The latest C’s Chat is with 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Naswell Paulino.
The lefthander from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic joined the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent on July 4, 2016.
Baseball America had this rundown of Paulino in a feature about the Blue Jays international signings that year.
“Lefthander Naswell Paulino was another player training as an outfielder in the Dominican Republic who the Blue Jays signed to pitch. Paulino, a 16-year-old signed for $70,000 in July, is 5-foot-11, 160 pounds and threw 85-88 mph when he signed and more recently has hit 90 mph. He’s a bouncy athlete whose arm works well and has good fastball command for someone new to pitching.”
Signed by scout Sandy Rosario, Paulino remained home to start his career in the Dominican Summer League in 2017. He turned in a 2.26 earned run average over 13 starts in which he won four of six decisions and struck out 52 batters against 18 walks over 55-2/3 innings. His WHIP ratio was 1.10 and batters hit just .210 against him. Paulino was named a DSL All-Star where he pitched a scoreless inning and he helped the DSL Jays reach the playoffs where he spun six shutout frames in his lone postseason start against the DSL Dodgers2 squad.
After receiving a 72-game suspension from Major League Baseball for a performance enhancing substance, Paulino had to sit out all of 2018 before returning to the mound in 2019.
Paulino got his first taste of High-A baseball by pitching a shutout inning for the Lansing Lugnuts, giving up two hits but striking out two to strand runners on the corners June 14. The Lugnuts then rallied with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Paulino the victory as Lansing edged Bowling Green 3-2. He spent the rest of 2019 with Bluefield where he began his Appalachian League career with back-to-back four shutout inning appearances. He got his professional save against the Elizabethton Twins on the road June 19 before putting up four more zeroes at home against Danville June 26. Paulino made six of his 11 appearances on the mound, finishing with a 1-1 record and a 4.05 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Paulino’s first full season was spent with Dunedin in 2021 when he won seven of 11 decisions with a 3.82 ERA while striking out 109 batters in 96-2/3 innings. After giving up multiple runs in three May starts, Paulino turned a corner with 5-1/3 shutout innings against Tampa May 25.
The month of June saw Paulino win the Low-A Southeast League Pitcher of the Week Award June 14-20 for throwing six shutout innings against the Clearwater Threshers, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out three. That came on the heels of a June 12 start in which he put up five zeroes on just two hits and a walk and struck out nine in Lakeland. A tough month of July followed but he did blank Lakeland again with six shutout innings on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts July 21.
On August 8, Paulino was in shutout form again as he no-hit Fort Myers on the road for six innings, walking two and whiffing eight. He finished September on a strong note with two of his three starts seeing him complete five shutout frames against Palm Beach September 4 and five no-hit innings against Clearwater September 19 with a K/BB total of 8-3.
TSN’s Scott Mitchell listed Paulino as his number 42 prospect in the Blue Jays system in 2021. Mitchell noted “his ability to throw strikes has been impressive relative to his experience level,” and added “Paulino’s development will take time, but he’s the type of prospect the Jays like, with a fastball that plays up more than the 90-mph radar gun readings would suggest.”
With the C’s in 2022, Paulino struck out five over three innings in his Northwest League debut in Tri-City April 12. His Nat Bailey Stadium debut saw him limit Eugene to one run over four innings while striking out four April 21. His first win in a C’s uniform was against the Emeralds on the road May 14 with three innings of one-run ball that included three K’s.
Paulino’s best start so far came against Tri-City at The Nat when he kept Tri-City down to one run over five innings May 21. His longest outing of the year was June 17 when he pitched six innings against Eugene at home.
C’s Plus Baseball spoke with Paulino a few days before his June 17 start against the Emeralds. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
C’s Plus Baseball – You were a 2016 signing back in July from the Dominican Republic. How did you end up with the Blue Jays?
Naswell Paulino – That day, I was an outfielder. And they see something in me that I can pitch and they say, ‘Hey, you want to pitch?’ I say, ‘Whatever you want. Of course.’ And then I start pitching. I signed July 4th in 2016. In that moment, I was very happy because I always found the Blue Jays from the time have a lot of Dominican players in the lineup. You remember like 2014, 2015. And I was very excited for my family too, because it was a dream come true. I was playing baseball since I was five years old. Seeing all my dreams come true was very exciting for me.
CPB – You have your first professional season in your home country in the Dominican Summer League. You had a very good year. You were named an All-Star. What was that season like for you getting to pitch professionally?
NP – It was very good because we (had) a pretty good team too. I have a very good season. We go to the playoffs too. It was a long season for me because I never pitched before. I have like 55 innings in the regular season (then) go to the playoffs. I was throwing six innings, no runs. And the raining starts but it was pretty good. The All-Star (Game) too. I was nervous because it was the first time I see so many people. I threw four straight balls. Then I say, ‘Okay, I’m here now. Let’s go!” And 1, 2, 3. That’s it.
CPB – You said you were an outfielder. Were you surprised that they wanted you to become a pitcher instead?
NP – Not really. Because when I was in little league, I was an outfielder but I was the team captain. In 2015, I was in a tournament. I was in the outfield. I pitch in one week, like 17 innings. I throw almost every day. So I just like to pitch, but they always say in the Dominican, ‘Hey, you look good (as an) outfielder. Play there.’ If not, l go pitch, but for now play there.
CPB – You complete your first season in the Dominican Summer League and you eventually make your way over to Bluefield for the first time pitching in the States. What was that like?
NP – In 2019. my first game was in Lansing. It was like 5,000 people. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ (Laughs)
CPB – That’s a lot of people, not what you were used to.
NP – No, but I was very excited. And then I pitch really well. Then they send me to Bluefield. It was new, the culture is different. The food is different. You need to get ready for so many times for the rain, you need to travel a lot. But it was really good too because when you prepare yourself and your mind to be ready, no matter what, you are going to be ready. But playing in Bluefield was good. The stadium is really hitter (friendly) but we try to compete, no matter what. And I have a good season.
CPB – Who would you say has helped you develop as a pitcher? Any coaches who have helped you out along the way?
NP – The first one was Yoel Hernandez in the Dominican. He was the one that like helped me to change from outfield to pitcher. And then I have one in Bluefield, Rael Lazo. He was a good one too. Last year, I had Drew Hayes. He was very good for me because at the start of the season, it was a struggle with the command . One night (after) seeing video for the last year and then the next day, he got me (and says), ‘Hey, we need to see videos. We need to change something.’ We keep working and like two starts after, I was another pictcher and the season changed for me after that so I appreciated that from him.
CPB – You had one really good start in Fort Myers with six no-hit innings. What do you remember about that day and what was working for you?
NP – One thing I need to say is, when my family’s coming to the ballpark, I never lose. So they go in like four times and I only allow like one run, two runs. But that day I was there with my mother’s cousin and she was there with her daughter. It was pretty exciting because it’s the first time they see me. I was really nasty that day.
CPB – As a pitcher, I hear you throw a fastball and a slider but what pitches do you throw right now?
NP – I throw mostly fastball/slider but now I try to throw a split too. I throw it sometimes in the game, but mostly two-pitch, a fastball/slider guy.
CPB – How about your fastball? Is it a four-seam or two-seam or a cut fastball? What do you throw?
NP – It’s four-seam. I use my four-seam to rise (as a rising fastball). Sometimes a cut (fastball) too.
CPB – Your slider, is there anyone who taught that to you? Did you learn it yourself? Did someone show you a grip or anything like that?
NP – In the Dominican earlier, I throw a slider but it was like a first time normal slider. And then Cory Popham, the pitching coordinator, we worked for the last two years on my slider to (make it) more bigger, more faster, and try to miss some bats.
CPB – And the splitter or split-change, What do you feel you need to work on to get that pitch to the next level?
NP – The movement is there. I usually need like to kill the velo because since my fastball is 87, 88. I throw 90 (miles per hour) because the movement is there so we work on that.
CPB – Down in Dunedin, you have the Player Development Complex. How has that helped you develop as a pitcher?
NP – They have a room full of cameras and we throw a bullpen there. And they see everything. So when my slider, I don’t have the feeling last year, they say, ‘Hey, let’s go throw a bullpen there. And then when you throw, they say, ‘Your arm needs to be (here).’ Then I tried it. It was pretty good and now I have a good slider. That was very helpful.
CPB – 2021 was your first full season in a while pitching in Dunedin. You had COVID to deal with. How were you able to get through COVID to keep yourself ready?
NP – I feel when the COVID started, I needed to be motivated. So I go to work with Pedro Martinez’s son. And then I travel every day from my city, 45 minutes to work there. I faced many Double-A, Triple-A, big leaguers in live BP and that was pretty good for me because I throw to them in Pedro Martinez’s house. I have a photo with him. That was the main reason to get ready for the next year, because I spent that summer in the pandemic (needing) motivation, because it’s not the same. You practice along in your city but you have motivation. We play a lot of guys training with Pedro Martinez so that was very good.
CPB – Pedro Martinez. Is he one of your favourite pitchers of all time?
NP – Yeah. In the Dominican. He’s an icon. Everybody knows Pedro Martinez. His changeup. When he hit the batters. If you’re standing too close, he hit you. ‘Hey, gimme space to work.’ So we love that. And he’s like one of the best ever, you know?
CPB – Did you have a favorite team growing up?
NP – It was Boston. Then I started to follow José Bautista and follow the Blue Jays. And then I signed with the Blue Jays so that was very good.
CPB – Now you’re here in Vancouver. What’s it been like for you pitching in Canada?
NP – I love Vancouver because the people are very friendly. Here in the ballpark. they support us a lot. If somebody is striking out, they are like ‘Yeah!’ It’s very good because we have the support. We feel like we say, ‘Oh, it’s like 5,000 here. How (would) it feel in Toronto?’ It’s like that. But yeah, it’s good because I think Vancouver is, after the Blue Jays, is the best place to play. The stadium represents history here. I like the support the team has from the fans. It’s very good. Nobody in the league has the support we have. Vancouver, it’s very far from Toronto so we have the whole city (cheering) for us so it’s very good.
CPB – Sometimes you have started. Sometimes you’ve come out of the bullpen tonight. You’ve been with Hunter Gregory (as a tandem starter). What’s the difference been for you getting ready for a start as compared to getting ready to come in midway through a game?
NP – For me, it’s like the same mentality. You know, I prepare the same way before the game. When (Hunter’s) warming (up), I (start) my throwing program. It’s just the situation, the game. You see the game is close, you need to be ready to throw everything at the first batter but I don’t really care (when I enter the game). I just (need to) be ready to get the work done in whatever occasion, you know.
CPB – How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
NP – I’m a guy that don’t throw hard, don’t put some flames from the gun, but I just paint the zone, you know, try to learn the batter, make a good pitch and try to be very quick with my delivery. Just a guy who paints the zone, have a good slider and the ball plays well because I throw 90 (miles per hour), but my fastball looks more harder, you know? And that helped me a lot.
CPB – Final question. You’re always in a good mood. You’re always smiling. You’re obviously happy to be a ball player. Where does that come from?
NP – You know, when you love what you do, you are in the best place. I dreamed about this all my life. I am here. I need to enjoy it, you know. On the field, off the field of the field, (be) the same guy. I feel lucky. Ali is good in my country and my family, but no matter what, I always try to be happy, to smile. That’s me. I love this. I love being here. I enjoy it. That’s all.
- Uniform Number – Wore number 21 with Dunedin in 2021.
- Birthday Boy – Celebrated 22nd birthday April 17, five days after his C’s debut.
- Favourite MLB pitcher – Clayton Kershaw.
- Instagram – @naswellpaulino17
- Twitter – @Naswellpaulino1
Un millón de gracias to Naswell Paulino for the chat and thanks a million to C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for setting up the interview.