Every professional baseball player has their own unique journey to the pro ranks. While many are scouted by several organizations, and eventually selected by a major league franchise, many others go undrafted all the way through college and are presented with one opportunity to fulfill their lifetime goal.
Understanding this challenge first-hand Toronto Blue Jays infield prospect Alex Maldonado completed a successful collegiate career at Holy Cross in 2013. Carrying a .273/.340/.330 slash line in 707 NCAA at-bats the young prospect was hoping for an opportunity at the next level.
“Playing at Holy Cross prepared me very well for professional baseball,” explained Maldonado. “Holy Cross is a small D1 private college. But we were able to travel to all the big name programs all over the country. I also was able to play summer ball in Watertown, New York. Both of those opportunities presented me with a chance to play against some of the best guys in the country. I felt well prepared when I signed to play professional baseball.”
His hopes of hearing his name selected somewhere in the 40-rounds of the 2013 draft went unfulfilled, but Maldonado didn’t have to wait long to get the news that he competed for his whole life. Receiving a phone call from a representative of the Toronto Blue Jays was the next best thing to the draft, as the organization offered the former collegiate standout a contract.
“Being signed by the Blue Jays was a dream come true,” said Maldonado. ‘I always wanted to play professional baseball as a kid and realizing that dream was something special.”
After performing well for the Bluefield Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians repspectively, the organization gave the 24-year old an opportunity in the Midwest League. Joining the Lansing Lugnuts in June, Maldonado got into 50 contests for the Jays low-A affiliate.
Rotating in-and-out of the lineup caused a little bit of inconsistency at the plate for the prospect; registering 33 hits in 167 at-bats wasn’t the best start to his full season experience. But Maldonado’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed.
With a very patient plate approach, Maldonado recorded 24 walks as a member of the Lugnuts. His ability to not swing at pitches out of the zone was a solid contributor to his .302 OBP in Lansing. As expected the young prospect is very proud of his ability to differentiate between good and bad pitches when he’s in the batter’s box.
“I feel my plate approach has gotten a lot better since beginning my pro career,” stated Maldonado. “I’d say I struggled a bit my first year. I got a little too caught up with the whole pro baseball thing. But I worked with our coaches and they helped me make my approach a little bit easier. I feel I compete every at-bat now.”
“When it comes to off-speed pitches I just try to stick to my strengths and not do too much at the plate,” Maldonado added. “I mostly try to hit off the fastball. Obviously their off-speed pitches are better in pro ball. But up to two strikes I’m just looking for a good pitch to hit. When I have two strikes against me I battle more. At that point I’m just focusing at not swinging at something out of the zone.”
Maldonado’s success doesn’t end at the plate as he has a knack for making great plays in the field as well. Performing primarily at third in Lansing, Maldonado maintained a .940 fielding percentage at one of the toughest positions in baseball.
Logging an even 360 innings at the hot corner for the Lugnuts; Maldonado took part in six double plays, while assisting on another 78. While he looked comfortable at third all season the prospect admits that it took some practice getting acclimated there after spending his college days at shortstop.
“The transition to third was tough at first,” explained Maldonado. “Growing up I never really played third. But the Blue Jays have great defensive coaches that are helping me with the transition. I feel much better there now.”
Also making seven appearances at second base during his 2015 campaign; Maldonado was perfect on his 29 chances at second. While his time was limited at this position his production was not by any means. In just 40 innings at the position, Maldonado took part in seven double plays and assisted on another 19.
Focused on improving every facet of his game for 2016, Maldonado has returned home to New York City to get stronger both physically and mentally. While he has all the motivation he needs to handle his daily schedule, he does find it helpful living near a teammate and friend that helps motivate him to take his workout to another level.
“Josh Almonte lives close to me,” stated Maldonado. “It’s nice having a teammate nearby. We like to get together and do some workouts together during the off-season. We hit, we condition, and we run. This is something I try to do four or five times a week to prepare myself for the next season.”
At 5’9 and 175 pounds Maldonado knows the odds are stacked against him in professional baseball. While the prospect doesn’t have the typical physique of a big leaguer; he’s dedicated to his career and is willing to lay it all on the line every night.
“In my pro career I hope I make the most of all my opportunities whether I make it to the big leagues or not,” stated Maldonado. “I want to be able to say I gave it my all while enjoying the ride.”
Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays hope Alex Maldonado can keep that mindset, while pushing forward in the organization for years to come.