Dick Whipple, Associated Press
Former Kearns High and current Kansas City pitcher Brandon Duckworth is one of many players from Utah being discovered as baseball scouts search for talent from St. George to Cache Valley.

Jon Hoover remembers a time when finding a professional baseball scout in Utah was as hard to come by as finding drinking water in the desert.

His first recollection of seeing scouts at high school games dates back to the 1980s when Scott Walker was courted and then selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 10th round of the 1983 draft.

"At that time it was 'Oh my goodness.' That was big time," said Hoover, who had coached high school baseball in the state for 33 years and had 12 players selected in the draft. "The only reason he got noticed was because we went to a tournament in Las Vegas."

Of course, there were high school players before then, but not many.

Bruce Hurst was the first Utahn selected in the first round when he was the 22nd overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 1976 draft — the same draft BYU's Jack Morris went in the fifth round to the Detroit Tigers and Bingham High's Bryan Hardy went in the seventh round to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Two years later, the Pirates selected Kearns High's Mark Johnson in the 30th round.

Utah transplants Wally Joyner and Cory Snyder were taken out of BYU. Joyner was selected in the third round by the Angels in 1983 and Snyder was the fourth pick overall in the 1984 draft by the Cleveland Indians.

Also in 1984, American Fork's Brock Knight was selected in the third round by the Boston Red Sox.

Hoover said the scouts, and rightfully so, spent most of their time in California, Nevada and Arizona.

"I think it was because California and the warm-weather states were so far ahead of us," he said. "There were hundreds of players that were better than those in Utah."

After slowly overcoming the notion that Utah didn't have players because it's a "cold-weather" state, and the belief that all Utah players serve LDS Church missions, more scouts began filtering into the state.

In the early 1990s, Dixie High's Judd Wilstead was taken in the second round of the 1992 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and three years later, Pine View's Ryan Bowers was selected in the third round by the New York Mets.

Fifteen years after Walker, Hoover coached two more bona fide prospects in Brandon Huntsman and Damian Sapp, and things were drastically different.

"We had scouts all over the place," Hoover said. "Every time Huntsman would throw there would be 10 or 12 scouts. It has changed night and day."

Two years ago, Springville's Mark Pawelek was the first Utah player since Hurst taken in the first round when the Cubs selected him 20th overall. At any give start, Pawelek, a lanky left-hander with a fastball in the mid-90s, would have 25 or more scouts in attendance.

Getting scouts and college recruiters into the state has been an evolutionary process, Hoover said.

Not too long ago Utah high school players would play 15 to 25 high school games and then play a very moderate summer schedule, but the Utah Baseball Academy and the Rocky Mountain School of Baseball have changed that thinking. There are more summer and fall leagues and more players are being exposed to national camps and tournaments.

"They have both been good for baseball," Hoover said.

Players are being seen by collegiate and professional scouts at the Area Code Games tryouts and Area Code games; the Scenic West Athletic Conference All-Star Weekend, where high school teams play against junior college teams in the fall; Junior Olympic Trials; the Arizona Senior Fall Classic; and many other local, regional, and national AAU, Babe Ruth, American Legion, Little League, Cal Ripken and Triple Crown tournaments for players as young as 8.

"The kids are just playing more. The days when you get 16 games (in the spring) and a little bit in the summer are gone," said Hoover, who coached the Baseball Academy's first team at the Arizona Fall Classic in 1995.

"Now there are all kinds of leagues going," he said.

More recently, Taylorsville alums John Buck (Royals) and Brandon Lyon (Blue Jays, Diamondbacks); Kearns' Brandon Duckworth (Phillies, Astros, Royals); Cottonwood's Ryan Jensen (Giants, Royals) and Chris Shelton (Tigers); Cyprus High brothers Scott (White Sox, Giants, Cubs) and Willie (Twins); Mountain View's Mitch Jones (Yankees) and Dixie State's Brad Thompson (Cardinals) have made it to the major leagues, and that has boosted interest as well. Each one of those, however, played collegiate baseball.

"We had a phenomenal group of kids in 1997 and 1998," said Bingham High coach Joey Sato. "Starting about then I believe the scouts started to realize that we have some players. More and more people have come into Utah and have taken looks at high school kids rather than just looking at the the University of Utah and BYU."

Last year, 18 college and high school players were drafted, with Pawelek leading the way as a first-rounder with the Cubs.

Just this year, 16 college and high school players were selected in the draft and three were taken in the first nine rounds: John Holdzkom (SLCC, 4th, Mets), Jordan Smith (Pleasant Grove HS, Southern Nevada, 6th, Reds) and Cliff Andersen (Cottonwood HS, 9th, Cubs).

Hoover is excited for what the future holds for Utah high school baseball players.

Left-hander Tanner Robles, who is coached by Hoover at Cottonwood High, is a possible first-round pick next year with a fastball that hits in the mid-90s.

He, along with a trio of Jordan players, Garrett Nash, James Mahler and Zach Jones; Lone Peak's Daniel Sechrest; Pleasant Grove's Egan Smith, the younger brother of Jordan Smith; and Weber's Cole Abbott are making waves and/or are popping up on the radar screens among scouts across the nation.

"This next year in the draft is going to be unbelievable for Utah," Hoover said.

Utah from 2000-2002

    

Year Signed Made majors Avg. bonus

2000 6 3 $127,916

2001 8 1 $109,428

2002 8 1 $196,500

Players who made it to majors

Brandon Lyon (14th, Toronto)

Willie Eyre (23rd, Minnesota)

*Mitch Jones (7th, New York Yankees)

Chris Shelton (33rd, Pittsburgh)

Brad Thompson (16th, St. Louis)

*Counted in Arizona because he played at Arizona State

Arizona from 2000-2002

    

Year Signed Made majors Avg. bonus

2000 9 4 $425,625

2001 17 5 $331,061

2002 6 1 $482,500

Players who made it to majors

Ben Diggins (1st, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Jeff Duncan (7th, New York Mets)

Rich Harden (17th, Oakland)

*Mitch Jones (7th, New York Yankees)

Chris Duffy (8th, Pittsburgh)

Scott Hairston (3rd, Arizona)

J.J. Hardy (2nd, Milwaukee)

Chris Saenz (23rd, Milwaukee)

Jon Switzer (2nd, Tampa Bay)

Mike Esposito (12th, Colorado)

*Counted in Utah because he played at Utah Valley and Mountain View HS

Las Vegas from 2000-2002

    

Year Signed Made majors Avg. bonus

2000 5 1 $533,000

2001 3 0 $290,000

2002 3 0 $203,333

Player who made it to majors

Dave Krynzel (1st, Milwaukee)


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