This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The biggest sign that Riley Ottesen means business is the freshly cut crop of hair now cut close to his scalp, a departure from the flowing dark locks he sported throughout this season that elicited envy from both male and female spectators at Utes games.
Ottesen, a Highland native and former American Fork standout who recently wrapped up his sophomore season at the University of Utah, admitted this past week that his mini-makeover came at the advice of his coach and his adviser as a way to ingratiate himself to professional baseball organizations.
An intriguing pitching prospect with a live arm, Ottesen, 22, provides a blend of potential and uncertainty. He heads a group of six Utes whom coach Bill Kinneberg believes could be drafted this week in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which begins at 5 p.m. on Monday and continues on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I'll be open-minded for whatever comes my way," Ottesen said. "I'm just excited, ready and hopeful for anything, really. I don't really care what team it is. I don't really care what money I get. I just want to have the opportunity to go out and play some pro ball."
Undrafted out of high school, Ottesen ranks 107th among MLB.com's top prospect in this year's draft, while Baseball America lists him as the 205th-best draft eligible prospect in the nation (the second-best in Utah).
Ottesen helped guide American Fork to the 2012 state championship and earned 5A MVP honors. In two seasons on the mound as a prep pitcher, he posted a 17-2 record, including having gone 8-1 with a 1.54 ERA as a senior.
"I always threw hard, but I feel like my junior year of high school I really knew how to pitch and I was consistent with my pitches," Ottesen said. "After my junior year I had a great season that's when I started looking at the U and talking to colleges. It was more of a goal to play professional baseball at that point than a dream. I felt like I had the opportunity and the physical capabilities of making that dream become a reality."
Following his senior season in 2013, Ottesen served a two-year LDS mission in Japan before joining the Utah program in 2016. He started just three times in 2016, but he made 23 appearances for the Utes' Pac-12 championship team. He also had a pair of strong multiple-inning outings in the NCAA regional.
Ottesen said major league organizations contacted him last year to gauge whether he'd sign if drafted between the sixth and 10th rounds. After consulting with Kinneberg, Ottesen decided another year would increase his stock and improve his draft position.
"It starts with his arm strength," Kinneberg said. "He's always had good arm strength. It started to really show at the end of last year after he'd been home a year from his mission. The velocity increased quite a bit towards the end of the year last year. Then he had a really good early fall, where scouts saw him, and he continued it during the spring. His number one asset is his arm strength."
Ottesen, who utilizes a four-pitch arsenal, moved into the Utes' starting pitching rotation this season. He got off to a torrid start during nonconference play by going 3-0 in his first four starts and giving up seven earned runs and striking out 19 in 251⁄3 innings. He hit some speed bumps during Pac-12 play, and he finished the season with a 5-4 record and a 4.93 ERA in 16 games (15 starts).
"He's got arm speed. You can't teach that," said one former professional scout who has watched Ottesen pitch since high school. "A guy is just born with that arm speed. And you know what? Everybody is looking for power arms, and he's a power arm. I saw him his last outing against Arizona State, and he was 94 to 95 [mph] in the seventh inning and he was right close to 100 pitches. The other thing that shows that he has arm strength is he's 94, 95 out of the stretch."
The former scout also raised questions that will likely warrant discussion among office types and scouts when Ottesen's name comes up as a potential draft pick.
First, there may be some doubt how well he can hold up physically to the rigors of professional baseball. Ottesen, listed as 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, doesn't quite measure up to prototype starters build. Most of today's premier starters stand 6-foot-3 or taller.
Second, Ottesen may have to fight the perception that players who've served LDS missions have trouble climbing through the minors. The list of returned missionaries to reach the majors is small. Former pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who spent parts of 13 years in the majors, headlines a group that includes outfielder McKay Christensen, pitcher Matt Lindstrom, outfielder Gary Johnson, outfielder/first baseman Brian Banks and pitcher Scott Nielsen.
"The mission is going to be an issue," said the former scout. "There just aren't many returned missionaries that make it to the big leagues. It's as simple as that. It's an age factor. They're two years older. That's the major issue."
He also added, "Life in the minor leagues is not what they're used to."
Ottesen has discussed life in the minors with Guthrie, who used to train at Ottesen's high school in the offseason. The two have discussed what it's like in the minors and spending so much time on the road and with teammates who may not understand his faith. Ottesen's primary takeaway was to just be himself.
John Buck, a Taylorsville High School graduate, played 11 seasons as a catcher in the majors and was an American League All-Star in 2010. He converted to LDS early in his professional career, and he believes the religion helped him remain grounded and navigate life in baseball.
"The guys when they would tease me about not drinking, I'd tease them about having two cellphones," Buck said. "'Why do you need two cell phones? If you want to call me out on my weird things, let's talk about how many girlfriends you've got, Meathead.' I was never afraid to call anybody out on their BS. … I've always been that way. I think that's why it helped me, because I did it for me and how it helps me become better a better ballplayer, person, human. I think that's why it helped me. If I was afraid what my peers would think because I was [LDS] maybe it would've been a bad thing."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LWorthySports Jayson Rose, RHP, University of Utah • Led Utes to Pac-12 title in 2016 and set a single-season record for strikeouts. He became the program's all-time strikeout leader this season. The two-time all-conference selection features a low 90s fastball and a highly regarded change-up.