A former White Rock Triton pitcher may soon be wearing Major League Baseball’s famous pinstripes.
On Monday evening, 22-year-old Jeff Degano – who played in the BC Premier Baseball League for the Tritons in 2009 and 2010, and also pitched for the Whalley Chiefs – was selected in the MLB Draft in the second round, 57th overall, by the New York Yankees.
“I’m beyond excited. Your stomach just drops when you hear your name called,” Degano told Peace Arch News Tuesday from his home in Surrey, where he’s been for the past few weeks after his college season ended.
“Words can’t describe the emotion that was going through me when I heard my name called.”
Prior to the draft – which began Monday and wrapped up Wednesday – Degano, a pitcher, was told to expect to be drafted on Day 1, when the first two rounds were held.
But those expectations did little to calm the butterflies in his stomach as he watched the draft unfold.
“I was just waiting and waiting, and in the end, I was a little surprised by it – I didn’t know the Yankees were that interested in me,” said Degano, who watched the draft at home with his family.
“I’d spoke to them before, but a lot of teams had shown interest. Then a few weeks ago, (a team scout) called me up and we talked for a bit on the phone.”
Being drafted by a team like the Yankees – one of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises – was an added bonus, Degano said.
“There’s a lot of history with that team, and everyone’s a Yankees fan growing up, so it’s pretty special. When I was nine years old, I played on a team called the Yankees, so now to get picked by them, it’s mind-boggling – it’s a dream come true,” he said.
Degano grew up playing for Whalley Little League – as a 12-year-old, he was a member of the association’s team that competed at the Little League World Series – and he played his first year in the BC Premier Baseball League for his home association, before moving to the White Rock for his final two years of eligibility.
It was with the Tritons that he secured a scholarship to play at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa, where he played for two seasons before transferring to Indiana State University, where he starred for the Sycamores.
The six-foot-four left-hander was a second-team all-star in the Missouri Valley Conference this past season, after posting an 8-3 won-loss record with a 2.36 earned-run average in 99 innings. He also had 126 strikeouts and just 28 walks.
“Degano is a left-hander with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting, in a news release on the team’s website. “He throws a lot of strikes and has a quality, athletic body.”
For Degano, the road to the professional ranks has not been without its stumbling blocks, however. The former Triton missed the 2013 and ‘14 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
(Tommy John surgery – also known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction – is common among pitchers and involves the ligament in the elbow being replaced by a tendon from elsewhere in the body.)
While the success rate of the surgery is high – many pitchers say they feel stronger post-surgery than they did before – the recovery time is long and grueling.
But Degano said he never got frustrated or thought about packing it in. Instead, it drove him to work even harder.
“Really, it just made me want to play the game even more. Growing up, you kind of just take it for granted, but being away from it, you realize how much you love the game,” he said. “It just fuels the fire to want to come back.
“You have to know that your career isn’t over, and that the harder you work, the better you come back.”
Now healthy, Degano left this week for the Yankees’ team facilities in Tampa, Florida, where he expects to work out for a few weeks and, after signing his first professional contract, then be assigned to one of the organization’s rookie-league teams for the summer.
“It’s been a long journey, through all the stages – the PBL, then going to Iowa, then Indiana, then having the setbacks that I had. It’s been a lot of years in the making, but I’m just excited to get going,” he said.