2021-2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Troy Watson takes the ball in this episode of C’s Chat.
Hailing from Gunter, Texas, Watson dominated on the mound in his senior season at Gunter High with a record of 7-0, a 0.25 earned-run average and 107 strikeouts in 56-2/3 innings in 2016.
The righthander found himself in Northern Colorado and spent two years with the Bears. After going 4-3 with a 4.99 ERA in 2017 with a 39-33 strikeout/Walk total over 52-1/3 innings as a starter and reliever, Watson won three of five decisions with a 2.91 ERA with a 24-9 K/BB total in 34 innings mostly as a starter.
Baseball America rated Watson as the top prospect from the state of Colorado prior to the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, the Toronto Blue Jays took Watson in the 15th round of the 2018 draft and handed out a signing bonus of $100,000 to the 6-foot-2, 180-pound hurler.
Watson reported to the Bluefield Blue Jays and made his pro debut on June 20. His second outing saw him strike out five over three shutout innings in Burlington on June 24 as the Blue-Jays came oh-so close to a no-hitter. His first win came in his next outing against Burlington with three frames of one-run relief on June 27 at Bowen Field. In August, Watson recorded back-to-back wins with four shutout innings in Bristol on August 2 and tossed five innings of two-run ball against Greenville with five strikeouts on August 7. He finished the year with a 3-0 record, a 1.67 ERA and a 20-8 K/BB mark in 27 innings.
The Blue Jays skipped Watson past Vancouver and assigned him to full-season ball in Lansing to begin 2019. His first win with the Lugnuts came in his third appearance when he allowed two unearned runs in Dayton over five innings in Dayton on May 30. Watson picked up his second win with a career-high six innings of shutout ball in Dayton on June 21 in which he allowed just four hits. He won back-to-back starts by allowing just one run over six innings in Lake County on July 6 and in Peoria on July 12.
That earned Watson an emergency call-up start for Dunedin against Lakeland and he gave up four runs over six innings on July 18. He went back to Lansing and put up six goose eggs in Lake County for another win on July 30. His final victory was seven shutout innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts to get the W in Dayton on August 10. That helped Watson finish the year at 6-5 with a 3.14 ERA in which he logged 91-2/3 innings and held Midwest League hitters to a .234 batting average.
With COVID cancelling the MiLB season in 2020, Watson would not be back on the mound until 2021. He made his C’s debut in Tri-City on May 8 with three shutout innings but that was his only appearance of the year as he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Watson was back on the hill just over 13 months later as he worked a scoreless inning for the Florida Complex League Blue Jays against the FCL Yankees on June 21. After 7-1/3 innings and a 1.23 ERA over four appearances, Watson joined Dunedin with seven more innings and a 3.86 ERA with an 11-1 K/BB total, showing his command was starting to come back after a 6-6 mark in the FCL.
The next stop for Watson was Vancouver as he got the call to YVR on August 5. His debut showing came on August 7 against Tri-City at Nat Bailey Stadium in which he struck out three over 1-2/3 shutout innings. He earned his first professional save against Hillsboro on August 25 by getting the final four outs without a run scoring. He lit up the Nat Bailey radar gun at 103 miles per hour during a perfect frame against the Hops on August 28 and struck out all four batters he faced in Spokane on September 4.
C’s Plus Baseball had a chance to chat with the 25 year-old Watson during the team’s homestand against Hillsboro in late August.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – You picked up your first professional save. It didn’t come easy but you got the job done. What was that like being the closer that night?
Troy Watson – No, it definitely wasn’t easy but it makes it a lot easier. Having the guys behind you, like the guys that I do. So I just gotta focus on throwing it in that little bitty white box. So having them behind is really mind-easing for me. But picking up that first save was kind of like a surreal moment. Like I went home and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Like I’d never expected to close out a game because I’ve been a starter my entire life. So that was really, really, really cool. It was really cool to do. And especially in front of all these fans, I didn’t need any extra juice because I got it from them. It was really cool.
CPB – There were two outs, nobody on. It’s not like they were scorching the ball off you but how did you manage to stay focused and get out of that?
TW – The eighth inning, I came in with two outs, nobody on and got single, single, hit by pitch. And I was kind of like, ‘No way this is about to happen.’ Luckily my catcher Sosa (Andrés Sosa) came out and he got on my butt a little bit but that’s how I was coached growing up playing baseball. So him doing that kind of like reset my focus and allowed me to focus on what I had to do at hand. And I was to get the boys off the field because it was a big moment in the game.
CPB – And in the ninth inning, you set them down 1, 2, 3,
TW – Yeah. In the ninth inning, I sat down next to Sosa and we kind of like talked over what we had to do. And all he said was out one is the most important now. And then we go from there and I couldn’t agree more with him. He settled me down a lot.
CPB – Just coming back from Tommy John’s surgery, you made a stop in the Florida complex league and then with the Dunedin Blue Jays. When did you know you were kind of getting back to 100% again?
TW – To be honest, I’ve been close to a hundred in my mind. I’ve been a hundred percent for about three months. It was the fact of building volume again, to make sure my arm can handle it. But as far as like throwing wise, throwing a hundred percent wise, I’ve been good for quite a while. So it was just a big trust factor of letting it go again. And once I got past that, I mean, there was no stopping. I was very fortunate not to have a setback. So I kind of flew through my TJ God willing because I prayed a lot but I’ve been good to go for about four months. So even throwing in the FCL, I was ready to go.
CPB – Going through Tommy John, I’m sure you got a lot of advice on how to go through with it but how did you get through it?
TW – Taking every day, day by day. Eventually, the first two to four months, whenever I’m doing nothing but watching my biggest thing is patience because deep down in my mind, I knew I was going to throw a baseball hard again. I was going to compete again. I just didn’t know when. And that was the biggest thing for me is focus on right now. If I do everything today that I need to do to the best of my ability tomorrow, I can do the same thing each day. Just keep doing that and then I’ll get there. And that’s exactly what happened.
CPB – Your velocity. Has it ticked up a bit from what you were before?
TW – Yes, it has. So in 2019, I was in Lansing. I was averaging 93 to 95 (miles per hour) touching (97). And then I came here to the start of last year for the first month, whenever we were in Hillsboro and I was averaging 95, 96, but with TJ now I’m averaging 96, 97 and I’m up to 99. So my velo has ticked up a bit and I feel so good. I was able to get in the weight room consistently for the first time ever in my life, rehabbing this TJ. And so I feel stronger and more game-ready than I ever have in my life.
CPB – The Player Development Complex (in Dunedin). How has that helped you as a pitcher?
TW – It Is so nice. We just got that brand new building and it is everything that a player can dream of like what you need-wise. So it wasn’t a shortage of staff. There wasn’t a shortage of nutrition, anything that we need, we got. And the staff did a very good job of helping me get what I need to make sure that I was able to be my best every day so it was nice.
CPB – Was there anything you learned about yourself as a pitcher, such as your spin rate or release point or anything like that? Anything that maybe you didn’t know about yourself before?
TW – Prior to my TJ, I had no idea what metrics are or what TrackMan metrics are. And still today I’m kind of trying to get into the groove of that stuff. But apparently, me after TJ is way different than me before TJ. My spin rates are up. I have two breaking balls now instead of just the slider or a sweeper. I have a changeup now. I didn’t have that before. I’m a completely different pitcher in terms of pitches and the way my ball moves now. So I’m still trying to figure that out.
CPB – So a fastball, slider and changeup. That’s what you’re throwing right now?
TW – I have a four-seam (fastball), a two-seam (fastball), a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.
CPB – What would you say is your best pitch? Everyone says fastball is the best pitch. What would you say is number two?
TW – A strike.
CPB – That’s true enough.
TW – That’s actually my first favourite pitch is a strike. The fastball is my second but executing a slider too.
CPB – DId anyone show you a grip on (the slider) or did you learn it yourself?
TW – I kind of found my slider grip with Eric Pardinho. He kind of helped with my curveball and a changeup grip. My curveball has came a long way and my changeup has come a long, long way too. He gets most of the credit for teaching me those two pitches but everything else I’ve just learned over time being an athlete.
CPB – When did you take up pitching?
TW – I’ve always kind of pitched here and there growing up in high school, but I never seriously pitched until my senior year of high school in 2016. I ended my junior year of high school topping out at 84 and then I took two weeks off. And then I pitched on my summer team the year before my senior year and I was 91. I woke up and started throwing hard and I was dead set on basketball in my junior year of high school. This baseball thing was never really my (thing) but I threw 90 and ended up topping out at like 94-95 throughout my senior season. The Brewers called me in the 12th round of the 2016 draft. And I obviously said ‘No, because I mean, I’ve just started pitching.’ And then I went to Northern Colorado, pitched there for two years, got drafted by the Blue Jays in ’18 and I’ve been trying to learn how to pitch ever since then. I mean, in a way I’m kind of new to it, but I grew up playing shortstop, center field and pitching here and there. So I’ve always been on the baseball field. It’s just a kind of differe nt role for me. I’m not in the game as much but it’s definitely fun.
CPB – What led you to Northern Colorado?
TW – A family friend who helped with the finances of me and my Dad being a single-parent household. We couldn’t pay for the big-time D1s (Division I programs) and stuff like that. I had a family friend help me out with that. And he went with me to go through two years at Northern Colorado,
CPB – You get drafted by the Blue Jays. Where were you when you were drafted?
TW – I was in Sherman, Texas, about 15 minutes from my hometown of Gunter. We were watching the draft. I wasn’t even really expecting a call because I had an elbow problem my sophomore year of college which limits me on the innings. But my Dad (Steven Watson) was watching the online draft and we’re at a Buffalo Wild Wings and he’s just watching it and I’m just not really caring. I’m like, ‘I’m not getting picked.’ All of a sudden, my name pops up in the 15th round and my Dad’s like, ‘Hey, your name just came up by the Blue Jays.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And then right then my (advisor) called me and was like, ‘Did you see the news?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Congratulations.’ And I was like, ‘Oh wow!’ And then my Dad told the waitress. Everybody in Buffalo Wild Wings started clapping for me. I didn’t know a single soul in there besides my Dad but they all started clapping for me but it was fun. It was definitely a surreal moment because everything that me and my Dad have worked for. It’s just been me and my dad since I was in diapers for me to finally get there. That’s what we’ve been talking about forever. So
CPB – Who was your signing scout?
TW – Darold Brown from the east coast. I think he’s with the Tigers now. Love that guy.
CPB – Did you have any idea that the Blue Jays who were interested in you? Did you think maybe it’s going to be another team?
TW – Yes, it was the Padres, the Brewers again and the Blue Jays but the Blue Jays were third. If I was going to get taken, I thought it was gonna be the Padres. And then the Blue Jays got me. I’m thrilled that they did because I love this organization.
CPB – You start off your career in Bluefield. You got that intense rivalry with the Princeton Rays. What was your first season like there?
TW – Oh my gosh. That was in 2018. That was honestly kind of a blur because I mean it was my first time playing professional ball. I didn’t really take in time to like realize what I was doing. I wanted to put up good numbers, you know? I mean it was my first professional stat. Bluefield is not really great in terms of doing stuff. We were 20, 21 year old young men. Great support town. They showed up to every game. Great in that aspect, it was a great year.
CPB – You go to Lansing in 2019 and put up some pretty good numbers there. That was really your first full season experience. What was it like pitching in Lansing?
TW – Lansing was awesome. That was like my first real experience of like what pro ball was pitching in a stadium with (lots of) fans, you know, like the overall experience of it. That was really, really cool to do. Like what I get to do every day is just so cool.
CPB – And you got a promotion to Dunedin.
TW – That was a spot start. (2018 Vancouver Canadians righthander) Joey Murray went up to Double-A. I spot started for him for a week. So that was whenever our stadium wasn’t built (renovations not completed in Dunedin). They were playing at a high school field (at) Jack Russell (Stadium) in Clearwater. It was alright but it was fun to move up and see what I can do in High-A. I got smacked around a little bit, but (laughs) I tried my best.
CPB – In 2020, COVID hits. How did you get through that?
TW – I went to Georgia with (2016 C’s pitcher) Andy Ravel and (2017 C’s outfielder) Reggie Pruitt to train. Just a whole year of training, (It was a) really long time, long, boring, just wanting to play. Reggie went to Kennesaw and we were in Woodstock training at Rapid Sports performance.
CPB – In 2021, you finally do get to wear the Vancouver uniform but it was in Hillsboro. What was that scene like being in Hillsboro in a place that really wasn’t the hometown crowd?
TW – I was only there for a month and we started out in Tri-City. I threw my first star and I blew my elbow out in the second inning. And so I wasn’t able to throw in any more games besides at Tri-City. I mean, it was kind of weird because you know, we weren’t here at the Nat and I’ve never been here in Vancouver. I wasn’t really sure how exactly it was. We did our best with what we had at Hillsboro, you know, having to share everything and like having to move our stuff out whenever the Hops were hosting and stuff like that. So it was just a bunch of extra stuff that we had to do that not many teams had to do because they were always at home.
CPB – Did you have a favourite major league team growing up or a favourite player or pitcher?
TW – My favourite pitcher ever is Nolan Ryan. He was the GOAT. Alvin, Texas. Texan natives, okay. ‘What’s up, Nolan?’ Ironically my favourite team was the Blue Jays growing up. My favourite pitcher in high school was Marcus Stroman. I grew up watching him and I love the way he carried himself on the mound. Like cocky. swaggy. There’s no one who’s better than me type of thing. And I loved that and I just loved how the overall team was with Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson and they hit nukes and they pimped them and I loved it. That’s when I really fell in love with them. And then to get drafted by them was pretty, pretty cool.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 14 with Bluefield in 2018, number 27 with Lansing in 2019 and number 11 with Vancouver in 2021. Wore number 2 at Gunter High School and number 10 with Northern Colorado.
- Instagram – @_troywatson_
- Twitter – @2_troywatson
- Glove Inscription – “Doing it for Dad“.
Thanks a million again to Troy Watson and C’s play-by-play announcer Tyler Zickel for getting this chat on the World Wide Web.