By Bob Elliott
KANSAS CITY _ The would bump into each other all the time ...
In the clubhouse at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin during instructional league or Gulf Coast League play.
Near the bullpen with the rookie-class Bluefield Blue Jays in Bluefield, Va.
Seated in the grandstand at Nat Bailey Stadium with the class-A Vancouver Canadians.
Or down the right field corner at Cooley Law School where Lansing Lugnuts sit and shoot the breeze after their afternoon throwing session.
And after greeting, the per-chance meetings would usually go something like this:
The scouting director would shake hands with the player he had drafted and made a rich young man.
Then, he’d mention the high schooler’s final game ... a complete-game, one-hit win with 14 strike outs, including the last pitch 95 mph “on the black.”
And then the pitcher, like most pitchers, would talk about his prowess with the bat, how a couple of games before that he had homered.
Then the scout would remind the “slugger” how he had almost tripped over first base as the ball cleared the fence.
* * *
And such was the relationship between:
Andrew Tinnish, former Blue Jays scouting director and now assistant general manager, from Ottawa,
And the long, tall Texan, Noah Syndergaard, the 38th player selected over-all in North America in 2010.
Now, a member of the New York Mets, Syndergaard tries to put the 111th World Series in a New York State of mind when Game 3 of the best-of-seven set takes place Friday night at Citi Field.
“As a scout or as a scouting director, you form a certain attachment to a player that is hard to shake,” said Tinnish. “I don’t know well all the players we have drafted or signed.
“I did get to know Kevin Pillar, Marcus Stroman, Dalton Pompey, Aaron Sanchez and Noah. They all represented our organization well. At the end of the day, it’s all about the Blue Jays and how we do.
“I might check the baseball-reference page of the guys not with us longer than others.”
* * *
In 2012, Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez and Syndergaard formed the Lansing trio. And Anthony DeSclafani wasn’t exactly chopped liver either.
There was a great debate as to whom was the best among the Lansing Trio -- Nicolino, Sanchez or Syndergaard. We went to Lake County, Ohio, to Midland, Mich., home of the Great Lakes Loons and to Lansing for a series of pieces and a feature.
We were unable to gain a clear consensus pick as No. 1 -- just that all three would make the majors.
Draft guru Jim Callis compared the threesome to the Atlanta Braves trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.
* * *
Nicolino, Sanchez and Syndergaard were born within 273 days of each other. Selected within 46 picks of one other in the 2010 June draft in a span of 15 hours and 21 minutes by Tinnish.
The Jays had a choice: be patient and wait until 2014 or 2015 or go for a post-season berth.
They went for it.
On Nov. 19, 2012, talks with the Florida Marlins which began surrounding right-hander Josh Johnson expanded to a 12-player deal.
The Jays added Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Johnson, and cash. The Marlins received Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, Nicolino and DeSclafani.
And then less than a month later the Jays acquired R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole from the Mets for Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck and Wuilmer Becerra.
The all-in 2013 season didn’t unfold as expected with only two winning months.
* * *
At Lansing in 2012 there were predictions by scouts and evaluators as to who would be the first to make the majors and Nicolino was supposed to be the first of the three high schoolers.
Yet, the first Lansing arm to make his debut with the Marlins was University of Florida’s DeSclafani, who started May 14, 2014 pitching six innings (two runs) for the win in a 13-3 romp over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sanchez arrived a little over two months later pitching two hitless innings behind Dickey who beat the Boston Red Sox 6-4 on July 23, 2014.
Syndergaard was promoted May 12, of this season allowing three runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Chicago Cubs.
And Nicolino was last to make it on June 20 of this year pitching seven scoreless in a win over the Cincinnati Reds and ... DeSclafani, who had been dealt.
* * *
The first time Tinnish saw Syndergaard pitched was in April of 2010 in Mansfield, Tex. The second was when his team was on the road during the playoffs. And the next time was when the right-hander stopped by a pre-draft work out that the Jays were holding for area players in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
“Most guys who go high dominate in high school when they are 90-96 mph with good command,” Tinnish said. “Back then his change was his second best pitch.
“He mixed in a breaking ball. It’s not the pitch it is now. Not even close.”
On draft day the Jays chose Deck McGuire from Georgia Tech with their first pick (11th over-all).
“We had four in a close group, Sanchez and Syndergaard were almost back-to-back,” Tinnish said.
The Jays selected Sanchez at 9:09 p.m., on June 7 from Barstow, Calif. as compensation for free-agent infielder Marco Scutaro signing with the Red Sox. They signed him for a $775,000 US bonus.
Four picks later they chose Syndergaard 38th, as compensation for the Jays not signing lefty James Paxton of Ladner, B.C. the year before. “We took that image of his last pitch (95 mph on the black, called strike three) into the draft room with us,” said Tinnish, who gave the 6-foot-6 right-hander a $600,000 bonus.
Chosing 41st the Jays chose Asher Wojciechowski from The Citadel.
And selecting 80th over-all in the second round they chose Nicolino around 12:30 pm on June 8. He received a $615,000 bonus.
“An area scout digs a lot into the player’s make up and finds out as much as he can,” Tinnish said. “The reality is the player development people know the players quickly so much better after they sign than the scouts because they are with them 24/7.
“Both Sanchez and Syndergaard had ability, plus they were both good competitors and had excellent work ethics,” Tinnish said.
Current Jays bullpen coach Dane Johnson and Vince Horseman, of Dartmouth, N.S. the pitching coach at Lansing in 2012 played a role in Syndergaard’s development just as the likes of scouts Dana Brown, Steve Miller, Marc Tramuta, Billy Gasparino and Brandon Mosley.
Syndergaard made his seventh career start against the Jays June 15 at Citi Field. He pitched six innings allowing one run, a solo shot by Jose Bautista, as the Mets scored two in the bottom of the 11th for a 4-3 win against Brett Cecil.
“When Noah faced us in New York I was cheering for the Blue Jays,” Tinnish said. “The World Series? I’ll watch, but the outcome is the outcome.”
And Syndergaard, also known as Thor, and his right arm will play a large role in the outcome.
W-L ERA G GS IP BB SO
Mets 2015 9-7 3.24 24 24 150.0 31 166
W-L ERA G GS S IP BB SO
Jays 2014 2-2 1.09 24 0 3 33.0 9 27
Jays 2015 7-6 3.22 41 11 0 92.1 44 61
W-L ERA G GS IP BB SO
Marlins 2015 5-4 4.01 12 12 74.0 20 23