Farfan first RBI alum drafted; has high hopes
Twins draftee strives to move family to U.S. from Venezuela
Onas Farfan has the fastball. He's got the confidence. And last Saturday, he got a roster spot when the Twins made him their 21st-round pick. In so many words, Farfan is living the dream.
But something is still missing.
"It's still tough," he said. 'I'm shaking right now, you know? Every day, just thinking about them … I would love to give my mom a hug and tell her I made it, but she's not here with me."
Farfan's family is in Venezuela, where they took him when he was seven years old. He returned nine years later to live with relatives in Minnesota, but his mother, father and younger sister did not come with. Farfan has not seen them since his parents saved up enough money for him to visit as a senior in high school.
Four years later, Farfan is the first-ever alum of Minnesota's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program to be drafted by a Major League club.
"When I told my mom I got drafted, she was in tears," Farfan said.
Saturday was the culmination of years of hard work. The 20-year-old was so excited when he heard he got drafted that he began jumping up and down. When the Twins called to speak with him, he couldn't even remember how to spell his first or last name.
"They wanted my information," Farfan said. "But I couldn't talk."
RBI Coordinator Frank White remembers the last time Farfan was lost for words.
In 2010, the young Venezuelan had only been back in America for five days when he heard about the RBI tryout. Unable to speak any English, someone directed him to White, the self-described "face of the program."
He watched Farfan throw one pitch and then marked a single note down on his tryout form: "Made the team."
"I didn't understand what he was saying to me," Farfan said. "But baseball is a universal language. Like soccer. You know what I mean? Different countries understand the same things. Same with baseball. Once we were on the field, I knew what he was talking about."
The two made an instant connection. With Farfan's family thousands of miles away, White guided him through three years of RBI -- a league-wide program sponsored by MLB clubs to get urban youths into the game -- and then eased his transition from Robbinsdale Cooper High School to Ridgewater College in Willmar.
But despite a stellar high school career and a 91-mph fastball, Farfan didn't draw any significant college offers. One thing that didn't help: an elbow injury junior year that kept him out almost the entire season.
"He slipped through the cracks," White said. "He got missed."
The Twins, however, kept an eye on their most prized RBI alum.
"Our scouting folks have been aware of Onas for a couple years," team president Dave St. Peter said. "This isn't a public relations move. We drafted Onas because we think he's got a chance to be a successful professional player. Ultimately, we hope he can find his way to Minnesota as a Major Leaguer."
Thanks to several weather cancellations and generally low exposure, Ridgewater was not the best place for Farfan to get his stuff noticed. White helped out by purchasing a cell phone for the new college student and often drove him back and forth between campus and home.
"The stability of being there for him and believing in him was way more important than the few dollars I might have spent," White said.
Farfan caught a break in 2013, when he signed on with the La Crosse (Wisc.) Loggers -- a Northwoods League team which once boasted AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and All-Star Chris Sale -- and earned some extra innings there on a bigger stage.
"Man, that league was competitive," Farfan said. "It was the second-best summer league in the country. A lot of the best D-1 and D-2 athletes play there. So I was really excited."
He made an instant impact, striking out the side in his first inning of work, and then compiling a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings of work. He only gave up one hit in that span.
However, that success didn't convince him that he would be selected this year, and he kept his hopes low.
"I never thought I was going to get drafted," Farfan said. "I was hoping, I mean, I knew I was good enough. But they never said anything like, 'We're going to take you.' It was unexpected."
After a couple productive big league tryouts this spring, Minnesota made him the No. 620 overall pick of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.
"I think he's gonna surprise a lot of people," White said. "As a left-handed pitcher, man, he can be nasty. You can look at the Draft board: He got picked before a lot of Division I guys."
Minnesota's RBI program -- originally a 1993 initiative by Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield called "Rookie League" -- is designed to help urban youth get into baseball.
But 21 years after the program's inception, Farfan is the first-ever alum to be drafted.
"No one's really gotten close to getting drafted," Twins program coordinator Josh Ortiz said. "So we're really excited that he broke through."
Ortiz remembers when Farfan first broke into the RBI Program and recalls an air of excitement about the step up in play.
"That was kind of the first time that we thought, 'Hey, this could be something. This could be our guy,'" he said.
White insists that if the Twins did not draft Farfan, another MLB team was waiting to snatch him up in the 22nd round. And Twins brass feels they pulled the trigger at an opportune moment.
"We think he's the right guy at the right time," St. Peter said.
Even if Farfan is not able to succeed in professional ball, he marks an important landmark for the RBI Program and inner-city baseball in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. Some, like White, feel redeemed by Farfan's development.
"When we began, people would say, 'Oh, RBI, that's those poor kids. They're not very good,'" White said. "But we've grown. We've got some of the best baseball teachers in the state. So with Onas coming out and being signed, people know he came out of our program. That's going to be a plus."
St. Peter estimates that roughly 6,000 Twin Cities kids participated in the baseball and softball programs last year.
More of them are getting college looks, including Nehwon Norkeh, a freshman pitcher at Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas.
"I think it's important that you have that credibility with youngsters," St. Peter said. "Hopefully it demonstrates a path that will help us leverage the program to attract additional athletes into the program going forward."
Farfan sees his drafting as a sign of things to come.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be the only one," he said.
White is driving Farfan to a radio interview. The phone is on "speaker" mode, and Farfan is giddy about heading to Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday and beginning his professional career.
He'll be without White -- whom he calls his "other grandpa" -- and basically any Minnesota connection he's made in the past six years.
"All I have to do is just listen and learn," Farfan said. "Everything else takes care of itself. I'll struggle. That's part of life. Nothing is going to be easy. I'm ready to play. I'm ready to get better every day."
But with the giant goal of playing professional baseball under his belt, Farfan has another one on his mind.
"My dream is to move my mom and my dad and my sister here," he said. "I miss them so much, and I love them so much. It's unbelievable. The last four years, I've had a hole in my heart. The day that I graduated high school, they weren't there. That really hurt my feelings a lot.
"Thanks to them, I'm here. They gave me the life. They taught me to be a good person, you know? They taught me a lot of good values. How to respect people, how to treat people. I owe my mom and dad a lot. It's been really hard and really difficult the last four years, but Coach Frank and my other coaches have been helping out a lot."
The pressure is on to earn another contract, but important men such as St. Peter don't call Farfan "supremely confident" for nothing. It's obvious the 20-year-old believes that his 91-mph fastball of his is a means to an end.
"I can't wait," Farfan said. "I just can't wait. I'm so anxious right now. I just can't wait to see my mom and dad."