DUNEDIN. FL- Not many 19-year-old pitchers armed with a 94-mph fastball are as humble as Chase DeJong.
The Blue Jays’ prospect is entering his second year of pro ball after being drafted in the second round (81st overall) of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft .
DeJong played his high school ball with the Woodrow Wilson Bruins in Long Beach, Calif., and had committed to the University of South Carolina before being selected by Toronto, deciding the step to the pros was best for him.
“I never dreamt as a little kid that I wanted to play at USC and win a College World Series,” said the right-hander, sitting on a picnic table at the Blue Jays’ minor-league spring training facility.
“All of those things would have been phenomenal, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that every single night since I was a little kid, I dreamt of being a big leaguer.”
His high school coach, Andy Hall, said skipping college was the best decision for DeJong, who is armed with a curve ball and change-up alongside a mid-90’s fastball.
“He only has a certain amount of bullets in the gun and if he uses up three or four years worth of them at USC, what would be left when he’s done?” Hall said to the Toronto Observer over the phone.
DeJong wasn’t finished with high school after being drafted though, as he donated a portion of his signing bonus to the school that put him on the radar.
“Where I’m from baseball is huge, and if you make it, it’s kind of an unwritten rule that you give back,” said DeJong.
Coach Hall wasn’t surprised.
“His humility is such that he doesn’t want anybody to know that’s he’s giving money,” he said.
The lanky hurler, who stands 6’4”, pitched in six games last year during his first year of pro ball (Gulf Coast League) and posted a 1.50 ERA, striking out 15 batters in 12 innings.
Playing in hot, dry weather in front of a handful of people every day wasn’t the best atmosphere, but DeJong – whose cousin, Jordan, also played in the Blue Jays’ organization from 2002-2008 – knows he has to pay his dues at the bottom.
“I asked some of the bullpen guys ‘I’m new here, you mind giving me some pointers?’ And one of the older guys who is kind of sarcastic says ‘You’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day? Well you’re living it,'” said DeJong. “You have to count your blessings. It’s hard, but only an elite group gets to do this.”
As for his ability to throw a 90 mph-plus fastball as a teenager, well, he won’t take credit for that, either.
“It’s God given,” said the native of Long Beach, Cali. “I realize I’m a little more physically gifted then others, but when you get down to pro ball it’s pretty humbling.”
DeJong wants to play for the Lansing Lugnuts (Single-A) in 2013.
He had the opportunity to talk with Nolan Ryan – one of his heroes growing up – before opening day last year and the conversation has stuck with him.
“The guy is an amazing man and to be able to have as long of a career as he did, you’d be an idiot not to pick up on it.”
Don’t expect to see DeJong putting any opposing batters in headlocks while feeding them with a fury of uppercuts though – he’s too nice of a guy.
“I share the mental toughness [with Ryan] not the physical toughness,” he joked.