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Ryan Cermak becomes ISU baseball's highest draft choice in 21 years

Ryan Cermak holding bat and helmet
Dennis Banks
Illinois State athletics
Ryan Cermak finished with 32 career home runs at Illinois State University, the fourth highest total in school history.

Illinois State University baseball coach Steve Holm noticed Ryan Cermak’s potential during his pandemic-shortened freshman season in 2020, even if Cermak's skills were unrefined.

“He wasn’t able to keep the baseball fair very often, but he squares some baseballs up and hit them a long way,” Holm recalled. “A lot of times to his detriment it was foul.”

Cermak got better at keeping the ball between the lines during his second and third seasons at ISU. By then, many of his hits had trouble staying in the park. He finished with 32 career home runs, fourth best in school history.

Cermak parlayed his power and speed into one of the best seasons in Redbird baseball history and that led him to become one of the program’s highest selections in the Major League Baseball draft.

Ryan Cermak
Illinois State athletics
Ryan Cermak

Late Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays chose Cermak in the second round with the 71st overall pick. He’s ISU’s highest draft choice since pitcher Neal Cotts in 2001.

Cermak waited for hours Sunday night in anticipation. “I’m not a crier, but I will admit I did cry a little bit,” said Cermak, adding his friends screamed for 10-15 seconds after he was drafted. He then hugged his parents.

The 21-year-old Riverside, Ill. native said his development as a ballplayer grew when he moved from shortstop to the outfield. “I could really show off my speed and range,” he said, adding he still wants more reps in the outfield so he doesn’t run into the wall as much.

Holm also credited Cermak’s defensive move for unlocking his offensive potential. “The infield was stressing Ryan out a little bit and maybe he was taking his defense to the plate,” Holm said. “When we moved him to the outfield, it was to clear (his mind) and freshen him up.”

The move worked for both bat and glove. Cermak won the 2022 Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award and picked up his second straight First Team All-MVC honor.

Eight former Redbirds have signed with Major League teams during Holm’s four seasons as coach. The list includes Owen Miller of the Cleveland Indians, former St. Louis Cardinals all-star Paul DeJong and six others who are currently in the minor leagues, where Cermak is headed next.

Cermak said he’s encouraged that a number of his former teammates and predecessors at ISU have carved a path for him to potentially make it to the big leagues.

“It’s definitely promising because there are big leaguers that are still playing that went to ISU,” Cermak said. “I’m sure there are more to come that are in the minor leagues. It’s a good thing to look forward to.”

Holm said Cermak grew not just as a baseball player, but as a student and a person. He said Cermak became a 4.0 GPA student. And he recalled an incident where Cermak gave an extra team meal to a homeless man across the street after a game.

“Those are the types of things Ryan turned himself into,” Holm said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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