Power Watts

While his future University of Arkansas baseball teammates battle in the NCAA Regional beginning tonight, Razorback signee and big-time power hitter Murray Watts (6-7, 250) will be in New York City getting ready to take in one of Major League Baseball's best rivalries.

If it was any other weekend, University of Arkansas baseball signee Murray Watts would likely be in stands in Fayetteville watching the Razorbacks play in the NCAA Regional beginning today at Baum Stadium.

But this isn't just any weekend.

In fact, the lefty-swinging Watts (6-7, 250) - who is as big a slugger as the state has produced in a while both literally and physically - will be studying at the feet of David "Big Papi' Ortiz instead.

Watts, who has jacked some 40 home runs over the fences the past few years, is in New York City for a senior trip and will be at Yankee Stadium watching his beloved Red Sox take on the hated Bronx Bombers in a three-game series that starts on Monday.

"I'm a big Boston fan," said Watts, who flew out of Memphis with his mom and grandma on Thursday afternoon. "I'm pretty excited about it. I've never been to New York and I sure it's going to be something else to see for a guy from Jonesboro, Arkansas."

Certainly UA head coach Dave Van Horn and first baseman Watts, whose chose Arkansas over Oklahoma State, Missouri and Arkansas State, hope the top prospect will be something to see for Razorback fans next season.

He was certainly eye-popping this spring for Jonesboro while batting .489, hitting a school-record 14 home runs, rapping 14 doubles and putting up 50 RBIs in a 22-10 season while having a slugging percentage of an almost unheard of 1.120.

Perhaps most impressive - and more like St. Louis star Albert Pujols - was the fact that Watts - who will play at Baum Stadium in the Arkansas High School All-Star game on Tuesday, June 20 - fanned just seven times while drawing 40 walks.

That performance - and a 7-1 pitching mark with a 1.80 ERA as well - earned him the Gatorade Player of the Year award in the state of Arkansas and helped him lead the Golden Hurricane to the semifinals of the state tournament after getting them to the championship game the year before.

"I had a pretty good year after the first couple of games when they weren't pitching to me and I started chasing some balls off the plate because I got frustrated," Watts said. "I think I was 3-of-17 at one time. But I refocused on what I was doing at the plate, got a whole new mental approach and then really turned it on."

He was the only Arkansas player invited to participate in the prestigious East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, was also an invitee to the 2005 Area Code games and was named a preseason Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American.

By virtue of winning the Gatorade award in Arkansas, Watts - who fanned just 29 times in his nearly 300 career high school at-bats while walking 86 times - is also up for the national player of the year award that will be announced soon.

"All that's really nice, but I don't let it go to my head," Watts said. "You can't do that and get any better."

While getting plenty of Barry Bonds and Pujols treatment with intentional walks, Watts also had to take in some of the jealously that goes with being a local legend, Razorback signee and a player that got tons of publicity.

After West Memphis beat Jonesboro, their players got together and chanted ‘Murray Who? Murray Who?'

"You just kind of get used to that kind of stuff," said Watts, who bats left but throws right-handed. "I just tried to take it all in stride and just do what I could to help my team win."

While Watts gave some thought to staying home and helping elevate Arkansas State's program with his bat, he said it was a matter of just wanting to be a Razorback.

"Really, pretty much I have always been a Razorback fan and have dreamed of playing for Arkansas," Watts said. "And when I first saw Baum Stadium, that absolutely put me over the top."

In his only game appearance at Baum Stadium, Watts showed he could clear the fences by blasting a solo home run and going 2-for-3 in the 2005 Class AAAAA state championship game.

Just a few months afterwards, Watts - who was a fireballing Little Leaguer who had grown to over 6-feet tall when he was 12 - was committing to Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn.

"He is a totally straight up guy and all business and a great coach," Watts said. "He's not one to leave any confusion about how he really feels. That's what I want and the kind of coach I want to play for. He's doing a great job and is going to be at Arkansas a long time and have a lot of success."

As with any top-notch high school player, Watts is likely to be drafted in the the upcoming Major League Baseball draft next Tuesday and Wednesday.

But the young man, who finished high school with a 3.875 grade point average, is a Magna Cum Laude graduate and also got a 27 on his ACT, is thinking college right now.

"I know it's coming up and I've thought about it a little like anybody would," Watts said. "But I don't think I am that ready and I think that I will be at Arkansas."

Watt, his dad Mike and mom Ronda, have done their research.

"I know what it would take for him not to come to Arkansas and we are not expecting there will be a club who will want to do that," Mr. Watts said. "We are looking forward to him being a Razorback."

Van Horn has made it clear to Watts that he thinks he can contribute right away.

"He talks about how (current Razorback Danny) Hamblin is probably going to be leaving and going on to play professionally and how he expects me to step right in there," Watts said. "It's not like the job has been promised to me, but one he has let me know that if I come in and am ready to play that I can win right away."

Watts, who hit 13 home runs during American Legion ball last summer, is playing once again with the Jonesboro Ricemen club.

"We are off to a slow start, but will get it together," Watts said. "I've already struck out twice so I've got to fix that."

He's looking forward to playing at Baum Stadium in the all-star doubleheader on June 20th.

"I'm excited about that and playing a lot more games there," Watts said. "It's going to be great to be part of that program."

Murray Watts

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