DeGraaf hopes experience and hard work lead him to Toronto

 Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Josh DeGraaf is pictured here on a break from his grueling training regimen at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla. Photo Credit: Jess Koffie

Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Josh DeGraaf is pictured here on a break from his grueling training regimen at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla. Photo Credit: Jess Koffie

By Jess Koffie

Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Josh DeGraaf finished high school in 2011, he was unsure if he was prepared for Major League Baseball.

But after seven years of college, international play, and minor-league camp experience the seasoned pitcher is ready for the next level.

Since being drafted in the 31st round in 2015 by the Toronto Blue Jays, DeGraaf has been on both a figurative and literal journey of self-discovery, playing baseball around the globe in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

He attributed that unique experience to growing up so quickly as a person and an athlete.

“When I came back last year I feel like I had the best spring training of my career,” he said. “The kind of guys you play are usually older so they’re a lot smarter. It’s a tough pitcher’s league down in Australia because the ball flies, but it only helped me.”

The Chicago native hasn’t only matured on the mound. He credited travelling and learning to play with different types of people for the development of his confidence.

But what’s most important to DeGraaf is his level of self-discipline.

“Hard work keeps you self-motivated,” he said. “My goal is always to be the hardest worker, always to do everything the right way. Every rep, every set. And it may not work out, but I’m giving myself the best chance that I can to be in the major leagues.”

As hard as he has worked to grow on his own, the major-league hopeful acknowledged how the support of his family and fiancée, Danielle, helped him reach this point in his career.

Despite the long distances, they’ve managed to overcome the odds and take advantage of technology as much as possible.

“She makes trips (from Chicago) every month or so down here or wherever I’m at. Of course, it’s tough but it’s incredible what FaceTime can do,” he joked. “It’s been challenging but I think it’s been rewarding.”

The first stop on the path to the next level is for the Blue Jays prospect to finally visit Toronto. DeGraaf has visited Canada twice as a player, but has only been to Vancouver and Montreal.

The minor-leaguer revels in the way Canadian baseball fans support the Jays and is honoured at the possibility of being backed by an entire nation.

“Right now, it’s one team, one country,” he said. “Every Canadian that you meet is a Blue Jays fan and I think that’s awesome. To represent that is just so unique and so cool, it would be a little bit more special.”