How KC Royals fast tracked Vinnie Pasquantino

On a clear September night last year, the Royals’ Double-A minor league member won their first title in more than a decade. Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ title was sealed in a strikethrough, making the mound the primary address for a dog pile.

As a pitcher raised his arms and the infielders tossed their gloves into the air like graduation caps, number 44 entered the fray with ambition.

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Vinnie Pasquantino, an extremely burly, left-handed first baseman with light tower power, was a latecomer to this group—not just his last celebration—but something funny happened when he landed in Northwest Arkansas. A middling team became one of the toughest teams to beat in the league and eventually became the toughest. He had started the year with the High A-level Quad Cities.

Despite being an 11th-round pick, his rise began to be associated with early-round anticipation in a more similar fashion.

Last September evening, he was caught up in the championship celebration; this was well in line with a substantial contribution with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 55 games. But after reviewing it, he returned to the clubhouse and requested an update for another game. Quad Cities were playing in their own championship series, and Pasquantino would soon learn that his old team had won the same night, pushing for a decisive Game 5.

He picked up his phone, opened his contacts list, and found Quad Cities executive Chris Widger sitting next to Royals general manager JJ Picollo in his office.

Pasquantino sent a message.

Hey, I’m jumping in my car. I’m coming to play tomorrow so we can win another one.

A catapult in the minor leagues

Half a year later, on Monday afternoon, Pasquantino started his 2015 Ford Escape and headed south on Interstate 29. It was a surreal trip to Kansas City, both figuratively and literally.

She was doing the laundry and taking out the trash when she was told she was promoted to senior. If you ask a roommate, Pasquantino says you’ll find out he threw out the trash for the first time since they lived together in Omaha. Pasquantino says his body went numb when he heard the news.

There is little typical about his route here. An 11th-round election broke MLB’s list of top 100 candidates in less than three years, one of which was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pasquantino was not even a participant in the team’s alternate training ground during the 2020 pandemic season, instead finding pickup matches to stay fresh. He had never played on a rookie ball before last year.

It has become so impossible to ignore his production – .950 OPS or better every full year as a pro – starting to worry about whether the Royals can make it to the front office majors, but rather whether he has enough plate looks. to justify a call. Because all the numbers showed that it was overdue. He was the only player in Triple-A’s International League to have at least six home runs and more than a strikeout.

However, if you ask someone in the organization about him, they will talk about his personality before mentioning any of them. The story we shared before – a desire descend he’s been told – just to help a team win a minor league title because, well, it’s not usual.

After he was drafted, some said he wouldn’t be able to play first base well, so he hit the Royals director with Alec Zumwalt, telling him he’d be a better first baseman than Eric Hosmer, former Royal and four Gold Gloves owner. Zumwalt liked his bringer Pasquantino so much that her family to Pasquantino’s first game in Kansas City this week.

When you ask Zumwalt how this type of climb happened so quickly, he shares one of his favorite stories. In 2019, the year Pasquantino was drafted, he played rookie ball for Burlington. In a certain at-bat that was supposed to take nearly a dozen shots, Pasquantino took his full-point bid from the side of the field, but the referee called him anyway. This was key to a game that Burlington would eventually lose.

Zumwalt saw Pasquantino in the clubhouse the day after the game and “you could say he carried the loss of that game on his shoulders.”

Zumwalt asked him if the pitch was a hit.

Pasquantino hadn’t looked at the video, he said, but nodded anyway.

“You’re right,” replied Zumwalt, as he recalled telling the story this week, “This should have been a march. So don’t shake it.”

It was a results-driven talk over the process, which Zumwalt has since called a landmark. Trust yourself. Trust the results to come on a larger scale.

“We gave him the freedom to be himself,” Zumwalt said. “He wanted to know. He asks millions of questions that I love. we want to know Why. i want to know it Why.

From the outside, you might wonder how baseball’s 319th overall pick ended up running to the championship.

I know I did.

But now?

Let’s try this instead: How did a man running into the majors – just without a moment on the route – get to 319?

draft story

The Pasquantino family watched the 2019 MLB Draft from Mellow Mushroom, a pizzeria in Virginia.

They were optimistic – Pasquantino was told he could go as early as lap three. So they took a table, ordered some pizza, and waited to be named.

And he waited.

And he waited.

By the end of that second day, ten laps had passed and he was still on the board.

“He was like one of the NFL guys on TV,” his father, Dennis, said. “It wasn’t a fun day – let’s just say it.”

Dennis coached his son for most of his Little League career. In fact, he still coaches a showcase team both in high school and in his hometown. I just can’t help. Like his son, his love of the game does not leave him.

Every time they stepped into Wal-Mart, Pasquantino’s older brother would rush towards the action figures… and Vinnie would run into the sporting goods section. When Vinnie was 2 years old, the family living room became a baseball diamond. His mother insists that his first word was “ball”.

When he comes home from middle school, then high school, or even practice, he leaves his things on the table, turns to his father and says, “Do you want to hit it?” he asked.

He was an All-America honorable mention in high school, where his career slowdown percentage was nearly 1,000. Played in some showcases. I took the University road to Old Dominion. Mostly it was there. As a junior, he made 16 home runs in 56 games.

However, the phone did not come on the 2nd day.

They couldn’t solve it. They had decided to ignore the draft, including Vinnie, until a friend texted him the day after the draft.

Dude, you’re enlisted.

Vinnie didn’t have much time to read the details. He was in line at the drive-thru for McDonald’s. His father wanted a double cheeseburger.

‘You could see’

This week, I called Jim Farr, who was watching Pasquantino for the Royals, trying to find the answer to basically the same question his family grappled with on draft day.

I don’t understand you. How could it have fallen so low?

Farr explained that the Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia might take some pains in knowing where to go, but you could tell he was already searching. There are tunnels and traffic can be backed up, and in the midst of all this Farr couldn’t help admitting the obvious.

“Of course,” he said with a laugh, “that didn’t stop them from coming to see Justin Verlander.”

Farr knew of another potential reason, a much more plausible one. Pasquantino suffered a back injury in his sophomore year. When he returned as a teenager after a long period of rehabilitation, his mechanics were out of whack and he struggled. In fact, his father had insisted on his son to consider returning to college for his final season.

Briefly.

Pasquantino burned it down in the second half of the year, still making 16 home runs a few years ago in a park that didn’t have a launch pad like it does today. His 16 home runs accounted for 31% of his team’s outbursts that season.

It seems the resurrection has come too late for some scouts. It can’t be said that at first they rushed through dozens of doors to see him, but by the end of his third year Farr could only sense the attention of himself and the Puppies.

And Farr could not leave the child.

His connection went back to high school and was strengthened by Pasquantino’s connection with some of his high school and summer coaches. She even studied in the cage with him one afternoon before Pasquantino’s senior class. She stayed with him the entire time. In particular, he remembered Pasquantino’s 6v6 game in Old Dominion when he was a sophomore.

“I used the whole field – drove the ball,” Farr said. “You could see – he was taking an approach, giving some insight beyond trying to pull the ball off the court.”

Farr made his recommendation during a meeting a few weeks before the draft, and the Royals’ front office and reconnaissance department got on tape.

“You could see the strength right away,” said JJ Picollo, general manager of the Royals. “And then I also remember him hitting against left-handers. That showed he had a pretty good idea of ​​the attack zone and just a good approach.”

Farr later heard that perhaps only half a dozen teams had Pasquantino on the draft boards that year, but he piqued the interest of the Royal family. As the third day of the draft began, Danny Ontiveros, now the organization’s reconnaissance director, called Farr.

Tell me about your makeup.

“Wherever he goes,” Farr replied, “he’ll run for mayor there.”

a house in KC

On Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Pasquantino was signed to his first major league roster, he took the field in front of his locker.

With the media first.

And then with his new teammates.

Before the week began, they were hardly strangers – Pasquantino had spent his spring training with this group. The conversation began as if they hadn’t been apart for the next three months. They quickly debated which nickname would suit him best—Italian Breakfast (he doesn’t seem to prefer it, though his heavy breakfast routine has gone mini-viral), Italian Nightmare, or maybe Italian Sausage. Bobby Witt Jr. He was holding a portable door frame basketball goal and encouraging Pasquantino to dunk the net.

“You’ll understand why everyone wants to be around him,” Zumwalt said. “They know he has to work for it. He wasn’t given a golden ticket and a free ride.”

“When you talked to his teammates in the Old Dominion, it was clear how they gravitated towards him,” Farr added. “He’s a great competitor but also a great teddy bear. He’ll be a leader in any club he’s in.”

In Pasquantino’s first 24 hours, Royals manager Mike Matheny made it a point to tell him not to change who he is. He just wasn’t talking about the approach that quickly followed him here, in the striker box. Pasquantino’s personality – his wit, his passion – is essential in a Royals clubhouse that tends to be on the quieter side of the spectrum.

“I think you need encouragement to let your personality show,” Matheny said.

On Tuesday, hours before the first plate appeared, Pasquantino entered the bunker alone and walked to the top step. He hung his arms over the railing, scanning the area before the doors opened, then sections of empty seats.

It would be nice to say that after the surprises he received during the draft week, he was motivated to make it happen. This is not really the case. Deleted this a long time ago. In his own words, he is “just worried about playing baseball”.

That was all he wanted—when he was 2 years old walking with his dad to Wal-Mart, digging a plastic stick out of the trash.

319 or 1?

Good story for us.

It is irrelevant to its subject.

“None of that matters to me anymore,” he said. “I just want to play the game.”

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Sam McDowell is a sports columnist for The Star. He previously worked for the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting Kansas City and sports ventures.