Tag: spring training

Ontario Astros look ahead to fourth season of the CPBL

As we get closer to spring and approach the fourth season of the Canadian Premier Baseball League, the Ontario Astros are looking forward to what lay ahead for the circuit and for the program.

The Astros have been impressed and challenged by the competition the league has consistently brought to the table, and are excited for more of the same, as well as having a chance to build on the successes they found last year.

“The league is doing really well,” Team Ontario director of baseball operations Jason Booth said. “It’s starting to establish a history and we’re starting to see that we are the best league with college commitments in the province, and the CPBL houses the best players in the province – that’s been proven.

“As far as our program goes, there’s never an easy weekend in the league, it’s a tough schedule and quality competition across the board. Our program is moving in an upward swing. We had a five-year plan to make some changes and this will be Year 3 of that plan and we’re getting there. We’ll be competitive at all age groups, and we’re really excited for our 15U team this year. They were our 14U group last year and had a really good year so we’re looking for them to continue that success. And our college placement has been going very well.”

Through the duration of the 2018 season, the most memorable moment for Booth came at the circuit’s close, when the youngest of the organization’s teams made a solid run for a trophy.

“Our 14U team last year – I’m proud of how they battled through the season and battled through some injuries and into the finals,” the director of baseball operations said. “They lost to the Great Lake Canadians in the championship. They did a good job and we think that team is even stronger this year. We are looking forward to seeing what they can do in 2019.”

Throughout the off-season months, the Astros have made some additions and changes to their programming and can’t wait to get out on the field for spring training ahead of the upcoming CPBL season.

“We’ve added a new weight program into our mix, we’ve changed some dynamics with how we’re doing our winter workouts, we have different positional methods, and we’ve had some US coaches and college guys come in and help us through the winter,” Booth said. “We’re taking 44 kids to Florida on March Break to West Palm Beach, which we’re excited about. We’ll have three teams there.”

And beyond the spring, Team Ontario is excited for what’s next in the CPBL, and for its graduating players.

“I like that the 18U playoff weekend has been moved up so those players get an opportunity to have a season and play, and then they get a chance to focus on school starting at the beginning of July,” Booth said. “For our 18U team, it’s a little different because it gives our guys an opportunity to go to the four US tournaments we go to.

“We’re looking forward to having our 2019 class together and playing their final season before they head off to school. Most of those guys have been in the program for three or four years now and it’s exciting to see them end their careers in a positive environment and help them move on.”

As the commitment dominoes continue to fall, the Astros are excited to see where a number of their players land, and they are also looking forward to seeing what their 18U captain Riley McErlean can do as he fulfills his commitment at the College of Wooster in Toledo.

“Wooster is the pre-season No. 1 Division-III program in the nation and he committed in November,” Booth said. “Riley going there is a big thing for us. He’s our team captain this year and he’s been with the program the longest. He’s a leader and really what Team O represents and a great opportunity for him, fitting his needs academically and athletically. And it’s still early, so we look forward to seeing where our other players commit.”

Ontario Nationals ready for fourth CPBL season

Ahead of the fourth season of the Canadian Premier Baseball League, the Ontario Nationals are excited about what they have been able to accomplish in the circuit so far and are looking forward to striving for more.

After coming close to bringing home a trophy last year, the organization is hoping to build off of its successes and rack up the accolades over the course of this season.

“Last season was a step in the right direction,” Nationals director of baseball operations Jeremy Jayaweera said. “We had two teams play into the last day of the CPBL championships, with one of those teams being just one pitch away from clinching a championship. Our 18U team has a lot of returning players in their last year before heading to school, so being in their second year and knowing what to expect, I know this team will turn some heads.

“For our 15U and 16U squads, they are coming off strong seasons and are looking to take the next step. At our youngest level, 14U, we basically brought in a new crop of players – total athletes we know will be ready to compete day in and day out. The competition in this league is second to none and we will be ready come May.”

For the Nats, last year was highlighted by the improvements experienced at multiple levels, and the organization hopes that is a trend that will continue.

“Some notable moments from last year include out 15U and 16U teams playing on Sundays at huge events in the USA,” Jayaweera said. “Our 16U team fell short in two championship games against top teams in extras. Our 15U team really showed pride, and the development from year to year was amazing.

“When our 15U group was at the 14U level, they won three games; last year, they won over 20. They have something to prove this year and you can already see it in their off-season mentality. Watching our players grow from year to year is a feeling you cannot describe. The most impressive part is that from 14U to 18U, none of our players are satisfied – there is always more to give.”

With the winter well underway, the Nationals have made some off-season additions and changes to their regular programming and are looking forward to seeing the results when they are able to get out on the field.

“Our off-season started with weight training in October,” Jayaweera said. “We put them through vigorous training, which still continues. We have always been a great hitting organization from top to bottom – nothing changes there.

“The fielding and throwing programs are our main two focuses this off-season. With that, we have incorporated a Driveline program for our players to follow. It is still early but with consistent effort and training we believe we will take the next step this spring. We have also brought in a strength and pitching instructor Kurtis Robinson to help with our teams.”

Heading into the season and gearing up for CPBL play, the Nationals are excited to look forward to a new pre-season event and mix up their typical spring training routine for the year.

“We have also entered our 15U to 18U teams in the [Prep Baseball Report] Canada spring training showcase in Florida,” the program’s director of baseball operations said. “Having gone to play at Dodgertown for the previous three years, when we were invited to this event, we could not say no. With the exposure, practices, games, and a scout day, these players will have every opportunity to better themselves.

“After Florida, we will come back for a few weeks and gear up for the season. With some of the athletes we recruited and different programs we put in place this off-season, we can feel a different spark within the organization, which we hope continues into CPBL play.”

Beyond the season and with an eye on the future, the Nationals have right-hander Andrew Hazell heading to Mars Hill University, along with several alumni members of the organization making moves and changes for the fall.

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.”