Riverton coach Jay Applegate doesn’t remember all the details, but he distinctly remembers the impression that then sophomore Mitch Watrous left.
It was early in the 2009 season, and Riverton was down big late in its third game in two days at a tournament in Las Vegas. With his pitching staff all but depleted, Applegate looked to his bench for a volunteer to finish things out on the mound.
Watrous, despite no prep experience pitching at that point, was more than willing and immediately prepared to throw his first ever pitch at the varsity level.
As it so happens, that first pitch didn’t go so well.
“He nailed the batter — right square in the back,” Applegate recalls.
While that first pitch clearly didn't wow anyone, what happened next left his coach roundly impressed.
Watrous quickly shook off his inauspicious start and struck out the next two batters before finishing out the game.
“Most kids in that situation would have been shaken up, but not Mitch,” Applegate said. “I remember being very impressed with how he composed himself and thinking right there that he could really develop into something special.”
Applegate’s impressions turned out to be true. Watrous completed his prep career as an all-state performer, went on to be an All-Pac-12 performer at Utah, and now enters this year’s Major League Baseball draft widely considered the state’s top prospect.
The 6-foot, right-handed hurler enters the draft, which begins Thursday, as the No. 167-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, after leading the Utes with a 4-4 record, a 2.81 ERA and 64 strikeouts last season.
“He was tremendous for us this past year and he’s a kid who has genuinely earned everything he’s got,” said Utah coach Bill Kinneberg. “We first brought him on as a walk-on thinking he’d play infield for us, but we quickly learned he could become the great pitcher that he has.”
According to Applegate, Watrous’ success comes simply from having a great attitude and unmatched work ethic.
“He’s the kid who would be the first one on the diamond every day and the last to leave,” Applegate said. “He’s always had a great attitude and is simply one of the best competitors I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t be more happy for him because he’s put in the time and really deserves it.”
Kinneberg certainly agrees.
“Every day he’d come to practice with a plan and that’s really what separates him,” Kinneberg said. “He has specific goals and has a habit of exceeding expectations and I can guarantee you he’ll again exceed the expectations of any team lucky enough to draft him.”
Beyond Watrous, it looks to be a thin year for in-state draft prospects. Watrous is the only local prospect listed among Baseball America’s top 500 prospects, but given the fact that the MLB draft spans 40 rounds some local prospects could hear their names called.
BYU pitcher Kolton Mahoney appears to be the Cougars' top prospect, while Utah pitcher Nick Green could also be selected.