Tournaments | Story | 10/26/2012

Denney's stock continues climb

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. -- These were playing conditions the likes of which Oklahoma standout catcher Jon Denney had never experienced.

"It's like we're in the middle of a hurricane right now, but it's tough for everybody," Denney said after playing a wind-blown game Friday afternoon at the Roger Dean Sports Complex. "It's the same for everybody, but yeah, it's tough to play in."

Denney, working behind the plate for the talent-heavy Texas Scout Team Yankees during play at this year's PG WWBA World Championship, overstated the situation ever so slightly.

The eye of Hurricane Sandy was really at least 100 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, but the storm's western edge was producing intermittent rain showers and 50 mph wind gusts at Roger Dean. Denney found that adjustments were necessary, both at and behind the plate.

"(As a batter) with a fastball, if you have a hard thrower it's still going to be straight," he said. "If they come in with a slider ... it's going to float, and the same thing with a changeup. Behind the plate, it's going to be a little bit longer so you just have to stick it a little harder."

Denney is a strapping 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior at Yukon (Okla.) High School who is the highest ranked player on the Texas Scout Team Yankees' 21-man roster. That's saying something considering the Yankees' roster features 10 top-300-ranked prospects in the 2013 and 2014 classes, and seven top-100s. Sixteen of those 21 prospects have committed to NCAA Division I schools, including Denney to the University of Arkansas.

It's a roster that also includes 2012 Perfect Game All-Americans Sheldon Neuse from Fort Worth, Texas -- ranked No. 48 nationally -- and Plano, Texas's Billy McKinney, ranked No. 42. Denney is ranked 37th in the same class.

Surrounded by such elite company, Denney might fade into the woodwork. But he is instead a dominant presence who is also ranked the 49th overall (college, juco, high school) 2013 MLB draft prospect (20th among his fellow high schoolers).

This is his eighth Perfect Game event since late 2010, including five tournaments this year, three with Marucci Elite. He was named to the all-tournament team at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship after hitting .389 (7-for-18) with a double, home run and nine RBI playing for Marucci. He was at last year's PG WWBA World Championship with the Sandlot/Midwest Scout Team.

"This is a great deal," Denney said Friday, speaking of the WWBA World. "It's the biggest scouting event throughout the country. I've been to a lot of them, and this is just a lot of fun. The (weather) conditions right now aren't great but it'll get sunny in the next couple of days.

"And I'm a lot more relaxed this year," he continued. "I just need to go out there and play, and if you do that everything else you do will take care of itself."

Denney didn't attend the Perfect Game National Showcase in June and, according to PG National Scouting Director David Rawnsley, a consequence of that was that he really didn't make a summertime splash until he arrived at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., in August. There are reports of a 430-foot, straight-away centerfield bomb at the Area Codes.

"He was well-known before that, and there had been some talk earlier in the summer about him coming on (strong)," Rawnsley said Friday. "He has the physical tools to stay behind the plate; he's big and strong and has the arm strength. But what really stands out about him is his bat."

PG All-American catchers Nick Ciuffo and Reece McGuire both hit from the left side of the plate, which sets the right-handed hitting Denney apart, according to Rawnsley.

"He's a right-handed hitter but he's also physically stronger (than Ciuffo and McGuire)," Rawnsley said. "He kind of compares to (2012 1st round draft pick) Clint Coulter as a hitter in that he's big and strong and just overpowers the ball to the middle of the field.

"And he's probably a better receiver than Coulter is too, and there are definitely scouts who have talked about him as a potential 1st round pick going into next year."

Denney won't allow himself to think about the draft, despite his lofty status.

"I just play, and everything will take care of itself," he said. "Whoever says anything about (me), I'm not really into all of that. Everything will take care of itself, for sure."

And, of course, there's that commitment to Arkansas. Denney said he received offers from several NCAA Division I schools but decided on the Razorbacks because of their reputation and proximity to his Oklahoma hometown.

"Great coaches, great facilities," he said. "I committed around this same time last year (after the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship) to (assistant head) coach (Todd) Butler, who is a great guy. He basically offered me right after I got home. I just took my official visit a couple of weeks ago but I committed last year, so I'm looking to sign in the next couple of weeks."

Playing for a school in the blockbuster Southeastern Conference was also appealing.

"That's where the great, great talent is and the fan bases are extraordinary -- you'll have 10,000 people at a Friday night game there," Denney said. "I'm looking forward to it; it will be fun."

In the meantime, he continues to have a lot of fun while soaking in the experiences this event has to offer, even as his Perfect Game career begins to wind to a close. He loves being surrounded by players with the same talent level he'll encounter next year either in his freshman class at Arkansas or as a first-year, rookie-level professional.

"This is just a blast," Denney said. "You get to make friends with all these great athletes, you get to play with them, have this experience with them; it's just all a lot of fun. It's been a good run and a lot has happened really fast. (Perfect Game) has helped me out a lot, coming to all these events and getting (my name) out there."

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