During his LDS Church mission in Little Rock, Ark., Jacob Hannemann used to talk about how he was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals, but instead chose to follow his faith and a football scholarship to BYU.
He told people it was difficult to pass up a chance to play professional baseball. But even as Hannemann talked about leaving the game behind, it stayed with him. He kept harboring the thought that he could come back to the game.
"I wanted to go out and serve, but I missed sports a lot," he said. "The dream to be a professional baseball player was still there, but it was fuzzy. Now it's clear, like in HD. I never imagined it would come around so quickly."
Today, the Cougars' 22-year-old outfielder is again on the verge of another draft day, and most scouts predict he'll be selected far ahead of the 48th round pick he was in 2010. Some teams have told Hannemann that he could be taken as high as the fifth round, which would likely come with a big cash incentive to end his football playing days.
A potential starter at defensive back with the BYU football team this fall, Hannemann will once again be faced with a decision. Stay in school? Or go pro?
"Ideally, I could've waited another year, but that's kind of how life is," he said. "It's tough when you think about what it's like to play football in front of 65,000 people, but I hope everyone understands the life decision I have to make."
Hannemann was a freshman sensation for the BYU baseball team this year. Despite missing most of the team's fall activities during a redshirt year on the football squad, the returned missionary showcased speed and a reliable glove from the time he stepped on the diamond.
The hitting aspect took a bit longer. The left-handed Hannemann struggled at the onset. His father, Howard Hannemann, joked that he looked away when his son's batting average, then about .120, flashed across the board during an early season series at LSU.
But BYU coach Mike Littlewood gave Hannemann opportunities to succeed, putting him in the leadoff batting spot even when his hitting didn't justify it. Over time, Hannemann started getting hot. During West Coast Conference play, he led the team with a .380 average and a .630 slugging percentage. He also swiped 14 bases on his way to conference freshman of the year honors.
"He's such an athletic kid with great upside every single day he walks out onto the field, he gets better," Littlewood said. "He definitely has that killer instinct that comes with football, and we want all our guys to have that."
Hannemann will take a little more time to develop a better baseball IQ, Littlewood said, but his hitting, speed and defensive ability has a lot of scouts intrigued. The biggest question mark is his arm strength, which is less than ideal for an outfielder.
He's been showing off his skills for the last week, his family paying out of pocket (in accordance with NCAA guidelines) for workouts with the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics and L.A. Dodgers. Shagging fly balls in Wrigley Field was quite a thrill, but Hannemann says any team that drafts him will be his new favorite.
The door isn't closed at BYU. Bronco Mendenhall has kept in touch with the family, saying he'd love to have his cornerback on the field this fall. But the chances that Hannemann will stay are shrinking. The family is looking for an undisclosed minimum amount of money, and it's looking more like a major-league club will oblige them. Hannemann is taking a summer credit to free up his scholarship in case the team needs it.
"Bronco's told us he hopes Jacob comes back, but he also wants the best for him," Howard Hannemann said. "He knows this could be a good opportunity for Jacob, and he's not going to stand in his way."
If going pro is Hannemann's choice this time around, he's ready for it. His mission gave him experience away from home, and if baseball can give him a career for the next decade or so, it will have been worth it.
"I hope it works out for the best this year," Hannemann said. "I've prayed on it. I dreamed about it. Whatever happens, I'll try to hit the ground running."
Utah's other top MLB Draft prospects
Taylor Snyder, SS, Salem Hills • A rising prospect, Snyder most recently got attention while helping guide the Skyhawks to the 4A title. His father was an 11-year MLB veteran, and he inherited some of the traits and smarts. An above-average arm and great bat speed are some of his best attributes, coach Scott Haney said.
Brennon Lund, OF, Bingham • A great arm and fast feet have put Lund on the radar for a while. He was a do-it-all player for the Miners last season. He's a right-handed thrower, but a left-handed batter, adding to his value. He's signed with BYU if he forgoes his pro options this year.
Adam Law, INF, BYU • The son of former BYU coach Vance Law, he led BYU in batting average (.365) and on-base percentage (.440). He's not the most toolsy prospect, but his IQ and instincts give him a leg up on a lot of players his age. He comes from a baseball family, so he knows what to expect at the next level.
Jaycob Brugman, OF, BYU • The Cougars' other top outfielder has some big-time pop. Brugman hit 11 homers last season, while batting .317 throughout the year. Mike Littlewood called the junior "the most polished hitter we have."
Trey Nielsen, INF/P, Utah • Nielsen played more infield in his college career, but if he can latch on to a pro team, his future may lie in pitching. He pitched only a few innings this season, but he can throw in the low 90s with a fastball, a good curveball and a changeup.
O First round, Thursday, 5 p.m.
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