03/21/12 7:37 PM ET
Syndergaard's move to ditch soccer paying off
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Syndergaard spent the early part of his childhood playing soccer, and initially didn't want to give baseball a shot.
It was only at the encouragement of his family that Syndergaard picked up a baseball and started the very early steps of what could eventually become a promising future in the Major Leagues.
"It's a funny story, because the first year I was playing soccer, and then my mom made me get into baseball," Syndergaard said. "We actually had a big argument, with me telling her I didn't want to play, but I guess I just had a knack for it, but thank God she made me play.
"My grandparents were really big into football, and my mom wasn't that big of a fan of baseball, but I guess it kind of grew on me. I guess she realized I was good at it."
Those days of indecision are long gone, and now Syndergaard finds himself one of the most promising young players in a deep Toronto system. He made his mark last year after advancing through three levels of the Minors at just 18 years of age.
His work began with Bluefield in the Appalachian League, where he appeared in seven games and allowed five runs in 32 innings before bring promoted to Class A Vancouver of the short-season Northwest League.
It was there that he began to garner attention from Blue Jays fans with reports of a fastball that topped out at 100 mph and consistently hit 97 mph or 98 mph. His stint in Vancouver lasted just three weeks before he was on the move again with another promotion. This time it was to Class A Lansing, where made a pair of starts before being shut down because of an innings limit.
Though it's his fastball that causes most of the hype, he also possesses an above-average changeup and a curveball that one day could become a deceptive weapon in his arsenal. The command on the offspeed pitches is still a work in progress but something that was improved during the offseason and remains one of his top priorities in 2012.
"Some people might say that I had some difficulty with my curveball, but I decided this offseason to get stronger and more [flexible], gain arm strength and also work on my curveball," said Syndergaard, who posted a 1.83 ERA in 15 Minor League games last year. "I think this Spring Training I even impressed my coaches with my curveball and how much I improved it.
"It's definitely important, and it's only going to become more so as I move up the levels into high A and Double-A. The hitters are going to keep getting better, and they're going to be able to get timing off my fastball, and I need a good secondary pitch other than my changeup to keep hitters off balance."
Syndergaard made a name for himself at Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas, where he was regularly throwing 92 mph to 93 mph by his junior year.
As a senior, the 6-foot-5 200-pounder went 7-3 with a 1.42 ERA and was ready to attend Dallas Baptist University to both pitch and play first base until Toronto took him in the supplemental round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Syndergaard was considered somewhat of a value pick because the club had been unable to sign left-hander James Paxton the year before and needed to get the 38th overall selection under contract or risk losing the pick for good.
That led Toronto to selecting Syndergaard and eventually signing him for $600,000 -- almost $250,000 below the recommended slot value. The Texan had been optimistic of going high and knew the Blue Jays had some interest, but the news still came as a surprise when his name was finally called.
"Their scouting department was pretty high on me, but I didn't really know they were going to pick me until about 30 seconds before," Syndergaard said.
"I really had no idea at all. It was a dream come true, like Christmas morning when you're a kid. Having Roberto Alomar say my name, I don't even know what my feelings were, it was that powerful."
Syndergaard is set to begin his second season in the Blue Jays system. He is expected to start the year with Class A Lansing but has a personal goal of reaching high Class A Dunedin, if not beyond, by the end of 2012.
"I was thinking about taking a Drew Hutchison route and maybe ending the year in Double-A," Syndergaard said in reference to the fellow Blue Jays prospect that began 2010 in Lansing but finished in Dunedin. "If that happens I'd be beyond happy, but right now we're just going to stick with starting in low A and then moving up to high A.
"I feel a lot more comfortable now. In my first year, I think it was kind of hectic. People talked about how many people would be here, but you can't really quite understand it until you're here to experience it. But I'm feeling real comfortable right now, and I think that will show on the field."