The first time Lance Madsen learned pro scouts were interested in him, he flopped. He was the third baseman on an East High team on its way to a
1-9 season. A scout from the California Angels introduced himself before the game, indicating he was there to check Madsen out.Madsen proceeded to pop up four straight times. "I didn't know how to handle it," said Madsen. "I was real nervous about him being there. I think he left in the second inning."
These days the scouts are staying longer. Madsen, a junior with the Utes, batted .434, second-best in the Western Athletic Conference. Three weeks ago against New Mexico he smashed four home runs in a weekend - including three in one game, tying a school record. A week later it was more of the same.
Against then league-leading Hawaii he went 3-for-3 in the final game of the series. His 18 home runs - among them being one 430-foot monstro-clout over BYU's centerfield fence - were third-most in the WAC. On a per-game average, he finished second in the league in homers. He was sixth in doubles (15), second in hits (75) and fourth in RBI (57). Madsen hit nine homers and batted .432 in April to earn Deseret News Athlete of the Month honors.
"A couple of scouts are drooling over Lance," says his coach, Rick Sofield. "He is as good a player as there is in America."
Sofield should know. He spent two years in the major leagues, and was himself a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins. "There are faster players, players with better arms, those with better stats, with a better average, more home runs - but as a total player, Lance is as good as any player around," he says.
How Madsen ended up at Utah is a fairly simple story. Despite a .546 batting average and 23 home runs his senior year of high school, few pro or college scouts knew who he was. The Leopards' poor record contributed to a general lack of interest. When then-Utah Coach Lonnie Keeter offered a scholarship, Madsen jumped. "I wanted a full-ride scholarship, so when they offered it to me - on the first day you could be recruited - I grabbed it."
Madsen began his college career as a third baseman. His infielding wasn't especially good, but he took the league by surprise with his hitting, ringing up a .412 average as a freshman. The next year Sofield moved him to the outfield.
With his early success, Madsen became impatient as a sophomore and began to chase poor pitches to avoid walking. "I just wanted to hit so bad," he says. The result was a slip to .385 in his average.
This year, on the advice of Sofield, Madsen held back and waited for his pitches. He saw fewer and fewer fastballs as the year went on, so he selected his pitches from a variety of offspeed and breaking offerings. Madsen put together a 21-game hitting streak and at one point had hits in 43 of 45 games, spanning part of two seasons.
Although Madsen played prep football too, he always intended a career in baseball. For three years as a youth he played Little League in Hawaii, where his father helped establish the organization. At age 11, the family moved back to Salt Lake, he got his first big idea when he hit a home run in a little league championship game. The ball carried over the fence and hit a parked car beyond. "It was the first time I hit a homer really hard, the first time I really got all of it," he says. "The next year I spent the whole year trying to hit everything out."
Madsen's impressive performance as a collegian has the scouts looking his way once again. Sofield says Madsen, just a junior, should be drafted this year by a pro team - somewhere between the fourth and seventh rounds. "Keith Hernandez was picked in the 42nd round; Don Mattingly was in the 19th. I was a No. 1 pick, and here I am sitting in Salt Lake City coaching a college team," says Sofield.
Some scouts, though, are slow warming up to Madsen, citing average speed and arm strength. "A guy like Eric Davis that can hit, run and throw is on everybody's list," says Cincinnati Reds scout Don Gust. "But how many of those guys are there around? What makes Lance attractive to most pro scouts is the guy gives 110 percent. He's got extraordinary aggressiveness."
Sofield concurs. "I'm telling you, the son of a gun can flat out hit. And it doesn't matter if you're up 30 (runs) or down 30, he plays the same way."
Madsen, who finished his junior season two weeks ago, contends his better days are ahead. "For some reason, I've gotten better every year. I don't think I've peaked yet. It will be fun to see how much better I can get."