SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Diamondbacks were so certain right-hander Touki Toussaint would be off the board when they picked at No. 16 they did not give him a customary final look-see in the weeks before the Major League Baseball draft.
Their surprise was exceeded only by their elation when Toussaint was still available Thursday evening.
"We had him ranked (as) one of the top five pitchers in the draft," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. "Tremendous upside. Great athlete. Kid with incredible aptitude.
"Kind of reminds me when you watch him on video of a young Bob Gibson. They (scouting department) couldn’t believe he was there."
Toussaint, 17, was 6-2 with a 0.82 ERA in 12 games at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy this past season. His stuff, a low- to mid-90 mph fastball and a curveball, overpowered the competition. He struck out 86 and gave up just 17 hits in 45 innings, although he walked 22.
"We profile him to be a No. 1- or No. 2-type starter in the future," Towers said. "We haven’t seen anywhere near the peak of the iceberg, kind of untapped talent. He has posted some pretty good numbers for a guy who was a soccer player and hasn’t played a lot of baseball. With time and with good instruction, we just think there is a chance this guy could be one of the better arms taken in the draft."
The D-backs selected five pitchers in the draft’s first round since 2011, starting with Trevor Bauer (No. 3) and Archie Bradley (No. 7) and continuing through Braden Shipley (No. 15) and Aaron Blair (No. 36) last season. Bauer was traded but the others remain, and with 2012 Dominican Republic signee Jose Martinez give Towers belief in the future.
"With Archie and Martinez and Shipley and Blair and this kid coming at the lower levels, we have some guys who hopefully will be ready in the next three to four years," Towers said. "Hopefully the start of the pretty good rotation.
The D-backs also had their eye on University of Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb, who went to the Los Angeles Angels with the 15th pick, but they had Toussaint ranked higher.
"Surprised? I’m never surprised with how the draft presents and what we end up getting," D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery said. "I am happy. I know the room is excited about adding this kind of talent."
Toussaint was the 10th pitcher taken in the first 16 picks Thursday.
The Diamondbacks made three other picks on Thursday.
In the second round, they selected at No. 54 left-handed pitcher Cody Reed from Ardmore (Ala.) High School. Reed, the Gatorade Alabama player of the year, went 16-2 as a senior with an 0.46 ERA.
Arizona also had two picks in the competitive balance round. With the first at No. 69, the Diamondbacks picked outfielder Marcus Wilson, from MLB’s Urban Youth Academy and an Arizona State commit. With the second at No. 70, they chose infielder Isan Diaz from Central High School in Springfield, Mass.
Touissant’s story is interesting. Of Haitian descent, he was born in the U.S. and moved to Florida for good at age 7. His father was a candidate for the president of Haiti.
Toussaint was a soccer player and said he picked up baseball only when his best friend suggested it at age 10, so they could continue hanging out together. He quit baseball for a year, he said, then returned to the game for good the next season.
Why quit? "I struck out 22 times in 24 at-bats," he said. "It was just not my game."
Toussaint learned a new grip on his breaking pitch last season and took steps forward. He has a young fireballer’s mindset.
"I just attack hitters. I’m not afraid of anybody. I’m going first-pitch fastball no matter what, and see how far you can hit it," Toussaint said. "I have fun, stay loose and play baseball."
D-backs area scout Frankie Thon saw Toussaint throw consistently in the 92-94 mph range and top out at 95. Towers believes he could see more.
"He does it with very little effort," Towers said. "I think that’s what we liked about him. Some guys are fully mature effort guys. This guy, it looks like he is just playing catch and it is 93. I could see there being more ‘velo’ when he matures. A power breaking ball. A guy we think … has a chance to be a top of the rotation top starter in the very near future."
Toussaint has signed a national letter of intent to attend Vanderbilt, when David Price, Sonny Gray and other quality pitchers have gone. Toussaint made it sound Thursday as if he were ready to move on, although he said he planned to consult with his family on Friday.
"I just want to play baseball," Toussaint said.
"I’m sure Vandy is on the phone probably with him right now, saying ‘maybe you could go from 16 to five’" in the draft in three years, Towers said. "His advisor, Joel Wolfe, is very good,. We’ve always had a good relationship with him."