Alex Verdugo may be the closest thing Tucson has to Roy Hobbs from "The Natural."
That is how talented the Sahuaro junior is on a baseball diamond.
The 16-year-old wonderboy can do it all, on the mound, in the outfield and at the plate. Over his first two seasons with the Cougars, Verdugo batted over .450. As the Cougars' ace, he has struck out 178 batters.
Verdugo is on pace to be the highest drafted player out of Sahuaro since fellow left-handed pitcher Patrick McCoy was selected in the 10th round by the Washington Nationals in 2007.
"The stuff he has got right now with his breaking (pitches) and his fastball, it's potentially much better than Patrick's was at this point," Cougars coach Mark Chandler said.
Verdugo is scheduled to take the mound today at Catalina Foothills. Though he has two more seasons left before he's eligible for the major-league draft, he's a player to watch in Southern Arizona. Here's a look at his success so far.
Even before he started high school, Chandler knew that Verdugo was a talented player. When his brother Chris Verdugo played at Sahuaro, Alex would come to his brother's practices as a middle-schooler and hit on the field.
"If you didn't know any better, you would have thought he was a varsity-level kid out here taking batting practice," Chandler said. "We knew from day one that this kid is going to be sitting in the middle of our order."
The summer after he finished middle school he was selected to play for USA Baseball's 14-and-under national team.
"It was a good stepping stone for me," Verdugo said. "I learned a lot there, and I just put it into my high school play."
After hitting .472 and recording a 2.04 earned run average his sophomore year, Verdugo remained productive during the offseason. He played in numerous tournaments including the WWBA World Championships and the Under Armor Pre-Season All-America Tournament.
Verdugo's performance at those two tournaments helped him gain attention from scouts and coaches at the next level. He also received recognition from Baseball America and Perfect Game USA for his skills that include great bat speed at the plate and a mid-90s fastball on the mound.
"It was nice getting to hear my name get out there more and having scouts and colleges all coming toward me," Verdugo said.
One of the goals for Verdugo this season is to get the team back to the playoffs and win a state championship. Last year, the Cougars upset Ironwood Ridge in the first round of the Division II tournament and lost in extra innings to state runner-up Peoria Liberty in the following round.
Verdugo said he would like to improve the mental part of his game this season to better help his team.
"My physical tools will get better, but this is a mental game," Verdugo said.
Chandler agreed that Verdugo has room to improve mentally and needs to develop a big-game mentality.
So far this season Verdugo has already shown some signs of improvement in those areas.
"The first five games," Chandler said, "he has really shown a focus and discipline."
• Michael Hoard, Sr., Salpointe Catholic
• Jake Matthews, Sr., Ironwood Ridge
• Alex Robles, Sr., Tucson
• Sati Santa Cruz, So., Sahuarita
• Alex Verdugo, Jr., Sahuaro
• Tyler Pennington, Sr., Sabino
• Kurt Bailey, Sr., Ironwood Ridge
• Jio Orozco, So., Salpointe Catholic
• Francisco Dicochea, So., Cienega
• Sebastian Zawada, Sr., Catalina Foothills
• Ben Mauseth, Sr., Rio Rico
• Ryan Stewart, Sr., Empire
• Graham Spraker, Sr., Mountain View
• Eli Callahan, Sr., Marana
• Grant Watkins, Sr., Douglas
Note: Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches.