Tag: Cincinnati Reds

Toronto Mets Ryan Leitch and Keegan Pulford-Thorpe selected in 2019 MLB Draft

When two Toronto Mets players heard their names called during Major League Baseball’s draft on Wednesday, they couldn’t have been more excited, or more proud of each other.

Ryan Leitch, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound catcher from Whitby with a commitment to Marshall University was taken in the 29th round of the selection process by the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the fourth Canadian Premier Baseball League player off the board.

“Just being selected was the most exciting part of the draft, honestly,” the 17-year-old said. “Hearing my name being called was special. I’ve always dreamed about hearing, ‘Ryan Leitch, selected by a team,’ and then to hear it finally happen, it’s just surreal. I was at a loss for words when it happened.”

“It’s a huge honour. Having an opportunity to potentially play in the big leagues someday has always been a dream of mine, so for it to be able to become a reality is pretty awesome.”

Leitch was followed by Keegan Pulford-Thorpe, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound left-handed pitcher, committed to Central Florida University, who was taken by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round.

“It was really exciting,” Pulford-Thorpe said. “I was actually just sitting down working on some homework, because I have an assignment due, and I got a call from an unknown number who I didn’t have a contact for. I didn’t really think much of it, so I picked it up and it was [Canadian scout] Murray Zuk from the Padres calling me, telling me I’d been drafted. Then I went on my phone and saw different messages from people, and it was an amazing feeling.”

Both players are incredibly grateful for the time they’ve spent with the Mets and the Canadian Junior National Team, that helped put them in a position to be choosing between impressive American college opportunities and the professional realm of the game.

“They’ve helped me a lot,” Leitch said. “They’ve gotten me out there exposure-wise, so scouts and coaches and people like that can see me play, and the Junior National Team is such a cool experience, getting a taste of what minor league baseball is really like and playing against all the pro guys.”

Added Pulford-Thorpe: “I owe them everything. The development I’ve gotten from those places is unbelievable. They’ve been the basis of everything that’s helped me accomplish everything. It’s been due to them. They’ve helped me make connections, helped me get onto teams, and to develop and get better. I can’t thank them enough.”

Through the 40 rounds of the draft, a total of 25 Canadian players were selected. The two young Mets couldn’t be more proud to be among them.

“It’s something special that being on the national team, we’ve all been working towards together,” Pulford-Thorpe said of being one of 25 selected. “We were all really pulling for each other. I was glued to the draft, not even looking for my name, but watching the other guys’ names come up throughout the day.

“It’s something special for all of us and we’re all kind of sharing it together. It’s not just one guy getting drafted when one of us is selected, we all worked together for that, so we all feel special about it.”

Both Mets players were just as excited to see one another’s name as they were their own.

“It was great,” Pulford-Thorpe said of seeing Leitch’s name. “He happened a little before me, so it was funny because he was saying, ‘You’re soon,’ and I kind of brushed it off and said, ‘I hope so.’ But I followed him and it’s awesome. It’s great to see him there too.”

Added Leitch: “I’m really proud of Keegan. He’s probably one of the most deserving guys I know. He works 24/7, he’s always trying to get better and to better himself, and he’s a good guy. I couldn’t be more proud of the guy.”

The entire Mets organization couldn’t be more proud of their players as they take their next steps in the game.

“It is always a proud and special moment when any of our current and former players are drafted and I am so happy for all of them,” Toronto Mets president of baseball Ryan McBride said. “This one, however, has special meaning for me personally. I remember the phone call from West Virginia when Ryan Leitch was born. He has worked extremely hard and it is very exciting to watch him begin to realize his baseball goals.”

Added coach Honsing Leung: “Keegan has been a part of the Mets family since 2016 and continues to be one of the leaders of the program through his dedication and hard work. He has a tireless work ethic and is a humble person, traits that will allow him to succeed at the next level, no matter what obstacles are thrown his way. We are all excited to see him progress in the future.”

Leitch and Pulford-Thorpe were two of just 25 Canadians selected in the 2019 draft, and a pair among six CPBL players chosen, joining Ontario Blue Jays Dasan Brown, TJ Schofield-Sam and Jaden Brown, taken in the third, 12th and 40th rounds, respectively, and Great Lake Canadians catcher Owen Diodati, selected in the 29th round.

Reds prospects excited for what CPBL has in store

GOODYEAR, Arizona – Things just keep getting better at home.

Though J.D. Williams and Miles Gordon have graduated from the Ontario Blue Jays and Great Lake Canadians programs, respectively, the two Cincinnati Reds farmhands are excited at the idea of the Canadian Premier Baseball League and what it means for baseball in their home province moving forward.

The CPBL – including not only teams from the OBJ and GLC programs, but also the Toronto Mets, Fieldhouse Pirates, Ontario Nationals and Team Ontario – will allow more of an opportunity than ever before for the top talent in the province to compete, and to do so in their own backyard.

“That will help,” Gordon said. “When I was with the [Oakville] Royals we went down to Florida and played the London Badgers twice. I thought why are we coming to Florida to play London?

“So that will help and it will be cool because you get to compare yourself on a smaller scale to the other teams and the other players, instead of having to compare yourself to the American guys for example. The talent will be a little bit better because there are fewer teams and probably the better teams, which will hopefully get more Canadians drafted out of there.”

After the outfielder was selected by the Reds in the fourth round in June, Cincinnati and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski took Williams in the 17th, southpaw Isaac Anesty in the 18th, and used the team’s 22nd-round pick to select right-hander Darren Shred. All four Canucks had suited up together in red-and-white uniforms previously for the Canadian Junior National Team, and the latter trio all came through the Ontario Blue Jays program.

“OBJ helped the transition,” Williams said. “Because with the fall trip [matching up against American college competition] we’re gone for two months or however long it is, and then coming into here it’s the same thing. You’re away from your family, playing baseball every day, and that’s what it is…

“Spending five years with the OBJ program made a lot of difference for me because I got to face the best competition all the time. So when I got here, it wasn’t overwhelming. I faced players like this all the time, especially on the fall trip, so when I got here and played it was pretty easy to get into my rhythm.”

Williams is looking forward to watching some of the younger players from his program and others within the CPBL as they progress, and is excited at the idea of the continued growth of the game north of the border.

“There’s a lot of talent coming up in Canada,” the 19-year-old second baseman said. “I mean, I’m not too familiar with everybody but I know with the OBJ guys like Cooper Davis and those kinds of players, they’re really stepping it up.

“It would be nice to get more baseball at home but everyone has to be together and on the same page to do it, not just one organization or two organizations. We’ve all got to come together to get it really going.”

With the top teams from around the province working together to play a tougher, longer schedule at home, the programs’ former players are hoping to see success follow, knowing how much they got out of what was offered to them and what it could mean to have more of the same.

“I was [with the Great Lake Canadians at Centrefield Sports during the off-season] on some weekends and stayed for practice and it was cool,” Gordon said. “They’re looking up to you and I was thinking, ‘You guys have no idea.’

“To the 14-year-olds I said, ‘I put a half a year into this and if you put three years into this, you have no idea what you can do. You think I’m just saying this, but it’s true.’ You get those 14-year-old kids who can really swing and throw and look at them and think about if I was 14 and that good at that position. It’s like a crystal ball.”

Lottery-winning Reds farmhand excited to get on the mound

GOODYEAR, Arizona – One day, Darren Shred was sitting in the training room at the Cincinnati Reds minor league development complex in Arizona, learning that the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow was partially torn.

The next day, the just-drafted right-hander was back in that same training room, getting news from home in Brampton that his family had won the lottery. And not only that, but they were coming away with five million dollars from their winning ticket.

“Yep, that happened,” Shred said. “When I first found out, I was in the training room actually. After I tore my UCL I was in there and I had my phone on me and my mom [Tiia] called me. You’re not supposed to have your phone in there but my mom never calls me, so I picked it up and she was screaming on the phone, ‘We won the lottery!’ I just said, ‘What’d you win, ten thousand dollars?’ And she said, ‘No, we won five million,’ and I thought, ‘That’s not possible.’

“And my trainer was trying to kick me out of the training room because I was on my phone, and I was trying to tell him my mom had won the lottery, but he told me to get out so I left. My mom said, ‘No, we really won the lottery,’ and she was crying on the phone, and it was pretty exciting.”

In shock, and in the midst of a whirlwind couple of emotional days, the former Ontario Blue Jays catcher and hurler told the first person he saw, Miles Gordon, the first of four Canucks and Ontario natives selected by the Reds and Canadian scout Bill Byckowski in last year’s draft, followed by infielder J.D. Williams and southpaw Isaac Anesty, all former members of the Canadian Junior National Team.

“The first person I told was Miles,” Shred said. “I went into the lunch room here and I said, ‘You would not believe what just happened.’ He kept asking me and I told him my mom had just won the lottery. He kind of looked at me and smiled, and I said, ‘Like, the five-million-dollar lottery.’ He said, ‘You’re lying. You have to be lying.’ It was kind of surreal.”

With a sudden burst in household income, the Shred family slowly starting making some upgrades, first buying new cars, and now in the midst of building a new house, with some help from fellow OBJ parent Lawrence Collymore.

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” the young righty said. “We didn’t do anything different really. They bought new cars but nothing crazy. My dad [Larry] bought a truck and my mom bought a Cadillac. I bought my Mustang after the draft with my [signing] bonus, but they’re paying for it now. So I got a free car…

“Everything is kind of the same but it’s almost like you’re more relaxed. You don’t really have anything to worry about.”

That feeling was certainly a change in pace from how Shred was feeling on the field, going from the high of being selected in the 22nd round of the draft and being ready to enter the pro ranks, to being stuck waiting for a working visa to join his friends in Goodyear, to then experiencing pain in his throwing arm almost immediately after arriving.

“I was super anxious to get started,” he said. “Especially because all these guys were here, like Jade and Anesty and Miles. I was talking to them every night and they were telling me how it was going and what it was like, so I just wanted to get down here and get into games.”

With almost eight months in Cincinnati’s organization under his belt, the 18-year-old still hasn’t gotten into a game. With more than half that time on the back fields in Arizona, Shred has barely even stepped foot on a mound.

“It didn’t go well,” he said of his arrival. “I don’t even know when I got here but probably about three days after I got here I threw a bullpen, and about halfway through the bullpen my arm started to feel a little funny. Everyone says they get an initial snap feeling, and I didn’t get that. It was a tingly, uncomfortable feeling, so I kept throwing and calling fastballs, hoping for it to go away, and it never went away.

“So I went to the training room the next day and they said to give my arm a couple weeks off. So I took two weeks off, came back and started throwing again, and then it felt the same so I got an MRI and I had torn my UCL 40 per cent. I didn’t have to get Tommy John, but I had [platelet-rich plasma] injections.

“It’s two injections, and they take your blood out and spin it. They take all the plasma out, which is what heals it, and then they shoot it into where it’s torn. They take an ultrasound when they do it, so they showed me the before and after. A few weeks ago, I got another one and [the tear] had closed a good bit. At first it was 40 per cent and now it’s 19, so it closed off a good bit.”

Still working with almost one-fifth of his ligament torn, Shred has learned that it’s normal to play that way, and he is happy to do whatever he can in order to get back out on the field and into game action.

“Everyone has a tear usually, a little one,” the young pitcher said. “Not that much, but [former Cy Young Award winner] Roy Halladay threw his whole career with a 33 per cent tear, apparently. So you have to adjust your mechanics so you don’t put as much stress on it. They’re trying to figure out a new way for me to throw where it doesn’t stress there, but you can throw as long as it holds up.”

Shred’s progress has been helped by both the PRP injections, and an experimental brace designed to help take stress off of his elbow while he’s throwing.

“I felt different after the injections,” he said. “Right away, you have to go in a Tommy John sling, so your arm is really stiff. But when you come back it doesn’t hurt as much at all. Before, even when we were doing [pitchers’ fielding practice], underhanding the ball to first would give me a sharp pain in my arm, but now I’m long tossing and I feel fine…

“I was nervous to throw the first time. It was kind of weird. I didn’t want to put any stress on my elbow so I was slinging the ball with my shoulder almost. Once I got comfortable, it was a little better. But they gave us a new brace a company came out with.

“They gave it to the Reds to test, and it has little bands in it. You tighten them, and it doesn’t allow you to straighten your arm when you throw after you put a hard whip on it – it stops the tension. So basically after you throw the ball, your arm stays bent to keep the stress off it. At first it was weird to wear it, but once you get used to it, you don’t even notice it’s there. It definitely takes a lot of stress off, and I’m going to use it in games.”

So far, games are a foreign concept to the former catcher. Just weeks away from taking the mound again and seeing what he can do, Shred couldn’t be more excited for the season ahead.

“It’s been a grind here because I haven’t been able to pitch yet,” he said. “It’s been I don’t know how many months, but I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. The pitching coaches come watch you and stuff, and they work with you on your arm angle and all that. We work on dry mechanics off the mound, so they’ll review your delivery and all that stuff, but it will be nice to actually pitch…

“That’s what I’m most excited for. I’m excited to throw a bullpen. I haven’t thrown a curveball in I don’t know how long. So I’m excited for the everyday aspect of being back at it.”