In the weeks leading
up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview
of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as
well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the
state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as
well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.
Utah State-by-State List
Blend of Talent in Utah; Cron’s Bat Separates Him From Pack
Utah doesn’t command a
lot of scouting traffic at the best of times, mainly because of its
somewhat remote location and modest-sized player pool. It’s also
one of the nation’s most-enigmatic states to scout because of its
devout Mormon faith and the expectation that many of the top baseball
players will interrupt their careers for up to two years, often at
inopportune times, to partake in missionary obligations.
Most of those factors are
in play again this year, with one notable exception.
Utah does have a
legitimate prospect for the draft this year in University of Utah
power-hitting first baseman C.J. Cron. He ranks among the very best
offensive players in the country, and is expected to be selected in
the back half of the first round, which would represent one of the
few times in draft history that a player with a connection to Utah
has been selected that early.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound
Cron began his college career at Utah as a catcher, but it was
readily evident that his bat would always take him as far as he would
go in the game, and he has gradually transitioned to first base over
his career. A partial tear in a knee ligament last summer, which sent
him to the sidelines for several weeks, pretty much sealed his fate
and he has spent all of this season at his new position.
No matter where Cron
plays, his bat will be the great equalizer. He led Utah in batting
(.444), homers (15) and RBIs (58) through the regular season,
something he has done with regularity since he was a freshman at
Utah. He has a quick, powerful swing with serious raw power to all
fields, along with an acute sense of strike-zone discipline.
There may be no more apt
big-league comparison to Cron than all-star first baseman Paul
Konerko, who was drafted in the first round as a catcher out of an
Arizona high school, and inevitably found his way to first base. In
addition to a similar background, Cron has eerily-similar tools.
Cron comes by his
baseball talent and acumen naturally as his father Chris played in
the big leagues, and is currently the manager at Double-A Erie of the
Detroit Tigers organization. His younger brother Kevin, also eligible
for this year’s draft, is one of the top sluggers in the
high-school ranks, and actually broke many of C.J.’s hitting
records over the last two years at Mountain High in Phoenix, most
while in the process of slamming 51 homers.
The ties between Arizona
and Utah in this draft are uncanny. Just as the Arizona-developed
Cron is Utah’s best draft prospect this year, the reverse may also
be true as there is a strong chance that the first player taken from
an Arizona school this year will be Central Arizona JC outfielder
Keenyn Walker, who attended high school in Salt Lake City.
Led by Cron, four of the
top five-ranked college prospects in Utah are also from Arizona.
The Utah-Arizona dynamic
also played out recently at the junior-college level, when Central
Arizona, led by Walker, foiled the bid of a strong Salt Lake CC team
in reaching the Junior College World Series. Salt Lake was in the
driver’s seat as the last unbeaten team at the Western District
tournament, played in Arizona, and just needed to beat No. 1-ranked
Central Arizona once in two games on the final day to secure a berth.
But it lost two tightly-contested games. Salt Lake (49-16) itself was
ranked No. 1 nationally earlier this spring after running off 24 wins
in a row.
Salt Lake’s success on
the field could extend to the draft. Six-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore
righthander Josh Mooney has the frame, athletic ability and raw stuff
to be a significant draft pick. He has been on the radar of scouts
since he was clocked at 94 mph in high school, but has been slow
making strides in his development as a pitcher over the last two
years. He did learn to throw his slider and changeup more
consistently for strikes this season, but still struggled with a 4-4,
5.96 record overall, poorest on the Salt Lake staff.
Taylor arrived in school last fall with much less fanfare, but made
huge strides by leading Salt Lake in most offensive categories as a
freshman, including batting (.381), homers (5), RBIs (55) and stolen
bases (24). Scouts have taken note of his 6.4-second speed, superior
arm strength and developing power, but believe he is still crude in
his approach and may need another year in college to polish some of
his rough edges.
For all of Taylor’s
improvement this spring, the junior-college player in Utah that may
have made the biggest strides, and did so in relative anonymity at
Eastern Utah JC, is outfielder Craig Brinkerhoff, who was a one-man
wrecking crew on a sub-.500 team. Though he was lightly recruited out
of a small Utah high school, the 6-foot-2,190-pound Brinkerhoff hit
.376, drilled 17 homers and stole 17 bases. He didn’t assemble
those numbers with smoke and mirrors, either, as Brinkerhoff has the
combination of speed and power, and arm strength, to warrant being
drafted in the top 8-12 rounds.
Jace led NCAA Division I hitters with a .456 average a year ago as a
senior at Utah Valley State. He was also just four RBIs shy of the
national lead in that category, and was subsequently drafted in the
38th round by the Los Angeles Angels.
Utah high schools have
been so challenged to produce high-end talent through the years that
just two first-rounders have come from the state in 46 years, both
lefthanders—Bruce Hurst in 1976, Mark Pawelek in 2005. No position
player had ever been taken in the first two rounds until last year,
when Pine View High shortstop Marcus Littlewood was taken in the
second round by the Seattle Mariners.
That feat may have been
duplicated this year had Alta High shortstop Kavin Keyes not elected
to enroll at Oregon State in January, a semester early. His early
departure left a deep void in the Utah prep ranks, and it is unlikely
that the draft will see a Utah high school player taken before the
middle rounds, at the earliest.
Westlake High outfielder
Jordy Hart and two players from state prep powerhouse Spanish Fork,
outfielder Travis Still and first baseman James Lengal, are
considered the top three prospects in Utah.
Hart has impressive
speed, arm strength and bat speed, but his 5-foot-8 frame will limit
his draft appeal. The 6-foot-2 Still also can fly, but he is also a
top wide receiver and heavily committed to playing football at Utah.
Lengal’s upside is considerably higher on the mound than at first
base as he was clocked at 92 mph as a junior. But he has not pitched
all spring because of a lingering labrum (shoulder) injury.
While this year’s draft
will likely produce a dry run at the high-school level, that should
all change next year when Spanish Fork two-way star Kayden Porter
becomes eligible. The 6-foot-4 pitcher/first baseman played an
instrumental role in leading Spanish Fork to back to-back state 4-A
titles as a freshman and sophomore, hitting 10 home runs both
seasons. With a 9-0, 1.47 record on the mound, along with his
intimidating presence in the batter’s box (.545-10-38), Clayton led
Spanish Fork to another No. 1 state ranking this spring, although his
team lost early in the double-elimination state tournament and will
be forced to come back through the loser’s bracket to win a third
Led by Cron and senior
lefthander Rick Anton (9-1, 2.52), the University of Utah had one of
its most successful seasons in recent program history, going 29-19.
It comes at an opportune time as the Utes will be stepping up in
class a year from now as an expansion team in the powerful Pacific-10
Anton, a former
junior-college transfer from Arizona, stabilized the Utes rotation
and his own improvement from 2010, when he went undrafted, has been
even more dramatic than his team’s turnaround. He added a cutter to
his four-pitch repertoire, along with 4-5 mph in velocity to his
fastball, and yet still commanded all his pitches. He has
significantly raised his draft profile and could easily now factor
into the top 10 rounds.
Even as a senior, Anton
should be the first Utah college pitcher drafted this year. And to
prove that age really never matters in Utah when it comes to college
pitching prospects, Brigham Young righthanders Taylor Cole and Matt
Neil could factor into that mix, too, even as Cole, a sophomore, is
the same age as Anton, and Neil, a senior, is actually two years
Cole just resumed
pitching again this spring as a returning two-year missionary, while
Neil, a 2005 Arizona high-school graduate, continues to make strides
as a pitcher after spending nearly four years away from the game
before resurrecting his career two years ago.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound
Neil literally blossomed from out of nowhere for BYU, going 6-4, 2.42
with 10 walks and 73 strikeouts in 86 innings, while Cole (5-5, 2.99,
93 IP/37 BB/67 SO) showed flashes of his pre-missionary form.
Cole was a hot commodity
as both a high-school senior in 2007 at Bishop Gorman High in Las
Vegas, and junior-college freshman in 2008 at the College of Southern
Nevada. Had he not made a decision to leave on his mission right
before the 2008 draft, he might have been selected as early as the
sandwich round of that year’s draft.
It has taken Cole most of
the spring to regain his physical strength, if not his pitching
touch, and his velocity was a steady 89-91 mph, occasionally touching
93-94. Back in the day, he would routinely touch 97.
Not only has Cole’s
one-time velocity been slow to return, but he has lacked consistency
with his command. His arm works well and he pretty much has mastered
his slider, but Cole ideally may need another year in college to be
in optimum position to take his game to the professional level. Age
may no longer be in Cole’s favor, though, and he may elect to leave
this year as a sophomore.
Such are the complexities
of baseball in Utah.
Utah in a Nutshell:
(1-to-5 scale): 3.
BEST COLLEGE TEAM:
TEAM: Salt Lake.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM:
PROSPECT ON THE RISE:
Matt Neil, rhp, Brigham Young University. Neil took up pitching
again at BYU in 2009, four years after he last pitched at an Arizona
high school. It has taken the 6-foot-6, 225-pound righthander two
years just to get his feel back, and he blossomed this year for BYU
by going 6-4, 2.42 with 10 walks and 73 strikeouts in 86 innings.
Even at his advanced age, teams have taken note of his big frame,
92-mph fastball and impressive credentials.
PROSPECT ON THE
DECLINE: Josh Mooney, rhp, Salt Lake CC. Mooney was the top-rated
high-school prospect in Utah two years ago. While he still has
impressive raw stuff with a fastball up to 94, Mooney posted the
poorest record (4-4, 5.76) of any pitcher this season on his
WILD CARD: Taylor
Cole, rhp, Brigham Young University. Cole was a no-brainer
early-round pick when he was a freshman in 2008 at the College of
Southern Nevada. But he elected to leave on a two-year Mormon mission
just prior to that year’s draft, and has shown only flashes of his
old form this season for the Cougars. If a team is convinced he will
regain the stuff and command he had in junior college, he could vault
up draft boards.
PROSPECT, Utah Connection: Keenyn Walker, of, Central Arizona JC
(attended high school in Salt Lake City).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT:
Kayden Porter, rhp/of, Spanish Fork HS.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT:
Jaycob Brugman, of, Brigham Young University.
HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS
Cory Snyder, 3b, Brigham Young U. (1984, Indians/1st round, 4th pick).
2006 Draft: John
Holdzkom, rhp, Salt Lake CC (Mets/4th round).
2007 Draft: Garrett
Nash, ss, Jordan HS, Draper (Rangers/4th round).
2008 Draft: Stephen
Fife, rhp, U. of Utah (Red Sox/3rd round).
2009 Draft: Steve
Parker, 3b, Brigham Young U. (Athletics/5th round).
2010 Draft: Marcus
Littlewood, ss, Pine View HS, St. George (Mariners/2nd round).
Best Hitter: C.J.
Cron, 1b, University of Utah.
Best Power: C.J.
Cron, 1b, University of Utah.
Best Speed: Dominique
Taylor, of, Salt Lake CC.
Dominique Taylor, of, Salt Lake CC.
Best Velocity: Taylor
Cole, rhp, Brigham Young University.
Best Breaking Stuff:
Rick Anton, lhp, University of Utah.
TOP PROSPECTS, GROUPS
ONE and TWO
ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft /
C.J. CRON, 1b, University of Utah
the whole package, except speed/agility behind plate; explosive bat,
power to all fields, ++ team player.
TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft /
RICK ANTON, lhp, University of Utah (Sr.)
SR sign (9-1, 2.52, 100 IP/25 BB/85 SO), solid 4-pitch mix, CU/CH,
added cutter, velo jumped to 89-91.
TAYLOR COLE, rhp, Brigham Young University (So.)
to regain strength/97-mph velo/command had before went on mission
trip; FB 89-92/flashes 94, + SL.
DOMINIQUE TAYLOR, of, Salt Lake CC (Fr.)
scratching surface of potential, may not be ready; ++ speed
(6.4)/arm, long swing, but developing power.
MATT NEIL, rhp, Brigham Young University (Sr.)
long layoff from 2005-08 may work against him, but scouts impressed
with size, + FB, ++ 2011 results.
JOSH MOONEY, rhp, Salt Lake CC (So.)
frame (6-4, 220), quick/powerful arm (FB 90-94); better SL/CH, but
still learning how to pitch.
CRAIG BRINKERHOFF, of/rhp, Eastern Utah JC (Fr.)
year for previous unknown talent (.376-17-53, 17 SB); 6-2/190 frame,
+ power, 6.6 speed, 92 arm.