It was Coty Blanchard’s first collegiate football game as a true freshman as Jacksonville State, and the Gamecocks were facing quite a challenge. The Gamecocks a team in the Championship Subdivision of Division I (effectively 1-AA) were opening their season against Mississippi in the powerhouse SEC, and the game was expected to be a blowout in Ole Miss’ favor. No one gave Jacksonville State a chance–heck, no one even knew where their school was! (It’s in Alabama.) But the Gamecocks rallied from a 21-point deficit to send the game into overtime and then double-overtime and suddenly it all came down to one play. With Ole Miss ahead 48-47, JSU was set for a two-point conversion. Blanchard took the shotgun snap and dropped back as the pass rush rapidly approached him. Blanchard dodged a sack as he tossed up a desperation pass to the middle of the field. It was somehow caught by running back Calvin Middleton who stepped into the end zone for the conversion, and the Gamecocks had pulled off an unbelievable upset. Blanchard’s football career did not live up to the billing of its lofty start. But just maybe his baseball career can.
The Rays have a couple of wide receivers in Desmond Jennings and last year’s 11th round pick, Clayton Henning. Then this year in the 3rd round, they selected running back Thomas Milone. But who is going to get all of these playmakers the ball? Well, now the Rays have their answer. In the 15th round, the Rays selected former Jacksonville State quarterback Coty Blanchard, and like the other three, it may not be long before his prowess on the baseball diamond overshadows his history in football.
Blanchard is an athletic 6’1″, 185 with athleticism to spare and baseball abilities that he is starting to hone. Blanchard stands out the most for above-average speed and arm strength, certainly not surprising for a dual-threat quarterback, and those give him a chance to be a very good defender someday. Blanchard was enigmatic as a shortstop for JSU, but the Rays drafted him as a second baseman, believing that the effect of his sub-par actions would be mitigated and his arm strength could make up for much of the struggles he would have. At the plate, meanwhile, Blanchard has a lot of work to do but he could be a very interesting player someday.
In college, Blanchard’s goal was to do whatever he could to get on base and take advantage of his speed. He showed good patience, although his pitch recognition needs to improve, and he just tried to put the ball in play and beat out some hits. He hit some line drives and flashed some power, especially to the gaps, but not on a consistent basis, and pounding the ball into the ground did not work out so well for him as he’s not quite fast enough to succeed as a tap hitter. But the Rays may attempt to start over with him at the plate believing that he could very well have additional bat speed that he hasn’t tapped into. Blanchard’s approach at the plate was pretty raw and his swing was so compact that there’s a chance that Blanchard could be a completely different offensive player with the right adjustments. It will take time, but the Rays’ patience could net them an impressive all-around player in a few years.
The Rays know that they can’t teach athleticism. They love drafting players who may need refinement but have the raw abilities to be stars someday, and Coty Blanchard is next. He may be a player coming out of college but is right up there among the Rays’ upside plays in this year’s draft. And adding in Blanchard’s mental toughness from football only makes his odds look better. Blanchard understands what it’s like to be backed against the wall as the opposition runs towards him and to find a way to escape. Professional baseball will be a fresh start from him but he will know exactly what to do when obstacles obscure his path. Football will not wind up being Coty Blanchard’s career path. However, all the lessons his time in football taught him will give an edge as his baseball career begins.