Lake Wales fans might better remember Justin Shafer as a three-year starter for the Highlanders football team, but he is hoping to make his professional mark in baseball.
Shafer, son of Sue and Rod Shafer, was taken in the eighth round of last week’s Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
He was scheduled to report to Dunedin yesterday — the Jays’ Florida home for spring training and the Florida State League Dunedin Blue Jays — and eventually report to one of two spots, most likely either the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League or the Bluefield (West Virgina) Blue Jays of the Appalachian League.
Shafer just finished his third year with the University of Florida baseball program.
While he played outfield and pitcher for the Gators, Shafer said he was drafted with the idea of him becoming a pitcher exclusively.
Shafer made 18 appearances this year, which included two starts. He was 1-0 with an ERA of 4.17 over 36.2 innings. The right hander fanned 27 and walked just seven. He also started 29 games in the field, including 15 in left, 12 in right and two as DH, hitting .211 with 12 walks, 10 RBI and 10 runs.
He said the fact that he hasn’t been just a pitcher for the last few years might in the long run be an advantage, especially now with an emerging concern in the sport over elbow injuries to young pitchers from overuse.
“Obviously, for some people that have been throwing for the last three years, they might have a little bit more experience, but at the same time, I have a fresh arm,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the experience. You hear your whole life, it’s not really a factor of experience, if you throw strikes it doesn’t really matter.”
Shafer said there were several teams that showed an interest in him, and that he had worked out for the Yankees just a couple of days before the Jays selected him.
“The Blue Jays actually were a team I had no idea had any interest,” Shafer said before heading to the Gulf coast. “They called me the day they drafted me and told me they were thinking about taking me, but until then, they weren’t one of the teams I was expecting at all.”
One thing that helped grab the attention of scouts was an increase in his fastball velocity this spring.
“I was 90 to 94 by the end of the year,” he said. “Ever since high school, I was like 88. I would touch 90 just every now and then. I guess maybe when I stopped playing outfield, all of the sudden I was 90 to 93. Pretty much every outing after that, I was 92-93. And my slider got a lot harder too.”
He said teams like the Tigers, Rangers, Yankees and Mariners showed the most interest in drafting him.
“The day before the draft, I went and did a workout for the Yankees,” he said. “And I heard from the Rangers a lot on draft day, but it never worked out.”
Shafer played both baseball and football for the Highlanders, and spent three years as the starting quarterback for the varsity team coached by his father. He graduated in 2011.