Just two days ago, Alex Verdugo had his braces taken off. Now he’s hoping to land his first job.
The 18-year-old Sahuaro graduate and left-handed two-way star is expected to be chosen in one of the first two rounds of the MLB draft this evening. Canyon del Oro’s Brian Anderson, Tucson High’s Eddie Leon and Sahuaro’s Sam Khalifa are the only Southern Arizona players to be selected in the opening round.
“Everything is going ridiculously fast,” said Verdugo, who is also signed with Arizona State. “I really haven’t had a break.”
Since graduating on May 22, Verdugo has attended workouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins. He also went on his senior trip to Anaheim, California, and visited Disneyland for the first time.
“It was Memorial Day weekend, so it was brutal,” Verdugo said. “Every single ride was an hour-and-a-half wait no matter how big or small it was.”
He is hoping he won’t have to wait long tonight.
Baseball America ranks Verdugo as the 55th-best prospect and has him projected to go 33rd overall to the Red Sox in one of its several mock drafts. He’s been told he should expect to go sometime tonight, but he also understands how whacky the draft can be.
“It’s a lot to handle,” Verdugo said. “There’s excitement and pure nerves. You never know where you can go in the draft. You have predictions, but it’s such a right-then-and-there thing that anything could happen.
“I could slide down to the third round or fourth round, but I could also go high first. You never know; it’s brutal.”
Verdugo said it’s been his dream to play for the Diamondbacks. He worked out for them May 28 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale because Chase Field was occupied for a game that day. However, his workouts with the Astros, Marlins and Royals were all held in the team’s home stadiums, and he said he performed “really well” in all four showings.
He also had a strong outing at Wrigley Field in Chicago playing in the Under Armour All-America Game last August against some of the top competition in the country.
“When the competition is high, and the pressure is on, that’s when I come to be my best,” Verdugo said. “That’s when I feel like I’m my best and tap into all my abilities and really focus into the game.”
The Diamondbacks are interested in Verdugo as both a pitcher and a hitter — but more as a pitcher — along with several other teams. The southpaw struck out 223 batters over the last two seasons in 117⅔ innings, and hit over .500 with 72 RBIs, 27 doubles, 10 home runs and nine triples.
“I wanted to hit for the longest time, but now it’s more of a mix of I want to do whatever gets me to the big leagues,” Verdugo said. “If it’s pitching, I’ll do it. If it’s hitting, then I’ll definitely do it. It goes either way.”
Depending on when his name is called in the draft, Verdugo still could end up playing for the Sun Devils, with whom he signed last November. He would have to play three seasons in Tempe if he passes an offer this summer because he wouldn’t be eligible for the draft until 2017, when he is 21 years old.
“If I feel like I am treated fairly in the draft, I will definitely sign and take my talents to the professional level,” said Verdugo, who chose ASU over Arizona and LSU. “But if I feel like I was not treated fairly in the draft — and go where I think I should have — then I’ll definitely go to college to just improve my game.”
If, as expected, Verdugo signs with a club this summer, he’s hoping it doesn’t take long to reach the big leagues. In fact, he’s confident it won’t.
He believes he can remain a strong two-way player, but also understands that he will reach an even higher level once he is focused on one aspect.
“If I go as a pitcher, I have no question in my mind I’ll be in the big leagues in two or three years,” Verdugo said. “I’m confident in my abilities, and I know I have stuff that isn’t just mediocre. I have electric stuff that is professional-grade, and I’ve been told by scouts and everybody.”
Verdugo has known since he was 12 years old that he had potential to get to this point and further. A lot of people have already congratulated him on what his future holds, but he’s not losing focus on perfecting his game to reach the top.
“I’ve still got to work for it,” Verdugo said. “My name is not going to get me there.”