There's an international prospect in the Blue Jays' system who could be a household name one day. He's just a teenager, but he's famous back in his home country, and has been for years. Toronto believed in him so much that it made him a millionaire at 16.
Right-handed pitcher Eric Pardinho, 17, started his professional career this summer at Bluefield, the club's Rookie-level team in the Appalachian League, just like top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did as a 17-year-old in 2016. And while Pardinho, the club's No. 7-ranked prospect, is still a few years away from his Major League debut, he is already a rising star in an organization loaded with talent at the Minor League level.
Pardinho, the new face of baseball in Brazil, has the potential to be an ace, too.
"What stands out about Pardinho is his passion and his competitiveness, and how off the field, he's an unassuming, genuine, very nice young man and very respectful," said Gil Kim, Toronto's director of player development. "On the mound, he's a bulldog. He wants to beat you. He can get emotional. He's intense, and that's one of the best qualities he has as well."
Pardinho was No. 6 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list when he signed with the Blue Jays on July 2, 2017, for $1.4 million. It didn't take long for the organization to realize that he was too advanced to begin in the Dominican Summer League, so they sent him to the United States for his first pro season.
It's worth noting that Guerrero Jr. made the leap from Bluefield to Double-A New Hampshire after two seasons. Infielder Bo Bichette, the organization's No. 2 prospect, began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League at 18 in 2016, and started this season at New Hampshire.
The club will have a better of idea of where Pardinho will start 2019 in the offseason.
According to Kim, "The first questions that comes into our minds in terms of the optimal placement for him is how consistent is he with his routines? How solid is his work ethic? How selfless is he as a teammate? How mentally resilient would he be to handle a challenging level?
"While all those things are important, the last part -- of having the mental toughness to face challenges and not lose sight of the importance of process and focusing on getting better every day -- that's probably the most important one.
"In Pardinho, in Vladdy, in Bo Bichette, we saw guys that we had a pretty good level of confidence in that, whether they succeeded or struggled performance-wise, that they would be able to continue their work, they would stay positive, and it would be a good learning experience for them."
Overall, Pardinho has posted a 2.88 ERA and a .199 BAA with 64 strikeouts over 50 innings in 11 starts. He has given up one or no runs in three of his past four starts, including an outing Saturday, when he was charged with one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts over four innings of a no-decision.
Pardinho's fastball touches 96 mph. He also throws a slider, a curveball and a changeup, and he mixes them well.
"It's been a very positive experience. I have learned a lot of new things, and I feel like I'm progressing," Pardinho said. "I'm really focused on working hard to maintain my health and listening to my coaches. The food and the bus rides are much different from my life in Brazil, but it's been fun and I'm adjusting."
Pardinho was born and raised in Bastos, a small municipality in Sao Paulo settled by the Japanese, to Evandro Pereira Pardinho and mother Rosa Reiko Taniguchi, who was born in Brazil to Japanese parents. He trained at the CT Yakult Academy for baseball and used Japanese baseball techniques and strategies that focused on fastballs, pitch location and mechanics. Pardinho trained with a rubber ball until he was 12, and he didn't throw any secondary pitches or lift weights until he was 13.
The teenager has literally come a long way to get to this point.
The journey from Pardinho's home in Bastos to his current place in Bluefield started with a six-hour drive to the airport in San Paolo. The flight from Brazil to Washington, D.C., is another 12 hours, and then there's the four- or five-hour drive to West Virginia, depending upon traffic.
Trips from Brazil to the Blue Jays' academy in the Dominican Republic, where the club sent Pardinho after he signed, took his father 18-20 hours total, with layovers in either Panama or Colombia. In February, Evandro made the long trek from South America to see his son in the D.R. and was surprised to find out when he landed that the club had shipped him to Florida to train. The father spent the week as a tourist on the island while his son worked about a thousand miles away.
"Eric is really mature for his age, and that's because he left our home early following his dream to be a baseball player," Evandro said from his home in Brazil. "He's the same kid he has always been -- maybe he talks a little bit more -- but this is a new experience for all of us."
Pardinho, who is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, is also working on learning English. He said his primarily language is baseball, and he speaks it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pardinho does make time for daily chats with his family, video game play and chatting with friends on social media.
In many ways, Pardinho is already a baseball hero in Brazil. He was 15 when he pitched for the country's World Baseball Classic qualifier in 2016, and if all goes according to his plan, he'll make history and join Cleveland's Yan Gomes-- who in 2012 became the first player from Brazil to play in the Major Leagues - -- Braves pitcher Luiz Gohara, White Sox pitcher Thyago Vieira and Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando on the exclusive list of Major Leaguers from the country. There are 16 players from Brazil currently in the Minor Leagues.
"I think baseball in Brazil is going to grow a lot in the next 10 years and be a big producer of talent," Pardinho said. "I know MLB has invested a lot of money and resources for success in our market. I'm happy to play my part. "