Million-dollar arm? Waukee's Jackson Wentworth may find he's worth just that during MLB Draft
Jason Wentworth sits in the third base stands at Urbandale High School's baseball field on a June day as his son, Jackson, takes the mound. Jackson, a senior at Waukee High School, is in the third inning of work when a barrage of radar guns and video cameras from 10 Major League Baseball scouts go up in the air.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Jason says. “If it were me, I’d be all over the place.”
It doesn't seem to bother Jackson, though.
It has become the norm for him lately. A group of scouts made their way to Mason City earlier in the year for his season-opening start. Now, others have gathered in the back few rows directly behind home plate so they can get a good look at every one of his pitches.
“This attention is kind of weird but over time, I’m getting used to it,” Jackson said.
The spotlight will stay on Wentworth for a while. The 18-year-old, who has committed to play at Kansas State next season, is one of the state's top MLB Draft prospects. And after a solid junior year and a strong start to his senior season, Wentworth's stock has risen so high he could go in the first five rounds of next month's draft.
That means he could be looking at a signing bonus of more than $1 million dollars. For comparison's sake: former Dowling Catholic star Carter Baumler, a fifth-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles, signed for above slot value at $1.5 million in 2020.
“He’s definitely on the right trajectory,” one National League scout told the Register. "He’s rising for sure, which is what you want before the draft."
Wentworth built into a star with the help of books, DVDs and a camp
Jason Wentworth was like most fathers who wanted to see their kids do well in sports and decided to coach his youth baseball league teams.
But Jason, who played just high school baseball, didn't have the knowledge he wanted to pass on to Jackson and his teammates. So, Jason scoured the internet, looking for any information he could find about pitching. He came across Tom House, a former big-league pitcher, coach and author. House was one of the top pitching experts in the world. Jason watched some of House's DVDs and read as many of his books he could find. He even took Jackson to one of House's camps in Kansas City.
"What he explained, it just resonated, it made sense," Jason said.
Jason learned about pitching grips, mechanics and how to take care of a pitcher's arm. He passed the information on to Jackson and his teammates. Jason used what he learned to teach Jackson a curveball when he was 10. The pitch became Jackson's bread and butter over the years. It was such a strong pitch that during his first two-and-a-half seasons of high school baseball, he relied on it to get hitters out. Jackson also had a high 80s fastball and a changeup. But the curveball was his best pitch.
Throwing hard wasn't the emphasis. Hitting spots and creating movement with the ball was.
"He read a lot of books about baseball and tried to incorporate that with me and becoming a better pitcher so that I can be more efficient with my movements," Jackson said.
The velocity eventually came.
The two fine-tuned his mechanics by installing a pitching net in the basement for Jackson. Jackson trained with weighted balls and after each baseball season, would long toss with Jason on the Waukee High School football field to help him build up his arm strength. Jackson would stand in the end zone and Jason would work his way back. At one point, Jason got all the way past the other end zone with Jackson airing out throws 330 feet and hitting his dad's glove right in the chest.
"He always had like four or five mile an hour velo jumps every year," Jason said.
Jackson's velocity eventually reached into the 90s, touching 93 as a junior. Then people started noticing.
After his junior season, Wentworth attended the Midwest Scouts Association Showcase and dazzled scouts with his curveball. After that, the word was out on Wentworth, who turned in dominating performances at other events. Jason watched scouts flock to the field as his son struck out 15 in a six-inning performance at an event in Indianapolis. The focus before that had been on playing at Kansas State.
But after the performance and the attention it garnered, Jason knew his son could have a future beyond college baseball.
"That's kind of when I realized like 'Wow, this can get pretty serious pretty quick,'" Jason said.
The next Jeremy Hellickson?
The attention has only grown for Wentworth. During his first start of the season, Wentworth delivered a dominating performance by striking out 12 in five shutout innings. With 10 scouts on hand for his second start of the year against Urbandale, he struck out 15 in a shutout.
"He is just such a polished pitcher for a high school kid," Mason City coach Troy Rood said.
Rood, whose teams have gone up against pitching stars like Iowa Hawkeyes left-hander Jack Dreyer and MLB veteran Jeremy Hellickson, said Wentworth is in the same category as those two. The numbers back it up for Wentworth. His curveball, which may be his best pitch, has great spin rate, an important gauge for judging pitches. The higher the number, the more spin. Jason said Jackson's spin rate has been up to 2,700 RPMs. For comparison, Los Angeles Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw's curveball, one of the best in baseball, has an RPM of 2,536, according to Baseball Savant.
"He throws his curveball in any count," Waukee coach Dave Dirkx said. "He can throw a changeup that has been really good. I just think he's got stuff that works."
That's what has drawn the interest of MLB teams. Perfect Game named Wentworth to the 2021 National Pre-Draft Showcase Top Prospect List. Wentworth, who could potentially go in the first five rounds of the three-day event which starts July 11, may have a tough decision to make: Does he sign or does he head off to Kansas State?
It's a conundrum he's been preparing for with the help of an advisor. Wentworth's dad said Jackson and his advisor have come up with a specific amount they're looking for a team to offer him in order to lure him away from playing college baseball.
Jason said the number is between Jackson and his advisor.
"The amount I'm asking for, that's probably a big factor," Jackson said. "If it's the right amount, then I would definitely go in the draft. But, if it's not the right amount, I'll get to go to college, then develop as a player and develop as a person and then become even better."
Signing with a team could mean Wentworth's high school career possibly coming to an abrupt end. But that doesn't bother Dirkx. He understands that Wentworth has a promising career ahead of him.
With his skills improving more and more each season, Wentworth could be just scratching the surface of his potential.
"It would be nice if you and I had had that future ahead of us," Dirkx said.
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.