Cal Stevenson has incredible feel at the plate.
Toronto’s No. 23 prospect understands that his ability to draw walks and reach base, his feel for the strike zone, and his potential to recognize pitches have been huge assets for him as he continues his climb up the Minor League ladder.
This season with the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays, Stevenson has slashed .285/.377/.382 with four homers, four triples, eight doubles, nine stolen bases, 43 walks and 46 strikeouts in 76 games. Over his last 10, the 22-year-old outfielder has gone 14-for-38 with a .455 on-base percentage and fewer strikeouts than free passes.
“My biggest strength is just seeing pitches early in the game and getting a feel for what the pitchers are doing on the mound,” said Stevenson, who was selected in the 10th round of the 2018 Draft. “And just helping my team out by getting on base any way I can.
“That’s what I’m most proud of, because I feel like when I do stuff like that, I’m making it a little more difficult on the pitchers, having to change their plans on what they’re trying to do.”
Dunedin’s left fielder believes his elite plate discipline and knack for the zone began with tutelage from his first coach, his father Jim, and got even better when he played under Jay Johnson in college at both Nevada and Arizona.
“It all started when I first started playing,” Stevenson said. “When I was young, my dad would always get on me if I made weak early outs to start the game. He taught me what my job was as a leadoff hitter, so that’s something I’ve always carried on with me as I’ve kept playing this game through my career.
“When I got to college, I feel like I amped it up a little bit more. Jay Johnson helped me a lot with seeing the balls and giving me more drills that I could work on to elevate my game.”
While Stevenson’s father coached him for the majority of his life -- including in his senior high school season when Cal swapped schools and uniforms in order to play under Jim -- the young outfielder returned home from his first professional season with plenty to offer the man who taught him so much.
“The game’s changed so much over the past five years where there are some things that I’ve learned myself here that he’s never even heard of,” Stevenson said. “So when I went back in the offseason, we bounced some ideas off each other, and he said he’s never heard of or even thought of some things that I came home with.
“It’s something we’ve always done, bouncing ideas off each other, so it’s pretty cool, especially because he’s been around the game so long.”
Jim left his head coaching job last year, but still spends most of his time around the game, watching Cal in the Blue Jays’ system, taking in his 20-year-old son’s games at a junior college at home in California, coaching his 10-year-old and introducing Cal’s five-year-old brother to the game.
“They think it’s cool,” Stevenson said of Cody, Carter and Cameron watching him play professionally. “My 20-year-old brother’s here visiting me right now. This is the first time he’s [seen] me play in person. They like it.
“For me, it’s awesome because I can show them that if you really work hard and you want to reach your dreams, you just keep going for them. I’m just like them, we’ve been through the same things growing up, so it’s something they can look forward to.”
Every day away from his immediate family, Stevenson looks forward to joining his teammates in the clubhouse and on the field to face Florida State League competition, embracing the home-away-from-home environment they’ve created with Dunedin, which has become his favorite aspect of joining the pro ranks.
“You’re going at it with these guys for six months, so you really get to know each other pretty well and develop good relationships with the guys in the clubhouse,” Stevenson said. “For me, that’s the most fun part about playing this game. This is your family away from family, and [the best part] is developing those relationships.”