MOREHEAD CITY — Johnathan Lavallee became the latest Morehead City Marlin to get drafted earlier this month with a selection in the 16th round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Lavallee had an idea he might get drafted this year, but nothing is guaranteed for a late-rounder with a dream of playing in the Big Show.
The Long Beach State junior came to the Crystal Coast on June 8 for the start of the summer ball season, hoping the pre-MLB Draft conversations he’d had would mean a selection in July. When rounds 11-20 began on July 13, the Simi Valley, Calif. native got a phone call from the Minnesota Twins.
“It was the last day of the draft,” Lavallee said. “I got a call from them in the 15th round a few spots ahead of where they were picking. They asked me if I was still signable.”
Not knowing if he was going in the 15th or 16th rounds, Lavallee was informed there were two other prospects on the board in line for the spot. He needed to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ quickly, so he gave his answer.
“I hesitated just for a second and said yes,” Lavallee said. “I waited a full other round, and then I got picked. It was a stressful few days.”
The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Twins in the 16th round with the 489th overall pick. In his last season at Long Beach State, Lavallee was named the Big West Pitcher of the Year and was a First Team All-American. College is where his journey to the draft began.
“Over the course of the season, you start getting talked to by organizations,” he said. “They ask you questions, come to your games and then they continue to show interest.”
As the draft gets closer, prospects are put through typical draft procedures. Lavallee hired an advisor to coach him through those procedures, giving guidance on the actual draft and the challenges that accompany it.
“They can talk on your behalf to the teams and use connections to better network,” Lavallee said.
When the time came for the draft, however, Lavallee wasn’t entirely sure his name would be called.
“You have an idea of who might call you, but you never know for sure,” he said. “The only people that know for sure, they’re getting drafted are in the first few rounds.”
It took a few days for the news to sink in for the 21-year-old. He left Morehead City promptly and traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., the home of the Twins’ spring training and Player Development Academy. The gravity of the situation finally hit when he signed the contract and officially moved in.
“I was in shock,” he said. “It never really hit me until I got to Fort Meyers. After I signed the contract, it was kind of like, ‘OK, we’re in this now. This is real.’”
Lavallee will stay in Florida until September or October when he’ll travel back to his West Coast hometown for the offseason. His long-term goal is to “make it to the Big Show,” but for now, his only aim is to develop and learn the routine of his new team.
“Right now, I’m just getting my feet wet and learning how they do things around here,” Lavallee said, “building up into bullpens and live batting practice and possibly, games.”
He’ll have a chance to play for the Twins’ Player Development team at first, known as the Florida Complex League (FCL) Twins. He shares rookie honors with about 20 or so other first year players, which include roughly 10 pitchers. The next step for Lavallee would be to play for the Twins’ Low-A affiliate, the minor league Fort Myers Mighty Mussels.
“There’s not much you can do right now besides developing, learning their system and getting the routine down with throwing, lifting and attending meetings,” Lavallee said.
Lavallee certainly made an impact in his short time with the Marlins.
He was the team’s best pitcher through the first half of the season with a 2-0 record and a 1.58 ERA through three appearances. By the time he departed, the right-hander had a 3-0 record and a 2.33 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched.
“We appreciate the brief amount of time ‘Lav’ gave us in the Marlin uniform, and we wish him the best of luck whatever he decides to do,” Marlins head coach Jesse Lancaster said in an interview with media coordinator Eric Bach. “He is a smart, mature, classy guy, and he has all the tools both physically and mentally. I’m very confident that he’ll be successful, and if he chooses to come back to Morehead City to raise his draft stock even more, we’d be thrilled to have him back.”
Lavallee was supposed to come to Morehead City in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt. Despite being 2,700 miles away from home, he stuck with the Marlins for the 2021 season.
“My coaches were lining everyone up with a summer ball team for 2020, and they told me I was going to the (Coastal Plain League) Marlins,” he said. “I asked why they had picked the (Marlins), and they told me (the team) had asked for me personally. My coach told me, ‘They’re a good team and you’re a good player, and there’s not anything more to it than that.’”
He signed the 2020 contract but returned home for the summer when the coronavirus pandemic hit. He stuck with the selection for the following year and was paired with the Edwards host family of Newport, living in the home of Harley and Christy with their two children, Hannah and Connor.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Lavallee said. “All the guys on the team were cool, and the city was nice. My host family, the Edwards, lived in Newport. They were one of the nicest families I’ve ever met. They were very kind and genuine, and it made my experience so much better.”