Now pitching in this episode of C’s Chat is 2019 Vancouver Canadians right-hander Grant Townsend.
Pitching in Vancouver marks a return to the West Coast for the 21 year-old Townsend who was born in Lake Tapps, Washington, located about 35 miles south of Seattle. The right-handed pitcher was taken in the 34th round of the 2018 MLB draft by Toronto out of Oral Roberts University. He was following along on the computer while getting ready to head back home.
“I was one of the last ones still on campus. I was packing up my dorm room. I had a long drive ahead of me. I actually drove from Washington all the way to Oklahoma for school at Oral Roberts and we had just been eliminated from the regional against Arkansas. All of my buddies, my teammates had packed up and left. A lot of them were local guys but I was kind of lingering.
I didn’t want to be on the road to find out certain news. I was alone in my dorm room just packing up all my stuff, getting ready to drive out the next day. I was super excited when it happened. I got a bunch of texts and calls that flooded me.
Although I was alone in my dorm room, I had all the support of everyone that I’ve known, all my family and friends and it was just a really special moment.”
Getting drafted by the Blue Jays came out of the blue for Townsend.
“I had some feelers out there. I got a few calls early on day three. Nothing really worked out. Calls from a few teams I guess but then it was kind of last minute with the Blue Jays. I didn’t hear much from them up until they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re interested. Are you interested?’ And I was like, ‘Of course!’ Let me have a chance. We took it and we ran with it.”
Players who are drafted usually have a party afterwards but that was not the case for Townsend.
“Not really, honestly. What I had planned to do is I went and I think I left that night actually. I left that same night and I went and stayed the night at one of my teammate’s house who lives in southwest Oklahoma. I stayed the night there which was cool because he ended up getting drafted the same day so we were kind of like, ‘Hey, this is cool! This is awesome!’
And then the next morning, I drove from there up to Denver, met my Mom who flew in to drive with me. It was just really cool. My Mom is one of my biggest supporters. It was really cool to see her the next day after getting drafted. It was really awesome to spend that time with my friends and then be able to see my Mom the next day and have the drive home. We called a lot of family members and just talked about, ‘Hey, we got this going on.’
Then we finished the long drive home. It took like three full days and it was funny, I actually spent a total of 12 hours before I turned around and hopped on a flight to Tampa so it was a very quick turnaround.”
The teammate Townsend stayed with was left-hander Taylor Varnell who was taken in the 29th round of the 2018 draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Destination – Dunedin
It was a hectic time for Townsend as he had to make travel plans for Dunedin, Florida shortly after being drafted.
“We fly down there and I was actually a few days late because I had to drive home. I had to get my car back home before I was able to fly back down to Florida. I think I was two days later than all of the other guys who got drafted with that day.
I got acclimated real quick. The first day I showed up to the field, we had the physicals, the testing, the meetings with certain people and we kind of dove right into it. We went out, we’d do our practice day stuff, whether it be bullpens, throwing program, PFPs (pitcher’s fielding practice), all of that good stuff. I think I was down there for what’s called mini-camp for about five days.
Everyday it was just pretty much getting used to the organization, the program, the guys you’re with. It was a really good time. I was nervous going into it but everyone there was just so great. It was great being there for the short amount of time before shipping off to Bluefield last year.”
There were a lot of people for Townsend to meet in the Blue Jays organization upon arriving in Florida and he admits he does not remember who he met.
“To be honest, no. (laughs) Because it was all such a blur, you know, such a quick turnaround. I would say the guys who stood out the most were the guys that ended up being my teammates back in Bluefield. I left with them and in the short few days we get to know each other and then we’re going through an airport together and heading off to Bluefield.
Those guys that I played with at Bluefield were probably the ones that I would remember the most but after going through spring training this year, I got to see them all again. I got to play with them during spring training. It’s just a great group of guys. Everyone here is cool. It’s just great to be around them.”
Debut in Bluefield
The 6-foot-0 Townsend was assigned to Bluefield to begin his professional career in 2018. After becoming a reliever at Oral Roberts, the bullpen was where he stayed with the Bluef-Jays.
“It was a little different going from college ball to the pro ranks but it was also interesting being a reliever. I went from junior college being a starter, like that was my forte, I loved it and then going to Oral Roberts where they had a lot of senior returning pitchers so I was a bullpen guy for my year at Oral Roberts and then I got drafted as a reliever.
Realistically, when I was in Bluefield, this was my first year being a reliever. It took some getting used to. It was a great year and it got me really comfortable with pro ball. It was a really good year for growth in my opinion.”
After throwing a scoreless inning in his June 20 debut, Townsend had his ups and downs in 2018. He began the year with a 3.18 earned run average in June but that figure shot up to just over eight in July. He bounced back with a 3.48 ERA that saw him hold the opposition scoreless in seven of his last nine outings. That stretch included his first professional win August 21.
Pitching in a small town of Bluefield made it easy to focus on playing baseball.
“Definitely. Baseball is all there is to do there. It’s always baseball and hanging out with your teammates after the game. Maybe going to get a bite out to eat or just staying in watching movies, playing video games, whatever it is. Baseball is definitely the main attraction of anything to do there.”
One of the perks of pitching in Bluefield was getting to play for legendary manager Dennis Holmberg.
“Dennis is awesome. Dennis is the man. He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever had the opportunity to play for. He’s just so welcoming. The first conversation you have with him, you’re instantly comfortable with him. He makes the first, the transition year so easy for everyone and it’s just so easy to play for a man like Dennis.”
Offseason & Extended Spring Training
Armed with an idea of what to expect heading into his first spring training, Townsend made sure he was going to be ready.
“It was a lot of hard work. You want to get stronger in the weight room. You want to make sure your arm is in shape. You want to be ready to go right out of the gates at the beginning of spring training because when you get to spring training, you don’t really have that time period of ‘Now I can get my arm in shape.’ You have to come ready to go.
I spent the majority of my offseason making sure my body was in shape, making sure my arm was in shape. It was really interesting. It was the first time I really had only baseball and being physically ready to go to worry about. It was great. It was really nice to just being able to focus on that as opposed to, ‘Oh, okay. Well now, I got my studies. I have a full-time job.’ You know, none of that, it was just baseball and get your mind right and your body right.”
Extended spring training was where Townsend began his year and getting through it was quite the challenge.
“You hear a lot of stuff about it. You hear all the rumours and all about what it’s about and it really doesn’t do it justice until you live it. It’s a long amount of time. It’s a grind, it really is. It’s tough but it really helps you grow as a player.”
Townsend’s hard work paid off when he got a cameo appearance with the Dunedin Blue Jays May 19. In his first professional start, he earned the victory by making it through five innings as the Dunedin bats gave him plenty of run support.
“It was a great surprise. I never really expected it. It’s always in the back of your mind. You know if something happens, you could get a quick call-up for a game or something like that. I never used that as motivation but it was always there in the back of my mind. As soon as I got the call, I was like ‘Let’s Go! You’ve been working! It’s all baseball!’ I was really excited to get that opportunity.
Sometimes you can get lost in extended playing on the back fields all the time. Getting to play with Dunedin, putting on that uniform, playing against the different guys. It was just a great experience. It was awesome.”
Next Stop – Vancouver
Vancouver has employed a six-man rotation in 2019 and due to a quirk of the schedule, C’s fans have only had a chance to see Townsend pitch once at Nat Bailey Stadium. Townsend was given the ball for the second game of the season against Spokane June 15 and enjoyed pitching in front of a packed house.
“This environment is unreal. I only got to pitch in one game at home. Other than that, I’ve been at Hillsboro and at Everett but nothing beats it here. This environment is crazy. (A few) thousand fans out here every day, every night to support (us). Nothing beats it.”
Also adding to the festivities of Townsend’s debut was the fact the game was nationally televised on Sportsnet.
“I knew that was going on. It was talked about before the game a little bit but I mean, as soon as you get out there, it’s game mentality. You can’t really think about the TV but like, I knew it was happening. I definitely knew it was happening and I was just excited to be put in an opportunity like that.”
Things went much better for Townsend in his second outing as he tossed six innings of one-run ball in Hillsboro, striking out eight to earn his first Northwest League victory June 21.
“Everything was working. The command was there. The off-speed was good. All I did was attack the zone. They put some balls in play but my fielders, they made a lot of great plays behind me. It was just one of those days where everything clicks. It was a great outing, a great opportunity to pitch like I did. It was great.”
With his hometown of Lake Tapps, Washington within driving distance of Vancouver, Townsend is happy his family and friends have a chance to watch him pitch.
“They have. Being here at Scotiabank Field, I’m only like two hours from home, max, so it’s really close, it’s really awesome. Family and friends have been out to see me already this year. It feels great to be this close to home.”
Pitching for the Blue Jays organization also means a switch of major league allegiances for Townsend.
“I’m from Washington so obviously my hometown team was the Mariners. I grew up going to the Mariners games but I’ve heard a lot about the rivalry with the Blue Jays and the Mariners, it’s so close. It’s funny but being at the Mariners stadium in Seattle, if you see the Blue Jays, you see more Blue Jays fans there than Mariners fans. I always found that pretty interesting and now pretty funny. With the hometown team, I was a big Mariners fan but now it’s all about the Blue Jays.”
A three-pitch mix is what Townsend employs on the mound but what to call his breaking ball has been a source of debate around him.
“I throw a fastball, only four-seam. I throw a slider. I’d call it a slider. There’s kind of some questions about behind what it should really be called but it’s a slider. I throw a slider but it just has so much break, so much drop to where some people are like, ‘Wait, that’s a curveball.’ I’m like, ‘No, it just moves like that!’ (Laughs) I also throw a changeup. They were all working that day.”
As far as developing a new pitch in the future, Townsend is not ruling it out.
“I haven’t yet. I feel like at this point I need to really perfect what I have and then maybe, you know, down the road if it comes to that where like, ‘Hey, if you develop a certain other pitch, it could really benefit you.’ Then yeah, I’ll definitely spin it around but right now, I think my main focus is having success with what I have.”
There are a lot of people Townsend credits for him reaching professional baseball. He says it all began with his parents Jim and Sandra.
“There are so many names that I could write down right now. Shoot, you know. Even growing up from a young age, just my parents you know, they’re big baseball fans. They didn’t get mad when I threw rocks. Every other parent is like, ‘Don’t throw rocks! Don’t throw things in the house! Don’t throw this at the window or whatever!’ but they were always like, ‘You know what? Throw it. Go for it.’
I guess that’s the very beginning. I’ve had numerous coaches up through Little League. My Dad was one of my coaches for the longest time from age six to 12. He was always a great coach, a great supporter.”
One other name popped up when it came to Townsend’s development as a pitcher.
“From there on, I guess I had one of my biggest jumps was when I was played for Baden. It’s an (18 Under) Premier Team out of Seattle, Washington. The pitching coach there. His name was Kelton Jacobson. He really helped me go to the next level from like a high school, average arm, throws somewhat hard but doesn’t know it’s going. He really helped me gain a couple more miles an hour, a little more velocity and be able to stay in the (strike) zone and have success. He’s the first one that comes to mind when you ask ‘Who helped you?’ Because he helped me with my biggest jump. The jump from a young high school kid to a junior or senior in high school, he was the one who helped me get to that point.
I had my junior college coaches, my pitching coaches, my coach at Oral Roberts and all throughout with the Blue Jays, there’s been so many people that have given me little pointers and tips along the way. There’s just way too many people to list.”
Central Arizona & Oral Roberts
After recording a 0.77 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a senior at Bonney Lake High School and batting .337 with 31 runs batted in as a designated hitter, Townsend went to Central Arizona Junior College. His second season with the Vaqueros in 2017 saw him lead the club to the ACCAC tournament title in 2017. He also earned NJCAA First-Team All-America honors after winning 11 of 13 decisions with an ERA of 1.79 and 119 strikeouts in 100-2/3 innings.
It was off to Oral Roberts University where Townsend struck out 50 batters in 38-2/3 innings and won all five of his decisions in relief. Spending time in junior college before heading to Division 1 was beneficial for Townsend.
“It was a jump from junior college. There’s obviously going to be differences. Going from junior college where you don’t have as much stuff to work with as going to the Division 1 school. It was a really necessary jump for me. I feel like I had to climb up the ranks before jumping straight into pro ball or going straight to a Division 1 school out of high school. It really helped me develop as a player to go from the high school ranks to the junior college, develop there, make that next step to the Division 1 level and then from there to the professional ranks. For me, that’s what Oral Roberts was. It was a great environment, a great team, a great coaching staff and they really just helped prepare me for the next level.”
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles alumni Jordan Romano made his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this season and Townsend recalled meeting him upon his arrival on campus.
“I don’t know him very well but I remember this clearly. I met him on my visit to Oral Roberts. He was there. He was hanging out with some of the guys and I met him there. I didn’t really know who he was then. I (didn’t) even realize he was already in the Blue Jays organization but as soon as I got the call that I was going to the Blue Jays, I was like, ‘Wait a minute! There’s another guy from Oral Roberts here!’ And you know it was Jordan and I met him and I just thought that was a really cool coincidence.”
The 21 year-old Townsend—who will turn 22 August 9—may get to join Romano in Toronto if he turns in more outings such as July 11 in which he blanked Everett for 5-2/3 innings and struck out six.
Thanks a million to Grant Townsend for this latest episode of C’s Chat. He is on Twitter @Grant_Town44. Another thank you to C’s Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for scheduling the interview.