Devonshire’s Draft Decision
- Published on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 01:25
- Written by Melissa Couto
Daniel Devonshire was in the clubhouse of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan’s Ross Wells Park last Wednesday when he heard the news. A scout from the Toronto Blue Jays was on the phone, and he wanted to talk to the catcher of the Miller Express summer league baseball team.
Devonshire assumed he knew what the call was about -- the scout had been in contact with him over the past month, hoping to set up a workout to test his skills.
When the 20-year-old grabbed the phone, the voice on the other end told him he had just been selected by the Blue Jays in the 37th round of the amateur draft.
“I was ecstatic, to say the least,” Devonshire said from a bus travelling across the lengthy highways of Western Canada. “It’s hard to explain the feeling of being drafted. It’s your dream beginning to come true.”
The strong, power-hitter has a clear understanding of how difficult it is to achieve the dream he’s been working at his whole life.
The Worldly Ball Player
Exactly one week before the Blue Jays kicked off their first World Series Championship-winning season in 1992, Devonshire’s parents, Roger and Hazel, welcomed their first son into the world.
Born 14,000 km away in Auckland, New Zealand, no one would have guessed then that Daniel Devonshire might one day get to play for Toronto’s team.
Growing up in New Zealand meant that Devonshire’s foray into baseball took on a different form than that of his counterparts across the globe.
“It was very tough,” the Kiwi said of trying to develop his skills in his native country. “You don’t have access to the facilities, equipment, or level of competition that the North American kids get.
“I had to play a lot of travel ball here in North America and spent a lot of time overseas as a young teenager because that was the only way I could play against other kids at the level I wanted to be competing at.”
Baseball took Devonshire all over the world, including Alberta and Alabama, where he played summer ball as a teenager, and Australia, where he attended the MLB Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) in 2007. He was just 15 years old.
“It was a great experience,” Devonshire said of his time at the MLBAAP. “It was my first taste of high level performance baseball.
“They have old MLB players coaching and young guys that just got drafted training there along with outstanding facilities,” he added. “It helped me learn a lot about baseball and showed me the level that I needed to get to if I wanted to become a professional baseball player.”
Devonshire’s journey took him to Arizona’s Chase Field in 2010 where he participated in the Power Showcase International High School Home Run Derby. The tournament’s only New Zealand representative hit a 428-foot bomb to right-centre field at the age of 18.
“There is no other feeling like it,” he said about hitting home runs in a MLB stadium. “Growing up as a little kid, it is what you dream of doing and having that dream come true is something you can’t explain.”
This display at the Power Showcase factored into the Blue Jays’ decision to draft him.
“The first time I heard about him was at our regional meeting a few weeks ago,” said Andrew Tinnish, the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Jays. “Our regional scout presented his players and Devonshire was one of them. He had a YouTube clip from a home run derby in Arizona that he showed us that was pretty impressive.”
Tinnish drafted his 37th round pick out of Colby Community College (CCC), a two-year post-secondary institution in Kansas where the Auckland native has been studying for the past two semesters.
Ryan Carter, Devonshire’s head coach at Colby, was doing some recruiting work at a baseball game when he heard that his catcher had been drafted. Knowing that Toronto would be interested in the freshman’s strength, quickness, and powerful left-handed bat, Carter was still surprised they had drafted him after only one year of college ball.
“I was very excited for Daniel and proud for him and our program. I knew the Blue Jays had some interest, but I wasn’t quite sure how much,” Carter said. “I had been in contact with the Jays off and on since they first saw Daniel. I just assumed that their interest was more for next season.”
Devonshire’s parents, receiving the news back home, were content to see years of hard work paying off.“Daniel has put a lot of hours training and travelling to reach his dream,” said Roger. “We are very happy for our son.”
The Injury and the People Who Stood By Him
Having raw talent is one thing, but being able to develop it is another. Roger and Hazel Devonshire understood this from the start.
When their son was 15, the Devonshire family installed a batting cage in their home in Auckland so Daniel could practice as much as needed. Roger built the cage primarily on his own, even installing an automatic pitching machine that he had imported from Kansas.
“I remember when I told [the company in Kansas] where I was from, the person on the line asked, ‘do you play baseball there?’” Roger recalled.
Once complete, Daniel spent “hundreds of hours” in his personal batting cage, sometimes with his father by his side to keep him company, but oftentimes alone.
“You have to be very focused to train on your own,” Roger said. “Daniel has always had a very strong work ethic and a determined mind.”
The day before his 16th birthday, Devonshire’s training abruptly halted when he dislocated his shoulder sliding into third base. After examining the injury, one of New Zealand’s top surgeons told the family he couldn’t operate, and that the teen would never be able to throw a baseball again.
“In New Zealand, surgeons are not familiar dealing with baseballers, so we were told to just let it mend on its own over a two-year period,” Roger said. “This form of recovery would have meant Daniel would not have been able … to play high level baseball again.”
It was a prognosis that crushed the young Devonshire.
“I remember going home after [seeing the surgeon] and sitting at the end of my batting cage holding my baseball bat and breaking down and crying for hours,” Daniel said, recalling the injury that nearly took him out of the game.
“Having someone that is meant to be the best in the country at what they do tell you your dream is over at the age of 16 is devastating. It was the single worst feeling that I have ever felt in my life, by far.”
But like a beacon of hope, his father was there for him.
“As a family, we felt totally helpless,” Roger said. “But I went into the [batting] cage, put my arms around my boy, and told him that it would be alright.”
To make things better for his son, Roger Devonshire sought a second opinion.
He took him to Dr. Craig Ball, a shoulder surgeon in Auckland who had once worked with the St. Louis Cardinals. Ball operated on Devonshire, but warned the teenager that he might never be the same.
“I had issues with it for about two and a half years,” Daniel said. “It hurt to throw, hit, and lift in the gym, but after doing countless hours of rehab, I finally started to be able to throw the ball again. My shoulder still isn’t 100 per cent, but it’s getting there.”
For the young ball player, there is no denying how helpful his parents have been.
“I can honestly say that if my parents were not as supportive as they are I would have never made it to where I am now,” Devonshire said. “I couldn’t have asked my parents to do anymore for me.”
Daniel Devonshire has a huge decision to make before the signing deadline on July 13.
As a freshman at Colby Community College, he can either return to school or test his talents within the Blue Jays organization, but is Devonshire ready for the opportunity that was presented to him last week?
The Jays’ Director of Amateur Scouting isn’t really sure.
“I think time will tell,” Tinnish said. “One of the purposes of drafting him was to follow him through the summer to see if he’s ready … we’ll be able to spend a little time getting to know him and we’ll try to take it from there.”
Tinnish and his scouts will monitor Devonshire as he plays in the Western Major Baseball League this summer, and they’ll be looking for specific skills.
“I’ve seen him on film in a home run derby, but I’ve never seen him in a game. I want to see how that swing and that power plays in,” he said. “I want to see some of the other things he can do around the field, what kind of a defender he is, how he moves.”
Coach Carter believes that one more year of junior college ball could be “just what Daniel needs.”
“I certainly don’t want to keep him from his dream but I also want to make sure he is ready,” he said.
In the end, it’s Devonshire’s decision to make, and he’s not going to rush it.
“If [the Blue Jays] are willing to give me time to develop both mentally and physically within their organization then I would definitely lean towards signing with them,” Devonshire said. “My biggest hesitation is if I were to be a roster player and not perform and be released within a year or two.”
One thing is certain -- there’s a sentimental tie to the Blue Jays that could swing the New Zealander in Toronto’s direction.
“To be drafted by the same organization that drafted Scott Campbell is huge for me,” he said. “For all the young baseball players back home, Scott was and still is our idol. It’s my dream to follow in his footsteps.”
From Auckland to Toronto -- via Australia, Kansas, and Saskatchewan -- it could happen.