Fortier Going Against the Odds

The following is an article I wrote last fall for Inside the Dome, about Kevin Denis-Fortier, a former Quebec Diamants first baseman that made it to professional baseball after the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the 38th round of the 2006 Amateur Draft.  You can also read journals he wrote for "Flying Through the Farm", a site that was dedicated to the Blue Jays minor leagues when I was its supervisor during the 2007 baseball season.


The odds of making it in pro ball when you live in Quebec City, Canada are slim. When people around you doubt the reasons you are progressing in this game, it makes the situation difficult. Kevin Denis-Fortier is one of several thousand amateur baseball players in the province of Quebec each year. Rising to the top will require perseverance and test his deep love for the game.

"My father put a bat and a ball in my hands the moment I was old enough to hold them," said Fortier. That's where my love for baseball began."

Claude Denis-Fortier played professional baseball with the Oakland Athletics organization, but never made it to the big show. Several years later, it is no wonder that Kevin is trying to make it on his own after battling resistance in amateur baseball.

"My father used to coach me until I reached Midget AAA, so people were quick to speculate that I was playing high-caliber baseball because I knew the right people. Then, when I played US College baseball, they claimed aluminum bats were the reason my stats were so good."

The Blue Jays first drafted the left-handed hitter in the 48th round of the 2005 Draft, but he remained unsigned, making him eligible for last year's draft where he was picked by the Toronto club in the 38th round. He finally signed on May 25th, 2007, a few days before the deadline.

Making his debut in pro baseball, he quickly witnessed some changes in the game compared to his amateur years in La Belle Province. "What struck me the most was the increased speed of the game," he said. "The ball is thrown harder by the pitcher, the runners are not reaching first base in 4.5 seconds anymore, they are doing it within 3.8 seconds! You don't have the time to react as much when fielding a ball and double plays become that much harder to execute."

His introduction to that level of competition was tough if you believe the numbers he put up at the plate in his first fourteen at-bats, where he hit safely in two occasions and struck out three times. However, July seemed to bring good fortune to the 6'3'', 205 pounds athlete, hitting a lofty .297/.366/.405.

He finished the 2007 Gulf Coast League season with better numbers against southpaws than he had versus right-handed pitchers and was aware of some of the adjustments he had to do.

"I kept pulling the ball against, so knowing that, they avoided the inside part of the plate and threw me a healthy dose of breaking balls down and away, giving me a hard time recording a hit. Against left-handers, I was a little more comfortable hitting the ball to left field, but I was still struggling."

Labeled a quick learner by the coaches at the instructional league where he worked on his mechanics at the plate and defense at first base, Kevin Denis-Fortier is well-aware of what he needs to do offensively given the position he occupies on the field.

"They worked on my swing during my stay in instructional league to increase my power. As a first baseman, they don't want to see me hit singles all over the place. My approach must be centered on power.

One example of the change made occurred with his footwork. He had the habit of swinging while his front foot was still getting on the ground. That way, breaking pitches were giving him a hard time. Now, Fortier is aware he needs to get it down first and quickly found out afterward that he was able to drive the ball much harder that way.

While he is proud of the improvement and the overall ability he has shown defensively, it will still be a focus when the 2008 finally begins.

"I want to work on my defense and base running, including stealing bases a bit more. I will be working on it in the off-season and I hope to use my increased strength in my legs to make people aware that they can't ignore me once I've reaches the bases."

'Fort', as they called him in Florida, should open the 2008 season in Auburn with the Doubledays, just another minor league level he hopes to see just one year.

"My motivation now is to stay only one year at each level and not have to repeat a step three or four years in a row. That will be a challenge, but I want to use as a way to work harder and be better every year."