Tag: Baseball Canada

The inexact science that is Major League Baseball’s Draft

What happens if the draft doesn’t turn out the way you thought it might?

No surprise there. It happens to almost everyone.

Many excited players, disappointed draftees and unselected players, their families, coaches and friends all have one thing in common – the draft didn’t turn out exactly as they had planned it. Maybe they invested too much in the imprecise nature of rankings, or maybe school and money were bigger factors than everyone thought, but no matter the reason, nothing is as it would seem.

“Although the industry and many of the analytical teams have made tremendous strides to make the draft process more scientific and data-driven, it still remains an inexact science,” said Clint Longenecker, Cleveland Indians assistant director of amateur scouting and former Baseball America draft guru, ahead of the 2017 draft.

“Even with millions of dollars dedicated to the amateur scouting process every season, there are so many factors that create a wide variety of scouting opinions. After the first few players picked at the top of the draft every season, there is very little consensus.”

Of the many thousands of players seen each year by numerous scouts, cross checkers and other evaluators, only a small percentage earn the privilege of hearing their names throughout the selection process. And in all likelihood, most of them thought they would be higher up the list.

“The problem with the draft is that if you build it up and create a focus around it with the kids, by and large you’re setting them up for disappointment,” Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton said, also ahead of the ’17 selection process. “Let’s face it, when you look back and track it, how many players out of the country are going to go high enough to where they’re going to be incredibly excited about the selection?

“You’re not getting too many kids who are…expecting the 40th round – they’re thinking way above and beyond that. It’s not easy to go in the top 10 rounds or 15 rounds or 20 rounds.”

Head coach of the Canadian Junior National Team, Hamilton often gets to work with the best of the best prospects from north of the border, including several of the Canadian Premier Baseball League’s top players. With many members of his squad eligible for each draft, he looks to offer a realistic outlook to his players each year.

“I try to temper expectations,” the Team Canada coach said. “I tell them that a lot of it is outside their control, [and] to enjoy their senior year, and go out and play because they love to play the game. Work on the things that they need to work on and if the draft comes, it’s meant to be. It’s all about timing…sometimes it’s meant to be out of high school and other times it’s not.”

With expectations abound and results remaining to be seen, many great players will be left off of the final draft list, perhaps overlooked by teams or maybe because they don’t fit the mould of what each organization has room for.


So how does it work, exactly?

“One of the longest-tenured and most respected scouting directors crystallized the variance in player preference when he said, ‘Nobody in the game is smarter than anybody else, we just see players at different times and have different risk tolerances,’” Longenecker said. “Seeing a player on the right – or wrong – day can lead to a wide range of opinions of that player within the industry.

“Some teams may have a player who goes in the third round valued in the eighth round because they didn’t see him on the right days. Not to mention if some teams prefer raw, toolsy and high-upside athletes who have star-level tools and potential, but a very small chance of achieving that ceiling, while others in the game might prefer lower-ceilings with higher probabilities.”

Those are just the factors under consideration when draft boards – and many ranked lists – are lined up purely based on talent. But, there’s more to it than that.

“The other complicating factor of signability enters the equation,” Longenecker said. “Many of the top high school players in the country will bypass their opportunities to go pro, sometimes turning down more than a million dollars, for the chance to go to school and play college baseball.

“A player’s makeup and medical history are just a couple of the other factors in the process that can create extreme heterogeneity within the draft process. Another is team-specific fits. Sometimes very talented players who fit in the top half of the first round for some teams will be much, much lower – or off some teams’ boards – because of arm actions or deliveries, etc.”

While Canadian players have occasionally had the reputation in the past of being easier to sign than their American counterparts, several have been sliding down draft boards in recent years for good reason. Young players from north of the border are continually getting better scholarship opportunities than previously, and on a larger scale.

“That’s what happened with a bunch of the Canadian kids,” one National League scout said of a previous year’s selection process. “When they’re drafted now, they’re more [comparable to] Americans than they used to be. In the past, you could draft a Canadian kid in almost any round and he would sign.

“What’s happening now is these scholarships are getting good and the money – because of slotting – isn’t that good after the fifth round for high school kids. There were a lot of good kids getting drafted later but they really aren’t going to sign because it’s not good business.

“That’s just because baseball in Canada has evolved a little bit, where now the kids have got good scholarships and because of the way slotting is, it’s hard. You can’t sign a kid for a hundred thousand anymore.”


In 2014, Ontario Blue Jays hurler Zach Pop was one of the country’s top-ranked hurlers heading into the draft. A strong commitment to Kentucky inflated his asking price from organizations, sliding him to the 23rd round of the draft – where he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays – and the right-hander ended up joining the Wildcats and putting himself in an even better position for this year, following his junior season.

“Going in, I put a very hefty price tag on myself to deter me away from university,” Pop said. “I had a great university option at the University of Kentucky…and I knew that was a great scholarship opportunity. Not too many people get that, so I thought, hey why not take advantage of it, because the draft is going to be there in three years.”

The selection process for Canadians has certainly changed over the years. Canada’s first-ever first-rounder Chris Reitsma, currently a scout for the Baltimore Orioles, knows how different things are now, but is also excited for the opportunities young players are afforded.

“In the past Canadian kids have probably been easier to sign, just because the exposure and the experience haven’t been there as much as for someone playing in the States,” Reitsma said. “Now that’s not the case, obviously with our junior national team program and what we’ve put them through and the knowledge we try to instill in them.”

Another scout added: “Kids are getting better scholarships and it’s harder to turn them down unless they get a little bit more money. It’s changed over the last three or four years – the Canadian kids are getting more exposure than they used to and schools are starting to see that there are some good players here so the scholarships have gotten better.

“Not everybody is going to a junior college – a lot of guys are going to four-year schools, and better four-year schools.”

With or without the draft, nothing should take away from what many young Canadians are doing on the diamond. While every Canuck selected should definitely bask in the excitement and prestige of being chosen by a major league team, success should most certainly not be measured by the number on MLB’s Draft Tracker.

“I try to make sure that the perception isn’t failure if it doesn’t end up being what they hope for out of high school,” Hamilton said. “The kids that we’re dealing with have accomplished a lot anyway. At the minimum, they’re out with the national team and for the most part, they have scholarships.

“That puts them in an enviable small percentage of players who play the game in this country and they should be proud of that. The draft is all bonus.”

Harley Gollert impressing out of the bullpen at U18 World Cup

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – There’s nothing like being on the world stage.

Though Ontario Blue Jays southpaw Harley Gollert has been in the midst of excitement on the field before, playing for the Canadian Junior National Team on home soil at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay is something he’s never experienced the likes of.

“The excitement and energy levels are definitely on a whole other status,” Gollert said. “It’s not even comparable to anything else. And then obviously there’s all the little mix and different parts of the game, like the extra-inning rule, we got to see that Game 1 and that was pretty cool. It just adds to the pressure and intensity. Even the crowd is another factor. We’ve never played in front of this many people, so it’s made it a unique experience.”

Team Canada began its quest for gold at the World Cup with an extra-inning heartbreaker against Chinese Taipei, before losing its second matchup to Korea and landing in a hole that meant it needed to win three straight contests at Port Arthur Stadium to advance to the super round.

In a do-or-die matchup against Italy, the Canadians didn’t hold a lead until the ninth inning, completing an epic comeback before adding two dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua to advance.

“The Italy game was actually a bit of a wake-up call for us,” Gollert said. “That’s the best way to put it. Those first two games, as good as they were, it was almost like it wasn’t an embarrassment to lose those. They’re definitely good clubs, and Italy, skill-wise, we should have been able to handle them a lot better. That’s when we realized we can’t just go out there and throw our best on the field and expect to win.

“That’s not really going to work, especially down here when everybody’s playing for their country with all this pride and they really want to succeed and do well and represent their country well. That was the biggest thing, and then with the momentum swing of getting that wake-up call and rolling with it, I don’t think we’re intimidated by anybody at this point, even the [undefeated] Americans. We’ve all played competition at just as good or better levels, so we can all play with [teams] like that and be successful.”

With Team Canada, Gollert has been called upon in some tough situations out of the bullpen, taking on Chinese Taipei in extra innings, where runners begin on first and second base; squaring off against Italy and trying to keep it close; and facing a bases-loaded, none out jam against Nicaragua. Typically a starter, those situations are relatively new to the 18-year-old lefty from Toronto, but he knows that each outing makes him stronger.

“It’s been different for me,” Gollert said. “I’m more just coming in with the idea that I want to win and however they want to use me, I’m just going to do whatever I can in that situation. It’s definitely a bit of a challenge, even the whole warmup idea, where I can’t control the length of my warmup and stuff like that. It’s definitely different.

“But putting myself in those situations will only make me better in the long run, and more versatile in the future. I’m happy I’ve been able to go through that, even though there have been wins and losses, and I’ve been successful and haven’t been so successful, but it helps me overall.”

Happy to have the confidence of his coaching staff, Gollert has so far proven them right in every situation he’s faced.

“It shows they have trust in me,” the Austin Peay commit said. “I’ve always been pretty good under pressure. I’ve shown that throughout my career, so being able to use that trust and confidence they have in me and letting my own confidence show on the mound, whatever situation I’m in, it helps. I’m making sure I do what I can do.

“If they beat me, they beat me, but I’m not going to let myself and the energy get to me. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I enjoy the trust, and I don’t get nervous when I come into situations like that, it’s just not the type of person I am.”

Not shying away from looking at times when he finds less success on the mound, Gollert believes that every outing is a learning opportunity and that occasional mistakes allow for more growth.

“I’ve been maturing, even when it comes to my non-successes, being able to deal with them and realizing that you’re not always going to be good or always on your game,” he said. “But being able to bounce back the following times has been a really big thing for me, especially in a tournament like this. It’s so up and down, and you saw it after Day 1, we looked like we were definitely in the gutter. But we’ve definitely bounced back here.”

With more to come, he’s enjoyed the experience so far.

“It’s definitely been good,” Gollert said. “Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] always talked about the excitement and the energy we were going to get in a world tournament like this, and you can talk about it for as long as you want, but until you get there and actually experience it, you can’t really understand it.

“We’ve actually been one of the teams in the tournament that has experienced the most of that momentum swing. It’s definitely awesome. We’re all growing together, and when we go through stuff like that together, it’s only going to make us better as a group. We’re able to bounce back from adversity better, which is going to be a key going forward, especially as we face better competition.”

Gollert is one of eight Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by Ontario Blue Jays teammate Noah Naylor, Toronto Mets Landon Leach, Dondrae Bremner and Denzel Clarke, and Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Eric Cerantola and Lucas Parente.


Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart

Noah Naylor gets his own taste of World Cup competition with Team Canada

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Noah Naylor had heard about world championship experiences before.

Heading into the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup on home soil in Thunder Bay, the 17-year-old catcher and third baseman had watched from afar when his brother Josh – the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft – played for Team Canada on the world stage in Mexico and Japan.

“This is one of the biggest events overall,” Naylor said. “Playing against different countries, representing Canada across my chest, it’s definitely something to be thankful for…Events as big as this, seeing other players go through it, like [Canadian 2016 second-rounder Andrew] Yerzy, Josh, and a whole bunch of others, it’s just something that I’ve always dreamed of being in.”

Joining the Canadian Junior National Team almost two years ago, Naylor learned from his older teammates what the experience was like in those other countries. The native of Mississauga and his teammates had also gleaned insight into what it might be like from Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams.

“This is amazing,” Naylor said. “Having the home crowd behind you, and Greg has preached this a lot, having the sea of red in the crowd, it’s…an unreal moment for a few days, and I look forward to everything that comes along the way.”
But the experience has really been something that Canada’s current top prospect heading into next year’s draft has needed to feel firsthand to fully understand.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Being around my brothers, playing with them, and having a great time outside of the game as well. We’ve got a good chance ahead of us, we just need to stay with our game and just play our hearts out and not take anything for granted.”

Entering his third year with the junior squad and his final season with the Ontario Blue Jays after the World Cup, Naylor has spent much of his time drawing comparisons to his brother while trying to create a path for himself.

“I’m still in the midst of creating my own identity,” he said. “Having Josh going through this whole thing before me has been helpful. He’s told me about all of his experiences, and I’m just trying to make it all my own and build my career around me, and give thanks to everybody who’s helped along the way.”

When the younger Naylor was first invited to join Team Canada, he was originally given a jersey with the No. 35, the same digits his older brother had worn through his four years with the national squad. A little less familiar to all those around him than Josh was at the time, Noah asked if there was any possibility of a trade.

“I asked for a different number,” Naylor said in the spring. “I didn’t want to change anything, but it’s probably more about creating my own path rather than having the same number and doing everything the same as Josh.

“I’m obviously honoured and thankful to have him as a brother, and to carry the same legacy on and have the same number, and that would be cool, but I felt like a different number would be different for me, just to see me go through a different path. It’s something that I look forward to.”

Ironically, at this year’s World Baseball Classic – Josh’s first opportunity to play with the senior national team – he was given Noah’s new No. 32. But with a couple of seasons under both of their belts since the original switch, and a multitude of chances for Noah to separate himself, it was something for the brothers to laugh about.

“We definitely have differences,” the younger Naylor said. “Since Josh is a lefty, he’s definitely limited in terms of positions, but we’re two different players hitting-wise because he’s more of a power guy, and I feel like I’m more of a line drive, gap-to-gap guy with a little bit of pop. That’s the main difference between us, besides the fact that he’s bigger and he’s got a really good arm and stuff like that. Other than that, there’s not too much different about us.”

A left-handed hitting backstop and infielder with good bat speed, a strong arm, an impressive ability to hit, and some power, Noah has been nothing short of impressive on his own merit throughout his high school career.

“Noah brings a lot to the team,” Hamilton said. “He slows the game down, he plays under control, he plays with confidence, he’s a good, complete hitter, he gives you a good at-bat. I look at him as a good hitter with some power, as opposed to his brother, whose power kind of defined him but he was also so good hitter. I see the inverse with Noah, being a good hitter with some power. Your eyes don’t pop out with the power, where with Josh it was the power.

“They’re different personalities too. One’s going to run overtop of you and step on you to beat you, and the other competes very well. With Josh it was a vicious competitive streak, and a good kid outside of it but he was going to be a real tough, hard-nosed kid on the field. Noah plays pretty level, and plays with ease, and he has a more laid-back type personality, but he has a really good chance to be a really good hitter.”

While Josh’s competitive nature may have been more evident in his time with Team Canada, Noah believes that is definitely something they have in common.

“We compete in anything and everything, you name it,” the Texas A&M commit said. “Whether it’s a video game, or just pick-up basketball or anything. We’re definitely competitors. That’s something that we do share with each other, and I don’t think that will ever go away…

“He always beats me at video games. I don’t know why, there’s something with them, he’s always been good at those and I can never get one over him. Maybe the occasional game I’ll win, but it’s an effort, and never really by a blowout or anything like he would beat me. But for outdoor sports like basketball, pick-up hockey on the street, I would beat him at that. I like being outside more, but that’s kind of how it’s been throughout our lives.”

The middle child among three Naylor boys – 12-year-old Myles a standout talent in hockey and baseball – Noah has started to take charge a little bit more on the field lately than ever before, stepping up as one of the longest-tenured players currently wearing the red-and-white uniform.

“I do portray a little bit of a leadership role, but I definitely feel that as time goes on, I’m going to have to start to pick it up,” Naylor said. “Along with some of my other teammates, be a leader for everyone to look up to and follow, because why would I want to be someone who nobody would look up to or follow?

“Seeing these guys leave, they definitely helped me and I hope I’ve helped them get better. Being a leader, and showing the next group or some of my other teammates, helping them get through everything, that’s the key.”

Naylor is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players currently at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by OBJ teammate Harley Gollert, as well as Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Eric Cerantola and Lucas Parente, and Toronto Mets Dondrae Bremner, Landon Leach and Denzel Clarke.

Griffin Hassall gets the ball for Canada against Nicaragua

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Heading into another must-win game at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Team Canada will look to Griffin Hassall to secure the squad’s third straight victory.

The 17-year-old right-hander from Newmarket, Ontario will take on Nicaragua in the team’s final matchup of the first round of play, and though Canada’s opponent is winless so far at the World Cup, Hassall and his teammates have learned not to underestimate anyone in the tournament after two early losses to Taiwan and Korea, and an epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy.

“I’ve got a mix of nerves and excitement,” the 6-foot-3, 170-pound righty said. “You can’t take anybody lightly, it doesn’t matter who it is or what their record is, it’s the country’s best, so anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You’ve got to prepare like you’re playing the best, because you are…

“Playing Italy for example, you don’t really think that they’ll be that difficult, but anybody can beat anybody and this is the best competition we’ve ever faced. It definitely has changed my outlook and I’m not going to take Nicaragua lightly.”

Heading into Wednesday with two straight victories against Italy and Australia, the mood has shifted in the Canadian clubhouse, and they couldn’t be more ready to get another game underway.

“After those first two losses, guys were upset, and they wanted to do better than that,” Hassall said. “But we had to respect both those teams. They were two really strong teams. But now coming and getting two wins back to back, our momentum is going strong now, everybody’s upbeat, we know we can pull this off, and everybody’s been staying positive, which is really good.”

Following the late-inning win against the Italian squad, the Canadian Junior National Team gave itself some breathing room against the Aussies, putting up six runs over the first two frames of the game and never looking back, and is hoping the trend continues.

“Going down 0-2 was a pretty rough start,” Hassall said. “But we’ve had two good bounce-back wins, the nice comeback against Italy, and then a much less stressful game against Australia, which was really nice to get an early lead and just hold it from there. It’s been great.”

A huge additional factor for the host nation’s squad has been the audience the team has seen in Thunder Bay for its games. They crowd has brought the excitement and enthusiasm for each of Canada’s wins, up and down with each out and run, with 12,262 fans through Port Arthur Stadium’s doors during the team’s first four games.

“Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] would always talk about the atmosphere, and it’s been crazy,” Hassall said. “It’s been an up-and-down tournament, but I didn’t expect how much the fans would be into it, how loud it can get, and really how quickly a game can turn around from one minute you’re down and all of a sudden you’re back in the game, or vice versa.”

Playing into extras and facing the international extra-inning tie break rule in its first matchup, and staving off relegation to the consolation round for the last two days, Canada has truly felt the experience of the game on the world stage, and Hassall is just hoping to keep it going as long as possible.

“International baseball is crazy,” he said. “Facing each country’s best is an unreal experience and this is probably going to be one of my best memories and accomplishments in baseball, so this is something really special.”

Coming out of the bullpen on Sunday against Korea, the Great Lake Canadians hurler is happy that he got his feet wet in the World Cup before heading into the most important game of his life, but Hassall understands that emotions might be a little bit higher on Wednesday. He believes he can temper them, and focus on what got him here to pull him through.

“It definitely got some of the nerves out,” the young hurler said. “But starting is going to be different against Nicaragua. Being out there and getting used to how it feels to have a crowd was great, because I’ve never pitched in something so big. That definitely helps, because it gives you a little experience to what it’s like, so that will help me…

“I’ve just got to pitch to what I’m capable of. I can’t try to do more than that. I’m not a big velocity guy, I’m more of a control-and-movement kind of guy, so I’ve just got to keep pitching to my strengths. And I definitely want to use the crowd and its support, but not get too jacked up on adrenaline and just lose it. You’ve got to stay calm, but also do what I’m capable of doing.”

Though the matchup looks lighter on paper than some of the heavyweight opponents Canada has faced so far, the team is coming off of its two wins with only one goal – another one. There are no other options for the squad in red and white as it looks to move forward on home soil.

“As I said to the guys after, I don’t want to dampen the celebration or be that guy, but it’s all for nought if we’re not ready for [Nicaragua],” Hamilton said. “And as [the game against Italy] showed, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s not always easy. They had nothing to lose. They’re playing with house money, and when you’re playing a team that’s pretty much got nothing to lose, if you give them a little life, it can be hard. So we’ve got to get out early, and try to do what we did [against Australia].”

Hassall has all the confidence in the world in the team behind him, and is going to do everything it takes to make sure that it tournament doesn’t end on Wednesday.

“This is amazing,” Hassall said. “I know that everyone on this team, one through nine and even the guys on the bench can hit. They’re showing off their power now, so I’m confident they can get us runs and even if I give up a few, they can get it back quickly, with our speed, power, contact. We’ve got everything on this team.

“And it’s such an honour to be able to represent your country and play for Canada and have all the fans behind you. Playing at home is really cool, and it’s surreal. The support has helped us a lot.”

Hassall is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players with the Canadian Junior National Team at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by GLC teammates Lucas Parente and Eric Cerantola, Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor, and Toronto Mets Landon Leach, Denzel Clarke and Dondrae Bremner.

CPBL well represented at U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay and at Tournament 12

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Following the finish of the second Canadian Premier Baseball League season, several of the circuit’s players will continue to play on the highest stages right at home, with eight current or former players competing at the U18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, and 39 players and five coaches representing the loop at the fifth-annual Tournament 12.

A graduate of the Toronto Mets program, right-handed hurler Landon Leach joined the Minnnesota Twins earlier this summer after being selected in the second round – 37th overall – of the draft. After getting his pro start in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 3.38 ERA over five games and 13 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, the righty will help lead Team Canada’s staff at the World Cup.

Leach is joined by fellow Toronto Mets Dondrae Bremner and Denzel Clarke in Thunder Bay, along with Great Lake Canadians Eric Cerantola, Lucas Parente and Griffin Hassall, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor, currently the top-ranked Canadian prospect heading into next year’s draft.

“This is one of the biggest events overall,” Naylor said. “Playing against different countries, representing Canada across my chest, it’s definitely something to be thankful for and something to look forward to.

“Events as big as that, seeing other players go through it, like [former Mets player and 2016 second-rounder Andrew] Yerzy, Josh [Naylor, Noah’s brother and the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft], and a whole bunch of others, it’s just something that I’ve always dreamed of being it, and to have that opportunity, I’m definitely pumped for it.”

In his third year with the Canadian Junior National Team, the 17-year-old catcher and third baseman from Mississauga is excited for the chance to play in the world tournament right at home, in front of the Canadian crowd.

“This is amazing,” Naylor said. “Having the home crowd behind you, and Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] has preached this a lot, having the sea of red in the crowd, it’s going to be an unreal moment for a few days, and I look forward to everything that comes along the way.”

When Team Canada’s tenure in Thunder Bay comes to an end after matching up against 11 of the best baseball-playing nations in the world, Tournament 12 will take over Rogers Centre to host 160 of the country’s best up-and-coming players. Among the 55 Ontario players selected to the Black, Navy and Green rosters, 39 hail from the CPBL, in addition to five of the league’s coaches.

“Tournament 12 was a great experience and I really loved playing at Rogers Centre,” GLC right-hander Cerantola said. “Honestly, I wasn’t quite familiar with what it was at the beginning of the year, but it was a really good experience, and good exposure at the same time. From last T12 to this one, I’ve matured a lot physically. My stuff has gotten better, I have cleaner mechanics, and it’s a lot better than it was last year.”

Added Naylor: “I look forward to T12 every year. Playing at a big-league ballpark, Rogers Centre, I love the park. I’ve been around it for a while, but playing in that event, around some great talent, and being around some great coaches, it’s definitely something to look forward to each year, getting different opinions and advice, and meeting new people. I’m going to try to make the most of this one.”

Before getting his first taste of the world competition in northern Ontario, the highlight of Cerantola’s young career so far was his first shot at the Blue Jays-hosted event in Toronto, and the Oakville native can’t wait for his second opportunity.

“T12 last year was a really fun experience and the best thing I’ve done over the last couple of years so far,” the 17-year-old said. “I don’t think I’ve had anything quite like that, and our team made it that way. The team was a really fun group, and then add the fact that you’re playing in a major league stadium, there’s no better feeling than that.”

Former Mets catcher Yerzy honoured at Baseball Canada banquet

After Andrew Yerzy’s first season of professional baseball and his final tour with Team Canada, the former Toronto Mets catcher was recognized for his success in the red-and-white uniform in January, receiving the Junior National Team Most Valuable Player Award at Baseball Canada’s National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser.

“It’s pretty unbelievable, just considering some of the past winners when you think about it,” Yerzy said of the honour. “[Josh] Naylor won it last year, Tyler O’Neill’s won it, I know Gareth [Morgan] has won it. So just being considered on the same level as those guys is pretty amazing. And [program infield coordinator for the Mets Hyung] Cho told me he won it in 1998, so I thought that was pretty funny.”

The 18-year-old backstop spent three years with the Canadian junior squad before he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round – 52nd overall – in June, signing for $1,214,100 during the inaugural Canadian Premier Baseball League season. Right after his selection and the signing process, the young catcher starting thinking about the Canadian players who had come before him, been chosen in high rounds of the draft, and who had received bonuses in the neighbourhood of his own.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about because I played with Naylor and I played with Gareth and I played with [Mike] Soroka,” Yerzy said last summer. “So to think that I’m even on the same level as those guys, knowing how good they are, is pretty crazy…I’ve watched them since I was young, so maybe the younger guys when they watch me, they’re thinking the same thing. But I definitely feel like I can compete at the pro level [and] I always wanted to get drafted and I always wanted to play pro baseball.”

Not long after his mid-summer signing, Yerzy joined the Diamondbacks organization and spent his first professional season between the rookie class Arizona League D-Backs and the advanced rookie league Missoula Osprey squad, ending the year on a strong note and heading home with plenty to work on before spring training. When he was presented with the Baseball Canada accolade, Yerzy had similar thoughts to that of last year.

“I’d like to consider myself on that level too,” he said. “It was big for me, because I played with all those guys growing up. When I was 15, I saw Gareth get drafted [in the second round], and when I was in 11th grade, I saw Soroka and Naylor [both taken in the first round]. So hopefully I set a good example for whoever is getting drafted this year and in 2018, so they can say, ‘I was on the same level as Yerzy,’ which would be pretty cool.”

Overjoyed to spend some time with his Baseball Canada family during the annual banquet and fundraiser, Yerzy not only got to catch up with his friends but he also received a little bit of an eye opener to just how much professional competition he had matched up against before becoming a pro himself.

“It’s irreplaceable, really,” Yerzy said of his Baseball Canada family. “I mean, I saw Mike [Soroka] for the first time in pretty much a year over the banquet weekend, and it’s like we saw each other last week. It was just really easy to pick up with those guys. They share the same interests as you, they’re playing pro baseball like you, and the development that Baseball Canada does is second to none.

“They talked about it at the banquet and I didn’t even realize it – I had over 100 professional games throughout my high school career. I didn’t really take it in until after they said it, and I thought yeah, that makes sense. I had three full years on the team, 10 games a trip, and four trips a year.”

Better prepared for what he was heading into in the professional realm because of his time with the Canadian Junior National Team and the Mets, even with that experience Yerzy still had to do some fine-tuning in order to get used to the everyday routine.

“Starting off in pro ball was like a Team Canada trip for two-and-a-half months instead of two weeks,” he said. “That was the biggest difference for me. I had seen that same stuff, but I wasn’t used to seeing it every day, night in and night out, for those two-plus months straight. I was used to seeing it for two weeks. So it was a bit of an adjustment period seeing it every day, but I’d like to say I adjusted well…

“It was definitely different. There’s no time off pretty much. You’re never going to see a bad arm in pro ball. You’re going to see at least 88-92 [mile per hour pitches] every single day, you’re going to see that coming out of the bullpen, you’re going to see it starting and when you do see someone who throws slower, they’re just going to carve. It’s kind of relentless, and that’s what pro ball is.”

Heading into his first full season of pro ball, Yerzy has spent much of his winter back at home in North York, with plenty of hours at Out of the Park Sports, the home of the Toronto Mets, where he is grateful to have the support of the staff and the program as he continues to try to get better.

“I’m at the Mets facility most days,” Yerzy said. “I’ll have days where I’ll just work out, and I’ll have days when I do baseball stuff, so it keeps me in there all the time. I’ve been working super hard…The Mets helped in giving me the place to train in the off-season, and being the supportive family they are. The coaches have helped me a lot. Without those guys, like [Mets instructors Chris] Kemlo, Greg Densem, Honsing [Leung], and other guys being there and being supportive 100 per cent of the time, coming in whenever I need them and giving me a lot of reps that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, I couldn’t do what I’ve been doing.”

Some of his time spent in familiar territory has become a new experience for the backstop. Without even knowing it he went from being an observer of the professional players who would spend their off-seasons around him to become the player everyone is watching.

“It’s pretty funny, because I used to do that when I was a kid too,” Yerzy said. “If, say [Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Maxx] Tissenbaum came home I would be watching him the entire time. And I’ll get maybe a crowd of five to 10 people standing around the cage while I hit now, just watching me. It’s funny. I helped out with a youth camp and apparently a bunch of the kids would talk about me hitting on their way home, so that was pretty cool. It makes me feel good, and hopefully I don’t let them down.”

Not letting anyone down with the progress he’s made, Yerzy couldn’t be more proud of the latest honour bestowed up on him, as he continues to find ways to feel like he fits in with the players who came before him.

“It’s surreal almost, considering that two years ago when I was 15 I thought I would have no shot at winning any of those awards,” Yerzy said. “Those guys were the greatest guys on the planet, in Canada at least, and just to be considered on the same level and to share that stage with them is an honour.”

Hall receives Futures Award from Baseball Canada

TORONTO – Adam Hall’s young career has had no shortage of highlights, racking up numerous accolades, travelling around the world to play on a variety of incredible stages, and playing under some of the best minds Canadian baseball has to offer.

In his four years with the Great Lake Canadians program, the 17-year-old has had the consistent guidance and tutelage of former major league players Adam Stern, Chris Robinson, and Jamie Romak, along with a number of others with years of pro experience.

Joining the Canadian Junior National Team at 15 years old, he’s been coached by national squad guru Greg Hamilton for a countless number of games, and among others has even had the privilege of gaining infield instruction from Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, national team hero Pete Orr, and 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau.

“You get to hopefully pass on what we’ve learned and what it means to be a Canadian baseball player, and what it means to put the uniform on for Canada,” Morneau said. “…You remember being in that position and being one of the young guys on the team and coming in and seeing guys that you looked up to and guys that you watched on TV.”

On Saturday night in Toronto, on hand to receive the Canadian Futures Award at Baseball Canada’s National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser, Hall was one of those players, adding some even more memorable moments to his list.

“Watching guys play on TV and seeing them a lot and looking up to them, it’s pretty cool when you see them there, let alone when they come and talk to you,” the Bermuda-born native of London, Ont., said of the event. “Russ [Martin] came and talked to a bunch of the Junior National Team guys while we were standing around a couple times, so that was pretty cool seeing him.

“Then actually on my way out, when I was going to the elevator, Joey Votto came up to me by himself and congratulated me on the award, so that was pretty cool. He’s a pretty phenomenal player so that was pretty special.”

Hall became the fourth winner of the Canadian Futures Award and first representative of the Great Lake Canadians program to win. The accolade was previously presented to Andrew Yerzy – selected in the second round by the Diamondbacks, 52nd overall, in the 2016 draft – Josh Naylor – taken in the first round, 12th overall, by the Marlins in 2015 – and Gareth Morgan – chosen by the Mariners in the second round, 74th overall, in 2014 – graduates of the Toronto Mets and Ontario Blue Jays programs now participating in the Canadian Premier Baseball League.

“It’s a big honour to get the award, especially looking at some of the guys who have gotten it before me,” Hall said. “It kind of says that you’re doing the right thing.”

Looking forward to continuing his successful run with Team Canada and Great Lake as he heads into the final five months before the draft, the Texas A & M Aggies commit is eager to get the season started. For the first time in his three years with both squads, their spring trips down south don’t overlap, offering Hall a chance to spend more time with his teammates, and out on the field.

“I’m pretty pumped to get back into things already,” he said. “The off-season felt like it’s been too long. It will be nice getting to go down to Florida with Great Lake, for only the second time actually. I got to go my first year and last year now with Great Lake, so it’s kind of a closing thing with them as well. It will be fun to be able to go and spend almost a full month in Florida and then keep things going for the draft.”

Heading into his final tour as a member of the Junior National Team, the middle infielder is hoping to leave as much of a mark on the program as it has left on him.

“I’m just continuing to play with Team Canada and contribute to that program as much as I can,” Hall said. “I want to try and give back for all they’ve given me so far. I’ve still got a couple trips left, and hopefully I’ll be there in Thunder Bay to go to another world championship [this September, after participating at the 18U Baseball World Cup in Nishinomiya, Japan in 2015], and this time in Canada. It would be pretty special to do that, and then to sum everything up, hopefully win it all there.”

Excited about what lies ahead, the year couldn’t have started better for Hall than the way it did Saturday night, honoured by the family he joined when he first suited up in the red-and-white jersey, one that along with his Great Lake family, he will cherish forever.

“When Paul Quantrill was up on stage [honoured as Baseball Canada’s ninth inductee on the Wall of Excellence], he summed up in his speech what I think Baseball Canada really is,” Hall said. “He was talking about how you don’t necessarily remember the games you play – I mean, obviously there will be certain games that you remember – but he talked about how you remember the people you played with, the people you met, how close you were with them, and just how the family comes together that is Baseball Canada. The experiences will last a lifetime and you’re a part of the family forever.”

Van Rycheghem off to the desert after draft

Luke Van Rycheghem couldn’t wait to get started.

As the days to this year’s draft wound down, the 18-year-old Ontario Blue Jays and Canadian Junior National Team backstop anxiously looked forward to what the selection process might bring.

Although it didn’t go exactly as he had planned, because of nerves and a little bit of impatience, Van Rycheghem became the fifth high schooler from north of the border chosen, when the Arizona Diamondbacks made him their 23rd-round pick.

He immediately made the decision to head off into the professional baseball realm, and is currently on his way to beginning his pro career.

“It didn’t really go the way I thought, but turning it down was just too hard,” the native of Kent Bridge said. “I was way too excited to start playing professional baseball. It’s a huge honour to be drafted.

“My parents [Mark and Rosie] were so proud and my whole family was really excited for me. All my friends already got hats and jerseys and all that stuff. My dad was most excited for me. He couldn’t stop smiling, and he just seemed so proud.”

Working with the OBJ program over the last couple of seasons, along with getting help from a variety of resources, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound catcher has made it clear that baseball has always been a top priority, however difficult the circumstances.

“From Luke, I’ve seen his maturity and commitment to the game,” said Mike Steed, the director of pitching and college placement for the OBJ organization, and head coach of Van Rycheghem’s current team. “With Luke living in the Chatham area [three hours away], it was tough for him to get down a lot for workouts, but he and his family made a great effort to get him around our culture with the OBJ program. And, he can now hit the pitch on the outer half.”

Added Van Rycheghem: “I have always tried to work as hard as I can up to this day, and it has been my dream for so long to play pro ball. Both the Ontario Blue Jays and Team Canada have impacted my game. They’ve helped me improve every day…I’ve also been helped by [former big-league catcher] Chris Robinson, he has always been there to help me with my catching and develop me.

“And in Florida [with the Junior National Team], I worked with [former American League MVP] Justin Morneau. We worked in the cages on my swing and he gave me some pointers. Also, my dad has been a huge help – he does so much to develop me as a player and as a person.”

Not much has been different for the young player throughout his time with the OBJ program, steadily improving to get to where he is currently, but Steed believes his most consistent attributes will help him the most along the way.

“He really hasn’t changed that much, other than physically getting bigger and stronger over the time I have known him,” Steed said. “He has always been a sincere, genuine person with how he approaches the game, and people in general.”

The Diamondbacks should look forward to the addition of one of their newest Canadian rookies, and his coaches at home are excited for what the future may bring to the high schooler.

“Arizona can expect a young hitter with a power bat,” Steed said. “As he keeps maturing as a hitter, he will be a solid, middle-of-the-order type of player…I’m looking forward to watching Luke go through the day-to-day grind of minor league baseball. And I mean that in a positive way, because he loves the game so much I don’t think he will know it’s supposed to be a ‘grind.’”

Van Rycheghem is one of six players from the Canadian Premier Baseball League selected in the draft this June, among a total of 12 high schoolers hailing from north of the border. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, also by the Diamondbacks. OBJ hurler Jordan Balazovic followed in the fifth round, taken 153rd overall by the Minnesota Twins.

“With all our picks from the OBJ organization, we are extremely proud of these young men for what they have accomplished,” Steed said. “And the OBJ organization is glad that we could help develop Luke and give him the opportunities to reach this next step in his baseball career.”

Toronto Mets southpaw Matt Jones was taken in the 28th round, also by Minnesota. Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields was chosen in the 33rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and GLC outfielder Jake Wilson was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round.


Mets southpaw Jones taken by Twins in 28th round

With added size and a new level of all-around maturity, Matt Jones is ready for the world of professional baseball.

Selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 28th round of this year’s draft, 843rd overall, out of Sinclair Secondary School, the young Toronto Mets and Canadian Junior National Team hurler couldn’t be more excited to get through the red tape and head out into the pro ranks.

“It has always been my dream to play professional baseball,” the 17-year-old southpaw said. “Going into the draft, I wasn’t very sure if I would be selected or not, because the draft is really unpredictable. I had a feeling I would get selected but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure.

“Overall, I’m really happy with how it went. To be one of the 25 [Canadian] guys chosen is very cool, especially when you think about the talent of Canadian players who were selected, like [eighth overall pick] Cal Quantrill and [second-round selection and Mets catcher] my friend Andrew Yerzy. It is something you will always remember, being a part of that specific group of guys.”

While the native of Whitby has made many improvements throughout his time with Team Canada and the Mets program, the biggest factor in aiding his progression of late was his ability to add size to his frame, and gain strength on the mound.

“The Mets and JNT have definitely helped me a lot, when it comes to pitching and the mentality of playing the game,” Jones said. “Being on trips with the JNT has definitely put into perspective the lifestyle of playing pro baseball, and I love everything about it.

“Also, my other coaches like Scott Robinson and my trainer Carl Carter have really helped me over the off-season by putting on a lot more muscle, because I was known as the really skinny guy, and gaining weight has helped me increase velocity as well.”

In just his first season of working with Jones, coaching him with Toronto’s 18U squad, coach Chris Kemlo has seen a lot of progress from his young left-hander over just a relatively short time.

“He’s improved tremendously,” Kemlo said. “The biggest improvements he made were to his body. He really worked hard in the weight room and matured, just grew up and matured. He went from being a 6-foot-3, 170-[pound] guy to now being 6-foot-4, 195. For him to mature and get that kind of added strength, that was a big help for him.”

Not only did Jones improve physically, but the coaching staff with the Mets saw big changes in the pitcher’s competitiveness as he began to grow more comfortable with his surroundings.

“With him, there’s an improved compete level too,” Kemlo said. “When I first got to know him, he was shy and quiet, and he takes a while to warm up. Then once you get to know him you see the compete level and how intense he is. He’s still got a bit of that quirky lefty in him, but it’s all good and positive stuff. But he’s definitely grown up.”

Among the most excited for Jones are most definitely each of the members of his family, who shared in the moment on Saturday when he learned of Minnesota’s 28th-round selection.

“Overall it would be my mom and dad [Karen and Chris],” he said. “My mom was in Barrie with my sister’s softball team, so she couldn’t be here, but she was crying over the phone. And my dad was obviously extremely proud, and I have to thank him because he has helped me a lot since I was young.”

Awaiting physical testing and paperwork in order for the deal to be done, once Jones heads to Fort Myers, Florida, where the Twins house their young rookies, his coach is sure that they will be quickly pleased with their Canadian pick.

“He’s going to come in [to the Twins organization] and just work his tail off,” Kemlo said. “He’s a guy who gives you everything he has. He doesn’t take any days off. He’s always wanting to get better, always asking questions, wanting to learn about stuff. He wants to know about the nuances of pitching, how to attack guys, and that stuff is going to be the separator for him at the next level.”

Excited to follow Jones as he continues his progression down on the farm with Minnesota, Kemlo, the Mets, and the young lefty are all anxious for him to get going in order to see what he can do.

“He could be a 6-foot-4 lefty who sits in the low 90s with three average pitches at the big-league level,” Kemlo said. “So for him, there’s a lot of upside and a lot of potential. He’s got a long way to go, as anybody does, but the tools and the talent are there and he’s got the right mindset for pro ball right now.

Added Jones: “I am most excited for getting down there and continuing to work my butt off in order to accomplish my main goal, which is pitching on a major-league mound.”

Jones is one of six players from the Canadian Premier Baseball League selected in the draft this June, out of a total of 25 Canadians chosen. His Mets teammate Yerzy was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ontario Blue Jays hurler Jordan Balazovic followed in the fifth round, taken 153rd overall, also by the Twins.

OBJ catcher Luke Van Rycheghem was selected by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round, and was followed by Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields, chosen in the 33rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and GLC outfielder Jake Wilson, taken by the Boston Red Sox in the 39th round.


Andrew Yerzy selected in second round of draft

Things are happening quickly for Andrew Yerzy.

The 17-year-old catcher for the Toronto Mets could hardly believe that his tour with the Canadian Junior National Team was coming to an end before his final trip to the Dominican Republic in May, and now, after the first day of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft, the whirlwind has just begun.

Selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round on Thursday night, 52nd overall, Yerzy is likely to make a decision on his future before the weekend. Committed to Notre Dame University, if the 6-foot-3, 200-pound backstop were going to forgo signing with the D’backs, he would be heading off to Indiana immediately, the school not requiring him to complete his final exams at York Mills Collegiate Institute before getting a jump on the upcoming school year.

“Right now I’m going to Notre Dame,” Yerzy said prior to the draft. “Hopefully if things go the way I’d like them to go, I’ll be in a pro uniform.”

Taken on the first night of the selection process – the second Canadian chosen after Stanford’s Cal Quantrill was taken eighth overall by the San Diego Padres – the only question left for Yerzy in determining whether or not things go according to plan is the amount of money on the table. If it matches what the young player has in mind, he could be at extended spring training in Arizona as soon as he graduates high school and obtains a work visa.

Watching his friends and former Team Canada teammates graduate the program ahead of him, make their choices, and venture off into the working world, Yerzy believes that he has an idea of what could potentially be in store for his future.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I know [2015 first-round selections Josh] Naylor and [Mike] Soroka are the only guys in my three years who have gotten past rookie ball [both playing in the Class-A South Atlantic League] but it’s cool thinking that that could be me next year.

“And then you might have [15-year-old junior team member] Noah Naylor saying that he played with me three years ago and now I’m doing this. I think back to how much further they were ahead of me when I was in Grade 10, and now I’m in Grade 12 and they’re in Grade 10.”

While last year’s Canadian first-round picks have made early impressions on their respective organizations – Naylor with the Miami Marlins and Soroka with the Atlanta Braves – Yerzy understands that moving up the ranks of the professional realm can come at a much slower pace as well.

“It’s still pro baseball,” the catcher said. “And it’s only been two years since I’ve seen some of those guys, so they could easily be in the major leagues in two more years for all I know. It’s just a small sample size, and I’m ready to get after it, if the opportunity presents itself.”

Yerzy and Soroka have kept in touch since parting ways from the junior team, and though they hadn’t specifically spoken much before the draft about what might happen for the backstop, the right-hander had given his battery mate an idea of what he went through on the same night last year.

“I still talk to Soroka a lot,” Yerzy said. “We haven’t talked about draft day much but he said it’s awesome. You go into it and you want to have the right mindset. You go in thinking that you’re going to school and then if everything happens the way you want it to, then you might be pleasantly surprised with a two-million-dollar paycheque.”

Aging, maturing, and growing in multiple ways throughout his time with the national squad and his years with the Toronto Mets, Yerzy knows that he has come quite a distance in a relatively short time.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Yerzy said. “It’s been three years with Team Canada – a pretty short three years in my mind. I still remember my first at-bat of my first trip…I struck out on three pitches. I didn’t swing. Just thinking about it all, it’s happened really quickly. I’m thankful for all the opportunities they’ve given me, and the ability to represent my country 17 times.”

Not only has he gotten better and learned an immense amount, Yerzy believes that the game north of the border is improving all-around and will continue to do so with opportunities to showcase talent with the Junior National Team and the Canadian Premier Baseball League.

“Baseball in Canada’s definitely getting better,” he said. “No knocks on those guys but if you think back to my first year with Team Canada, we were getting blown out like 16-2 and averaging three hits a game.

“Now we’re winning games, tying games, playing multiple one-run losses. Even if we’re losing 4-3 to a bunch of pro guys and we’re 16 and 17-year-old kids, it shows that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Whether Yerzy decides to go pro out of high school with the Diamondbacks, or a start to a college education with the Fighting Irish next week, he’s learned what’s most important and is looking forward to what the future holds.

“The biggest thing I learned from Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] is to just have fun playing baseball really,” Yerzy said. “It’s going to be a job but you aren’t going to make it if you don’t have fun playing the game. You see a lot of guys burn out by Double-A just because they don’t enjoy doing it, so you have to have fun with the game.”