Alex Verdugo

Benjie Sanders/Arizona Daily Sta

Alex Verdugo never really liked Arizona State growing up.

But little by little, the Sun Devils grew on him - and little by little, he became one.

The 6-foot-1-inch Sahuaro High School pitcher and outfielder - a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American this year - verbally committed to ASU on Saturday, picking the Sun Devils over the Arizona Wildcats.

Verdugo, who will play in the Under Armour All-America game next month at Wrigley Field, had narrowed his college choice to the two in-state rivals. Verdugo said he ultimately went with ASU for several reasons.

"Personally I think they have a better baseball program, and ASU has more first-round draft picks than UA does," Verdugo said Tuesday by phone from Georgia. "Either way, with UA or ASU, I can't go wrong."

Verdugo said he also considered LSU, but wanted to stay close to home - just not too close. He also has a former travel-ball teammate, Brett Lilek, who plays for ASU.

"He said he loved it and that it's a great experience," Verdugo said.

Though Verdugo appears Tempe-bound for now, there's a good chance that he'll never even wear an ASU uniform.

As a junior at Sahuaro, the left-hander went 10-0 on the mound with a 1.29 ERA and a state-high 131 strikeouts. He also batted .484, driving in 41 runs on nine doubles, seven triples and seven home runs as the Cougars made it to the Division II state quarterfinals.

With an even better senior season, Verdugo can improve his chances of being picked high in next June's amateur draft. High school seniors are eligible to be taken in the draft. If Verdugo passes on the pros and chooses to attend ASU, he wouldn't be draft-eligible again until he turns 21 years old.

"The ultimate goal is to play professional baseball, so if I get drafted in a spot that I feel comfortable with, then I would probably end up going there," Verdugo said. "But if I get drafted low and I'm not comfortable with it, I would go to college to get my education and further improve my skills to up my draft stock for the next few years."

Verdugo has been away from Tucson all summer playing with his Chicago-based travel team, the Chi-Town Cream. He said he's also been to a couple showcases and has been trying to improve his speed and arm strength.

The main focus heading into his senior season at Sahuaro is winning a state title - something the Cougars haven't done since 1982 - and, of course, preparing for the draft.

"It's everyone's dream who loves baseball to be in the first round," Verdugo said. "Anything that could give me an edge on anybody to get higher in the draft would be amazing."