Tag: MLB draft

From zero to 96, my life as it led to the draft and this World Cup

By Landon Leach

Here I am.

At the end of the world championships, playing right at home in Thunder Bay, with my friends and teammates on the Canadian Junior National Team, and my time as a junior player about to come to an end.

This last trip means everything to me, especially with this group of guys. We’ve been together for quite a while now, and I’ve seriously made friendships for life with the rest of the guys on this team. They’re my family now. I’m never going to forget them, the fun we’ve had, the games we’ve played here, and it just feels so great to be Canadian right now, honestly.

The World Cup got started with the opening ceremonies at Port Arthur Stadium, and that was fun. We were playing right afterward and there was a big crowd there, and obviously everyone was cheering for us because we’re the home team.

Our start to the tournament wasn’t quite as fun. After we lost in extras to Chinese Taipei on that opening night, I got the ball for our team against Korea, the top team in our pool. I was ready, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Those guys are a whole lot different than anybody I’ve ever faced, with the style of hitting they use and the pitches they were looking for. I didn’t pitch to my potential, but I know the next time I’m going to come back and do a lot better.

There were definitely some moments where I had a good time out there, with the crowd behind us cheering and everyone there supporting us. It’s just such a great feeling, pitching in front of more fans than we’ve ever had at our games. All we want to do is give them something to cheer about.

Going down 0-2 in the tournament put us in a tough spot, and meant that we had to win every single game in the first round to move on. I got anxious there a few times, like with Italy leading our third game all the way to the ninth inning, but like Greg Hamilton, our manager, always says, we’re a resilient team. We always come back strong, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Three wins in a row put us in the super round, and right where we belong, and wins against Japan and Cuba have us competing for bronze today. There’s really no feeling like wearing Canada across your chest and competing for your country. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an unbelievable experience. And it all starts with Greg, who has been the best leader we could ask for to guide us.

Opening the super round with a loss to USA definitely wasn’t what we wanted to do, but our team has been in every game and we know we could do more going forward. It’s been really hard for me when I have to sit on the bench and watch the games, because I have a pitch count and I need so many days’ rest, and I understand that, but sometimes I wish I could just go out there and do my job and help the team get the win.

But our team has been doing a great job. The guys out of the bullpen have been great so far and I have tons of confidence in them. But of course I wish I had the ball in my hand to do the job. I can’t wait to come I out of that bullpen against Japan and do absolutely everything I can for this squad and for this medal.

I’m really glad the Twins let me come here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. But this is the team, this Canadian Junior National Team, that helped me get to play with them. I’ve had two years with Team Canada, and it gave me the exposure and experience I needed to lead me to the draft. And before this World Cup, the draft was one of the best experiences I ever had.

Leading up to the start of the draft, it was a day like any other day.

I went to school, and then I actually had a dentist appointment after school. The only difference was that I went back home and called my agent, Mark Pieper. We’d had a few conversations leading up to the draft, and I knew there were a few teams that were really interested in me, and most of them were thinking the third round, because that’s where I was projected to go.

I wasn’t really thinking anything might happen the first day, with just the first and second rounds going on. I was excited about the third round though. Just getting drafted in general, knowing that it was going to happen to me, was truly an honour. There are so many great players who get drafted each year, and having that experience was going to be amazing. I knew it would be unbelievable.

I turned on the draft just before it started and watched maybe the first 10 picks before I had to stop and do my homework. Each pick was taking an eternity to be announced, and I still had to go to school the next day, so I figured I could watch more when I was done. But when I came downstairs to do that, my mom actually told me I should go to bed because I needed to get up early.

I usually have a late-night snack before I go to bed, so I started eating and getting ready to shut it down for the day. My mom was in the kitchen and my dad was already in bed, and maybe 10 minutes before I was about to go to bed, I got a call from Mark with the Twins offer, asking me if we were going to do this deal.

It was literally 30 seconds before the second round was starting, and the Twins had the first pick. It all happened really fast, and I had to make a quick decision. I needed to answer Mark right away and I knew what I wanted to do, because it was too good to pass up. Of course, I said yes.

Part of me didn’t believe what was happening. I knew there was a possibility, because teams were interested, but they didn’t know what kind of money they had or what I would take, because I didn’t give out a hard number before the draft. There was a certain point where I would fulfill my commitment to Texas instead of playing pro ball, but I really wanted to play and I wanted to start my career right away. But we wanted to see where the value landed. So we weren’t really expecting it, but we were hopeful.

My dad wasn’t quite fully asleep when Mark called, but my mom had to run up the stairs to get him so that we could all watch the Twins announce their second-round pick together. Hearing my name, 37th overall, it was an honest shock.

I didn’t expect to go that high, and there hadn’t been much interest from the Twins that I had heard about. They weren’t one of the teams on my radar before the draft. I was really surprised they picked me, even though Walt Burrows had started covering Canada for them, but I was also really glad it was them, because of him. And when they called, offering me a place in the second round, $1.4 million, and a chance to be a part of their organization, I couldn’t say no.

Walt was the first scout who had ever shown any interest in me. When I first met him, he was working for MLB’s scouting bureau, running the camps across Canada. It was my 16U year and I had just started to pitch after spending all my time catching, convinced by my coaches Hyung Cho and John Marriotti to try out the mound, and it wasn’t long after that Walt invited me to a showcase. He was the only scout who talked to me at that first one.

So when Walt called me 10 minutes after the Twins picked me, it was a real emotional call for both of us. I’m not sure I was processing any of the information coming in at the time, but I couldn’t have been happier to talk to him and he seemed the same. It had been a good ride, and it was about to keep going.

The draft hadn’t even really entered my mind until this spring. There were some people telling me I was going to get drafted, and I never, ever thought it would be this high, but it wasn’t until spring that my draft stock rose and I started to make my way onto the scouts’ radar. It was also the first time that I really started to feel like I was fitting in, that I could compete with the other guys I played with for Team Canada, and that I belonged with some of the competition we were facing.

My first spring trip this year wasn’t so great. I didn’t really pitch to my potential after putting in so much work over the winter and trying to step up my game so that this year could be the biggest year for me yet. But on my second trip with the junior team, I was hitting 96 on the radar guns, and we had a game against the Blue Jays that was big for me. I came back from an iffy second inning against them and dominated, and really showing my composure on the mound, and I think coming back from a struggling inning helped my stock go up.

From there, everything happened really fast. My life changed in a matter of a few months, and it’s been hard to process it all.

About a week-and-a-half after the draft and all of the craziness that went along with it, the Twins brought me to Minnesota to sign my contract and show me around a little bit. Both of my parents came with me, and we got there on a Thursday night. It was my first time there, and I really loved Target Field. It’s a nice park, and the outside looks great with all the stone, and the clubhouse and training facilities and everything were amazing. It’s a cool atmosphere, being outside. I could easily picture myself coming out onto that mound, and I hope it happens one day soon.

My parents were pretty speechless at everything. We all were. They were really excited for me, and they love seeing their only son happy, so it was great to be able to have that experience with them, as a family.

The next day in Minnesota was a huge medical day for me. I had to go through all their medical tests and a bunch of stuff, and I finally signed my contract that night at Target Field, after getting all the clearance they needed. It was a little bit just like you think signing papers would be, but it was exciting at the same time. I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. It took me a little bit to sign my name at the bottom, and there were a lot of papers to sign, but it was awesome and I’m happy I was able to have the opportunity to do that.

And they made me a millionaire. I know I have to mention it because everyone talks about it, but my life isn’t going to change because of that. I’m still going to be the same person and I don’t even know what I want to do with it. Right now, I don’t have any plans for it, I’m just going to put it away.

It’s been an amazing summer, and I’m so grateful for my first experience of pro ball with the Twins and I’ll be excited to go back and play with them again, but for now, it’s all about Team C. This is my team, now and forever, and I just want to go to war with these guys and put a stamp on the end of my junior career.

We’re ready.

By Landon Leach

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.

Eric Cerantola takes on Team USA in World Cup competition

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – As Team Canada moves into the super round of the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup, the stakes only continue to get higher, the competition better, and the stage bigger.

Advancing from its pool with Korea and Australia, the Canadian Junior National Team will take on the best of the opposing group, matching up against USA, Japan and Cuba on the road to the medal round. On Thursday, Canada starts its super-round run with the three-time defending champs, and will send 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-hander Eric Cerantola to the mound to square off against the Americans.

“I’m as ready as it gets,” he said. “I’m excited that the coaching staff is handing me the ball and I’m ready to go. I found out probably 20 minutes after the game [against Nicaragua], when [pitching coach Mike Johnson] came up to me and told me, and I’m ready for it…I got a quick taste of the tournament in my last outing [against Korea] and I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Despite Team USA looking like the team to beat in Thunder Bay, its pitching staff having allowed only one earned run through its first five games, Cerantola isn’t worried about who his opponent is or what the team has done, because it doesn’t change anything for the 17-year-old righty.

“I like to think that I won’t be thinking too much about who we’re playing,” Cerantola said. “I know they’re going to be a good team, and I just need to stick to my game plan, keeping hitters off balance and throwing strikes. If I can do those things, I’ll do just fine…

“Our guys are really good and they’ve been hitting the ball all over the place, in clutch situations, or using the long ball, and you never know what they can do. And defensively, we have very solid defenders and that’s part of my game plan, throwing strikes and letting the defence do their job.”

With a front row seat for all of the action Canada provided in its run through the opening round, Cerantola has enjoyed not only what his squad has accomplished on the field, but also the reaction of the home-country crowed through it all, with almost 15,000 people passing through the doors at Port Arthur Stadium to watch the boys in red and white.

“The experience so far has been amazing,” the native of Oakville, Ontario said. “Having the home crowd behind you, it’s just an incredible feeling that they’re cheering for your side. We’re just glad that we’re playing well for them and we hope to keep it going. It’s so much fun playing with the fan support, and it really is just a great experience.”

After an extra-inning heartbreaker to start off the tournament against Chinese Taipei, a tough loss to Korea, an epic ninth-inning comeback over Italy and two dominant wins against Australia and Nicaragua, Cerantola and his teammates have experienced almost everything international baseball has to offer, and have been forced to adjust quickly to the learning curve.

“I’ve learned that in international baseball, every team can beat any team at this point,” Cerantola said. “Even [Wednesday], we kind of let Nicaragua come in a little bit, and it was a game at one point. So every team can beat any other team on any given day, it’s just a matter of going out there and playing your heart out.”

Throughout the last year with the national squad, the Great Lake Canadians hurler and Mississippi State commit has been preparing for the World Cup, using outings against professionals to get ready to pitch on the highest international stage, and continuing to learn and get better the entire time.

“The junior team has been a great opportunity to get to face professional batters, and to get to learn really how to pitch against those kind of batters,” Cerantola said. “It’s completely different than being at home, playing against other high school players. You really have to bring out that third pitch and learn how to locate. If you don’t locate, the mistakes are bigger. But it’s been fun.”

As the fun turns into intense competition, the Canadian squad is confident in the progress Cerantola has made and what he can bring to the table as it looks to continue moving forward.

“He’s grown a lot,” said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams. “He’s got some gifts, obviously. You can’t take credit for teaching some of the things he brings to the table. I don’t think any of us can or should. He’s got size, he’s got an easy arm, he’s got great plane, and he spins the breaking ball.

“It’s just a matter of growing into that understanding and realization of the talent he has, and not getting too caught up in being in a hurry for all that to come together, and making changes rapidly…He’s got the makings of everything you’re looking for in a real, legitimate arm, so he’s got a chance to be really good.”

Already the greatest experience the former hockey player has ever had in baseball, Cerantola is hoping to keep riding that wave into the super round and beyond.

“This is incredible,” he said. “Just the fact that you’re playing international baseball against the best of other countries, and that you’re at home at the same time, it’s just amazing.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s everything from the games – the games are always intense – everyone’s in it, everyone’s playing to win, the guys are awesome, we all have the same goal in mind, and that’s to win the gold medal, and the crowd has been awesome as well.”

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

Former Mets hurler Leach brings pro experience to World Cup

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – As the pressure rises and the excitement builds at the U18 Baseball World Cup, the Canadian Junior National Team will look to its most professionally experienced hurler to take the mound against one of its toughest opponents.

Matching up against South Korea to follow a tournament-opening loss for the Canadians against Chinese Taipei and a rained out, postponed contest against Nicaragua, 18-year-old right-hander Landon Leach will get the ball for the host squad, following his first taste of professional baseball after being selected by the Minnesota Twins in this year’s draft.

“This means everything,” Leach said. “Especially because the Twins let me come. So I was really happy that they did that. I’m really grateful for it, and this is the last time I get to be with all the boys. This tournament means a lot to us, so I feel like this is a really great opportunity. And it’s a World Cup – how many people can ever say they played in this? And hopefully we win it, but it definitely means a lot to me to be here.”

The native of Pickering, Ontario and graduate of the Toronto Mets program – where he began as a catcher and was converted to the mound just a couple of years ago – was the highest Canadian selected in this year’s draft, taken by Minnesota out of the Canadian Premier Baseball League with the first pick of the second round, chosen 37th overall.

After signing for $1.4 million, the young hurler joined the organization’s rookie-class Gulf Coast League team and went 2-0 with a 3.38 in five games and 13 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, using confidence he gained from having squared off against similar competition with the junior team over the last couple of seasons.

“Having the pro experience definitely helps a lot,” the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty said. “Because with the Twins we have video review, we have meetings about analyzing different hitters, different counts, different pitches, different zones, and what the hitter’s seeing, what the hitter’s seeing about the pitchers. So I feel like having those meetings with the coaches down in pro ball is definitely going to help me read the batters better during my game.”

After watching his squad battle Chinese Taipei to open the world tournament at Port Arthur Stadium, and getting a glimpse of what the home crowd can add to the atmosphere when the Canucks give them something to cheer about, Leach believes he and his teammates can build from the extra-inning loss and find success as they move forward.

“I thought we played really well against Taipei,” the young pitcher said. “It was a good game from both sides, and just a couple of things determined the game, but it was definitely a good game. The crowd was in it obviously, and it was loud for us, being at home, and we were pumped to be there.

“But at the end of the day, it was a heartbreaking loss, because the game was so close, and there were a lot of ups and downs, but we can come back from this and definitely improve. And I’ll do anything for us to win against Korea.”

Playing with the core of Canada’s World Cup team on multiple trips over the last two years and growing close with his fellow countrymen, the squad’s flamethrower is looking forward to seeing the group play to its potential in Thunder Bay, and complete his career with the Canadian Junior National Team on a high note.

“It’s obviously really exciting to be here, definitely enjoying being at home, because the crowd’s always into it and they’re rooting for you instead of the opponent,” Leach said. “We definitely see the support. It’s obviously really important to win here because we’re trying to win a championship, but our team is really close, and we’ve been together for quite a while, and I feel like we’ll come together and just keep pushing and grinding through it.”

Heading into the game against the highest-seeded team in Canada’s pool – with Italy, Australia and Nicaragua rounding out the group with Canada, Chinese Taipei and Korea – Leach believes in his team to get back to basics and use their strengths to move forward and into the super round of play.

“I feel like we can all come together and play like we usually do,” he said. “There’s no added pressure on me because I’ve pitched in fairly big games already, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I can do. Obviously, we have to win, but I’m just going to do me out there and let that [dictate] the outcome.”

Leach is one of eight CPBL players on Team Canada’s roster at the World Cup in Thunder Bay. He is joined by fellow Mets Dondrae Bremner and Denzel Clarke, Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Lucas Parente and Eric Cerantola, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.

From Bermuda to Sarasota, my life as it led to the Orioles

By Adam Hall

It all started in Bermuda.

That’s where I was born, and where I was raised until I turned 12. I played every sport I could, and I knew they came easier to me than other people, and that if I worked hard, I could hope to be the best. I also knew that if I stayed on the island, I would probably max out my athletic years in track and field.

But I wanted to play baseball.

It wasn’t popular in Bermuda. I played for the Diamondbacks, and was lucky to play with kids older than I was so that I could get better. There wasn’t a ton of competition around, but it was a sport where you could always be working on something, even if you had no one else to play with. I gravitated to it because I could always be doing something to try and get better, and you can see improvements without even playing games.

My ceiling was up to me, and that has always been something I’ve enjoyed about it.

There haven’t ever been any professional baseball players from Bermuda before. I’ll be the first, when I officially take the field in Sarasota, Florida with the Gulf Coast League Orioles. It’s a cool fact, but I don’t feel like I overcame any odds to get here.

I’ve been fortunate to be on the path I took.

First, my parents, Helen and Tyler, let me move to Canada before I was even a teenager. We had visited every summer, coming to see my grandparents, and I got a glimpse of baseball in London, Ontario with the Badgers. My coaches now, who saw me then, said that I stood out, and that was probably what helped convince my mom and dad to let me leave. They mentioned it could be a possibility in the future, and I talked them into it that year, when I was 12.

That was the start of the next step.

I never really thought much about moving away from home, because I just wanted to go and play. I wasn’t too concerned about leaving my parents. I lived with Ken Frohwerk and Karen Stone, whose son Zach also played for the Badgers, and didn’t find it difficult to be in another country, although my mom might say something different. But I was playing baseball, so I was happy.

The next summer, a new program was starting in London. Adam Stern, who played in the big leagues with the Red Sox, had built a baseball facility in London when he retired, and with a few other pro guys from the area retiring from playing, they started the Great Lake Canadians, an elite program comparable to a travel-ball team in the States.

I went from playing 10 games a year with maybe 10 practices in Bermuda, to 60 games a season in London. During the off-season, I was probably going to Centrefield Sports, Sterny’s facility, three to five times a week.

That was when I started hearing about the draft, and what it might be like. My GLC coaches Sterny, Chris Robinson or ‘Robbie’, Jamie Romak and Brock Kjeldgaard all told me about their experiences and how different it was for all of them. Jamie went out of the same high school I did, A.B. Lucas Secondary, Brock from Indian Hills Community College, and Sterny and Robbie both went out of university, the University of Nebraska and the University of Illinois, so I got to hear their views and opinions on it. They told me what to expect either way, and tried to help me make sure that I would someday make the decision I wanted to make, not what other people wanted me to do, or thought was best for me.

Being with the Canadians helped me get to Team Canada, where I’ve had some of my best moments on the field. The junior national team has been my favourite thing to do, and I’m lucky I have been able to do it for three years. I couldn’t have been more excited when I first found out I made the team. It was a goal I had set for myself, and something I knew I wanted to do. I’m as much Canadian as I am Bermudian and it meant a lot to make the team.

The trips with Team Canada are the best, just because of how close you get with all the guys, and I’m pretty fortunate because I’ve been able to travel all over with them. I’ll keep some of the best moments with the team, but I’ve been to Australia, Japan, Dominican, Cuba, and throughout the States, and the whole experience has really been the best thing that I’ve done so far. It does so much for Canadian baseball players, and it did so much for me.

Even though I don’t know right now what the plan will be, I do hope I get one more trip with the junior team this summer, to the world championships on home soil in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I’d like to be able to support the program and give back a little bit of what it gave to me, and I’m optimistic about it. I’ve heard really good things about the crowds in Thunder Bay, and having that many fans behind you as you’re representing your country, just thinking about it gives me chills.

When I started with the national team, that was when things really kicked into gear leading up to this summer. I began to look at college options, falling in love with Texas A & M and committing to the Aggies, and really started to get a feel for what the draft process was going to be like.

My parents and I learned a lot. Eventually they both moved to London and we got to be together again, and a lot of our life was about baseball. We were pretty unaware of the whole process of what would happen leading up to this year’s draft, and the whole extent of everything there is involved with it. There’s definitely more than you can expect, even if someone explains it all to you ahead of time. It’s a lot more when you go through it yourself.

We had a lot of meetings and phone calls, being introduced to agents and college recruiters and area scouts and cross checkers and scouting directors, having people visit our home, ask questions, answer questions, go to showcases, go to big league stadiums, more meetings, more phone calls. Each one of us learned through it all.

I learned that I can’t control everything that happens. I went into it all with the mentality to just keep playing my game and not worry about trying to impress scouts. Obviously, I didn’t know if that was how you should approach it, before getting into that situation, but that’s what I did learn, to just try to go out and play my game and be myself.

The process did not go the way I thought it would.

Last year, the year before my draft year, when I was in Grade 11, I performed pretty well in the spring and throughout that summer on the showcase circuit. I was having fun and playing well.

Then this spring, I had some difficulties getting my game back and getting ready.

This was my year, and I expected it to keep going into this year. That was a little bit of a problem for me. I was frustrated, of course. Anytime you’re not doing what you want to be able to be doing, you’re going to get frustrated. But I had to try to manage that, so that it was healthy instead of trying to do too much and pushing myself too hard.

Hopefully it has helped me. Now I have a better idea of how to get through a slump when it’s an important time and I might be pressing a little bit. I was able to find myself again, and if it ever happens again (hopefully it doesn’t), I will know I can get through it.

In the days leading up to the draft, there weren’t a ton of phone calls, definitely less than I might have expected. There were probably five teams that I talked to within a couple days of the draft. I had a bunch of workouts pop up right before, but I expected that. I went to Kansas City to work out for the Royals, and then to Florida for the Astros and Padres, and then there was one in Milwaukee for the Brewers.

The night of the first two rounds of the draft, every pick took a really long time. I was with my mom and dad, and the family who took me in when I moved to London at their house. We were all watching it, not really distracting ourselves with anything else, and I was getting restless. The time between selections was painful.

When the second round started, with the first pick, the Minnesota Twins took my Team Canada teammate Landon Leach. That was a temporary distraction because I was really happy for him. He’s worked hard and improved a lot, and it was definitely something he deserved.

About 10 seconds before the 60th pick of the night and of the draft, my agent Matt Colleran called me and told me the Baltimore Orioles were going to take me, and my name would be the next one to be called. Matt told me what they were offering and asked if I was good with it, and that was the extent of the call before I got to hear my name.

I was pretty happy, to say the least.

So were my parents, friends, and everyone around me.

Right afterward, Chris Reitsma called to congratulate me. Reits is a national cross checker with the Orioles now, but when I met him, he was coaching the junior national team. Other than playing for Team Canada while he was a pitching coach, I had never talked to the Orioles before the draft. He was my only interaction with the organization at all.

It was a little bit surprising, but I knew that was something to expect. That’s what had happened to Sterny when he got drafted. I knew it was a possibility. And it didn’t really matter who it was in that moment, it was exciting.

My next interaction with the Orioles came when the draft was all over, and they made arrangements for me to come to Baltimore to put pen to paper and make it official. I graduated high school a little earlier than my peers, and I was about to leave London and become a professional baseball player.

I flew to Maryland with my mom and dad, and the first night we got to walk around the city a little bit. It was my first time in Baltimore, and it was definitely interesting. It’s right on a bay, so I guess you could say it has some similarities to Bermuda.

We got to go to Orioles Park at Camden Yards the next day. First, I had to go through all of their medical examinations, so they could make sure they were getting a healthy player before signing over their money and committing to me, but then we got to go to the field. They gave us a tour, and we got to watch the team take batting practice, and we stayed for a game against the Cleveland Indians.

The ballpark was a lot different than I expected, but most are. I really liked that out in right field, on Eutaw Street, they have a marker for every home run ball that’s been hit in a game on the ground in the street, with the distance and the name of the guy who hit it.

It would have to be a pretty deep opposite-field shot for me to get there, but maybe someday.

We met quite a few guys in the Orioles’ front office, and it was good to get to talk to them, because they’re people I’ll be dealing with in the future now. It was with them that we made it official.

The actual signing of the paperwork wasn’t very ceremonious. They took a picture with me and my parents and the contract after I had gone through it all, but you just go through and sign what needs to be signed, and it’s all done with less importance than you might think.

But the Baltimore Orioles made me a millionaire. I don’t have the money yet, so technically I’m not, but I signed with them for $1.3 million, and I wouldn’t even say it if it wasn’t posted everywhere for anyone to see. I don’t think I’m going to do anything with it right away. A lot of guys I know bought cars with their bonuses, but I won’t need one down in Sarasota, so I’m not going to get a car right away.

I would like to do something for my parents, but they won’t want me to do that. I’m going to have to try to figure that out.

But now it’s official.

I’ve been fortunate with what I’ve been able to do, being able to move from Bermuda, being able to play with the Badgers, and then the Great Lake Canadians, and then with the junior team. I don’t think I could have been in a better position from where I’ve been, with my parents and all the support they’ve given me.

Obviously growing up in Bermuda and playing baseball isn’t the most ideal place to start, and maybe the odds were not necessarily in my favour, but I feel like they’ve been pretty good.

They worked for me, and here I am, ready to move again.

Four CPBL players selected in MLB’s first-year player draft

In the midst of the second Canadian Premier Baseball League season, the circuit found success on Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft board in yet another year.

In total, 20 players were chosen in the 2017 selection process from north of the border, including nine out of Canadian high schools, with four hailing from Ontario and every one of them representing a CPBL program.

Toronto Mets right-hander and native of Pickering, Landon Leach was the first Canuck off the board this year, the Texas commit selected with the first pick of the second round by the Minnesota Twins, 37th overall.

“The draft is exciting, but all spring I’ve been doing my best to go one trip at a time, not really thinking too much about the future,” Leach said. “I just wanted to do my best in every game that I pitched, and it’s definitely exciting.

“My whole family is excited about the future. It’s not a big family, but they’re all happy for me and they’re going to support me through anything…They’re happy for me and everything I’ve done already.”

Great Lake Canadians shortstop Adam Hall quickly followed Leach in the draft, when the Baltimore Orioles chose the Bermuda-born Londoner and Texas A&M commit with the 60th overall pick, also in the second round.

“I can bring a little bit of everything, whether that’s speed, defence, my arm, batting, power,” Hall said. “When I bring all of that to a game, that’s what impresses people. It’s not just one thing in particular that I’m going to impress someone with.”

Ontario Blue Jays outfielder and Mississauga’s own Cooper Davis was chosen by his hometown Toronto Blue Jays in the 25th round of this year’s draft. The 15th Canuck chosen during the selection process, taken 759th overall, Davis is committed to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Dondrae Bremner, a Cincinnati commit from Toronto and shortstop in the Mets program, was selected by the Reds in the 31st round of the draft, 917th overall, as the 17th player from north of the border whose name was called.

***

The four CPBL players selected this year follows the inaugural season of the league, in which 12 Canadian high schoolers were chosen in the draft, with all six hailing from Ontario coming from the CPBL. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was the first one off the board in 2016, selected by the Diamondbacks in the second round, 52nd overall, and eventually signing for $1,214,100 before heading off to spend his season between the Arizona League and the Pioneer League.

“I’ve talked a lot with Andrew Yerzy, he’s one of my good buddies,” Leach said. “I worked out with him in the off-season as well, and I talked to him about how pro ball is and what it’s been like for him. He told me everything about it and what he liked about it. He said it’s obviously a grind, but he’s enjoying it at the same time, because he loves to play…

“He said it’s a big transition obviously because our trips are [to play pros] for two weeks, and you’re over there for eight months, so it’s definitely a big change in time, but honestly I feel like I’m ready. I know I’m ready for that.”

Ontario Blue Jays righty Jordan Balazovic was taken in the fifth round last year, 153rd overall, by Minnesota, eventually signing for $515,000 and spending his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Twins, posting a 1.97 ERA over eight games and 32 innings before turning 18 years old.

OBJ catcher Luke Van Rycheghem was chosen by Arizona in the 23rd round and spent his first pro season in the AZL after signing for $100,000. Mets southpaw Matt Jones was taken by the Twins, and the 28th-round selection shared his rookie season with Balazovic in the GCL after he signed for $70,000.

Great Lake right-hander Austin Shields was selected by the Pirates organization in the 33rd round and got in just over six innings of work in the GCL after signing for $205,000 just before the deadline. His Canadians teammate and outfielder Jake Wilson was taken in the 39th round by the Red Sox, and opted to fulfill his commitment to Bowling Green State University.

***

Several graduates of current CPBL programs were also taken in the 40 rounds of the draft from Monday to Wednesday. Former Ontario Blue Jays right-hander Zach Pop was selected in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The University of Kentucky flamethrower and native of Brampton was the third Canadian chosen, 220th overall.

Pop was followed by Daniel Procopio of Niagara University on the second day of the draft, taken in the 10th round with the 295th pick by the Los Angeles Angels. The Toronto-born right-handed pitcher spent some of his high school playing days with the Toronto Mets program. Fellow Mets grad and Toronto native Eric Senior was chosen in the 13th round – 403rd overall – by the Washington Nationals out of Midland College. J.D. Osborne, another former Mets player and a catcher from Whitby, was chosen out of the University of Tampa in the 22nd round, as the 659th pick in the draft.

Other high school players hailing from the Great White North chosen through the 40 rounds of the draft include Clayton Keyes, an outfielder from Calgary, Alberta, taken by the Diamondbacks in the 15th round; Abbotsford, BC’s Cade Smith, a right-hander chosen by the Twins in the 16th round; Jason Willow, a Victoria, BC native and shortstop, taken in the 24th round by the Orioles; Quebec City second baseman Edouard Julien, taken by the Phillies in the 37th round; and the Tigers 40th-round selection, second baseman Rhys Cratty from Langley, BC. All nine Canuck high schoolers chosen are members of the Canadian Junior National Team.

Canadian college players chosen throughout this year’s process include Jonathan Lacroix, a right fielder from Seminole State and native of Montreal, Quebec, selected by the Astros in the 12th round; Prince George, BC’s Jared Young, a second baseman at Old Dominion taken in the 15th round by the Cubs; left fielder Raphael Gladu of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec and Louisiana Tech, taken by the Mets in the 16th round; Sherwood Park, Alberta’s Tanner Kirwer of Niagara University, the centre fielder taken by the Blue Jays in the 20th round; Louis Boyd from North Vancouver, an Arizona shortstop, selected by the Mariners in the 24th round; Northwestern Ohio righty Kyle Thomas, a Mississauga native, chosen by the Tigers in the 30th round; and Jake Lumley, a product of Canisius College from Windsor, the second baseman taken by the Athletics in the 33rd round.

In addition, two players who were born in Canada but grew up elsewhere were selected in the draft. Right-hander Christian Lindsay-Young from Hamburg, New York was chosen by the Reds in the 21st round out of Niagara County Community College; and righty Jordan Scheftz from Irvine, California was taken in the 23rd round by the Indians out of Central Florida.

Great Lake’s Hall selected in second round of draft

Hailing from the opposite of a baseball hotbed in Bermuda to becoming the 60th overall pick in Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft this year, selected in the second round by the the Baltimore Orioles, Adam Hall has proved himself to be an anomaly over and over in his young career.

Born and raised on the British island territory in the Atlantic ocean, Hall grew up playing soccer, cricket and volleyball, excelling in track and field, while honing his baseball skills in the country’s rookie league and benefiting from competing against older players, a opportunity given to him by the late Tom MacNeil, before earning funding from the Bermudan government to help him pursue his dream further.

On a summer trip with his parents Helen and Tyler to Ontario, the young infielder experienced his first chance at a Canadian baseball season before his teenage years. Hall was always an exceptional athlete, and his talent was recognized early. Not long after that first season, he moved full-time to London, Ont., essentially on his own at first, living with a host family and playing for the local Badgers team.

Fast forward several years since then, and two additional moves to bring his father and then his mother to southwestern Ontario, Hall graduated to the Great Lake Canadians program in its inaugural season, and as the program grew, so did the London resident’s presence on the Canadian baseball scene.

Hall joined the Canadian Junior National Team program at 15 years old and along with the guidance of national squad guru Greg Hamilton, has had a plethora of big-league coaches along the way, starting with Great Lake’s Adam Stern, Chris Robinson and Jamie Romak, and continuing with Team Canada instructors Pete Orr, Justin Morneau, and Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, to name a few.

“If I had stayed in Bermuda, I wouldn’t even be playing baseball because they don’t have age groups for me,” Hall said earlier this year. “Maybe I would be doing track and field…Canadian baseball has changed my life a lot. Getting to work with Stern and [Robinson] and those guys at Centrefield Sports, they’ve been a huge part of my development. I would be here if it wasn’t for them.

“And the program that Greg runs is just phenomenal. When you talk to American scouts and they’re impressed and saying that it’s the best program out there, you know that’s really complimenting it. They’re going to want to say that the US has something better – the US is a baseball powerhouse – [and] they’re saying the Canadian junior program is the best program. What I’ve been able to develop through that and improve through that, it’s really been everything.”

Since joining Team Canada, Hall has been on countless trips to St. Petersburg and Orlando, Florida, along with the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, and to the 2015 U18 Baseball World Cup in Osaka, Japan. The shortstop cherishes each tour as much as the entirety of the experience of representing Canada on the diamond.

“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,” he said. “The experiences will last a lifetime and you’re a part of the family forever.”

Hall’s initial shot at the showcase circuit was at the Toronto Blue Jays-hosted Tournament 12, the first of many doors to open for the 6-foot, 170-pound shortstop. Beyond four appearances in four years at Tournament 12, the middle infielder also participated in multiple Perfect Game events, the East Coast Pro showcase, the Area Code Games, the Under Armour All-America Game, and Perfect Game’s All-American Classic at PETCO Park.

Though the 18-year-old never considered himself the prototypical type of player expected at the kinds of showcase events he participated in – not blowing everyone out of the water in any one category – his ability to remain consistently at the top of each of his tools was what separated him from the crowd.

“You think of the guys who go to those games and you think of big guys who are hitting the ball far and pitchers who are throwing 95 [miles per hour] plus,” Hall said. “I wouldn’t say I’m the typical guy to go to those but obviously I’m pretty happy that [I did]…

“I can bring a little bit of everything, whether that’s speed, defence, my arm, batting, power. When I bring all of that to a game, that’s what impresses people. It’s not just one thing in particular that I’m going to impress someone with.”

Hall has certainly impressed all those he’s been around throughout his years of development in Canadian baseball, and the Texas A & M commit has a bright future ahead of him, no matter what decision he makes.

Hall’s selection in the draft followed fellow Canadian Premier Baseball League member and Team Canada teammate Landon Leach, taken by the Minnesota Twins with the first pick of the second round, 37th overall, who was most impressed throughout his tenure with the national squad by the infielder.

“Adam Hall has really impressed me the most since we’ve been playing for the Junior National Team,” the 17-year-old right-hander said. “Especially with his work ethic and his hitting ability, and his defence as well. Overall, he’s been a good teammate and a good player to be around.”

Mets’ Leach first Canadian off this year’s draft board

On Monday night, just 37 picks into Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft, Landon Leach became the first Canadian chosen in this year’s selection process, the Minnesota Twins taking the right-handed hurler with the first pick in the second round.

An alumnus of the Toronto Mets and Canadian Junior National Team programs, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound pitcher has come a long way since his days behind the dish. It was just a couple of years ago when the Mets opted to send him to the mound, believing in his arm and helping Leach make the transition that eventually led him to this point.

“I’d always been a catcher my whole career,” the 17-year-old said, before the draft. “So in my 16U year, I wasn’t sure at first about making the move. I was kind of iffy about it. Now that I’ve seen the results, I’m definitely happy that we’ve made the change…and I have a lot more sympathy for my catchers now. Even [earlier this year], I was trying to catch a guy in the bullpen, and he was just warming up and it was difficult. I can’t catch up to 80 [miles per hour] now. I wouldn’t be able to catch myself.”

This spring, playing for the Mets in the Canadian Premier Baseball League and for Team Canada – on two trips to Florida and one trip to the Dominican Republic to face professional competition – Leach was up to 96 with his fastball, also finding success with his slider and changeup, which he has been trying to implement more in game action.

“My biggest strength is definitely my secondary pitches,” the native of Pickering, Ont., said. “And obviously my fastball, because I can get it up there, but definitely my secondary pitches and my composure on the mound. I try to focus early in the count, obviously getting my fastball ready, and then once that’s ready, everything comes together with my secondary pitches.

“I do work on it a lot during the off-season, especially my changeup because I need to perfect that. I’m still working on it, but it’s coming along, so I’m happy about that…Honestly, last year I barely used my changeup. Maybe once an outing. I just didn’t really need to use it at first. Obviously back home I didn’t really need it, but [in Florida] I definitely do, playing against pro teams. But right now, on a scale of one to 10, it’s around a seven. Last year, it was a two probably. It’s come a long way.”

Since earning his way onto the Junior National Team roster, and facing professionals on a more regular basis, Leach has learned a lot about himself as a pitcher, evolving with both his failures and his successes.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself since I’ve been facing professional hitters,” Leach said. “It’s definitely difficult. My first trip with Team Canada last year in March was a big eye-opener for me, but I’ve definitely learned a lot coming on these trips and seeing the competition level. I feel like I’ve done a good job about it, but I have to continue to do that, and if everything works out hopefully I’m actually facing these guys on a professional team.”

During the off-season, Leach spent a lot of time hearing from a former teammate what the transition from the junior squad to the pro ranks is like. Andrew Yerzy, who was last year’s top CPBL pick in the draft – taken 52nd overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round, and eventually signing for $1,214,100 before starting his pro career – offered his experience to Leach as he headed into the end of his high school playing days.

“I’ve talked a lot with Andrew Yerzy, he’s one of my good buddies,” the Texas commit said. “I worked out with him in the off-season as well, and I talked to him about how pro ball is and what it’s been like for him. He told me everything about it and what he liked about it. He said it’s obviously a grind, but he’s enjoying it at the same time, because he loves to play…

“He said it’s a big transition obviously because our trips are [to play pros] for two weeks, and you’re over there for eight months, so it’s definitely a big change in time, but honestly I feel like I’m ready. I know I’m ready for that.”

In order to prepare for what Leach knew would be a big spring for him, the young hurler made some changes to his winter routine, and was happy with the results he gleaned while with Team Canada.

“Out of the Mets program, I joined the Pitching Performance Canada program,” Leach said. “I took two months off this year in the winter instead of one, just so I could rest my arm, because I knew this was going to be a big year for me.

“I started doing the weighted-ball program for around a month, and then from there it was mostly long toss and drill work to get my mechanics right. After that, I started bullpens around five weeks before my first trip with the Junior National Team in March…

“The weighted-ball program was good for me. I gained velocity this off-season, so I feel like it did help. Hitting 96 [in the spring], I didn’t even feel like I was throwing that hard when I was pitching, it was more of the motion of letting go that was different. I didn’t feel like I was overpowering the ball, so I didn’t feel like it was an effort to throw there.”

Leach’s success in the spring with the national squad led to a quick rise in his stock and the 37th overall selection by the Twins in the draft. Though he still has a decision to make, the teenager feels ready for the future, with the support of his friends, teams, teammates, and family, no matter it might hold.

“The draft is exciting, but all spring I’ve been doing my best to go one trip at a time, not really thinking too much about the future,” Leach said. “I just wanted to do my best in every game that I pitched, and it’s definitely exciting.

“My whole family is excited about the future. It’s not a big family, but they’re all happy for me and they’re going to support me through anything. My parents have come on a few trips to see me, and my dad is usually hiding somewhere because he always gets really nervous, but they’re happy for me and everything I’ve done already.”

GLC aids Shields in transition to the professional game

After getting into just four professional games last season, former Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields is looking forward to moving onward and upward in his first full year of pro baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Signing almost a month-and-a-half after being selected by the Bucs in the 33rd round of last year’s draft out of St. Mary Secondary School in Hamilton and the Canadian Premier Baseball League  – inking a deal just before the deadline with a $205,000 bonus – the 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler joined the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Pirates and got in just over six innings of work for his club.

Excited for his first chance to enter the professional realm, throwing multiple frames in three of his four outings last year, Shields felt fully prepared for the first step in his career after spending the previous couple of years with the Great Lake instructors.

“I believe I was prepared for pro ball, because the GLC coaches really know about being a pro,” Shields said. “They help their players get ready for the next level, whether it’s college or the pro level…

“Pro ball wasn’t totally different than playing with GLC, but there were some differences. Getting used to throwing every day was definitely the biggest change, as I wasn’t doing that back home. So it took time for my arm to adapt to it.”

Transitioning from the infield to the mound when he joined the Canadians program, Shields made a quick impression as an amateur, selected soon thereafter to the Canadian Junior National Team. After going through an adjustment period, the 19-year-old native of Dundas has become more familiar with his own skillset, and is using it to his advantage more and more each day.

“I feel I’ve changed a whole lot,” Shields said. “When I first joined the GLC and JNT programs, I had no clue what I was truly doing yet. I was still recognizing the skills I had and what to do with them. The coaches I’ve worked with over the years have always been positive toward me, taking their time and really trying to get the most out of me.

“Now that I’ve been in pro ball for a bit, I’ve started to get a feel for myself and how I do things, just getting into my own routine that works best for me. Also, being able to make changes to myself when something isn’t going the way I intended it to is different.”

Currently in Bradenton, Florida at extended spring training with the Pirates, trying out some new pitches and seeing what might work for him before the short-season squads officially get underway, Shields has enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to start with the organization right from the beginning of the year.

“Being my first spring training, I had no clue what to expect,” he said. “But getting into camp and meeting a lot of guys in the system, it was a lot of fun. I liked how relaxed and laid back it was, while we were still getting all of our work in. I really liked how I was able to interact with all the players in the system and really get to know people.”

Still shocked at how quickly the days pass, because, “doing something you love really makes time fly by,” Shields can’t wait for competitive games to get going and to show what he can do on the hill.

“For the upcoming season, I expect it to go really well and hopefully end in a championship,” Shields said. “Wherever I end up, I obviously hope or a successful season, but also to stay healthy and perform the way I know I can.”

CPBL dominates the scene in inaugural season

With only one Canadian Premier Baseball League season in the books, the circuit has already proven to be a dominant force in the game both within the province of Ontario and in the country, leading the amateur scene in draft picks, prospects, college scholarship opportunities, interest from scouts and recruiters, and members of the Canadian Junior National Team.

Bringing together the top players from the Toronto Mets, Team Ontario, Ontario Nationals, Ontario Blue Jays, Great Lake Canadians and Fieldhouse Pirates programs, the CPBL provides the highest level of competition around, in combination with furthering the development of the players within it as well as the calibre of the game north of the border.

“The level of competition in the CPBL was overall pretty good throughout the league,” said Adam Hall, shortstop for the Great Lake Canadians and Canada’s top prospect heading into the upcoming draft. “Although there were definitely stronger and weaker teams, there was never a matchup where a team had no chance of winning.”

Having played around the world with Team Canada, and across North America for a variety of tournaments and showcases over the last four years, Hall offers unique insight into just how much having the CPBL at home can mean for the players involved.

“It was very successful in its first season,” the Bermuda-born native of London, Ont., said. “It proved that it is possible to have a league that is more concerned about developing players rather than a league that is purely about winning and following the rules exactly, causing players to maybe not develop or grow as much as they could’ve due to the restrictions that hold them back. In the end, at this age, although winning is nice and all, what the main concern should be is preparing the players for their next step whether that be college, university, or pro ball, so that they can be successful there.

“The CPBL has found a way to bring all the best players into one league as there are no zone restrictions keeping them apart. They are all playing against each other every weekend, which is exactly what you want when it comes to making sure the players are developing as much as possible.”

Fielding nine teams at the 18U level in its inaugural season, with 35 total teams participating among all age groups, the CPBL allowed each program to have more games on home soil, consistently attracting a number of area scouts and recruiters, and providing highly-anticipated matchups each weekend among some of the country’s top talent.

“The CPBL was great in its first year,” said Mike Steed, director of pitching and college placement for the OBJ program. “There were no hiccups, nothing like that. From a competitive standpoint, it forced my guys to come out and compete every day. You really couldn’t take any innings off, which we look for, especially for their development and moving on with our 18s going into college. It pushed them to compete every day.”

In June, 12 Canadian high schoolers were selected in the draft, with all six of those hailing from Ontario coming from the CPBL. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was the first one off the board, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round, 52nd overall, and eventually signing for $1,214,100 before heading off to spend his season between the Arizona League and the Pioneer League.

Ontario Blue Jays righty Jordan Balazovic was taken in the fifth round, 153rd overall, by the Minnesota Twins, eventually signing for $515,000 and spending his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Twins, posting a 1.97 ERA over eight games and 32 innings before turning 18 years old.

OBJ catcher Luke Van Rycheghem was chosen by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round and spent his first pro season in the AZL after signing for $100,000. Mets southpaw Matt Jones was taken by Minnesota, and the 28th-round selection shared his rookie season with Balazovic in the GCL after he signed for $70,000.

Great Lake right-hander Austin Shields was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in the 33rd round and got in just over six innings of work in the GCL after signing for $205,000 just before the deadline. His Canadians teammate and outfielder Jake Wilson was taken in the 39th round by the Boston Red Sox, and opted to fulfill his commitment to Bowling Green State University.

In September, the Toronto Blue Jays-hosted Tournament 12 offered an example of just how bright the future is for the league, with CPBL players dominating its Ontario and Futures rosters, supplying the majority of talent from the area. Of the event’s total of just over 160 players from across the entire country, 52 spent the season in the CPBL with the Blue Jays, Canadians, Mets and Nationals, along with four of the tournament’s coaches.

“It’s a great sign of what our league has accomplished in such a short time,” said Kyle Fillier, 16U field manager for the Toronto Mets. “We are confident that we have the best players, coaches, and teams in the province. This is a testament to the league, and we will continue to showcase the best players to the most scouts and colleges.”

The highly touted and scouted tournament saw an Ontario team finish on top, with a roster that included 17 CPBL players and two coaches earning the championship victory. Hall was named the Tournament 12 MVP after helping his squad to that win and dominating throughout the entirety of the event.

Heading toward June this year, many of the top high school players hailing from the Great White North will be playing in the CPBL before looking to the draft. Hall, committed to the Texas A&M Aggies, ranks first on both the PBR Ontario and Canadian Baseball Network’s draft lists, and is No. 16 among Baseball America’s Top 100 high schoolers.

Coming in at No. 2 for PBR, Texas commit and right-handed hurler Landon Leach is a product of the Mets, ranking at No. 42 for BA, and second on the CBN list. PBR’s No. 3 Dondrae Bremner is Leach’s Mets teammate, and the infielder is committed to Cincinnati. No. 4 for PBR Ontario is Cooper Davis, an outfielder in the OBJ program. The Vanderbilt commit also ranks fourth on CBN’s draft list – after University of Kentucky right-hander Zach Pop, formerly an OBJ pitcher – and comes in at No. 77 on BA’s top 100.

Among PBR’s top 10, every player hails from one of the CPBL programs, with 66 of the top 100 Ontarians participating in the circuit in its first year. Just under 40 players from the league are also committed to a variety of different American colleges with various scholarship opportunities.