Tommy Specht agonized over the decision for several months.
As his national profile began to blow up late last summer, so did the number of opportunities to participate in elite-level baseball showcases and tournaments across the country. Unfortunately, many of those events conflict with the stretch run of the Dubuque Wahlert baseball season.
Specht, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior right-fielder committed to the University of Kentucky, likely played his final game of the season for the Golden Eagles on Friday. He departs for North Carolina today to begin a quest to further solidify his stock as a top prospect for the 2022 Major League Baseball Draft.
“First and foremost, I couldn’t be more grateful to Coach (Kory) Tuescher, Coach (Matt) Kass and Coach (Owen) Funke for allowing me to play for Wahlert this season, because I know there are other guys in similar situations whose high school coaches told them it was all or nothing,” Specht said Sunday afternoon. “These are the guys I grew up with and I’ve played with or against since we were little, and we’ve been looking forward to playing varsity baseball together at Wahlert for a long time. They’re the kids I go to class with every day, and we’re always talking baseball. So it really meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to play with them, have a good time and play the number of games I was able to play. It’s a great team, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about them playing in the state tournament a month from now.”
Last summer at Wahlert, Specht batted .525 (21-for-40) with five doubles, one triple, two home runs and 20 RBIs while winning the Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division batting title. He earned Iowa Class 3A first-team all-state honors from the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association after receiving unanimous all-MVC honors.
But his 2020 season also included impressive performances at Perfect Game national showcase events. He earned three all-tournament selections while playing for the Iowa Select Evans squad and also made all-tournament at the Underclass World Championship as a member of the Mississippi-based East Coast Sox Founders Club.
Specht received Top Prospects List recognition at three Perfect Game events, including the 2021 National Indoor Showcase on Feb. 20 in Lake St. Louis, Mo., after running a 6.46 60-yard dash and throwing 96 mph from the outfield. Perfect Game lists him as the No. 1 prospect in Iowa and the No. 51 prospect in the country from the 2022 high school graduating class.
That resume led to the kind of opportunities on Specht’s schedule for the next two months. He will play for the East Coast Sox at the USA Baseball 17U National Team Championships in Cary, N.C., this week; followed by the Perfect Game National Elite in Hoover, Ala., from June 30-July 5; and the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association tournament in Marietta, Ga., from July 6-13.
Specht heads to the Perfect Game National Showcase at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, on July 14-16; then will participate in the USA Baseball Prospect Development Pipeline League for the top 96 high school players in his graduating class from July 22 through Aug. 1 in Cary, N.C.
Pending his performance this summer, Specht could also receive invitations to the East Coast Pro in early August at Hoover, Ala.; the Area Code Games on Aug. 6-10 in Los Angeles; and the Perfect Game All-American Classic on Aug. 22 at Petco Park in San Diego.
“I’m very blessed to have these kinds of opportunities ahead of me,” Specht said. “I’ve worked super hard for them, so it’d be really difficult to pass them up when they come around. I realize how fortunate I am just to be asked to play in them, and it’s important to make the most of them.
“The biggest thing is they put me in a position to develop as a player and prepare for the next level. It was such a tough decision to commit to them because they come during the Wahlert season, but they were opportunities I just couldn’t pass up.”
If it sounds like a lot of baseball to navigate, it is.
Fortunately, the Specht family has been able to follow somewhat of a blueprint established by two local players who have also earned opportunities to play in the Southeastern Conference. Western Dubuque graduate Calvin Harris recently completed his freshman season at the University of Mississippi, and Ian Moller, who graduated from Wahlert at the end of the first semester, has signed with Louisiana State but could opt for professional baseball, pending results from next months’ Major League Baseball Draft.
“I’m extremely grateful to Scott Harris and Steven Moller for all the guidance they’ve given us over the years,” said Mike Specht, Tommy’s father, in reference to the fathers of the two local SEC players. “They’ve always been so gracious with their time, and they’ve never balked at having a conversation about the process and what they’ve learned along the way. In a lot of cases, it felt like they were more like therapists for us than anything else.
“I really appreciate the way they’ve paid it forward, and that’s something I’ve already started to do for other parents whose sons have aspirations of playing at that level.”
Specht has also leaned on local baseball knowledge from Eric Munson, David Janes, Mike Edmonds and Shane Schellsmidt during his ascension. He works on speed, strength and agility with Mike Zweifel of Building Better Athletes.
In 18 games for Wahlert this season, Specht batted .439 (25-for-57) with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and 14 RBIs. He also drew 11 walks and stole seven bases in eight attempts.
“I’ve learned a lot about the process the last six or so months, and while I might not agree with everything, I definitely respect and understand why Tommy is going this route,” Tuescher said. “At the end of the day, it’s Tommy and his family who have the most information on the process from the area scouts up here and the national scouts down South.
“If they think this is the best route for his future, I’m going to support it for sure. These are opportunities that can improve his draft stock next summer. We all love the game of baseball, and I’ll be the last person to hold him back from his dream.”
On the bright side, Tuescher has known about Specht’s intentions for several months. That gave the coaching staff an opportunity to prepare for his departure.
“It’s not like we’re suddenly losing our No. 3 hitter and now what do we do?” Tuescher said. “We’ve had an opportunity to move some guys around and get them ready for this. It’s probably not going to be one guy who replaces what Tommy does for us, but more like three or four guys who will step up.
“Fortunately, we have a really deep team and we have guys who are excited about the opportunities. Our expectations for this season won’t change.”
Support within the Wahlert community made Tommy Specht’s difficult decision a little easier.
“It’s really been neat to see how excited his teammates and classmates have been for every opportunity Tommy has been blessed to receive,” Mike Specht said. “And the Wahlert administration has been great through it all, too. It means a lot to us to have that kind of support.”
Tommy Specht understands the next couple of months won’t be easy. He doesn’t want them to be.
“The most important thing for me is to be able to go to Kentucky and be in a position to contribute right away,” he said. “And the best way to do that is to face great competition every day. We see a lot of great competition in the MVC and right here in Dubuque, but down there you’re going to see top-level arms every single at-bat.
“That’s going to expose some weaknesses and force me to make adjustments, just like I’m going to have to do at the next level. And I’ll be facing kids I’ll eventually see in the SEC, so maybe I can learn a few things for down the road against them. The other thing is I’ll have a chance to see how those guys prepare every day and learn why they’re so successful.”