In a competitive atmosphere or setting, any setback can detail a promising career. Injuries, poor performance, and enduring failure lead to rejection and the shine once glistening amongst bristling talent becomes an afterthought. Chances pass by and everything which once came easy are now as different as learning a new concept. Self reflection affords the ability to regain composure and put those stumbling blocks deep into the past. After missing eighteen months due to Tommy John surgery, pitcher Jeff Degano emerged as a force on the mound, dominating like never before after regaining his arm strength and evolved into one of the New York Yankees top pitching prospects.
A Canadian product, Degano hopes to follow in the footsteps of 239 players before him who have played in the major leagues. Adam Loewen, a native of Surrey, British Columbia spent five seasons in the show playing on both sides of the diamond as a pitcher and a position player. Degano grew up in the same town as Loewen and found inspiration to aspire for a baseball career at an early age. Degano first drew national prominence representing Canada as a twelve-year-old at the 2005 Little League World Series. Competing against future major league draft picks and signings, such as Jurickson Profar and Dante Bichette Jr, Degano led team Canada to the semifinals, appearing in two games during the tournament.
After completing high school at Fraser Heights in his native British Columbia, Degano returned to the United States to attend junior college at Marshalltown in Iowa, pitching two seasons for coach Rich Grife. His teams won a combined 55 games in his two seasons of play and compiled an 8-5 record with a 3.80 earned run average. More impressively, Degano struck out 98 batters in 71 career innings and earned first team all-regional honors in his freshman season. Everything appeared to be going according to plan for Degano, primary after being recruited by Indiana State, but after just three starts and less than nine innings of work he succumbed to Tommy John Surgery.
His career hit a crossroads and it would take nearly two years until he returned to the mound. After extensive rehabilitation, Degano came back with a vengeance and became a more complete pitcher than before the surgery, notching 126 strikeouts in 99 innings of work for the Sycamores, while holding opposing hitters to a .216 average. Initially not considered a high draft pick coming off Tommy John Surgery, Degano would be selected by the New York Yankees in second round. Being drafted by the team he grew up idolizing as a child was surprising but also a thrill for a man who worked tirelessly to continue his career after suffering major injury. “I was kind of in shock,” Degano said. “I had a fairly good year and everything, but you never think it’s going to be you.” (Canadian Baseball Network).
Degano became the third Canadian selected in the 2015 draft, following first baseman Josh Naylor (12th overall by the Miami Marlins) and pitcher Mike Soroka (28th overall by the Atlanta Braves). After finishing winless in his first six starts with the Gulf Coast League, Degano began to adjust to the rigors of professional baseball once promoted to short-season Staten Island. Surrounded by seven top ten draft picks, Degano flourished, posting a 2.16 ERA in three appearances, entering September 1st. His most notable performance came on August 28th in relief of first rounder James Kaprielian. Degano pitched three scoreless innings that evening against the Hudson Valley Renegades and picked up where he left off at Indiana State. Baseball Essential caught up with Degano after his short season debut in mid-August and discussed his path towards the professional ranks.
Baseball Essential: You participated in the 2005 Little League World Series for Team Canada. Were there any noteworthy players you competed against and what did it mean to represent your country at the age?
Jeff Degano: “I participated against Dante Bichette Jr. and it was just an honor to be able to represent team Canada and bring the name up for Canadian baseball players.”
BBE: The New York Yankees are a team close to your heart in a sense. You grew up an Andy Pettitte fan and followed them closely as a kid. How surreal was it for you that you were drafted by them?
Degano: “It was unbelievable. It was a dream come true, really. I can’t believe that it actually happened.”
BBE: Being drafted in the second round you became the seventh consecutive player from Indiana State to be drafted. What did that mean to you and what was going through your mind that you were draft eligible?
Degano: “I really just focused on the season. I did not focus much on the draft and being drafted out of Indiana State is just another name that comes out of the school and hopefully I can keep giving them a good reputation and everything.”
BBE: Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis were fellow Canadians who also played in the BCPBL. Did you consider them influences growing up when you began to follow baseball?
BBE: “I remember I met Adam Loewen when I was ten years old and got drafted. Like him, he was a Surrey guy and I just idolized him growing up.”
BBE: You went to Indiana State and majored in Criminology. What made you decide to go into that field of study and could you see yourself getting a job in the field once your playing days are over?
Degano: “I was going to do fire investigation and becoming a Criminology major, it would help out with that with the area and hopefully I can play baseball long enough that I won’t have to do that.”
BBE: After pitching two seasons at a Junior College at Marshalltown, Iowa, you attended Indiana State and missed roughly two seasons due to Tommy John Surgery. What measures does a pitcher go through when they suffer the injury and the recovery process?
Degano: “I just wanted to attack it as well as I could. It is one of those injuries where the harder you work, the better you come out with it, so the main thing was just getting back on the field and do my best there. You start to gain a range of motion and a throwing program at 30 feet and work your way back all the way to 180 feet, then you get on a mound”.
BBE: For those who have yet to see you pitch, what pitches are a part of your arsenal and which areas of your game still need some refinement?
Degano: “I say right now, my curveball needs a little bit more work. The changeup also needs some work, but the fastball command is decent. I was able to work both sides of the plate. That is one of the things I think I will be strong at.”
BBE: You have just pitched your first game for the Staten Island Yankees. What was that experience like for you and what did you take out of the start?
Degano: “It was a dream come true. I am finally starting with my pro debut. Having a family here, it is definitely a dream come true.”
Approaching his age 23 season, Degano is a late bloomer of sorts. Unlike first round draft pick James Kaprielian, the Yankees intend to gradually develop Degano and allow him to progress and cultivate his ability in a meaningful way. On the mound Degano profiles as a pitcher who can throw three pitches for strikes, focusing primarily on location and movement. His fastball sits between 88-92 miles per hour and serves to set up his secondary offers, such as his changeup and curveball which he is currently refining at the minor league level. Degano’s arsenal and delivery resemble current Yankees pitcher Chris Capuano, who also relies heavily on offspeed pitches and command to retire opposing hitters. “I am impressed with his breaking ball”, Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn said. “I think he hides the ball well. Guys do not get good swings off of him. He can come in on righties. He threw so many innings at Indiana State, but he is another guy who we believe can be a very good starting pitcher one day.”
After missing two years of development time following Tommy John Surgery, Degano is proving he can contribute in the manner the Yankees envisioned after drafting him in the second round and signing him to a $650,000 signing bonus. The lack of a track record beyond the 2015 season causes scouts and experts to dismiss his success and ponder whether he will have any discernible upside. As is the case with most pitchers, consistency and the ability to master multiple pitchers will determine whether he can attain his potential and exceeded expectations. With college pitchers, time is fleeting and the margin for error becomes marginalized. Every outing assumes greater importance with a need to progress and emerge as a quality hurler. Following a strong season with the Indiana State Sycamores and steady improvements in his initial season in professional baseball, Degano is taking the necessary steps towards a prospective career. Being able to replicate his post injury showing will become the determining factor in eventual progression through the pipeline.