.

“I feel Wisconsin is maybe getting a lot more recognition for baseball. It's due to the facilities we have now, Hitters and Stiks (Academies), and players take great advantage of them and work their butts off to get better every day.”

Shortly after the season ended, Binelas was in Kansas City for a showcase, and he also left late in the regular season to attend the prestigious Tournament of Stars in North Carolina, an invitation-only event open to the top high school players in the country.

“It was tough to leave my team, but my teammates understood what I have to do for my personal self,” Binelas said. “They knew I'd do anything to win a baseball game for them. I’d run through a brick wall for them, and they'd do the same thing for me.”

Binelas said the experience went well, particularly with the opportunity to play for former Clemson University coach Jack Leggett, a Hall of Fame coach with six College World Series appearances under his belt.

“It was a great opportunity playing against the top 80 kids in the country,” he said. “There were so many pro scouts and national cross checkers.”

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Staying at home

Alba and Kelenic play exclusively for their club teams, and Holtz and Lux made a name for themselves in the spring season – one of Arrowhead’s reasons for switching from summer to spring was to enable traveling-team players to play for the varsity squad. Binelas, who has known Oak Creek coach Scott Holler since Holler taught him in fifth-grade, has taken a different approach, playing for his high school during a prime season for traveling tournaments.

“It's only two months, a month and a half; it's not too long of a time, and you're still going to the travel circuit after the season,” Binelas said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in high school and play with my best friends from my school and community. Oak Creek has a great baseball reputation. Coach Holler is a great coach and a great person outside of baseball, so that helps a lot.”

Oak Creek won the Greater Metro Conference regular-season championship and added the tournament championship for a second year in a row, though the Knights fell in the sectional and finished the year 28-4.

The Greater Metro Conference Player of the Year hit .508 with a .622 on-base percentage and 1.590 OPS in 63 at-bats. He homered four times and stole 16 bases without getting caught once. For good measure, he posted a 1.94 ERA in 22 innings of work on the mound, with 21 strikeouts.

He’s trying not the think about what comes after high school. Yet.

“I didn’t really think about that too much; I just worried about playing my best baseball with my best friends and enjoy it and not think too much about my future,” he said. “I'm working on every aspect of my game, working on my body, making sure it's physically strong. I’m taking hacks every day in the cage, taking ground balls, working on my arm strength. Speed was a key to my offseason. (I’m working on) everything I can.”

He was one of three Oak Creek players named All-Suburban, joining catcher Ben Stanke and outfielder Luke Posig. The latter joined Binelas on the All-State first team.

“He’s a great leader,” Binelas said of the senior Posig. “He and I are captains and always talking about how we can make the team better. He’s a little energy bug in the outfield and a great hitter at the plate. He’s one of my best friends off the field, too, and a great person.”

Recent All Suburban Teams and Player of the Year recipients

2016 ALL SUBURBAN TEAM: Menomonee Falls' Ty Weber, Oak Creek's Scott Holler headline the 2016 team

2016 PLAYER OF YEAR STORY: Weber leaves lasting legacy at Menomonee Falls

2015 ALL SUBURBAN TEAM: Oak Creek's Doran Turchin, Menomonee Falls' Pat Hansen top our annual team

2015 PLAYER OF YEAR STORY: Turchin repeats as player of the year

2014 ALL SUBURBAN TEAM: Turchin, Whitefish Bay coach Jay Wojcinski lead the 2014 team

2014 PLAYER OF YEAR STORY: A leader in many aspects, Turchin helps Oak Creek thrive

2013 ALL SUBURBAN TEAM: Tosa West's Austin Jones dominated on mound, New Berlin West's Tom Farina guided team to state title

2013 PLAYER OF YEAR STORY: Tosa West's Austin Jones rakes in the honors

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