Prep baseball: Atkinson helps spark Cottonwood's turnaround
There's nothing quite like a baseball catcher's mentality. Much of the game at that position is about defending the plate and diagnosing potential problems.
Cottonwood junior Jake Atkinson wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love it; it's my home," Atkinson said about playing catcher. "You get to be in every play. You're the only guy on the field who sees what's going on. I've worked hard to be comfortable with blocking and receiving."
Atkinson, at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, indeed is an imposing presence behind the plate. Teammates call him "Tex" for how he resembles New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. With all that raw power come adjustments that need to be made, such as learning how to lay off certain pitches.
Atkinson admits it took him a while to be more disciplined at the plate, but the production came as soon as he did. He had one home run and 12 doubles.
"As big as he is, he's going to be thrown a lot of offspeed pitches," Cottonwood coach Jason Crawford said. "He also needs to cut down on strikeouts. He's a quiet leader, and there's a good energy about him. It makes us better when he's in the lineup. The kids get excited and rally around him."
Atkinson, 17, said it comes down to being more selective.
"I struggled in the beginning, seeing a lot of offspeed pitches," he said. "I need to be much more disciplined, seeing each pitch and picking one to hit. How I left off this season is how I want to start out next season."
Atkinson batted .372 and was primarily a gap hitter as the No. 4 or 5 hitter in the Colts' lineup. He proved equally adept behind the plate, throwing out 42 percent of would-be base stealers.
"He blocks the ball well, and people are not able to move up on him," Crawford said. "We keep our pitchers short to the plate, which helps him. He's got a good pop-up time and controls the running game well."
Atkinson, who had a pair of two-double games against Fremont and West Jordan, helped the Colts finish third in region (8-7) and 17-13 overall a nine-win improvement from the previous season. Cottonwood lost its playoff opener to Bingham but won four straight consolation games before losing to Layton.
That finish, regardless of the outcome, has expectations high for next year.
"We improved a lot from last year with our intensity on the field and competitiveness," Atkinson said. "The confidence for me was knowing I've been there, done that. We ended pretty well, and it's made us hungrier for next year."
Atkinson gave a verbal commitment to Utah Valley University in December and plans to play with the Utah Bucks travel team.
"Other bigger schools were interested in him after he committed, but he's fully committed to UVU," Crawford said. "That shows the character and quality of player he is. He's a leader in his own way."
Atkinson is interested in majoring in physical therapy at UVU.