Varsity Extra

Former Treasure Valley high school star taken in the sixth round of MLB Draft

Rocky Mountain High grad Jackson Cluff, left, was taken in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals. The shortstop broke out in his sophomore season for BYU this spring.
Rocky Mountain High grad Jackson Cluff, left, was taken in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals. The shortstop broke out in his sophomore season for BYU this spring. AP

Thirty years after his dad was selected in the MLB Draft, Rocky Mountain High School grad Jackson Cluff (2015) followed in his footsteps Tuesday.

The Washington Nationals selected the BYU shortstop in the sixth round, 183rd overall, of the MLB Draft, as Cluff, his parents and his three siblings huddled around a laptop in the family’s Salt Lake City kitchen.

Cluff said the Nationals called him in the fifth round and told him they’d select him with their next pick. But Cluff still had to wait for his name to come across the screen for confirmation.

“With the draft, it’s so unexpected. It’s something you have no control over,” Cluff told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “You’re hearing from scouts and they’re telling you, this, this and this. You get your hopes up and you hope it happens, but don’t really know.

“... When I saw my name pop up on the screen, it was awesome. It was something I’ve looked forward to my whole life as I’ve been playing this game.”

[Related: 18 former Idaho baseball players dot professional baseball]

The 22-year-old Cluff said he plans to sign with the Nationals, forgoing his final two years of eligibility and reporting to the team’s facility in Florida on Sunday. The slot value for the 183rd overall pick is $266,000, according to MLB.com.

Cluff broke out for BYU in his sophomore season this spring. Scouts didn’t expect much from him after a two-year layoff to serve a church mission in Georgia. But he hit .327 and slugged .518 with four home runs, 56 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 53 games to earn a spot on the West Coast all-conference first team.

He also earned two national player of the week honors this spring, the first in BYU history to do so.

“I didn’t go around telling everyone, ‘Hey, my goal is to go in the fifth round or the 10th round,’” Cluff said. “But I always had an idea what kind of player I believed I was. And I believed if I put in the work, and with the help of my coaches and teammates, I could get to the point where I could get ready for professional baseball.”

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Jackson Cluff slides safely into home plate during a 2015 game vs. Borah. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Cluff said the Nationals view him as a long-term prospect at shortstop. But he also said the club valued the versatility that allows him to play every position but pitcher, catcher and first base.

Tuesday’s selection extends the family’s professional baseball legacy. The Boise Hawks took Cluff’s father, Paul Cluff, in the fourth round in 1989 when independent minor league clubs also participated in the MLB Draft.

Paul Cluff, a two-time All-American at BYU, played one season with the independent Boise Hawks. He hit .270 before Boise became an affiliate of the California Angels the next season.

“We were sitting around and all smiling, and my sister goes, ‘Just so know, he was taken earlier a little bit earlier,’” Cluff said. “And I said, ‘Hey, we’ll see if I can get a little farther.’

“I wasn’t going to pop off. I’ve still got a long road ahead of me.”

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Jackson Cluff was a three-year starter for Rocky Mountain and earned a spot on the 5A SIC all-conference first team as a junior and a senior. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Cluff was a three-year starter on Rocky Mountain’s baseball team, earning first-team, 5A SIC all-conference honors as a junior and a senior. He hit .386 with two home runs and 27 RBIs as a senior, leading Rocky Mountain to the 2015 district title and a 27-0 record entering the 5A state tournament. The Grizzlies then lost their first two games at state in upsets.

Cluff’s selection continues Rocky Mountain’s tradition of producing professional baseball players. The San Diego Padres took Mason Smith in fourth round out of high school in 2013, and the Los Angeles Dodgers took Isaac Anderson in the 40th round in 2015 out of Wichita State.

Both have since retired.

HIGHLY RANKED IDAHO NATIVE TRANSFERRING

Former 5A All-Idaho Football Player of the Year Colson Yankoff will transfer from Washington to UCLA, UCLA confirmed Tuesday.

Yankoff (6-4, 210) graduated from Coeur d’Alene High in 2018 as four-star recruit and the country’s No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Sports. But the incoming redshirt freshman found himself buried on the depth chart as Washington continued to add highly touted quarterbacks.

Yankoff was the 5A and all-class player of the year as a junior, racking up 4,132 total yards and 54 TDs in 10 games. The U.S. Army All-American then earned a spot on the 5A All-Idaho first team as a senior after totaling 3,423 yards and 34 TDs to lead Coeur d’Alene to a state runner-up finish.

Yankoff originally had offers from Boise State, Oregon, Nebraska and Tennessee, among others, in high school. UCLA did not recruit him.

UCLA heads into the fall with just three quarterbacks on its roster. Yankoff will have to sit out the 2019 season per NCAA transfer rules before returning in 2020 with three years of eligibility left.

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