When Yukon's baseball team got off its bus in Phoenix three hours before a spring break trip game, Millers coach Kevin James could hardly believe what he saw.
Yukon was set to play the first game of the day at 1 p.m. and expected to take batting practice in the cage, away from the Arizona sun.
But before the Millers had arrived, around 70 scouts had filled Greenway High's stands, waiting to get a glimpse of the next first-round pick from Yukon.
“I tried to get us to hit in the cage, but the Greenway coach told us those guys were here to watch us hit,” James said.
Thursday night, Yukon catcher Jonathan Denney will find out for sure what kind of impression he made in that performance and countless others throughout the season.
Denney is expected to be picked in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The first and second rounds, as well as the compensatory and the new competitive balance round, will be picked Thursday. The draft continues through Saturday.
Denney won't have to be waiting by his phone. He'll be one of eight amateur players — and only six high schoolers — in Secaucus, N.J., for the draft.
Mock drafts generally have Denney going anywhere from No. 20 to No. 33, the final pick of the first round.
The most prominent predictors have him going either No. 27 to the Cincinnati Reds (ESPN's Keith Law) or No. 33 to the New York Yankees (Baseball America's Jim Callis).
Denney burst onto the scene at the Area Code Games nearly a year ago when he belted a 431-foot home run then continued with another solid performance at the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field later in August.
Those performances — including a .459 average and 11 home runs this season at Yukon — solidified him as a top-flight prospect.
James said Denney could be a player who becomes more consistent against the high-level pitching he'll see in the minors than he was in high school.
“When he's seen quality pitching, he's hit it,” James said. “He's not going to ever see 70 (mph) again.”
Law wrote on his most recent mock draft that Denney could find a home elsewhere on the field eventually.
“Behind the plate, he has arm strength and his release is fine, but his receiving is shaky, especially on balls down in or below the zone, where he tends to slap down at the ball rather than catching it cleanly and holding it,” Law wrote. “He has an excellent catcher's build, not too tall, broad and durable, but isn't the kind of higher-energy, more athletic catcher teams seem to favor now.”
Denney's footwork has improved greatly behind the plate, according to James.
“For me, he's the quickest catcher I've seen,” James said. “I didn't get to see (Midwest City's) A.J. Hinch play until he was in the big leagues, but Jonathan's a big old strong kid. He's very smooth behind the plate. That's his nickname — smooth. That's how he goes about his business back there.”
Hinch, a Midwest City product, was in the big leagues less than two years after he was drafted, though Hinch attended college before entering pro ball.
Denney has signed with Arkansas, though figures to sign if he's picked in the first round.
If he does make the first round, Denney would be the second Millers player in five years to go in the first round. Chad James was picked No. 18 overall by the Marlins in 2009.
He'd also be only the second state high school catcher to be picked in the first round, joining Southeast's Darrell Porter, who was taken No. 4 overall in 1970.