With a serious lack of experienced depth in the high minors, the Toronto Blue Jays continue to bring aboard pitchers on minor league deals. Matt Wisler, Gabe Klobosits, Wes Parsons and Rowan Wick, all of whom have big league experience, are some of the latest names to join the organization.
Blue Jays sign indy ball reliever with interesting backstory to minor league contract
Right-hander Trevor Clifton, signed to a minors deal earlier in August, has one of the more unique stories you'll find from a minor leaguer. Clifton, a 12th-round pick by the Cubs all the way back in the 2013 MLB Draft, spent parts of seven seasons in the organization, never cracking the big leagues but being a consistent presence in Triple-A.
During the 2019 season as a member of the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cubs, Clifton and his father purchased a $200 camper and turned it into a tiny house that the pitcher would live in during the season. Complete with a couch, fridge, bed and microwave, Clifton spent all of his free time living out of this home as he waited for his first promotion to the big leagues. However, this call never came. Instead, he hit minor league free ageny for the first time in his career at the end of the 2019 campaign, giving the hurler a choice to be made regarding his future.
Clifton signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2020 season, but COVID canceled the minor league season, suddenly leaving many without a job. When news came down that the season was canceled, Clifton made the decision to retire from professional baseball.
The itch to compete never fully went away for the Maryville, Tennessee native, though. After taking what he calls "a year of personal time away from the game", Clifton made one appearance in Mexico for the Acereros de Monclova before being released by the club. From there, he began to ramp up his practicing and training in anticipation of making a return to pro ball in the United States.
Working with 108 Performance to overhaul his mechanics, increase velocity and work on the movement of his pitches, Clifton caught the attention of Cory Popham, the Minor League Pitching Coordinator of the Toronto Blue Jays. "I saw Trevor working at 108 this offseason and was impressed by his raw stuff", Popham says when asked about the team's interest in Clifton. "His fastball was in the mid-90s and he had good feel to manipulate the ball. His ability to miss bats this year and potential to throw bulk innings was a big part of our interest in him", he finishes.
However, the Blue Jays did not strike right away. First, Clifton signed a contract in the independent Frontier League with the Ottawa Titans. "Kyle Serrano, one of our players from last year, contacted me earlier this season about Trevor, who was one of his buddies from high school", says Bobby Brown, the manager of the Titans. "Kyle said that Trevor was looking to get back into pro ball and was interested in signing a contract, so we talked and a deal came together quickly. He put in a lot of work with his biomechanics to get ready for a return to baseball."
On the Titans, things went well for Clifton, who had a consistent gig in professional baseball for the first time since 2019. In 23 outings (including two starts), he went 3-1 with a 4.60 ERA in just over 29 innings of work. In that time, the work he did with 108 Performance was apparent, as he struck out 47 batters (14.4 K/9) and surrendered just one home run. This led to the Blue Jays making their move, purchasing Clifton's contract from Ottawa. In doing so, he became the first player to have their contract purchased by an MLB organization in Titans team history.
Clifton's story is one of perserverance and has taken him all over the country to pursue his dream. From grinding it out in the minors to living in a tiny house to retiring and then coming back, this 28-year-old has been through it all. While things haven't been perfect to start his tenure in the Blue Jays organization (three earned runs in 2.1 innings), the fact that he has made it all the way back to professional baseball is a massive accomplishment in itself.