Wikoff, Altobelli drafted into pros

It’s unfortunate that Brandon Wikoff and Dominic Altobelli were separated by a state Wednesday. If they’d been their usual distance apart between shortstop and third base on a baseball diamond, Altobelli’s wish could have come true.

“I wish I could give you a hug right now,” Altobelli said to his former Illinois baseball teammate via a conference call discussing their entry into the ranks of professional baseball.

As it was, the former left side of the Illinois infield had to settle for verbal congratulations after Wikoff was drafted in the fifth round and 161st overall by the Houston Astros in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday morning and the Colorado Rockies made Altobelli the 481st overall pick by selecting the third baseman in the 16th round.

Following a junior season in which he hit .373, Wikoff said he was told by scouts he could be drafted anywhere from round four to round 12. Although he was expecting to hear his name called, the moment was still one Wikoff will never forget, and he took it in with his father in the clubhouse of the Madison Mallards in Madison, Wis., where he was playing summer ball in the Northwoods League.

“My dad had the computer, and he kind of jumped in the air, and I was like ‘No way!’ It was kind of surreal, then my heart got going. Then I got the call, and I really knew it had happened,” Wikoff said.

While Wikoff was in Wisconsin, Altobelli, who hit .361 with eight homers and 53 RBIs in his senior season, was at his home in Oak Forest, Ill., when he found out he was drafted.

“I went and worked out (Wednesday) morning, then I hopped in the shower when I got home,” Altobelli said. “When I got out, I heard my mom screaming at the top of her lungs and crying a little bit because she had seen it pop up on the computer.”

Altobelli and Wikoff each said they had not started contract negotiations as of Wednesday afternoon, but both expected to be contacted by Thursday at the latest. With one year of collegiate eligibility remaining, Wikoff still has the option of returning to school, but he was pretty certain of what he was going to do.

“I would say that the chances of me signing are very good. My time at Illinois is probably done,” Wikoff said. “I told everybody I wouldn’t take back my three years of college for anything. It’s made me a better person, a better player. But I think I’m ready to take the next step.”

Altobelli said he could be a utility player in the professional ranks who plays the corner infield positions and the corner outfield spots. Wikoff said he will stay at shortstop for now, but the Astros did use four of their first 10 picks on shortstops.

“For the most part, it’s shortstop until I prove that I can’t, but they know I can play all three infield positions (SS, 2B, 3B),” Wikoff said. “That’s what a lot of scouts talked to me about, was being able to have that versatility, which is a big thing.”

Altobelli said he started following the Rockies a bit when former Illini catcher Lars Davis was drafted by them several years ago. Although Altobelli is a diehard Cubs fan, he did admit, “Colorado’s a pretty cool state, so it should be pretty good.”

Wikoff, on the other hand, was a big St. Louis Cardinals fan growing up. While his favorite team now is obviously the Astros, he’s looking forward to possibly facing the Redbirds someday.

“I actually worked out for St. Louis at Busch Stadium,” Wikoff said. “Now I may have the opportunity to play against them with the Astros. To be able to play on their field would be kind of surreal.”