Donnie Sellers posted a 3-1 record with a 3.90 earned run average with Vancouver in 2017.
Climbing the hill in this edition of C’s Chat is Vancouver Canadians pitcher Donnie Sellers. Born Rodney Donnell Sellers in High Point, North Carolina, the 6-foot-1 right-hander was an 11th round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2017 MLB draft out of Wake Forest. Sellers is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former Deacon Demon and Blue Jay Dave Bush, who pitched for nine years in the bigs with Toronto, Milwaukee and Texas after the Jays selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Another Wake Forest connection for Sellers is none other than the Blue Jays current general manager Ross Atkins.
Sellers had to wait a couple of days before he got drafted but he did not have to wait long to hear his name called on the third and final day of the draft.
“I was actually on the phone when it happened. I was on the phone with my (advisor). We were talking about where I should go and where I might go. I got a call from (Blue Jays scout) Chris Kline telling me to be looking out, I should go soon and right before the 11th round started, he immediately called me right back and said, ‘Hey Donnie, we just picked you up. Welcome to the Blue Jays.’ It all happened really fast. I finished my super regional in Gainesville, Florida on Monday. I got drafted on Wednesday and I was in Florida on Friday so it was really, really, really fast.”
“We never had time for a party, really. I guess this Christmas was the party. I got to spend time with the family, didn’t really get to in the summer. My dad was actually here when I was on the call so it was good to share the moment with him. He’s one of the big reasons why I’m able to be even still be playing baseball so it was really, really cool to be able to share that moment with him. Of course, I called my mom, my brother, my sister, all the grandparents, my aunts, uncles and cousins in the following day and they were all really excited.”
On how pitching at Wake Forest prepared him for professional baseball.
“I’d say the talent in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), that’s top notch. You get SEC (South East Conference), ACC competition, that’s the top-notch competition you can get in college baseball. It was really, really good to get to face guys like Brendan McKay, Gavin Sheets, Will Craig. These are really, really good hitters that know what they want to do and have an approach.
And then moving that and knowing what I want to do with guys like that and moving that over to pro ball really was just a seamless transition. We got scouting reports on the other team, we knew what they liked to do, we knew what they couldn’t do so I pitched to my strengths and pitched to their weaknesses. It was a lot of fun just being able to compete for my first season. I threw the ball pretty well so I was happy with my first short season in pro baseball.”
On playing summer collegiate ball with the Thunder Bay Border Cats of the Northwoods League.
“Yeah, it was a shock. Mainly just the currency. It was a shock because I didn’t’ have any Canadian money and I don’t think I had a bank that was serviceable in Canada yet so I was just kind of stranded, getting a money transfer so that’s how I was having to live up in Thunder Bay.
It was fun. We were around a good group of guys. Our team wasn’t that great but we still had fun playing. It was a grind. Travel was about like it was in Vancouver. You always have to go through the border, eight-hour trips every other day so it was a shock at first. I think it really prepared me to play in Vancouver, to play out of the country again. It was really cool. It was sweet. I had a fun time.”
On seeing how the Blue Jays are Canada’s team during his time in Thunder Bay.
“My host family are big Blue Jays fans. When I called them and let them know that I got drafted by the Blue Jays, they were ecstatic, they really, really enjoyed the news. It was cool being able to get to be around those people in Thunder Bay and they were all Blue Jays fans and they know that I play for the Blue Jays so that’s really, really cool.”
Donnie Sellers made his professional debut with two scoreless innings against Spokane June 24.
On being assigned to Vancouver.
“It was kind of just up in the air I guess I would say. A lot of the guys were new, we went to mini-camp. A lot of guys got there, were assigned to where they were going, whether it to be in Bluefield or if they were staying in Dunedin (with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays) or if they were going to Vancouver. I went in and talked to (minor league pitching coordinator) Jeff Ware and he told me I was going to heading to Vancouver.
I was very excited to go play in Vancouver because I heard the fans were really good. They always pack the house and they definitely did not disappoint. The first night when I got there, it was a packed house and an unbelievable environment, just awesome being able to have that experience as my first pro ball experience was really, really cool.”
On his most memorable moments as a pro.
Obviously winning the championship was my highlight. I was super, super fortunate to get to be put on that team in the first place and then to win a championship with a great group of guys. I was really, really fortunate to get to have that experience.
It’s kind of hard for me to remember a lot of my outings but there was one, I think it was against Tri-City, I was struggling with my two-seam fastball so Riley (catcher Riley Adams) came out to me and told me to throw four-seams so it was the last out of my outing, it was like 0-0 still. I wasn’t happy with how it was going but I found my four-seam fastball and threw three fastballs inside to a lefty hitter and he swung and missed all of them. That’s my most standout moment that I can remember pitching in Vancouver. That was awesome.”
On not getting to pitch in the playoffs.
“It was just a situation where I was going to have to come in and pitch just never came up. When we were in Oregon playing Eugene, I was scheduled to pitch in the last game (Game 2 of the Northwest League final) but it ended up being so close that we had to go with a more realiable bullpen because I hadn’t come out of the bullpen for a long time so we went with a bullpen arm instead of me and when we went back to our place, it was Orlando Pascual and Will Ouellette all the way. I’m not angry I didn’t pitch. I’m happy they got the opportunity to close it out and get the title. I was just glad to be part of the team, honestly. I had fun either way.”
On the celebration of the Northwest League title.
“I remember it was the last inning, the last batter. The at-bat hadn’t started yet and I went and grabbed a couple of cups of water. When we won, I was going to spray it all over Will (William Ouellette). I decided I did not have enough water so I went and grabbed two water bottles and filled those all the way up and then whenever he threw the last pitch (for the called strikeout), I just ran out on the field and splashed water all over everybody and I can’t really remember much after that. That’s really the only thing I remember from the championship.”
Donnie Sellers earned his first professional win with four shutout innings in relief in Tri-City July 25.
On his transition from the outfield to the mound.
“It was tough in my first couple of years at Wake Forest because just the pure inning limit I had to get to. In high school, I probably threw in my four years of high school, maybe 20 innings. I just came in like the seventh inning to close games out that were close.
Going to Wake, I injured myself. I fractured my left wrist so it wasn’t my throwing wrist so I couldn’t hit but I could still throw. I guess that’s when they really saw my potential, that I had good arm strength and then from there, it was just getting that command and developing those off-speed pitches to really try to mold myself into a professional pitcher. It’s been a lot of fun.
One thing that the Blue Jays like is athletic pitchers so obviously with (Marcus) Stroman, he’s very, very athletic so it’s really awesome to be able to kind of channel my athleticism from playing a position onto the mound. Being able to repeat mechanics is really, really huge with pitching. I attribute most of that, being able to repeat my mechanics, to my athleticism. That’s a really, really key factor I guess in me as as a ball player is my athleticism.”
On whether he’s looking to add to his fastball-slider-changeup combination.
“No, that’s about it. Just perfecting those three pitches. I have a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball. The four-seam stays more true and straight and the two-seam has more sinking action. Depending on the batter, the count, what I’m trying to do in my outing, that’ll dictate which fastball I’ll throw.
What I’m working on now is my slider—keep it nice and tight instead of loopy and almost like a slurve.
And with the changeup, it’s just throwing it more and getting used to it. I haven’t really needed to throw it in the past so just throwing it and getting familiar with the grip and arm speed and all that stuff. That’s what I’m working on there.”
On working with his first pitching coach in the pros, Jim Czajkowski.
“It was awesome. One of my favourite coaches I’ve had. He’s about his business but also at the same time, he knows how to be light-hearted and the dugout scene was great. The clubhouse scene was great with him. He’s a really, really nice guy first of all and a really, really good coach.
I think all of our pitchers on that staff were very, very fortunate to have him as our first pro pitching coach. He let us do what we wanted, he wasn’t trying to mold us into something that we weren’t. He took our strengths and he wanted us to kind of feed off of those strengths which was really, really cool and something that I valued in my time with him this past summer.”
Donnie Sellers recorded a career-high five strikeouts in 2-2/3 innings against Spokane July 13.
On sharing the same alma matter with Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk about that quite yet. I guess I’d say I was a little bit intimidated to really talk to any of the higher-up people in the organization just because that’s how it is, I guess really, in a new job you’re really kind of intimidated by your boss and your boss’ boss. We haven’t got a chance to talk about that yet but I’m sure down the road somewhere we will.”
On his favourite team and player growing up.
“When Jason Heyward was playing for the Braves, he was my favourite player and my favourite team was the Braves. My grandparents are huge Braves fans so I was kind of bred into the Braves nation I guess.”
On his pitching preference.
“I see myself as a starter because I can command all of my pitches and can go deep into games. I’ve proven that in Wake Forest. I see myself as a starter but in all honesty, I see myself as a pitcher. Wherever they need me to throw, I’m going to throw the same in whatever role they see fit for me. Whatever I can do to help the Blue Jays, that’s what I must do.”
2012 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Marcus Stroman is who Donnie Sellers hopes to emulate in the pros.
On who he compares himself to in the majors.
“I’ve been saying this for years. I like to compare myself to Stroman. First, because he’s in the same organization. He’s not the biggest guy, I’m not the biggest guy. He’s got that heart, that dog in him. I think I do too. He’s super athletic, able to manipulate his arm action and his windup, all types of things to throw guys off-balance. As I start to get more confidence in my mechanics and start pitching better, I feel like I’m going to be able to do the same thing.
Also being able to field my position is really important to me. I do have fun with PFPs (Pitcher’s Fielding Practice) because you really don’t get to show off how athletic on the mound all that often so when you get a chance to go field a PFP, that’s when my eyes light up and it’s time to go to work.”
Donnie Sellers earned the win in his final appearance of 2017 in Tri-City with a shutout inning September 3.
On taking part in the fall instructional league.
“Instructs was an experience. It was really hot, really humid. I was shut down for like half of it because of innings but what I learned a lot was in my bullpens, just working on the slider with Cy (Jim Czajkowski) and Jeff Ware, really getting that tight spin on it was really, really important for me. You could tell that they really wanted to work on that and get that to me, a serviceable pitch that I could use in basically any count.”
On his off-season preparation.
“I don’t do Driveline (Baseball Training). I don’t do their full program. I do just two exercises that they recommend. It’s for shoulder strength. It’s just reverse throws and pivot throws so those are the only two arm-strengthening exercises I do.
The main thing I’m really working is getting more flexible and agile in my lower body. I’m really, really tight and wound up so getting loose and flexible has really been my number one priority especially in my hamstrings.
As far as the pitching side of it, again, just getting comfortable with my changeup and tightening up that slider to where it looks like a fastball coming out and at the last second, it has that slider action. Those have been my off-season goals and it’s going well. I’m super, super excited to go to spring training and meet a bunch of new guys and also compete for a role on one of the teams.”
On looking to climb the minor league ladder in 2018.
“it’s definitely my goal to be on a full-season team and be able to really challenge myself in a 142-game season. It’s really nothing like I’ve never experienced. I’m sure it will be a shock. I think I’ve prepared myself well enough and I’m sure that spring training will prepare me emough for what’s coming up in hopefully one of those full-seasons.”