State Report: Utah

Little buzz in the Beehive State after top two prospects






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
After the top two players in Utah, scouts didn't find much to get excited about, and even the top two prospects will be tough to sign away from college. Given the track record of the state's high school talent, teams may be content to let Marcus Littlewood and Adam Duke develop for three years before looking at them again.

Talent evaluators are skeptical of players from the Beehive State, which is understandable. College players are often older than average after serving Mormon missions, thin air can distort statistics and the track record for high school players just isn't that great.

The last Utah high school player to go in the first round was lefthander Mark Pawelek to the Cubs in 2005, and he has been an unmitigated bust. Before that, Utah had not produced a first-round pick since 1984. Since 1980, just four players who signed out of Utah high schools have made it to the big leagues: righthander Adam Peterson (White Sox, 1984), catcher John Buck (Astros, 1998), lefthander A.J. Murray (19th round, Rangers, 2000) and righthander Mitch Talbot (2nd round, Astros, 2002).

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Marcus Littlewood, ss, Pine View HS, St. George (National Rank: 112)
2. Adam Duke, rhp, Spanish Fork HS (National Rank: 117)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Derek Christensen, rhp, Salt Lake CC
4. Trey Nielsen, rhp/3b, Skyline HS,
5. James Mahler, rhp, Salt Lake CC
6. Michael Beltran, ss, Utah
7. Jace Brinkerhoff, 3b, Utah Valley
8. Alex Wolfe, 1b, Brigham Young
9. Sean McNaughton, of, Brigham Young
10. Jordan Whatcott, rhp, Utah

SCOUTING REPORTS

Marcus Littlewood, 3b
Pine View HS, St. George

Littlewood was on the 2008 Team USA 16U squad, and his bases-clearing double brought home a gold medal in the Pan Am Youth Games against Mexico. Last year, he was named Utah's high school player of the year. While he has been on the prospect map for awhile, Littlewood draws mixed reviews on his ultimate value. Skeptics say he has no standout tools: He's not rangy enough to stay at shortstop and may not hit enough to stand out at third. Those that like him see him as a player whose sum is greater than his parts. Littlewood is a slow-twitch athlete, which shows up in his swing and his speed, and he's already a below-average runner. He lacks the range to stay at shortstop, though his hands are soft and his arm is at least average. He is a natural righthanded hitter and took up switch-hitting as a freshman in high school. He profiles as a .270 hitter and, even after outslugging Kris Bryant at a spring workout for the Blue Jays by hitting 15 home runs in a row, he'll likely hit no more than 12-15 homers a season as a pro. Littlewood's father Mike was drafted out of Brigham Young by the Brewers in 1988 and is now the head coach for Dixie State in Utah. Having grown up around the game, he has great baseball instincts, works hard and plays the game the right way. He's probably a third-round talent, but a team that likes him may have to take him as high as the supplemental first round to buy him out of his commitment to San Diego.

Adam Duke, rhp
Spanish Fork (Utah) HS

Duke's father Dev was killed on July 4, 2001, when a fireworks stand he was operating blew over on top of him during a strong windstorm. Duke has persevered through that adversity, however, and will likely be the highest-drafted pitcher from the Beehive State since Mark Pawelek was a first-round pick in 2005. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Duke looked good in the summer and was on the rise early this spring when he threw 92-95 mph with a sharp curveball and a changeup with some fade. His velocity dipped down to 85-89 late in the year. Some teams thought he might be hurt, while others thought he may have been coasting a bit, or it may have been a dead-arm period. He was back up to 92 mph in his team's first playoff game, twirling a one-hit shutout. Duke throws from a three-quarters arm slot, and his fastball gets late tailing action and jumps in on hitters. He's polished for a high school pitcher and fills up the strike zone with all of his pitches. He's a good athlete and plays shortstop when he's not on the mound. He also works fast and understands the finer points of the game, like setting up hitters and holding runners. Duke is a bulldog on the mound. His brother Brock is a freshman righthander at Utah, and Adam is considered a tough sign away from his Oregon State commitment.

Steep Drop After Top Two

Salt Lake JC righthander Derek Christensen profiles as a reliever with his 90-92 mph fastball and fringy slider. He competes hard and is committed to Utah. His teammate, righthander James Mahler, spent his freshman year at Arkansas and returned to Utah—where he went to high school—for his sophomore year. He stands 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds and throws in the 86-88 mph range. Scouts are waiting for a jump in velocity, but Mahler doesn't have good coordination of his big frame. He also throws a spike curveball and a changeup. His father Mickey and uncle Rick combined for 21 seasons as pitchers in the big leagues. If he doesn't sign, James is committed to return to the SEC at Mississippi.

Like Marcus Littlewood, Trey Nielsen also has good baseball bloodlines. His father Scott was a sixth-round pick out of Brigham Young in 1983 and spent four seasons pitching in the big leagues. Nielsen passes the eye test at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. Scouts liked him better last summer as a third baseman, but he emerged as a righthander this spring. He still needs work as a pitcher but has a good delivery and average arm strength. As a late bloomer Nielsen would have been ideal for the draft-and-follow process before that ended, so now he will likely go to Utah, where he'll play both ways.

All of the four-year college players in Utah will be late picks if they're drafted at all. Michael Beltran is a quick-twitch athlete with smooth actions at shortstop, speed and hitting ability, though he has no power. In three seasons at hitter-friendly Utah, he has no home runs. Righthander Jordan Whatcott may have missed his chance when he didn't sign last year as the Angels' 38th-round pick. He wasn't as good this year and will be 25 on June 10.

At Brigham Young, first baseman Alex Wolfe is an old junior after serving a two-year Mormon mission in Puerto Rico. He's a lefthanded hitter with loft in his swing. The layoff didn't hurt his numbers this year, as he hit .355/.450/.573. Wolfe was a 47th-round pick by the Red Sox out of high school in 2005. Senior outfielder Sean McNaughton was a 38th-round pick of the Cubs in 2008, his first season back from his mission to Washington, D.C. He has always hit and batted .339/.396/.661 this season, after injuries limited him as a junior. He's just 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, but set a new Mountain West Conference career record for home runs, with 54.

Utah Valley senior third baseman Jace Brinkerhoff is a switch-hitter with defensive ability, a strong arm and a good feel for hitting. He's 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds and has been consistently productive with the bat. Some of his doubles turned into home runs this year and he won Great West Conference player of the year honors after hitting .456/.518/.710.