PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – A lifelong dream that Blake Grant-Parks achieved at 17 disappeared months later.
The robust catcher was originally drafted in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization but did not sign because of a right shoulder labral tear that required surgery, ultimately axing the deal.
The trying time proved to be a turning point in his career and life.
“It was devastating,” said Grant-Parks, as he clutched his right shoulder at the Charlotte Sports Park. “Honestly, at first all I thought was, ‘my dreams just got crushed. What do I do now? I can either give up, or work hard and get this thing back to normal.’
“(I can) prove to them in a couple years that when I’m healthy, give me another chance.”
Surprisingly, that is exactly what ended up happening.
The Yuba City, Calif., native was selected again by the Rays in the 2014 draft, but this time it was 11 rounds later than his original selection three years earlier.
“They drafted him in the 39th round, there is no chance he is a 39th rounder,” said Rays scout Brian Morrison when reached by telephone Thursday afternoon.
“He is an elite-level player; all he needs is a chance. Realistically he is a top-three catcher in the organization.”
The now 21-year-old Grant-Parks described his relationship with Morrison as the reasoning behind his unlikely second chance as a pro.
“He literally called and said ‘hey, we’re not going to be able to sign you but we’re going to get through this. That’s what I would like to happen,” Grant-Parks said while wearing dirt-stained practice gear.
“That really stuck with me, this guy really cares… I just thought ‘this guy is amazing, let’s really do this. I got a lot of people who have my back.’”
Last season, Grant-Parks appeared in 21 games for the Princeton Rays and recorded a .242 average and a .346 on-base percentage, while playing for the Appalachian League in the Advanced Rookie division.
Morrison strongly believes that those numbers were not a true indication of Grant-Parks’ ability, acknowledging his protégé was primarily playing out of position as a first baseman.
“People watched him workout in the summer with Andrew Susac (San Francisco Giants’ catcher) and they would always say ‘I can’t believe how much he improved,’” said Morrison.
“No, he was just playing out of position and rusty at (first base) was all.”
Grant-Parks said that the road to the majors will be a tough one but he—along with Morrison—are convinced that the former Cal-State Monterey Bay student will make it because of the adversity he has already faced along with his persistent work ethic.
“(The injury showed) I can do anything I put my mind to. I can hang with the best,” said Grant-Parks.
“He’s what we call a ‘throw back’. He works for everything and he knows he has to work even harder because of where he was drafted.
“They don’t make them like him anymore.”
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