By: Brian Frank
No matter what level he’s at, new Bisons’ slugger Damiano Palmegiani continues to produce at the plate. Currently ranked as the Blue Jays number 18 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Palmegiani was slashing .249/.351/.463 for Double-A New Hampshire, where he was leading the Fisher Cats in home runs (19), RBIs (71), and walks (58), before being promoted to Buffalo earlier this month. The 23 year-old first baseman has since become a fixture in the middle of the Bisons’ lineup, reaching base in all 17 Triple-A games he’s played in, while slashing .274/.420/.548 with three home runs.
Palmegiani was born in Caracas, Venezuela, but moved to Surrey, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, when he was just five years old.
“It was a pretty seamless transition because I was a kid,” he said in a recent interview with Bisons.com. “Maybe if I was a little older it would have been tougher, but it was pretty easy to pick up the language. And my parents were the best. They put me and my sister in sports. We got the hang of it pretty quickly. It was awesome since day one.”
Palmegiani has reached base in all 17 Triple-A games he's played in. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
After arriving in Canada, he quickly became a Blue Jays fan. The love of watching their favorite team formed a special bond between him and his father.
“My dad has always been a baseball fan and I was starting to get a little bit into baseball, you know tee-ball stuff, before we moved,” he said. “So when we got in, one of the first things we saw was the Jays being the country’s team and they were on television every night. We’d watch, maybe not right away when I was five, but as I started to grow and play some baseball. That was a special bond for me and my dad. He’d get home from work around four o’clock, so that’s seven o’clock eastern. We’d sit down and watch at least the first four or five innings – way back when their uniforms were black and blue and silver. So, yeah, I’ve been a Blue Jays fan my whole life.”
He also took a liking to some of the Blue Jays sluggers at the time.
“I’ve had a few,” he said when asked who his favorite player was growing up. “José Bautista when I was a little younger. Then when I started to get a little older, like high school, it was Josh Donaldson. He was the man.”
Entering his sophomore season of high school, Palmegiani decided to transfer to Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Vauxhall, Alberta, a thirteen hour drive from Surrey.
“At that point baseball had gotten pretty serious,” he explained. “I kind of knew that I was pretty advanced at it. The Vauxhall coaching staff found me and my best friend who I was playing with at the time. They came out and watched us play and kind of offered us a spot for the next three years there. It was a little difficult to move away from home and really only go back for summer and Christmas break – but right away it was like a family there. They took me in. That time was some of the best years of my life.”
After starring at Vauxhall for three seasons, he was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft – but decided to play college baseball rather than join the pro ranks at that time.
“I’d say it was a tough decision just because it was the Blue Jays,” he said of his decision to go to college. “It was pretty late – it was the 35th round. I probably wasn’t going to sign with any other team, but when it was the Jays it allowed me to hear it out and dip my toe in the water a little more. Ultimately I kind of knew that it maybe isn’t the greatest decision right now but in three years when I’m eligible again perhaps I’ll be in a better spot – which I was.”
Taking infield at Sahlen Field. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Palmegiani attended California State University, Northridge, but struggled his freshman season, hitting only .157. After the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, he decided to transfer.
“I went into my freshman year after that 2018 draft and I kind of just went in and had to deal with some failure,” he explained. “I didn’t really understand how to adjust to things. Obviously the competition was better than I gave it credit for, wrongfully so, going into it. It was a tough year, but I learned a lot from it so I’m really glad I had that experience. Then the next year, a new staff came in, which gave me the opportunity to seek out another school. I wanted to go to Southern Nevada because of the legacy they’ve left with not only (Bryce) Harper but other players in the past. They use wood bats too. In Canada that’s all we use, so I wanted to use a wood bat again.”
He broke out at Southern Nevada, hitting .389 and leading the junior college ranks with 26 home runs while finishing second with 81 RBIs.
“It was a better fit all around,” he said of his success at Southern Nevada. “I had some coaches that really took the time to develop me a little more. Working hard and understanding myself a lot more because of the failure I’d experienced in the past. I was super comfortable. The guys around me were awesome. Every day was not just go to work and work hard and get better, but it was also go and have fun again, which I hadn’t experienced in a little while.”
After his successful season at Southern Nevada, he was once again selected by the Blue Jays in the June Amateur Draft – this time in the 14th round.
“I went straight from a summer ball draft league to meet with my parents in Indiana at Purdue because my sister was studying there,” he remembered about the day he was drafted. “So we all met together there, kind of met half way. We had phone calls all day and ultimately agreed to terms with the Jays and they drafted me. It was just a very awesome experience that time around knowing that I was going to sign and it was a much better opportunity than a couple years before. It just seemed like everything was meant to be and fell in the right place.”
He immediately reported to the Florida Complex League for his first professional baseball experience. He slashed .333/.458/.539 in 17 games for the FCL Blue Jays.
“It was a little difficult at first, just because obviously the competition is extremely raw and at a very, very high level,” he recalled. “Just waking up on Florida mornings and going to play every day. It was a little difficult to be honest. I never by any means regretted my decision in any way, shape, or form – but I was taken a little aback by the fact that it wasn’t as glamorous at first. But the player development staff changed my life and changed my career with their outlook on things and how to get better. I can almost relate it to the whole college thing – going somewhere new and unlocking a new version of myself. Even the tough days at the start of my career were extremely valuable and useful for me, so I’m very grateful for them.”
He began the next season with the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Florida State League, where he slashed .256/.351/.508 in 56 games, before being promoted to High-A. The promotion brought everything full circle for him, as he returned home to play for the Vancouver Canadians, only about a half-hour’s drive from his boyhood home in Surrey.
“It was probably the best baseball experience of my life,” he smiled. “I was in Dunedin and I was working my butt off. I was playing really well and I knew there was a possibility (of being promoted). Then I got called into the office and told I’m going to Vancouver. I immediately called my parents. It was pretty emotional actually. I didn’t think it would hit me that much because I hadn’t been home in a while – but just getting to go to the ballpark I used to go to as a kid every day and be one of those players that I actually used to tell myself I was going to be. It was not only a very surreal experience but it was crazy how the cards all fell in that way. It was awesome. Every day was a dream come true.”
Swing and a drive. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
This spring, Palmegiani got to live out another dream when he received a call from Team Canada director and general manager Greg Hamilton. Hamilton invited him to join Team Canada for the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
“He gave me a role-player option – and obviously I’m going to take it,” Palmegiani said. “It was just a great experience. I couldn’t be more thrilled to put on the jersey and just work and get better. It was cool learning from guys, experiencing it, and I think I got a lot better just being there.”
One of the best parts of the WBC experience for Palmegiani was that he was able to work alongside and learn from seven-time All-Star and 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman, who was the team’s other first baseman.
“Obviously he’s around a lot of guys who want to learn from him, so I didn’t want to bombard him with questions every day,” Palmegiani smiled. “But what was really cool was that it was just me and him working out at first base a lot of the time. Just seeing his attention to detail and the little things. Everything he did was very calculated right down to things like wearing pants for BP, stuff like that – very little, small things. You can tell why his consistency has stayed the same throughout because no little thing is overlooked. He’s always taking care of those intangible things so when it comes to what we call luck – it’s not luck for him. He’s controlling everything he can physically control for his hits to fall and to get good pitches to hit. I’ve carried that idea of professionalism and attention to detail through this whole year thanks to him. It wasn’t even him trying to say, with a hand on my shoulder, ‘Hey kid, listen.’ Instead, it was just me learning, watching, and paying attention to what he did.”
One of the highlights of Palmegiani’s time playing for Canada came in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs in the days leading up to the WBC. He came in to replace Freeman at first base and belted a three-run home run.
“I remember my first at-bat was pretty bad,” he said. “I didn’t like the swing I took. I was like – oh boy, we’ve got to lock it in. I’m not seeing it great. In that second at-bat, it was a three-and-two count, so I saw a lot of pitches and it allowed me to get really comfortable. He gave me a good pitch to hit and I took a good swing on it.”
Palmegiani was promoted to Buffalo from Double-A New Hampshire on September 1. Despite not being in Buffalo long, he’s been impressed with both the city and the team.
“The city of Buffalo is awesome,” he said. “I love how close it is to Canada too. There’s a lot of Canadian influence here. You see Tim Hortons and stuff like that. I love Buffalo. It’s very comfortable. Everyone is really nice. The apartments are really pretty too.”
“The team is extremely professional. On the position player end, there isn’t as much big-league service time as on the mound for this team, but you wouldn’t know it just talking with everyone. Even the guys who are closer to my age, there’s a level of professionalism in failure and in success that I haven’t experienced yet in my career. I feel like I’m already learning from that. I love learning from all these guys.”
After a season that started at the WBC, went through New Hampshire and Buffalo, and will ultimately lead him to the Arizona Fall League, Palmegiani is looking forward to enjoying the coming offseason.
“Two days after the season ends, I’m flying to Arizona for the next month to play in the Fall League,” he said. “Again just being a sponge and trying to learn as much as I can and obviously enjoy the experience. Other than that, I’m going to be training. I just really want to enjoy it. These last two offseasons I’ve been super baseball focused. It’s been fun, but they go by quick. I really want to take the time to enjoy it. I’m so blessed to have good people around me – my family, friends, my girlfriend, and my girlfriend’s family. I really want to give them all the time they deserve because they put so much into me.”