Blanchard, Jacksonville State’s versatile two-sport star from Cherokee County, was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 15th round on the final day of baseball’s major-league draft.
The team has until mid-July to sign Blanchard, but that isn’t expected to be an issue. His advisor is said to have a verbal commitment from the Rays on contract terms, which the family declined to disclose but is believed to contain a six-figure signing bonus and provisions for the player to complete his education.
Blanchard described himself as “very signable. His father, Fran, a former JSU letterman, said emphatically “Coty’s going to do this. He’s a Ray.”
Blanchard does have one year of eligibility remaining with the Gamecocks’ football and baseball teams. Signing with the Rays would end his college baseball career; a return to football also would seem unlikely, but that hinges on the Rays’ development plan for the player.
JSU baseball coach Jim Case said he would love to have Blanchard back next season but he would be “supportive 100 percent with whatever decision” the player makes regarding his future.
New football coach Bill Clark, who stands to lose his most experienced quarterback, shared a similar sentiment.
“I think we figured a while ago there was a possibility of this,” he said. “We knew he was a great player and one we wanted to be part of us, but you want the best for them and as a coach you’ve got to be smart enough to make yourself ready for that. I’m tickled for him. That’s one of our guys.”
Blanchard was at home watching the draft unfold on the Internet. He had just taken a call from the San Francisco Giants moments earlier when his Texas-based advisor, Jason Rosas, called to inform him of his selection — by the Rays.
A Giants representative also called the night before and expressed disappointment the team hadn’t taken Blanchard while completing the first 10 rounds of the draft.
“It was definitely a rush,” Blanchard said of Saturday’s news. “I was sitting there listening to (the draft) and got a call from my advisor who said, ‘Congratulations, Tampa Bay just drafted you.’ I was like, ‘No they haven’t.’ Then it came up. It was awesome.”
Blanchard said he also had strong interest from the Kansas City Royals and the Cincinnati Reds, who earlier in the day took Jacksonville High catcher Shed Long. He participated in an invitation-only workout for the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg late last week; he showed off a strong arm in the outfield – throwing from right field to third base without a bounce — took ground balls in the infield and hit.
“It was definitely a good workout,” he said. “Obviously they saw something they liked. I’m glad me and dad went down there. It probably wouldn’t have turned out like this.”
Blanchard played all four infield positions and some outfield for the Gamecocks this past season. He was listed as a second baseman on the draft board.
“I don’t think (that versatility) ever hurts,” Case said. “I go back and think of (2010 Braves second-round choice) Todd Cunningham his junior year. We moved him to the infield and he was drafted as a third baseman, even though he’s never played in the infield.
“From a personal standpoint, we couldn’t have asked Coty to do more. We moved him around (and) he was always, OK, no problem. Two days we put him at first base and he got in there without ever doing it before and did as good a job as he could. He was a great team guy. Athletically, who knows where he’ll end up playing, but he’ll end up fitting any team he goes to.”
Blanchard was taken in the 41st round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2010 but, after some intriguing negotiations, passed on signing to attend college. As a freshman, he helped the JSU football team upset Ole Miss in his first college football game and was a Freshman All-American in baseball.
Two years ago he became the starting quarterback following a season-ending injury to Marques Ivory in the opener, but those demands negatively impacted his baseball production. He didn’t play as large a role on the football team this fall and this spring hit .305 from the cleanup spot with 27 extra base hits, 37 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
“I was pretty set on going to college and getting that experience coming out of high school,” Blanchard said. “Watching everyone I’ve played with go, I got real excited. I think it’s something I want to do. Just hearing your name called, that’s awesome.”
It’s only the beginning.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.