TORONTO -- Cullen Large's career as a switch-hitter began almost by accident. Messing around in the batting cage before a game led to some surprising results. Now it eventually could become his ticket to the big leagues.Large joined the Blue Jays earlier this week when he was selected in the
TORONTO -- Cullen Large's career as a switch-hitter began almost by accident. Messing around in the batting cage before a game led to some surprising results. Now it eventually could become his ticket to the big leagues.
Large joined the Blue Jays earlier this week when he was selected in the fifth round of the MLB Draft. The naturally born right-hander has always been able to hit, but it was his progression from the left side that generated a lot of interest in the weeks leading up to Draft Day.
Middle infielders who can hit from both sides of the plate are increasingly rare in today's game. Someone who can do it with power is even harder to find, but both of those qualities have been calling cards for Large, who ranks 10th on the all-time hit list at the College of William & Mary and was recently named a second-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference player.
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"I was kind of just messing around in a cage before one of our tournaments, hitting left-handed," Large said. "My coach, Rich Graham, came out and was like, 'Hey, you should do that this weekend and see how it goes.' At the end of the weekend, he looked at me and was like, 'You did pretty well. I think you should do this full time. But if you do this, you can't just quit it, you have to keep doing it.'"
The transition to becoming a switch-hitter at a rather advanced age isn't easy. It's a slow process that led to a lot of frustration at the plate, and it possibly hurt his stock during the college recruiting season. A lot of people told him not to bother and that it wouldn't be worth the effort, but Large was determined and it appears as though the long-game approach has paid off.
Large will be known more for his gap-to-gap power than hitting a lot of balls over the fence, but he has a good feel for the strike zone and works a lot of deep counts. Add in a high contact rate and it led to Large hitting .338/.419/.507 with 24 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs in 56 games this season. He now joins a Toronto team that went heavy on college infielders during the Draft by taking UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth (Round 1) and University of Maryland shortstop Kevin Smith (Round 4).
"It's definitely exciting," Large said. "You think back to being nine, 10, all the tournaments on the weekend. I got to meet up with some of my old friends from some of those teams, and it's cool to look back on those moments and [think], 'Wow, I just got drafted.' This has been my dream since I was like three. It starts a whole new chapter. It's a new beginning in a way."
The transition from amateur to professional player can be a daunting task, but Large does have one thing working in his favor. Former teammate Ryan Hissey was selected by the Blue Jays during last year's Draft and is currently playing for Class A Lansing. The two friends have already been in touch, with Hissey explaining everything that Large might need to know in his days leading up to reporting for the team.
"He called me and was like, 'This is what happened with me, this is probably what you should expect,'" Large said. "I've gotten a little taste getting to talk to him when he comes back in the offseason. I've gotten a taste of the organization and seeing how offseason workouts are. He's given me a good idea of what's going on, and I can't wait to get started."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.