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Locals In MLB: Seven Cougars, Six Utes Headline Utahn’s In Pro Baseball

Feb 13, 2024, 7:09 AM

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SALT LAKE CITY – When you ask scouts around Major League Baseball, the Beehive State may not have a reputation as a hotbed for prep or collegiate baseball development. With its long winters, sporadic spring months, and the occasional snowstorm in June, Utah is often overlooked on the diamond.

The Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, have long been the biggest draw in town. But when the Larry H. Miller Group announced the creation of the Big League Utah coalition in April 2023, an effort to bring an MLB expansion team to the nation’s 45th state, it cast baseball lovers’ eyes west.

Combined with the rumored mutual interest between the soon-to-be-former-Oakland A’s and Salt Lake in hosting the baseball nomads for three seasons before their long-awaited move to Las Vegas, Utah is suddenly in the proverbial baseball spotlight.

With fan interest growing, KSL Sports will begin a weekly Locals in MLB story highlighting the prep and collegiate athletes who have called Utah home at one time or another.

If you know of other players with Utah ties active in MLB or MiLB, contact Brian Preece at KSLSports.com.

BYU Cougars (7)

Michael Rucker | Pitcher

MLB – Philadelphia Phillies

RELATED: Former BYU Hurler Trading Cubs Pinstripes For Phillies Phanatics

Rucker spent two seasons in Cougar blue, finishing with a 16-2 record in 29 appearances (22 starts) during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After going 11-1 in 102.1 innings with a 2.73 ERA as a junior, the Chicago Cubs selected Rucker in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB draft.

The Cubs traded Rucker to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, February 6.

Career Stats: 3 Yrs | 96 appearances | 5-2 | 4.91 ERA | 123.1 IP | 120 Ks | 50 BB | 1.39 WHIP

Austin Deming | Infielder | Snow Canyon HS

High-A Asheville – (Houston Astros)

The 2018 Utah Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year, Deming played 35 games as a freshman for the Cougars in 2019. He would play 173 games at BYU, finishing with 28 home runs, 128 RBIs, and a .292 batting average. As a senior, Deming exploded for 19 home runs and 68 RBI, besting his previous career-highs of seven bombs and 33 runs batted in.

The Houston Astros selected Deming in the 10th round of the 2023 MLB draft. In his first taste of professional baseball, he struggled to a .159 batting average in 27 games at High-A Asheville.

2023 Stats: .159 BA | 14 Hits | 3 RBI | 14 BB | 34 K

Andrew Pintar | Utility | Spanish Fork HS

High-A Hillsboro – (Arizona Diamondbacks)

A second baseman, shortstop, and centerfielder in three seasons (2020-22) with BYU, Pintar hit .298 as a Cougar with nine long balls and 46 RBI. His best statistical season came as a sophomore in 2021, when he finished with nine home runs and 32 RBIs while hitting .333.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected the 6’2 Pintar in the fifth round of the 2022 MLB draft. He hit .241 in 37 games at High-A Hillsboro last season.

2023 High- A Stats: .241 BA | 34 Hits | 2 HR | 14 RBI | 11 BB | 36 K

Cy Nielson | Pitcher | Spanish Fork HS

High-A Greensboro – (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Picked in the 40th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the now-Cleveland Guardians, Nielson chose to attend BYU rather than sign a pro contract with Cleveland. In three seasons in Provo, the righthander went 6-6 with a 5.20 ERA in 88.1 innings. In 2022, Nielson appeared in 28 games out of the Cougars bullpen, finishing with a 5.08 ERA in 33.2 innings while striking out 45 and walking seven.

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Nielson in the eighth round of the 2022 MLB draft. In 2023, the right-handed reliever threw 46.2 innings across 39 appearances for High-A Hillsboro.

2023 Stats: 4-5 | 4.44 ERA | 46.2 IP | 53 K | 21 BB | 1.414 WHIP

Nate Dahle | Pitcher | Bear River HS

High-A Bowling Green – (Tampa Bay Rays)

The 6’6 righthander played one season at BYU after starting his collegiate career at the College of Southern Idaho. As a junior in 2022, Dahle put himself on MLB scouts’ radars when he made 25 appearances, finishing with a 2.74 ERA and 2-4 record. The Bear River product struck out 61 batters while walking 11 in his lone season with the Cougars.

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Dahle in the 13th round of the 2022 MLB draft. He finished last season with High-A Bowling Green, throwing 38.1 innings with a 2.82 ERA.

2023 Stats: 0-2 | 2.82 ERA | 38.1 IP | 42 Ks | 10 BB | 0.939 WHIP

Cooper McKeehan | Pitcher

High-A Quad Cities – (Kansas City Royals)

The Ann Arbor, Michigan native played three seasons at BYU after joining the Cougars in 2020. McKeehan went 2-1 as a junior with a sterling 1.57 ERA in 23 appearances. The 6’1 righthander went 5-3 as a Cougar, finishing with a 3.56 ERA in 55.2 innings.

McKeehan was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 16th round of the 2022 MLB draft. He finished 2023 at High-A Quad Cities, where he struggled to a 2-2 record and 8.78 ERA in 13.1 innings.

2023 Stats: 10-3  | 2.70 ERA | 63.1 IP | 67 K | 22 BB | 1.074 WHIP

Jackson Cluff | Infielder

Double-A Harrisburg – (Washington Nationals)

The 5’11 Cluff played two seasons at BYU (2016 & 2019), appearing in 96 games. He hit .313 as a Cougar, driving in 66 runs and hitting four long balls. Cluff hit .325 and stole 12 bases in his final season in Provo.

The Washington Nationals selected Cluff in the sixth round of the 2019 MLB draft. The versatile infielder has been stuck at Double-A Harrisburg since 2021.

2023 Stats: 86 games | .207 BA | 51 Hits | 7 HR | 27 RBI | 54 BB | 85 K

Utah Utes (6)

C.J. Cron | First Base

Free Agent

The 6’4 first baseman was first drafted in 2008 by the Chicago White Sox after graduating from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Cron chose to sign with the University of Utah, which resulted in him becoming the school’s first-ever first-round selection in 2011. The Los Angeles Angels selected Cron with the 17th pick of the first round.

In three seasons under manager Bill Kinneberg, Cron was named a 2009 Freshman All-American before becoming a two-time first-team All-American (2010, ’11). Cron was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2009 and earned MW Player of the Year honors in 2010 and 2011.

Cron made his MLB debut in 2014 with the Angels. He has played for the Angels (twice), Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, and Colorado Rockies. Cron is a free agent after finishing 2023 with the Angels following a mid-season trade from Colorado.

Career Stats: 10 Yrs | 1,049 Games | .260 BA | 187 HR | 194 (2B)

Blake Whiting | Pitcher | Salt Lake Bruins

Single-A Carolina – Milwaukee Brewers

Listed at 6’2 and 180 pounds, the righthander appeared in 41 games (one start) across two seasons (2022-23) for the Utes. Whiting finished his Utah career with a 6.08 ERA in 63.2 innings while striking out 73 and walking 27 batters.

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Whiting as a free agent following the 2023 MLB draft.

2023 Stats: 0-0 | 0.00 ERA | 3 IP | 5 K | 0.000 WHIP

Porter Hodge | Pitcher | Cottonwood HS

Double-A Tennessee – (Chicago Cubs)

Listed at 6’4 and 230 pounds, the right-handed Hodge was a two-time state champ as a Cottonwood Colt. He played at the varsity level for four seasons, finishing with a 1.50 ERA in 130.2 innings across 30 games.

The Chicago Cubs selected Hodge in the 13th round of the 2019 MLB draft out of Cottonwood HS. Hodge advanced to Double-A Tennessee in 2023, finishing with a 6-7 record and a 5.13 ERA in 80.2 innings.

2023 Stats: 6-7 | 5.13 ERA | 80.2 IP | 103 K | 49 BB | 1.401 WHIP

Andre Jackson | Pitcher

Free Agent

The Tucson, Arizona native spent three seasons with the University of Utah baseball program, appearing in 78 games but only making 12 appearances on the mound. After redshirting in 2017 following Tommy John surgery, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Jackson in the 12th round of the 2017 draft.

RELATED: Andre Jackson Comes Full Circle In Baseball Career

The 6’3 righthander made his MLB debut in 2021, throwing  11.2 innings across three appearances for the Dodgers.

After being released by the Dodgers in June, Jackson finished 2023 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is currently a free agent.

Career Stats: 3 Yrs | 26 Games | 1-4 | 4.25 ERA | 82.2 IP | 76 K | 32 BB | 1.12 WHIP

Oliver Dunn | 2B

Double-A  – (Milwaukee Brewers)

The 5’10 lefthanded hitter played 155 games for the University of Utah (2017-19), hitting .312 with seven home runs and 78 RBI. As a junior, Dunn hit .366 and reached base in nearly half of his plate appearances.

The New York Yankees selected Dunn in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB draft. Dunn spent 2023 with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He appeared in 119 games at Double-A Reading last season, slashing .271/.396/.506 while hitting 21 home runs.

2023 Stats: .271 BA | 113 Hits | 21 HR | 78 RBI | 16 SB | 139 K | 82 BB

Tanner Banks | Pitcher | Salt Lake Bruins

MLB – (Chicago White Sox)

The Riverton High School product played two seasons (2011-12) under D.G. Nelson at Salt Lake Community College before finishing his collegiate career across the valley with the Utes.

Banks was 4-12 in 29 appearances for the Utes, including 19 starts. He struck out 70 against 31 walks in 113 innings, ending his amateur career with a 5.18 ERA. The Chicago White Sox selected the 6’1 lefthander in the 18th round of the 2014 draft.

Banks made his MLB debut with the White Sox in 2022.

Career Stats: 2 Yrs | 67 Games | 3-4 | 3.79 ERA | 114 IP | 51 K | 34 BB | 1.23 WHIP

Other Utah Colleges (8)

Casey Anderson | Pitcher | Utah Valley Wolverines

Single-A Visalia – (Arizona Diamondbacks)

In one season at Utah Valley, the 6’4 righthander appeared in 15 games (8 starts). He finished 2023 with a 4-1 record and a 3.39 ERA in 69 innings.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Anderson in the 11th round of the 2023 MLB draft. After signing, Anderson threw 8.2 innings at Single-A Visalia, struggling to a 10.38 ERA against professional hitters.

2023 Stats: 10.38 ERA | 1-2 | 8.2 IP | 8 K | 7 BB | 2.423 WHIP

Paxton Schultz | Pitcher | Utah Valley Wolverines

Triple-A Buffalo – (Toronto Blue Jays)

Shultz appeared in 46 games (30 starts) over three seasons (2017-19) for Utah Valley, finishing his career with a 3-17 record and 4.61 ERA in 209 innings. As a junior in 2019, Schultz threw a career-high 99.1 innings in 15 starts. He ended the year with a 4.08 ERA and struck out 207 batters while walking 78.

The Milwaukee Brewers selected Schultz in the 14th round of the 2019 MLB draft. The lefthander has spent the past three seasons working through the Toronto Blue Jays system, advancing to Triple-A Buffalo in 2023.

2023 Stats: 4.80 ERA | 6-8 | 108.2 IP | 113 K | 60 BB | 1.555 WHIP.

Jayden Murray | Pitcher | Utah Tech Trailblazers

Triple-A Sugar Land – (Houston Astros)

Across two seasons (2018-19), Murray threw 148 innings for the Trailblazers, finishing his college career with a 13-8 record and 4.38 ERA. The 6’1 righty went 10-3 in 2019 with a 3.78 ERA.

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Murray in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB draft. Murray reached Triple-A Sugar Land in his second season with the Astros organization.

2023 Stats: 8.27 ERA | 2-4 | 41.1 IP | 42 K | 32 BB | 2.177 WHIP

Logan Porter | Catcher | Utah Tech Trailblazers

MLB – Kansas City Royals

In two seasons at Utah Tech (2017-18), Porter slashed .347/.483/.581 in 104 games. He hit ten home runs and had a career-high 72 RBI as a freshman in 2017.

Porter made his major league debut on September 12, 2023, with the Kansas City Royals. He appeared in 11 games, hitting .194 with one home run and three RBI.

2023 Stats: 11 games | .194 BA | 6 hits | HR | 3 RBI

Joe Barlow | Pitcher | Salt Lake Bruins/Riverton HS

MLB – Chicago White Sox

Originally a catcher at Salt Lake Community College, Barlow’s right arm proved too valuable to stay behind the plate, prompting a position change to pitching. The Riverton High School product went 3-3 with a 2.12 ERA in 2016, striking out 51 batters in 46.2 innings to get on the radar of MLB scouts.

The Texas Rangers took Barlow in the 11th round of the 2016 draft. Barlow made his MLB debut in 2021 with the Rangers. He signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent after electing free agency following the 2023 season.

Career Stats: 3 Yrs | 79 Games | 4-4 | 3.05 ERA | 73.2 IP | 61 K | 27 BB | 1.0 WHIP

Eddy Alvarez | Utility | Salt Lake Bruins

Free Agent

The 33-year-old former Olympic speed skater is one of three Americans to win a Winter and Summer Olympics medal. In 2014, Alvarez won a silver medal in the 5,000-meter speed skating relay in Sochi. In 2016, Alvarez was the U.S. flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies in Tokyo before winning a silver medal as part of the U.S. baseball team.

Alvarez split the 2023 season between the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox Triple-A franchises, playing 64 games and hitting .283. Alvarez made his MLB debut for the Miami Marlins on August 5, 2020.

2023 Stats: .283 BA | 7 HR | 31 RBI | 17 SB

Taylor Snyder | Infielder | Salt Lake Bruins

Free Agent

RELATED: Salem Hills Product Working, Waiting For Major League Call-Up

The Colorado Rockies selected Snyder in the 13th round of the 2016 MLB draft. Snyder spent the 2023 season with the Kansas City Monarchs in the American Association of Professional Baseball.

2023 Stats: .300 BA | 19 games | 5 HR | 14 RBI

Utah Prep Athletes (8)

Brayden Taylor | SS/3B | Copper Hills HS

Single-A Charleston – (Tampa Bay Rays)

Taylor committed to Texas Christian University (TCU) after graduating from Copper Hills High School in 2020. In three years with the Horned Frogs, Taylor turned himself into a first-round pick by launching 48 home runs, including 23 long balls as a junior. Taylor hit .315 for TCU in 184 career games.

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Taylor with the 19th pick of the first round in the 2023 MLB draft. After being drafted, Taylor played 25 minor league games, hitting .242 with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

2023 Stats: .242 BA | 25 games | 5 HR | 15 RBI

Seth Corry | Pitcher | Lone Peak HS

High-A Eugene – (San Francisco Giants)

A 6’2 lefthanded reliever, Corry has yet to advance beyond High-A after the San Francisco Giants selected him out of Lone Peak HS in the third round of the 2017 MLB draft.

2023 Stats: 5.03 ERA | 0-2 | 5.03 ERA | 34 IP | 18 K | 8 BB

Joey Dixon | Pitcher | Bingham HS

Rookie Complex League – (Houston Astros)

The former Bingham Miner played for the Stanford Cardinal for three years (2021-23), making 71 appearances (25 starts). He finished his Stanford career with a 4.18 ERA in 183 innings, striking out 150 batters and walking 81.

The Houston Astros selected Dixon in the seventh round of the 2023 MLB draft. After being drafted, Dixon threw one inning for the Astros’ rookie league team in Florida.

2023 Stats: 1 IP | 0 Runs | 1 Hit

Ross Dunn | Pitcher | Cottonwood HS

TBD – (Minnesota Twins)

Another Cottonwood Colt makes the list in 6’3 lefthanded pitcher Ross Dunn. Dunn went 6-10 with a 4.29 ERA in three college seasons. He pitched for the Florida State Seminoles (2021-22) before transferring to Arizona State for his junior season.

The Minnesota Twins selected Dunn in the tenth round of the 2023 MLB draft.

2023 Stats: N/A

Ky Bush | Pitcher | Fremont HS

Double-A Birmingham – (Chicago White Sox)

RELATED: Former Fremont Pitcher Takes Center Stage At MLB Futures Game

The 6’6 lefty experienced enough success at Double-A Rocket City in 2022 to be selected to play in the MLB Futures Game at Dodger Stadium during All-Star weekend. Bush has seen his ERA slowly climb over the past two seasons despite the opportunity.

The Los Angeles Angels selected Bush out of Fremont High School in the second round of the 2021 MLB draft. Bush was traded to the Chicago White Sox organization at the July trade deadline in 2023. He finished the season at Double-A Birmingham.

2023 Stats: 6.91 ERA | 4-8 | 17 games | 71.2 IP | 78 K | 37 BB | 1.647 WHIP

Payton Henry | Catcher | Pleasant Grove HS

Triple-A Nashville – (Milwaukee Brewers)

Last year, Henry returned to the organization that drafted him after spending two seasons with the Miami Marlins. Henry appeared in 20 games for the Marlins over two seasons, hitting .143 with one extra-base hit and four RBI.

The Milwaukee Brewers selected Henry out of Pleasant Grove HS in the sixth round of the 2016 MLB draft. Henry made his MLB debut for the Brewers on September 17, 2021.

2023 Stats: .294 BA | 9 HR | 35 RBI

Drew Thorpe | Pitcher | Desert Hills HS

TBD – (San Diego Padres)

The 6’4 righthanded Thorpe has found his name on MLB prospect lists since being drafted by New York in 2022.

A 2023 second-round pick of the New York Yankees, Thorpe was one of five players sent to the San Diego Padres in a trade return for star outfielder Juan Soto. He split the 2023 season pitching between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset for the Yankees.

2023 Stats: 2.52 ERA | 14-2 | 139.1 IP | 182 K | 38 BB | 0.983 WHIP

Wil Jensen | Pitcher | Cottonwood HS

Double-A Richmond – (San Francisco Giants)

The 6’4 righty pitched at Pepperdine for four seasons after graduating from Cottonwood HS. Jensen finished his Pepperdine career with a 10-9 record and 3.03 ERA across 160.1 innings.

The Oakland Athletics selected Jensen in the 28th round of the 2019 MLB draft. Jensen was 7-0 last season, finishing with a 2.53 ERA in 34 appearances (4 starts) for Double-A Richmond.

2023 Stats: 2.53 ERA | 7-0 | 89 IP | 93 K | 41 BB | 1.303 WHIP

Follow Locals in Pro Baseball With KSL Sports

Brian Preece is a KSLsports.com insider covering the Utah State Aggies, Locals in MLB, and Salt Lake Bees. Follow Brian’s Bees, Beehive baseball, and Aggie athletics coverage here.

KSL Sports coverage of Locals in MLB can be found here.

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Locals In MLB: Seven Cougars, Six Utes Headline Utahn’s In Pro Baseball