Nick Markakis, Sean Doolittle, Micah Owings, Joe Savery. Those are just some of the two-way players (players who enter the draft as both a pitcher and a position player) to be drafted and make it to the majors in the last few seasons. With the draft quickly approaching this weekend, Arizona high-schooler Alex Verdugo hopes to soon join the ranks of two-way players who excel at one of their positions and make the major leagues.
Verdugo, who played as both an outfielder and left-handed pitcher for Sahuaro HS (Tucson, Az.), is a projected first or second round pick, and was recently slotted by Baseball America to go to the Red Sox as the 33th overall pick. He is open to either hitting or pitching in the pros, and has discussed his future with many teams who view him as a potential pick.
"I can envision myself as a center-fielder or right-fielder, or as a pitcher," Verdugo said during a phone interview last week. "Honestly, I would love to go out and do both, but obviously I won’t be able to do that at the next level. It just comes down to whatever the team wants more. If they want me more as a pitcher, I’ll go out there and be a pitcher and if they want me more as a hitter, I’ll go out there as hitter. I’m basically neutral, anywhere I go I’ll be extremely happy. It’s just up to the team I get drafted to, I’ll do anything I can do."
Verdugo showed promise on both sides of the ball this season, hitting .556 with 3 HR and 32 RBI in 109 plate appearances as a hitter and posting a 2.26 ERA while striking out 93 hitters in 52.2 innings on the mound. He throws consistently at 91-93 mph, and has topped out at 96 mph from the left side. He says that teams have expressed interest in him as both a pitcher and outfielder, and that their preferences vary.
"It splits out," Verdugo said. "You do have a lot of teams that say that [they] would like me as a pitcher, but then you have teams that are on the hitting point, where they say that they have lots of guys in their organization that think I can really hit. I’d probably say that there’s a slight lead for pitching considering I’m a lefty and a power pitcher."
If Verdugo does not sign with the team who drafts him, he will head to Arizona State, where his good friend Brett Lilek is a pitcher. Verdugo picked Arizona State over the University of Arizona, noting that Lilek's endorsement of the school and baseball program played a huge role in his choice. He also did some homework on it, realizing that Arizona State has had more first round picks taken than Arizona in baseball.
While it's not unusual for fourteen-year old freshmen to play on the varsity team in high school, it takes a special talent to play with the big kids at twelve years old. Verdugo was that special talent, and says that his two older brothers were huge influences in his development as a baseball player.
"When I was younger, at twelve years old, I was playing with my brother’s high school team and I was succeeding against them," Verdugo said. "I’ve always played up, and I’ve had old professional baseball players and old scouts see me play. They all told me, 'you’re special, you have the tools to get there'. Once I heard that, I believed that I could make it and believed in my abilities."
While Verdugo's physical abilities have always been there, it's the mental side of the game that he has worked on most. He believes that his mental qualities can be both the strongest and weakest parts of his game.
"The strongest part of my game is toughness and confidence," Verdugo said. "The confidence in thinking that I can go out and go 3-for-3, that I can go out and throw a no-hitter, the confidence that I can beat any player if I really want to. I believe that I can battle with anybody. I feel that if I have a good mental approach to everything, then I’ll be able to do whatever I like.
"Being able to handle failure is tough. I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I don’t think anyone’s mental game can really stop improving, so I definitely need improvement on it. But I’ve gone a long way with my mental game and I’m pretty happy with where it’s at, but like I said, it still needs improving."
The highlight of Verdugo's journey to the pros came last summer, when he was named the MVP of the National team at the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field. The 6'1", 200-pounder pitched a scoreless inning while topping out at 94 mph and demonstrating an impressive slider while notching an opposite field double at the plate.
"That was one of the best, if not, the best parts of my summer," Verdugo said. "It was just a great experience just getting to play with the best of the best from all around the country and meeting them all. It brings you back down to earth and makes you realize that everyone at the next level is pretty much at your ability level, it’s just about how you tap into those abilities and use them each day. I was extremely privileged to be there and to be named MVP was a great honor. Just to know that on that day, I was the best for my team, it was a big deal for me and I really enjoyed it. I took a lot from it, and it helped me gain a lot more confidence than I had."
As Verdugo prepares to hear his name called on Thursday or Friday, word is that the Rangers, Indians and Royals have shown the most interest. Those three teams have picks in the 28 to 31 range, meaning that there's a significant chance Verdugo is picked in the first complementary round. No matter where he is picked, the southpaw knows that keeping his cool and not letting his gift get to his head is the most important thing.
"I don’t try to get too big-headed about it," Verdugo said. "I just kinda go with it. I don’t really go around saying that I’m getting drafted, I don’t really believe in that. I basically just accept it and let my actions speak louder than my words."