You can try and bust him inside with a fastball. You can try and give him a heavy dose of curveballs. You can try and pitch around him, but at some point Pleasant Grove’s Payton Henry is going to get his pitch and when he does good things happen for the Vikings.

As part of the Daily Herald’s continual prep baseball coverage, Henry tops the list as Utah Valley’s most dangerous hitter.

Henry is coming off a monster sophomore season: He hit .414 with five home runs and 32 RBI, and this year he’s started the season on a tear. He’s hitting .583 and already has two home runs in four games and has been a key to Pleasant Grove’s 5-0 start.

What makes Henry so dangerous is his ability to hit to all fields coupled with power, work ethic, patience and love for the game.

“I try to study different pitchers and pick up some tips. I will go to other games when we’re not playing and look for a pitcher’s tendencies and get a feel for his windup,” Payton Henry said. “I saw a whole lot of curveballs last year, more than I thought I’d ever see, but I’ve worked with my dad a lot on how to recognize an off-speed pitch. It was a weakness of mine, but now it’s become a strength for me. I keep my weight back and put an emphasis on going to the opposite field and not getting pull happy.”

Henry cracked the varsity lineup as a freshman and started as the team’s catcher, but torturing older and more experienced pitchers is nothing new for him.

He started playing on an 8-U travel team when he was 6 years old. He started the last part of his freshman season, and following his successful sophomore season he spent the summer playing for the Utah Bucs, a Marshall Gates Foundation team that invites the top players in Utah, where he estimated that he played in 70 games. He also committed to play for UNLV when his high school career is over.

“[I] honestly thought I would get a little burned out, but I haven’t. I just love the game,” Henry said. “When you have fun playing games with guys you love it never gets old.”

Henry was a key to Pleasant Grove’s breakout season last year. The Vikings won the Region 4 title and finished with a 24-10 overall record.

They lost their first-round playoff game and then embarked on one of the most remarkable runs in Utah prep baseball history. They reeled off seven wins in a row to reach the 5A title game.

They beat Jordan to force a second game and trailed the Beetdiggers 4-3 in the seventh inning when Henry stepped up to the plate.

He sent a drive deep to right-center. It could be, it might be ... It hit the top of the wall and bounced back in play. He missed a game-tying home run by inches.

He ended up on second base and was left stranded as Pleasant Grove settled for second. It was a tear-filled ending to the season.

“I think about that all the time,” Henry said. “I have nightmares about it because if it would have gone out it would have tied the game, but I hit the ball as hard as I could.”

Coming so close to winning a state title is something Henry and the rest of the returning players use as a motivating factor in their preparation for this season.

“There’s always room for improvement. Baseball is a game of failure and a game of learning so it makes you strive to be a better player,” Henry said. “I’ve seen my teammates work hard and that makes me want to work harder.”

Henry embarked on a rigorous off-season workout program where he added 20 pounds of good weight. He’s now 6-3 and weighs in at 217 pounds.

 “We’ve done so many different drills over the years. When I throw to him in cages, I don’t tell him if I’m throwing a fastball or a curveball. I’m always trying to get his timing off and I think that’s helped,” Darrin Henry said. “I think the secret to a good hitter is good fundamentals and hitting strikes because so many times guys in high school don’t swing at strikes. One of the reason’s Payton has been successful is his pitch selection. He looks for a pitch that he can hit and not one the pitcher wants him to hit.”

The battle will continue throughout the season. Opposing pitchers will take their chances and try to fool him, and Henry will be ready to make them pay if they make a mistake. So far Henry has the upper hand.

The following are the complete top 25 hitter rankings along with the top 20 pitcher rankings. Rankings are based on evaluations by sports writer Neil K. Warner, who uses last year's success coupled with this year's results along with input from high school and college coaches. 

Daily Herald sports writer Neil K. Warner can be reached at nwarner@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @theGreatZuke

Neil K. Warner has been a sports writer for 25 years. He is the author of four books and is also known as the Great Zuke. He primarily covers Preps, Utah Valley University and BYU.

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