Although Taylor Cole was born in California and grew up in Las Vegas, the Blue Jays pitching prospect already knows his way around the Toronto area.
"It will be an ice-breaker if I make it back up there," the Dunedin right-hander said. "I must have lived in six or seven places."
While on a two-year Mormon mission, though, he rarely threw a baseball and lost 20 pounds to a skinny 165, his faith journey taking precedent.
"It was something I felt I needed to do," Cole said of his commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The toll on his physical strength, though, was obvious.
"Everyone said I looked like a different person when I got back," Cole said.
It's taken nearly three years, but his strength and fastball have almost fully returned. Toronto's gamble in the 29th round of the 2011 may pay off in a big way.
The 24-year-old leads the Florida State League with 95 strikeouts in 78 innings and has walked just 16 while going 5-2 with a 2.19 ERA in 13 games.
"I had to get my arm going again after I got back to BYU and I have been able to gradually get my velocity back up," he said. "I used to throw in the mid-90s regularly. Now I'm 90-93."
A weighted-ball program in the offseason helped his velocity, but Cole's breakthrough this season is as much about a new, aggressive mental approach.
"They were calling me a nibbler and I didn't want that attached to my name," he said.
That meant he had to stop relying so much on his highly effective changeup and solid slider.
"My goal coming into the season was to go right after guys, and you do that with the fastball," said Cole, who is on the North Division staff for the Florida State League All-Star Game on June 14 at Bradenton.
Dunedin remains in first place as the first-half schedule winds down, and Cole is one of the reasons for the team's success. His WHIP of 1.00 was third in the league.
"I know it is the changeup that sets me apart, but now I feel that I have three strikeout pitches," he said. "I was a power guy once, and I know it is still in there. Slowly and surely, it's coming back."
It has been quite a journey for Cole, who played on the same Little League team as Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant and went to the same junior college as the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper, a family friend.
Cole was drafted out of high school and then again after his freshman year at the College of Southern Nevada. He decided to put baseball on hold, though, before returning to the mound at BYU for one season.
It is ironic that the Blue Jays took me in the Draft," he said. "When I was up there, ever getting a chance to pitch for them was the farthest thing from my mind. I didn't touch a baseball five times in the whole two years."
Now, Cole's making up for missed time.
Non-stars: Missing from the original selections for the Florida State League All-Star Game at Bradenton on June 14 were the league's three highest-ranked active players among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. Left off were Daytona outfielder Albert Almora, ranked No. 15, Bradenton pitcher Tyler Glasnow, rated No. 23, and Jupiter third baseman Colin Moran, listed at No. 43. Glasnow (back) and Moran (knee) started the season on the disabled list. Almora, though, has been active all year, but was hitting .250 with a .273 on-base percentage through 56 games.
Sharp again: Fort Myers right-hander Jose Berrios, Minnesota's No. 5 prospect, pitched a season-high eight innings in a no-decision against Lakeland on June 6 and is 5-2 with a 2.24 ERA. The South Division All-Star selection has 74 strikeouts to 17 walks in 64 1/3 innings and is holding opponents to a .233 average. Berrios, who turned 20 on May 27, struck out nine without a walk against Lakeland after fanning 13 and not allowing a free pass while holding Tampa to one hit in his previous start.
Finding a groove: Brevard County 19-year-old shortstop Orlando Arcia was 4-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, a walk and a stolen base against Bradenton on June 5. The perfect night at the plate came two days after Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect had gone 4-for-5 with a double, his first homer, two runs scored and two RBIs at Charlotte. Arcia, the younger brother of Minnesota outfielder Oswaldo, hit .379 in the first seven games of June to raise his average to .272 through 61 contests and he had 11 stolen bases.