ST. GEORGE —
Major League Baseball scouts have said Pine View shortstop Marcus Littlewood is the best position player to ever come out of Utah.
They've watched him play dozens and dozens of times at Pine View and in summer and fall leagues to confirm their belief. They've dined at his house and watched his every move.
The scrutiny — not only from scouts but also from fans, media, blogs and opponents — could make a weaker man wilt. But not Littlewood, who's grown accustomed to the attention that comes with being a once-in-a-generation type of baseball player in Utah.
"There's always been that kind of pressure," Littlewood said. "It would feel weird without it. I thrive off of it. I just know that I have to play my game, work hard and see where the pieces land."
Littlewood worked as hard as usual and produced as he normally does during the 2010 season — and earned his second consecutive Deseret News Mr. Baseball award for his efforts. Littlewood acknowledges he had stiff competition for the honor from players such as Lone Peak's Dillon Robinson, Spanish Fork's Adam Duke, Skyline's Trey Nielson and Viewmont's Jordan Hager.
"There were a lot of great players this year — and a lot of great players had great years," Littlewood said. "To be named it again is really an honor. I'm honored."
Littlewood earned the award again by producing at the plate and with spectacular defensive play at shortstop. His offensive numbers as a senior were strikingly similar to his junior season. He batted .538, up from .531 last season. His doubles were down from 14 to 10, but his home runs were up from six to eight.
Littlewood had 27 RBIs as a senior, compared to 22 as a junior. And he managed to raise almost all of his stats despite getting hardly anything to hit. He was walked 27 times.
"I think he thinks he could have played better," said Mike Littlewood, Marcus' father. "I think he played well. He got walked a ton. He played good enough to keep people interested in him."
The same could be said for Littlewood's high school career, as it was evident when he was a ninth-grader that it would be worthwhile to keep tabs on his play. He was a four-year starter at Pine View. He was never overwhelmed by playing varsity ball early in his career, and he hit .402 as a sophomore.
"I think he's legit," said Canyon View coach Jason Jacobsen. "I think it will be a long time until we see another player come along like him with his all-around abilities. I think Marcus deserves everything he gets. He's that good."
Once again, the best part of Littlewood's game was his play at shortstop. He made plays that no other shortstop in the state could make. He could make difficult plays look routine.
"That's the best part of his game," Pine View coach Randy Wilstead said after the Panthers beat Lehi in a 4A elimination game last month. "That's where he shines. He's not a prep baseball player defensively out here. He's miles and miles ahead of other guys on this level."
Littlewood was also a leader for the Panthers. His teammates knew what kind of pressure he was under when dozens of scouts attended his games and took notes of his every move. They saw how he handled the attention and tried to follow his lead.
They also appreciated how humble he stayed. Littlewood never walked around with a big head despite playing for Team USA's 16-and-under team and having a key hit in its 7-3 gold medal win over Mexico in the Youth Pan-Am Games in 2008. He also stayed cool despite playing in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2009. He walked four times in that game, which featured some of the top players in the nation.
"I think every kid on this team looks up to him pretty big," said Pine View pitcher Brandon Cox. "He's got a lot of people talking to him, and they expect a lot out of him. He's a great guy."
Even his opponents couldn't deny that.
"He's an incredible player, a great teammate, and a great leader of his team," said Cedar coach Mark Johnson. "You want him on your team. You don't want on him on your opponents' team."
Littlewood helped take the Panthers a little further in the state tournament in 2010 than he did last season. Pine View went 2-2 in the playoffs, beating Salem Hills and Lehi.
Next up for Littlewood is the MLB draft on Monday. He has worked out for the Blue Jays, Braves, Angels and Mariners and has a workout scheduled with the Phillies on Saturday. He could be the earliest non-pitcher taken in the draft in state history. Pine View's Ryan Bowers, a catcher, currently holds that distinction, as he went in the third round to the Mets in 1995.
When he's drafted could be a moot point, as Littlewood has signed to play at the University of San Diego. He plans on trying out for Team USA's 18-and-under squad if he doesn't sign with the team that picks him in the draft.
No matter what happens, Littlewood's high school career won't soon be forgotten, and he'll always cherish the time he spent at Pine View.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "We went to the state tournament four times in a row. That was a lot of fun. I was a part of a great program. I was fortunate enough to be coached by great coaches in Coach Wilstead and Coach (Jonathan) Howell."