How baseball in southern Utah shaped Ky Bush and Drew Thorpe into two of the White Sox's top prospects

When Drew Thorpe took the mound for his big league debut with the White Sox against the Mariners, Jeff Scholzen saw a familiar scene.

The former MLB scout for the Brewers and Angels watched the pitcher, whom he knew since he was just a kid, take the mound in Seattle with a full mustache and armed with the dangerous changeup.

It was the same Thorpe that Scholzen had watched grow up in southern Utah, from the personality to the skill, this time he was reaching a potential few in the world have.

"It doesn't surprise me that he played well in his debut because he's one of those guys that, the third deck of the stadium, it doesn't exist for him," Scholzen said, "He's just locked in. And that's the way his personality is. The moment's not too big for him."

Thorpe is one of the first Sox top prospects to make their MLB debut during this rebuild, and he won’t be the last. Another one of the Sox’s top prospects is pitcher Ky Bush; he was just named Class AA Southern League Pitcher of the Week last week with the Birmingham Barons.

The common denominator that links the two together is how both Bush and Thorpe grew up. Both got their baseball starts in southern Utah, namely in St. George, Utah. 

Seeing them both now find success at two different moments at the professional baseball level was surreal for Scholzen, who is now the Utah Scouting Director for Prep Baseball Report.

"You remember these guys when they were just little kids and you see on their Instagram posts where they're going to Cooperstown and they're playing in the Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament and then you watch them in high school and now you're following them in the minor leagues or college baseball," Scholzen said. "It's just surreal because, like I said, some of these guys were my neighbors and you're watching them come home from the hospital after being born and then 20 something years later you're watching them on ESPN Plus or whatever, or in a regional. So, it's pretty cool."

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 22: Drew Thorpe #33 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the sixth inning at Comerica Park on June 22, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) (Getty Images )

Scholzen has seen some talent in his day. He has previously scouted players like Kris Bryant, Tyler Wagner, Aaron Blair and Joey Rickard, which are just a few of the names Scholzen has scouted.

He’s seen talent. He still remembers seeing Thorpe and Bush growing up in baseball.

He wasn’t sure where Thorpe would take his career. It wasn’t because Thorpe was undecided, it was because the talent jumped off his notebook and onto the diamond. 

"You didn't know if he was going to be a hitter because he was so athletic," Scholzen said. "He could run, he could hit, he had power, but then he'd take his turn in the rotation and he was just the prototypical unicorn high school shortstop right hand pitcher that did it all."

Bush was more defined as a pitcher, and his early-career ceiling was what stood out to Scholzen. That ceiling really shined when Bush pitched for St. Mary’s College in California.

‘You're going, wow, this guy: you can really dream on this guy," Scholzen said of Bush. "He gets to St. Mary's and just explodes and starts touching 95, 96, 97, and he put on 30, 40 pounds and became a man."

The Sox acquired both Bush and Thorpe in trades. Bush came to Chicago when the Sox traded Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López to the Angels, and Thorpe was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Dylan Cease to San Diego.

Bringing their journey full circle, Bush and Thorpe were also roommates in Class AA Birmingham. When Thorpe was called up, it was a moment of perspective for Bush.

"He was my roommate, so just to see a guy that I was living with and then being up in the show just kind of shows it doesn't have to necessarily be AA then the show," Bush said last week. "They think that you're ready then they'll call your name."

Bush and Thorpe didn’t overlap in high school, but both started their careers in the desert. Bush began playing baseball when he was six and moved from southern Utah to northern Utah when he was eight. Bush starred at Fremont High School, while Thorpe played at Desert Hills High School.

Southern Utah is warm year round, meaning there’s more opportunity to throw, hit and hone baseball talents no matter what day of the month.

Bush was selected in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft by the Angels and has been improving his game since with every avenue. Last week, Bush said he had worked on shorting his pitch delivery, which would help with a handful of factors from healthy to stamina.

"I'd say being repeatable in delivery and then also just overall health," Bush said. "I feel like sometimes even the middle of outings last year, my arm would be kind of just hanging a little bit, just kind of fighting through it. But I feel like just shortening that path has synced everything up to where the arm and body are moving a lot better."

That helped Bush earn pitcher of the week honors, especially as he aimed to move past the 2023 season where Bush faced adversity and injuries.

"Last year was, I mean, obviously not something that you want to happen, but at the same time you're also thankful that it happens," Bush said. "It was cool to be able to just experience that and be able to take what happened in the last year and then take it to the off season and then kind of put it into this season so far."

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 21: Ky Bush #83 of the Chicago White Sox delivers a pitch during a live batting practice session during a spring training workout at Camelback Ranch on February 21, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Gett

Eventually, Bush will get called up to the big leagues like Thorpe did. He’ll face the same challenges, too.

Thorpe is 2-1 through the first month of his MLB career. He was knocked around in Arizona, but recovered for two straight wins against the Tigers and Rockies. Part of it is settling in.

"Each day gets more comfortable," Thorpe told reporters after his win over the Rockies on Friday. "Each outing I’m more comfortable. Once you get there, then you’re kind of rolling and continue to just keep making pitches and it’s easy once you stack a couple in a row."

For those who know Thorpe best, it’s a culmination of what started in southern Utah.

"I think the best is yet to come," Scholzen said. "I really believe this is going to be a bigger version of Kyle Hendricks."

For those following behind him, it’s some added motivation.

"They feel like you're ready then," Bush said. "You don't have to go AAA then and to the show."

Still, the two have a debate to settle once they get to the big leagues: who has the better mustache?

"I'm gonna have to say me," Bush said. "That might hurt Drew's feelings. I mean, he's got a really good stache, but I mean, I gotta pick myself for that one."

The debate, much like their careers, will carry on.

"I'd probably have to go with Drew on that one," Scholzen said.