Ed. Note: It’s rare to see a player signed out of the semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario go all the way to A-ball in just a year. But that’s the story of Claudio Custodio. Current Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Dante De Caria had a hand in that signing and, in a special report to Blue Jays from Away, he tells us that story.
Lansing, Michigan – With the promotion of Lugnuts ace Yennsy Diaz to Advanced Dunedin, the Toronto Blue Jays added Claudio Custodio to the Lugnuts roster, early Tuesday afternoon. This is a new beginning to Claudio Custodio’s career. A man I met in Barrie, Ontario, and remains one of my good friends to this day.
Custodio, now 27 years old, was once a New York Yankees top infield prospect, ranked by MLB.com as their #14 prospect in the organization in 2014. At that time Custodio could field, hit and was known for his great speed.
He was signed as an International Free Agent by the New York Yankees in 2010 at the age of 19 years old after trying out for the Kansas City Royals as a teenager. From then on, he spent seven years with the Yankees organization, both as a position player and as a pitcher, reaching as a high as Advanced-A Tampa.
The Yankees really liked his talent and by age 24, they tried everything to keep him in their organization by playing him at different positions; Custodio spent time as a middle-infielder, an outfielder and finally, as a pitcher.
Fast forward to 2016. At age 25, the San Cristobal, Dominican Republic native went 6-1 with a 2.89 ERA over 46.1 innings out of the bullpen between Short Season A Staten Island and Class A Charleston.
Over those 46.1 innings, Custodio only walked 13 batters and had 34 strikeouts. At that point, it was the strikeout numbers that concerned the Yankees organization as they expected a reliever with a 98 MPH fastball to strikeout more batters. Height was not on his side either, at 5’10, the Yankees felt that his numbers would not translate to the next level and ultimately released the once-praised shortstop prospect.
Claudio Custodio signed with the Intercounty League Barrie Bay Cats in 2017, which is, in my opinion, the best organization in the IBL. I met Claudio while I was working for the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Media department and broadcasting Barrie Bay Cats games last season and we have been friends ever since the day we crossed paths.
You might be wondering, how can a player with a 98 MPH fastball joins the IBL, a non-paid League that allows each team to bring in four imports. Barrie Bay Cats pitcher Emilis Guerrero and infielder Brantfi Infante knew Custodio from the Dominican Republic offered him a spot on the team and he took it. Joining the Bay Cats on May 20th as a super utility man and becoming one of the league’s best pitchers in history, posting a 6-1 record with a 2.29 ERA with 80 strikeouts over 55 innings.
In my eyes, Claudio Custodio was the best pitcher I have ever seen from the CanAm League, the IBL and now Class A. When he fired the ball, he came across his body, always pitching out of the stretch and fired the pitch as a slingshot. At his height, he did a great job elevating his fastball, staying at the bottom of the zone with his off-speed stuff and knowing how to pitch outside/inside with his breaking ball.
Not only was he the best pitcher I have ever seen, he was also the kindest and most loving person I have ever met. A father of a young daughter in Dominican Republic, Custodio was doing whatever he could to help his family and he told me his goal was to make it back into professional baseball so I made it my goal to help him.
My mom always told me that when I passionate about something I can sell it. Well, I was passionate about Custodio’s pitching and wanted to do whatever I could to get him signed. My next step was to go to the Blue Jays scouts.
Working for the Blue Jays was a blast and so was broadcasting the Barrie Bay Cats. I knew my only chance to let the scouts know about Custodio was to do it while I was working at Rogers Centre for the Jays.
The first time I had brought it up was at dinner in the press-box with Harry Einbinder who is the Coordinator of Amateur Scouting for the Blue Jays. He would sit down and have dinner with myself, Rodney Hiemstra, Jay Stenhouse, Mal Romanin and Erik Grossman, which was our 2017 Baseball Media Department. During our countless laughs and fun stories that we would share, I first let Harry know about this pitcher who was playing in the IBL, right in their backyard. He looked Custodio up and said he was too small and that his numbers in the IBL would not translate to professional baseball. I kept up with Harry and continued to give reasons why they should just look at him.
Over the next few months I mentioned it to Gil Kim, Ryan Mittleman and Charlie Wilson. All I wanted was for them to look at him throw a bullpen under the eyes of the scouts because I truly knew he had talent.
That’s all I could do, but this was a team effort to get him a bullpen with the Toronto Blue Jays. It took two other special people as well as the Barrie Bay Cats.
Bay Cats catcher Kyle De Grace and center fielder Glen Jackson both helped with getting him a workout with the Jays. De Grace knew a scout in the organization and Glen Jackson had been working in ticketing with the Blue Jays for the last ten years and knew a few people around the building. Without their help, Claudio Custodio would not have been signed by the Blue Jays. I call this story a team effort.
On September 15th 2017, Claudio Custodio finally entered Rogers Centre to throw a bullpen in front of all the scouts. After that, he was invited to instructional league in October and was given a tryout in extended spring training two weeks ago before signing his contract in April and being added to the Lugnuts roster this week.
Dante De Caria is a radio broadcaster for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2018. Follow him on Twitter: @Diamond_Dante
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