DENVER -- As a 6-year-old in Hermosillo, Mexico, Javier Medina wore No. 9 on his first baseball team like his baseball hero, former Rockies star Vinny Castilla. After a long and unusual route, Medina -- now an 18-year-old right-handed pitcher -- has a chance to follow his hero, who is serving as a special front-office assistant with Colorado.
The Rockies chose Medina on Tuesday in the third round, 77th overall, of the 2015 Draft out of Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz. Medina appeared in just a few games with Sahuaro his senior year because of an eligibility ruling that stemmed from his move from Mexico to the United States. Still, Medina impressed enough on summer circuits outside of scholastic ball to earn an opportunity.
"I actually wanted to be a baseball player because of him -- I used to watch the [professional] Hermosillo team play, and Vinny Castilla was the guy," Medina said. "I've seen him from a short distance, but I've never met him before."
Medina is a University of Arizona recruit, but on Tuesday he was headed to the Rockies' training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz. If he signs, it'll be the culmination of a wild story of how he earned a pro opportunity.
"It's crazy," Medina said. "But watching on the computer and seeing my name was a really cool experience."
Medina and a friend and teammate since childhood, Draft-eligible catcher Cesar Salazar, played on Hermosillo teams that sometimes would travel to Tucson for tournaments. Along the way, Medina and Salazar decided they wanted to live in the U.S. for a chance to go to college or play pro ball. Anthony and Debbie Tarantola of Tucson took them in and became their legal guardians.
This wasn't just for baseball purposes.
Medina's older sister is graduating this year from Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Mexico at the top of her class and will become a dentist. Another sister is a swimmer at the University of Nevada who is in line to represent Mexico in the Pan American Games. Medina said he has a younger sister who is an advanced student. And with the blessings of his parents, whom he communicates with daily through video, the Tarntolas left no room for goofing off academically.
"The rule is 'B is for baseball' -- if we brought home a C or a D, we would not be able to play," Medina said.
But a myriad of eligibility rules were an obstacle.
Medina and Salazar made dramatic language progress and excelled in the classroom at Sahuaro. The baseball coach, Mark Chandler, coached some of the summer teams, and he allowed them to practice with the varsity team while all hoped that eligibility would be granted.
Even without interscholastic ball, Medina played in showcase events in Arizona, California and Florida, and he drew scouts' attention at last summer's WWBA World Championships and the Area Code Games. The University of Arizona signed Medina and Salazar to letters of intent.
Scouts like Medina's pitch mix.
"I'm not going to overpower anyone," Medina said. "I'll sit at 88-91 [mph] with my fastball, and it's a little faster on a good day. I depend on control of my fastball and my offspeed pitches. I'm a command guy."
Believing all eligibility requirements were met, Medina began this spring with Sahuaro and went 4-0 with 62 strikeouts in 37 innings, with Salazar posting a .613 batting average. All was fine until a new ruling knocked both off the field.
"I still don't know why," said Medina.
But Medina and his legal guardians emailed scouts to invite them to bullpen sessions and simulated games. Chandler helped arrange the sessions and allowed the two to practice with the school team. The Rockies' Scott Alves, the scouting supervisor in the area, watched the sessions and recommended Medina.
"His work ethic is off the charts," Alves said. "Speaking with him and with the coaching staff, I found he's always studying, always running after games, playing long-toss, eager to learn. And dealing with the suspension showed a lot about how he handles adversity. That's a lot for a 17-, 18-year-old to go through, but he was calm."
It turns out he did enough to be noticed.
"I haven't been around a lot, but I've been to the right places," Medina said.