On Wednesday, June 14th Justin Watts had a childhood dream come true when he was selected in the 37th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Two days later Watts was headed to Dunedin, Florida near Clearwater to join the Blue Jays minor league team in the Gulf Coast League. The 2012 graduate of Bryan High School has had his fair share of challenges on his road to being a MLB draft pick. Watts was lightly recruited out of high school and decided to begin his college career at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois. While there the coaches decided to work with Watts on becoming a pitcher after being mainly a catcher during his high school career. During his one season at Lincoln Trail he split time between being a pitcher and a utility player. On the mound, he made seven appearances for Lincoln Trail out of the bullpen with a 1-1 record with one save. In his 12.1 innings of action he gave up eight runs, ten hits, five walks and nine strikeouts. He made 36 appearances at the plate in 19 games for Lincoln Trail, producing eight hits including a home run and four RBIs.
Following a season there he decided to transfer to Northern Kentucky in Highland Heights, Kentucky just south of Cincinnati. Watts experienced a bump in the road when he was forced to have Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm which forced him to sit out a year to recover. Tommy John surgery is a procedure involving a surgical graft when the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with either a tendon from elsewhere from the patient’s own body, or the use of a tendon from a tissue donation. After sitting out a year, he would pitch for Northern Kentucky in the 2015 and 2016 season. During his time there, he had a 3-9 record in 31 appearances including 17 starts in those two years. He pitched a total of 100 innings, allowing 112 hits, 82 runs, 49 walks, and 89 strikeouts with a career earned run average of 6.57 with Northern Kentucky. Prior to his senior year Watts transferred one more time, this time to the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Watts continued to get attention from pro scouts during his senior year with the Screaming Eagles. In 28 outings on the mound for Southern Indiana the right-hander totaled 32.2 innings of work, allowing only 26 hits and striking out 42 hitters. He finished his senior season with a 5-2 record and seven saves to his credit.
Then it was time for the draft, knowing there were teams interested in him. “I had talked to the Twins and National prior to the draft so I knew they were interested”, said Watts. “As the draft went on and I wasn’t picked yet I really thought I wasn’t going to get drafted. “I actually missed the call from the scout, but then my coach called and said the Blue Jays drafted me and then my parents called and I could hear my mom screaming in the background”, joked Watts. Two days later Watts was in Florida to join the Blue Jays minor league team near Clearwater. Watts is off to a great start in the minors as he has made six appearances in his brief time with them. So far, he has pitched 11 innings, giving up 8 hits with just 3 walks and 15 strikeouts. Watts has a 1-1 record with one save and a 2.45 ERA as well. Watts stated the season lasts until early September at which at that point the team may move him to another level of minor league play or he could remain in Florida to participate in a player development camp that runs from late September until early October. “You just have to wait and see how it plays out”, commented Watts regarding the club’s future plans for him.