MLB Draft Memories

In this week’s ThrowinSmoke, Melissa Couto talks to several players, including Blue Jays’ infielder Brett Lawrie, about their past draft experiences and the memories that were created

In this week’s ThrowinSmoke, Melissa Couto talks to several players, including Blue Jays’ infielder Brett Lawrie, about their past draft experiences and the memories that were created

Sergio Santos described his draft experience as "exciting." Kevin Pillar, on the other hand, used the words "relief" and "long days," in reference to his.

On the same playing field now, the two Toronto Blue Jays were on opposite ends of the draft spectrum in their respective years.

Santos, a shortstop out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., was picked 27th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002, taking home a hefty signing bonus of US$1.4 million.

Pillar, meanwhile, had to wait 978 picks before his name was called in 2011. He signed with the Blue Jays for $1,000.

"I didn't really expect to go the first day (of the draft), but Day 2 was tough," said the Toronto outfielder, who was selected in the 32nd round out of Division-II California State University-Dominguez Hills. "I figured through the course of Day 2 I'd hear my name. I was with some family and friends, sitting around the computer eating and drinking and waiting to celebrate, and it was tough to not get that call.

"I almost didn't even want to watch the draft the next morning, but I got out of bed, had breakfast and turned it on. Five or six picks later, I  [Pillar] was drafted."

Pillar was called up from triple-A Buffalo last month, and is hitting .281 through 17 games in his second stint with the big-league club. The 25-year-old played 36 games with the Blue Jays last season, hitting .206 with 29 strikeouts.

He's enjoyed a marked improvement from his first shot in the big leagues, and says he still uses that late draft selection as motivation.

"Being a 32nd rounder, I've defied a lot of odds by getting here, not only once but getting back here again," Pillar said.

Santos, who's been on the disabled list for nearly a month with a forearm injury, didn't have to wait long before the Diamondbacks called him to tell him he'd been drafted 12 years ago. His parents hosted a barbecue that day for his friends and family, who all celebrated alongside the then 18-year-old.

"It was a great time," Santos said. "You get the phone call from the organization and they tell you they selected you and it all just becomes kind of surreal a little bit. It took three or four days before it actually set in.

"You're so excited because you're a step closer to getting to your dream of playing in the big leagues."

Though Pillar didn't get that same experience, he says the end result has been worth it -- so far, anyway.

"I definitely didn't want to go that late, but at the end of the day you realize it's a great opportunity, and it's led to some great opportunities since."

DRAFT MEMORIES FROM THE MAJOR LEAGUES

Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie had a busy few weeks leading up to the 2008 MLB draft.

The Langley, B.C., native had been traveling across the United States doing workouts for professional teams, and was planning on attending the draft live in Orlando before deciding to go back to British Columbia instead.

"I wanted to go back home," said Lawrie, who was selected in the first round — 16th overall — by the Milwaukee Brewers. "At that point I had been on the road for about a month ... So I said 'I don't want to go to Florida right now, I want to go spend time with my family, be with my friends and share that important day in my life with them.'"

Lawrie estimates he had 30-50 people at his parents' home in Langley on the day of the draft. They all watched together as the then 18-year-old had his name called.

"It was definitely a special day and it was cool to be with my family, my friends, my grandparents, everybody," he said. "You hope it's the start of your life and you're heading toward what you want to accomplish and it's definitely one of those days that you never forget."

DRAFT MEMORIES FROM THE MINOR LEAGUES

Blue Jays prospect Dalton Pompey was trying to distract himself by playing video games with his younger brother, Tristan, in their Mississauga, Ont., home on Day 2 of the 2010 draft.

When he hadn't heard his name after 15 long rounds — scouts had told him he'd most likely be picked by the 10th — he was ready to give up hope.

"I told myself I would listen to the Brewers, A's and Jays picks of that (16th) round because I knew they were the most interested," Pompey  [dalton-pompey-590x398] said. "Brewers took a pitcher, A's took a catcher, then (I heard) 'something, something, Pompey, Dalton out of John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.'

"My heart dropped, my brother yelled, and I ran upstairs to see my parents' faces smiling in pure happiness for me."

Pompey, currently an outfielder with the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays, is hitting .328 with a .406 on-base percentage through 52 games. A Gold Glove award winner with the Lansing Lugnuts last season, Pompey also has six home runs, nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts so far this year.

The 21-year-old, who was named a Florida State League all-star on Tuesday, says his life was changed on that June day four years ago.

"It was a special day for me and my family that I will never forget," he said. "I thank the Blue Jays for believing in me and for the opportunity to one day play for my hometown team."

LAST YEAR'S TOP CANADIAN

Edmonton-born LHP Rob Zastryzny was the top Canadian of the 2013 draft, selected out of the University of Missouri Columbia by the Chicago Cubs in the second round.

The 22-year-old got the news while sitting at home with his parents and brother, and he says being chosen by the Cubs was the happiest moment of his life.

"Draft day was unbelievable," Zastryzny said after Daytona's 6-5 win over St. Lucie on Tuesday. "I was so nervous. I was told I'd be taken on the first day but I wasn't 100 per cent sure.

"At first I was in shock because it had finally happened. ... I stayed up in my room thinking about all that was in front of me."

Zastryzny is 1-4 with a 7.57 ERA through nine starts with the high-A Daytona Cubs so far this season.

TOP CANADIAN HEADING INTO THE 2014 DRAFT

Scouts have been saying it for years — North York, Ont., native Gareth Morgan will be the top Canadian selected in the 2014 draft. But who selects him and when is still to be determined.

An outfielder with the Canadian junior team and the Ontario Blue Jays, Morgan has been on just about everyone's radar since he was 14.  [Gareth Morgan.5465646] He's big (6-foot-4, 225 lbs.), he demonstrates impressive power with his bat, and he just turned 18 last month.

As someone who's been in those same hyped-up shoes before, Lawrie had some advice, not only for Morgan, but for all young Canadians entering Thursday's draft.

"The thing about the draft is there's only so many picks in the first round, but about 200 guys are told every year, 'hey, you're going in the first round,'" said the 24-year-old Blue Jay, who was the top Canadian selected in 2008. "It's kind of a flip of the coin and you've got to just keep faith and trust in what happens and trust in your abilities.

"You don't want to get your hopes up really high and all of a sudden get them crushed, which can happen and does happen a lot. Definitely those guys (on the junior national team), Gareth Morgan and all those guys, they're on the right path and I wish them nothing but the best in their careers.

"This is the start of something big for guys like (Morgan) and I'm excited for him and excited for all of them."

- Follow Melissa Couto on Twitter @throwinsmoke

Comment

Melissa Couto

My name is Melissa Couto. I'm a sports reporter-editor at The Canadian Press, where I've worked for the past two years. Mostly I work on the night desk, editing copy for print, online and broadcast, but I have been doing more and more writing recently. I also contribute to the Canadian Baseball Network, a website founded by renowned Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

 

I'm a graduate of Centennial College's sports journalism post-graduate program. Before that, I went to Western where I completed a BA and MA in American history (it's helped me impress people when we're watching Jeopardy). In all seriousness, my time at Western was valuable.  I walked away with a real passion for writing. When I took the post-grad program at Centennial, I learned to merge that love of writing with the love of sport that I've always had (particularly for baseball), and as they say, the rest is history.