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Pitching prospect played it just right

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A couple of summers ago I was talking to a high-school friend at the grocery store when a young man walked past us. My friend said, "See that kid right there? He can throw a baseball a gazillion miles per hour."

That was the first time I heard of Aaron Jensen. But I got to know Jensen a little bit this past high school season and watched him pitch a few times as he led the Red Devils to the 4A state title. Now that I know him and have seen him throw, there's two things I never want to do with him.

I don't ever want to try to bat against him. His 95-mph fastball and nasty curve would make me look real stupid. I also don't want to play poker with him. The way he played his cards this summer with the Major League scouts, he'd probably take all my money.

When Jensen began getting attention last spring from almost every Major League team, he had already signed a letter of intent to play at BYU. So scouts wanted to know — if they drafted him would he choose professional baseball or college ball?

After consulting an adviser and deciding how much money it would take for him to bypass a college career, Jensen told the scouts that if he wasn't drafted in the fourth round or higher, don't bother.

When draft day came and Jensen wasn't picked until the 19th round by the Seattle Mariners, some said he shouldn't have been so demanding. A scout told me that he slipped because he wasn't a sure bet to sign.

When Jensen slipped to the 19th round it was no reflection on his potential as a Major Leaguer. In fact some scouts are amazed he was picked at all considering his leanings toward attending BYU. I was there at Jensen's home that morning and heard him talking to team representatives on the phone. It was clear to me that once the third round had passed, he didn't want to be drafted.

At one point I was probably in that group that questioned Jensen's decision. But looking at it now, after Jensen signed a contract last week that pays him the same money as a third-to-fourth-round pick and also pays for his college education, I think the 19-year-old played his cards just right.

I think his chances of making it in the Major Leagues are better now. I don't think he was ready in June to pack his bags, two weeks after winning a high school championship and two weeks after graduation, to head out for a life on the road in rookie league. He almost looked relieved on draft day when he wasn't drafted early.

But now, after a couple more months to grow up and get acclimated to the post-high school life, I think he is ready and much more prepared. Jensen wants to be a Major League pitcher and has the competitive drive to be one. Still, the odds are that very few of even the top prospects ever make it that far, but I'm not betting against him. So far he's played his cards just right.

E-MAIL: jimr@desnews.com