June 10, 2009 — Virgin Islanders should get ready for the next big thing in sports — maybe even bigger than Tim Duncan and Raja Bell combined 19-year-old Jabari Blash is on his way to the big leagues.
Stadiums might soon have his name in lights, with sports announcers inventing phrases such as "Jabari just 'blashed' the ball outta the park," as Virgin Islanders sit glued to the television, rooting for their new hometown team — the Texas Rangers, which might replace the Atlanta Braves on Radio 1000.
As the 274th pick, Blash fell into the lap of the Texas Rangers in the ninth round of this year's MLB draft, after other teams tried to lowball the V.I. native. Blash could have gone in the third or fourth round, but it would have been at a salary he wasn't willing settle for.
"The draft is unpredictable," Jabari said Wednesday. "A player could go in the second round for $300,000 or in the ninth round for $800,000. It's all about what kind of player you are."
Blash is a 6-foot-5, 210-pound outfielder with a cannon arm who played his high school ball at Charlotte Amalie High School. Playing last season at Miami Dade Junior College in Florida, he hit .364 in 99 at bats, with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs.
Though Blash is disappointed about falling into the ninth round of the draft, he's excited about the chance to prove himself on the field. Blash's salary offer is $500,000 but that could increase depending on how well he does during the summer league in Orlando.
"And that's exactly what we anticipate is going to happen," said Darren Canton, head of the V.I. Future Stars Baseball Program. "The thing about Jabari is that he has so many options. He can go back to school — he still has three years of eligibility left, so he's not in a corner where he has to sign for any amount of money. But he's worth a lot more — hands down, he's better than some of the guys that were selected in the top three rounds."
Going back to school at Miami Dade Community College is a possibility, Blash said later, but not one that he thinks will likely happen.
"I dont' think the Texas Rangers are going to let me get out of their hands, so when it comes to signing, I think they'll give me what I want," he said. For the next few days, Blash is going to have to wait and see what happens during contract talks with the Rangers.
"Hopefully he'll get his pro career started after they go through negotiations," Canton said. "But at this point, we're all excited. Going in the ninth round is a great achievement, and we're all excited for him. His mom is really happy — you know, he really achieved something great, being a ninth round draft pick. So, right now it's kind of just a waiting process to see where we go from here."
Blash wasn't the only V.I. native to be drafted Wednesday. At pick 837 in the 28th round, Jamaine Cotton was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, but Canton said he's mostly likely going to go back to school at Western Oklahoma State. As of Wednesday evening there was no word on the draft status of Tortola native Jeremy Penn.
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