By Nate Thompson

GRAND RAPIDS – After June 5, Jacob Buchberger may face one of the toughest decisions of his life.

That’s the day the Major League Baseball first-year player draft wraps up, and Buchberger has a more than a decent chance at being selected during the three-day event that features 40 rounds and a handful of compensatory picks.

Three years ago, the idea of the 2016 Montague graduate and current Davenport University junior being considered a pro prospect would have seemed like a fairy tale.

But with one fortunate tryout in front of Davenport’s head baseball coach, Kevin Tidey, and hours of grueling work in the weight room and on the field, Buchberger is writing his own story.

Now, fresh from turning in one of the best offensive seasons in Davenport history and being named the top player in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Buchberger may have to decide whether to return to school for his senior season, or take a giant leap of faith into professional baseball.

Jacob Buchberger. Photos courtesy of Davenport

As Coach Tidey said, it’s a nice problem for Buchberger to have. If he comes back to school, Buchberger will be a part of what is expected to be a stacked team at the Division 2 school that could contend for big things next season.

But if Buchberger leaves, he’ll be pursuing an opportunity that thousands dream of, but few achieve.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get drafted and play pro ball,” said Buchberger, who is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds and has packed on more than 30 pounds of muscle since his days at Montague. “Right now, it’s really hard to say what I’ll do. I know I’ll be super happy, but I don’t want to let that emotion from getting drafted affect my decision. I’ll sit down and talk with my advisors, my coaches and my family, and then make a decision.”

Buchberger will have his first chance to show his talents to big league scouts up close this Sunday when he participates in the Philadelphia Phillies pre-draft camp. Then on May 30, he’ll do the same with the Cincinnati Reds.

He’ll get a chance to show off his unique combination of speed and power. They are traits that helped him bat a stellar .429 in 182 at-bats with the Panthers this spring, while scoring 54 runs, hitting eight home runs and knocking in 40 runs. He also stole 22 bases in 25 attempts, helping lead the Panthers to a 32-18 record and third-place finish in the GLIAC.

“He’s a five-tool player,” Tidey said. “He’s a big kid now for us, and it’s amazing how much he’s progressed. He hits for power and average, he runs like a deer, and he fields his position as well as anyone.

“He’s really a specimen (physically),” Tidey added. “We were a little worried at one point he was getting too big and it would affect his speed, but he keeps running faster and faster. Even in the field, he moves so well for a kid his size.”

It’s hard to believe now, but just three years ago, Buchberger didn’t receive any college interest for baseball, likely because he was a three-sport standout at Montague and his main focus was pursuing a college football opportunity. He signed with the Davenport football squad and was listed as a wide receiver during his freshman season, but after a redshirt year, his heart led him in a different direction.

“I knew of him a little bit,” Tidey said. “I played college ball with his dad (Montague varsity baseball coach Kevin Buchberger), so I knew what kind of family he was coming from. During one of his visits for football, we invited him to visit with us.”

Tidey later invited Buchberger to a workout and was immediately impressed.

“He ran well and he showed a lot of bat speed, so that really jumped out,” Tidey said. “And with all that athletic ability, we figured he could really develop down the road.”

After his freshman season on the diamond, when he was primarily used as a pinch runner, Buchberger decided being a multi-sport athlete would be a thing of the past.

“I just thought it would be better for my future to focus on one sport,” said Buchberger, who played baseball, football and basketball at Montague. “Baseball is a lot less taxing on your body, and in the end, I just followed by heart. It was more in baseball.”

Being able to focus on baseball year-round has obviously done wonders. Tidey called Buchberger the team’s best hitter as a sophomore, and his performance this spring was off-the-charts, earning him league MVP honors. He said he got a leg up on the competition by facing quality pitching on a nightly basis while playing with a squad in Kokomo, Ind., in a summer prospect league.

“The more you see (tough pitching) the more comfortable you get,” Buchberger said. “I saw the ball a lot better this spring. Still, nobody expects to hit .430 in college ball. But I’ve always held myself to a high standard.”

Now on the cusp of achieving a lifelong dream, Buchberger can’t help but pinch himself, especially for a kid coming from a Division 6 high school. Tidey, however, said his star player deserves all the credit. He’s the one who put in the work to transform himself into a potential professional ball player.

“It’s a pretty cool story,” Tidey said. “He’s a hard worker and just a good character kid. He deserves it.”