Jays’ pitching prospect makes it look easy

DUNEDIN, Fla. — An opportunity to become a professional baseball player was not something Justin Nicolino was going to let slip away.

Entering the fall semester at high school, the young southpaw knew that he would have a very important decision to make regarding his future.

Nicolino, 19, an Orlando native, decided to turn pro after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round, instead of signing a letter of intent to play for the University of Virginia after being drafted 80th overall in 2010.

Getting drafted is something that is considered a dream, that is, until a window opens that allows it to become a reality, he says.

“For the first half of the fall semester I was dead set on going to college, and everybody sets goals for themselves, but I didn’t think I was going to get drafted,” said Nicolino.

“I had a great spring and as the draft got closer, I realized that this could be a real dream come true and it was, getting my career started.”

The 6-3 left-hander, is not doubting his decision so far after a dominating 2011 season with the Vancouver Canadians, the low-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. He went 5-1, with a 1.03 ERA and 64 strikeouts in just 52.1 innings pitched.

“I have no regrets about being drafted by the Blue Jays. My parents always said you have to live your life with no regrets and have to accept your decisions,” Nicolino said. “I have not one time wished that I went to college.

“Virginia would have been great but I will never know and what I got going on in Toronto is unbelievable.”

The Canadians’ pitching coach, Jim Czajkowski, believes Nicolino made the right choice because he is mentality ready to make a transition to professional baseball. In particular, he has an easy-going attitude and has a love for the game.

“He is a happy-go-lucky player fresh out of high school and that is very hard to do because pitching is so hard,” Czajkowski said, in the sun at the Bobby Mattick Complex. “He makes it look so easy and he has fun doing it.”

Czajkowski thinks the factor that made Nicolino’s decision easier was the allure and payoffs involved in signing a big-league contract.

“If you are a high school kid the money that the organization is offering you is life changing,” said Czajkowski.