"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
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
"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,"
"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."