(Photo by Jonathan Hardy)
As BYU baseball coach Vance Law was recruiting outfielder Jaycob Brugman, Law was told that the odds of landing the Arizona high school star were long.
"People told us right from the start that we were wasting our time because Jaycob was too big-time for BYU," Law remembered.
According to some publications, Brugman, who was selected in the 39th round of the baseball draft by the New York Yankees last summer, was the No. 1 prospect coming out of the state of Arizona.
Even Brugman hadn't planned on playing for the Cougars.
"Growing up, I didn't think I would come here," he said.
But he did, thanks in large part to his recruiting trip to Provo.
"I came for a visit here and I kind of fell in love with the atmosphere," Brugman said Wednesday. "The coaches were really nice to me. It felt comfortable."
"I feel like with what we have to offer, if we can get a guy on campus, we have a chance to impress them," Law said. "We got Jaycob to commit to an official visit. He and I had a great visit. I think we talked for 40 minutes or so. Usually those visits take 10 minutes. I thought it went really, really well. A month or so later, he decided this is where he wanted him to go to school. It wasn't until I actually got the letter of intent signed that I realized we were really going to get him. We were very excited because he's a real good player. He's going to get nothing but better, too."
Now, as a freshman, Brugman is hitting .316 (second-best on the team) overall and .400 in conference games. He also shares the team lead in RBIs (33) and has produced a team-high five game-winning RBIs.
Arizona, Oregon, Utah and Arizona State were among the schools that also pursued Brugman. Some questioned why he'd turn down the opportunity to play in the soon-to-be Pac-12.
"There were a few things on the Internet after I committed to BYU," he said. "Word got out and I saw some things people wrote on blogs, about how I was crazy to go to BYU."
"To get a guy that highly touted to come here, I thought it was a good job by our coaching staff and the guys on our team," Law said. "I think he's adjusted very well to college life, and we're looking for huge things from him in the future."
While BYU has had an up-and-down season with a 7-9 record in the Mountain West Conference and a 25-22 mark overall heading into this weekend's series at San Diego State, Brugman is having the time of his life. The 6-foot, 185-pound right fielder from Phoenix's Desert Vista High is doing what he loves.
"It's the best," he said. "It's all a kid could ask for, playing baseball every day."
At the beginning of the season, Law penciled in Brugman hitting ninth in the lineup. He's since moved up to third.
"I figured he would be a middle-of-the-lineup type of guy, but with him coming in as a freshman I didn't want to throw him in there because they pitch the No. 3 hitter different from the No. 9 guy," Law explained. "I wanted to help him get acclimated to the college game before we threw him to the wolves. He's made a real good adjustment to hitting in the middle of the lineup. He's going to get more breaking balls now, especially with guys in scoring position. But he's capable of handling that sort of stuff."
Law said Brugman is one of the best hitters he's recruited to BYU.
"And he's got a chance to be one of those great hitters that has come out of BYU," he said. "He leads the team in RBI as a freshman and for a good part of the year, he was hitting ninth. That tells you that he's a productive player. He has surprising power for not being a really big guy. But he has such quick hands going through the strike zone with his bat. I think that really helps him drive the baseball to all fields. He's very well-respected among his teammates. He gets along great with the guys. He's really hard on himself. He's a real achiever. He wants to hit every at-bat. He expects huge things from himself, which is a great quality to have. That's going to help him become that much better."
Brugman possesses an unshakable confidence at the plate, no matter the situation.
"I go up there every time thinking I'm going to get a hit," he said. "If there's runners in scoring position, you have to get them in, whatever it takes. In those situations, I feel comfortable and not nervous, which is a good thing. I can concentrate on just getting that runner in."
There's room for improvement, of course.
"At times, and maybe part of it is because he's a freshman, he gets too aggressive early," Law said. "Because he's such a good hitter, and can hit any pitch, he'll swing at balls out of the strike zone at times. As he becomes more disciplined, he'll become that much more dangerous."
One of the underrated elements of Brugman's game is his defense. He has recorded a team-high eight assists.
"He's played a very good right field for us," Law said. "He has an above-average arm. He's throwing guys out. He's doing a tremendous job there. He's one of those guys that has a lot of tools in all areas. That will make him attractive to teams in professional baseball."
Brugman is looking forward to playing in the major leagues someday.
"It's been my goal for my whole life," he said. "Since I was a kid, that's all I've wanted to do."
In the meantime, Brugman will continue to hone his skills — at the plate and in the field — at BYU.