Tag: Alex Jones

Ontario Blue Jays seek second successful CPBL season

Excited about what they’ve already been able to accomplish in the first year of the Canadian Premier Baseball League – winning the circuit championships at the two highest levels – the Ontario Blue Jays are looking forward to much more of the same success they found, and are hoping to improve as they move into their second year with the loop.

“We’re looking forward to having a little more balance in the schedule and creating some rivalries,” said Sean Travers, the director of player development for the OBJ program. “And the playoff tournament was outstanding. That was really cool, to come back after being on the road [playing games in the States], to play in that and finish up with that. That was definitely a plus. And after our latest league meeting, I like the direction of the league moving forward. Everybody’s on the same page, and we’re all just looking for good baseball.”

Travers and his teams enjoyed many advantages of being a part of the new league, and especially liked to see the organization throughout the loop, allowing for an increased number of evaluators to be present at more games, and getting more looks at Ontario’s talent right on home soil.

“There’s a lot more scout presence because they come in to see the players,” Travers said. “When we’re playing the Great Lake Canadians [for example], they can plan around that weekend and know who’s pitching, because the information we’re getting out is a lot better.

“It helps the borderline players who nobody is coming to see as well, because they can all of a sudden come up with a big weekend in front of a new set of eyes, and then they’re on the map. The league creates really good matchups, and scouts can plan their schedules a little bit better and see players against quality players.”

As they prepare to head into the second CPBL season, the Blue Jays have intensified their winter workouts, with emphasis in different areas than they’ve focused on previously. Travers believes that their new training methods will help them gain an added edge on the field as they move forward.

“This is by far our best off-season we’ve ever had,” he said. “Mike [Steed, OBJ director of college placement and pitching] has really stepped up the whole pitching program. Mike and Joe [Ellison, OBJ recruiting coordinator] have done a phenomenal job of adding new drills and concentrating on different areas like velocity and team strength training.

“We’ve also added a new strength trainer, Reid Hall, who seems to be doing a great job. The guys are doing a lot of extra work too. For speed training, we have Courtney Brown, Jaden’s father, who went to San Jacinto College in Texas and then to the University of Illinois on a track scholarship, has taken over the program and a lot of players are taking advantage of that and having him has been a huge bonus.

“Our practices have just been a lot more intense. The coaches are maybe a little bit more demanding than they were in the past and the kids have really bought in and they’re sticking with us. And the work they’re doing on their own, you can see that they’re working on what we were doing in practice. So the intensity has been outstanding, and we’re just growing into our building and figuring out how to best utilize all the space we have now after moving in last winter.

“This year, we’ve also gotten involved with Program 15 [run by Jeremy Booth and based out of Texas], and that was a unique way to kick start our training [with a development camp run by the P15 instructors in December]. It got the guys not only physically ready to go, but the mental training got the guys locked in a little bit more.”

Four of the OBJ squads will get their first opportunity to put into practice what they’ve done all off-season when they head to the sunshine state for a week of spring training games, with everyone else starting when the CPBL kicks off its second year.

“We’re going to do our regular trip to Vero Beach, Florida for spring training,” Travers said. “We’re taking down four teams – two younger teams, and the 17 and 18-year-old teams – and we’ll play high schools and colleges in Vero. We’ll also have a scout day on Monday, March 13 when we’re there, for the pro scouts and college coaches.”

With an increased interest in players from American colleges of late, Travers is excited about what more is to come. With every success story coming from the program, there is more opportunity for the next generation of Blue Jays players to follow in their footsteps.

“We’re getting a lot more interest from schools about kids at an earlier age than we have in the past,” Travers said. “It’s a testament to the players who have been there before them and who have gone on and had success. When they have success, the coaches are then looking forward to who the next guys are. Even when they get recruited by schools and maybe don’t end up there, it builds that relationship and opens the doors for other kids.”

With opportunities to continue their baseball careers while pursuing post-secondary education, the Ontario Blue Jays have 12 players committed to college for the 2017 season, with Noah Naylor committed to Texas A&M for the following season.

Cooper Davis is heading off to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennesee, Alex Jones to Niagara University in New York, Harley Gollert to Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennesee, Andrew Leggo to Arkansas State University, Owen Jansen to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, Jakob Newton to Florida Tech University in Melbourne, Ryan Kula to Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri, Garrett Takamatsu to Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City, Rashad Collymore to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, Andrew Wilkinson to St. Petersburg College in Florida, Devin Green to Paris Junior College in Texas, and Reece Reading to Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut.

Before those players graduate from the CPBL and the OBJ program, they will be taking the field right at home this summer. Travers is hoping for another strong season from his players, and especially those who are looking to leave a lasting legacy before they depart.

“The league will be even stronger than it was last year,” the OBJ director of player development said. “At the 16-year-old age group, we have about as talented a group as we’ve ever had. Our job is to get that to come together on the field, but the talent is incredible. And we’re doing things a little bit differently this year. Guys like [Canada’s top 2018 draft prospect] Noah Naylor would have never played on our 17U team before, he would have gone right to the 18U, but we’re keeping the teams age appropriate so our 17-year-old team will look a little bit different than it usually does, with guys like Noah.

“Our 18U team will be a veteran team with guys who have been here for three and four years in our program. Hopefully they’ll come together and want to go off and do something special before they leave the program.”

Great Lake Canadians and Ontario Blue Jays impress at T12

TORONTO – The fourth-annual Tournament 12 featured some impressive familiar faces, and three combined no-hitters on the second day of games on Saturday, two of them thrown by Ontario squads and using all Canadian Premier Baseball League hurlers.

In the second contest of the day, Ontario Green used three CPBL arms to no-hit Alberta Red, finishing the game in a scoreless tie. The first hit of the game was a two-out infield single in the bottom of the fourth, from Great Lake Canadians infielder Tye Imeson, who had two of the team’s three total hits.

“It was a combined no-no and the pitch counts were really low, so they did a great job,” said Mike Steed, a coach with both Green and the Ontario Blue Jays program. “In 1-1 counts, all you’ve got to do is throw that first-pitch strike and you’re in control. The other team absolutely pitched well, there wasn’t a whole lot of offence on both sides. They kept the hitters off balance and changed eye levels. Good pitching.”

OBJ southpaw Harley Gollert got the start and in three innings of work he walked one and struck out six. GLC right-hander Jake English followed out of the bullpen with two perfect frames and three strikeouts, before OBJ righty Nathan Holmes finished it off with two walks, fanning two in his two innings.

“They were excited in the dugout, the guys who threw,” Steed said. “Harley and then Jake, as soon as they got the last out in the top of the seventh, Harley looked at me and said, ‘Hey, combined no-no,’ so they know what’s going on and it’s exciting for them.”

Ontario Black followed suit in the final matchup of the day with a combined no-no of their own, using three more CPBL pitchers to get the job done and take down Alberta Red 4-0 to head into Sunday.

Griffin Hassall, a 16-year-old right-hander from the GLC program, took the mound to start the game and battled through an early blister for three innings, walking two and fanning five. Fellow Great Lake hurler Mitchell Stemerdink walked three and added two strikeouts in two frames. OBJ southpaw Alex Jones completed the no-hitter, striking out six in his two innings.

“It’s pretty great for the kids,” said Chris Robinson, a coach for both Black and the GLC program. “That was an impressive, well-pitched game. All those guys threw really well. I know Hassel was battling over a little blister there, and he went out for the second inning and he didn’t care, he pitched right through it. It was good.”

The hurlers got some help from 16-year-old Blue Jays catcher Noah Naylor, who threw out three attempted base stealers, set the tone behind the plate, and helped his squad to face just three batters over the minimum in the matchup.

“I told them to trust their stuff,” Naylor said of the pitchers. “The fastball was live today, and I just told them to be confident in it, and obviously that’s going to help them have a good game…I just try to be my best behind the plate, give them that insurance that they can trust me back there. I know when they’re throwing, they’re comfortable throwing to me, they can trust me with runners on the basepaths, and also with just doing my job.”

Added Robinson, a former big-league catcher: “He’s separated himself. It’s pretty exciting to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a transfer that quick at this level, he gets rid of the ball so quickly. He’s got a great arm too but that was impressive.”

The Canadian Junior National Team catcher continues to improve with time, and has been nothing short of electric behind the plate at his second Tournament 12.

“He just keeps getting better every time I see him, especially behind the plate,” Robinson said. “It’s impressive. In my mind, there’s no doubt that he can catch at the next level, even now, and he’s still got a couple years to go. He’s a really exciting player.

“I know he’s going to draw comparisons to his brother [Josh, last year’s 12th-overall pick in the draft] forever, but that’s not fair because they’re two different players. But he’s got to be one of the more exciting catching prospects we’ve ever had in this country.”

Between the two CPBL-dominant no-hitters, Black lost an early contest against BC Orange 4-3, walked off on a wild pitch after battling through the fourth affair on Saturday.

Great Lake shortstop Adam Hall notched three of his team’s five total hits – one to keep the squad alive in the top of the seventh – and drove in two of Black’s three runs, adding two stolen bases and stellar defence. In three days of Tourament 12, the 17-year-old has made it clear why he is at the top of next year’s draft class.

“He brings a level of intensity every day to the field,” said Adam Stern, his coach with both Ontario Green and the GLC program. “He hates to lose, that’s the biggest thing you have to understand about Adam…That was a good game right there because you get to see when the game’s on the line what happens, who rises to the occasion, and he’s come up with big hits for us, he came up with big hits out here, and when the game’s on the line, you want him up there.”

Futures Navy ran short on pitching in the fifth game of the day, matching up against a tough Ontario Green squad and leaving the field after six innings because of the tournament’s mercy rule, taking the 12-1 loss in a game prominently featuring players from the GLC program.

Green used three Canadians arms to get through the game, with right-hander Corben Peters taking the hill to start and allowing one run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Fellow righty Garner Spoljaric followed with two perfect frames, and Dallas Hunter retired the side in order to secure the win for Ontario.

“It was a well-pitched game,” said Ontario Green coach Rick Johnston. “We swung the bats, the kids played really well. It was nice for them to go out and do what they did. Obviously there were some walks in there, but that’s going to happen, and we put the ball in play.”

Ontario first baseman Jameson Hart, an outfielder in the Great Lake program, paced the offence, going 2-for-2 with two walks and driving in three runs. 16-year-old GLC catcher Ian Jordan drove in the only run for the Navy squad, singling and walking in the game.