Eight CPBL players help Team Canada to bronze at world qualifier

With a bronze-medal victory in Chitré, Panama at the COPABE U18 Pan Am championships on Sunday, the Canadian Junior National team secured a spot in next year’s World Baseball Softball Confederation U18 Baseball World Cup, and it did so with the help of eight current or former members of the Canadian Premier Baseball League.

The circuit was represented by CPBL graduates Noah Naylor, who is currently a member of the Cleveland Indians organization after being selected 29th overall in this year’s draft; Denzel Clarke, playing at Cal State Northridge; and Daniel Carinci, a member of the University of Alabama squad. Current representatives of the league at the championships included Dasan Brown, Blake Buckle, Owen Diodati, Keegan Pulford-Thorpe, and TJ Schofield-Sam.

Ontario Blue Jays infielder Buckle was also named a tournament all-star after the final victory.

Team Canada beat Nicaragua 5-3 to take the medal and advance to next year’s tournament, and the Junior National Team program and preparations for the U18 World Cup will begin in March with the annual spring training trip in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Eleven CPBL players to represent Canada against Dominican Summer League prospects

The Canadian Junior National Team is just about set to depart for its third trip of the season, and final tour before Major League Baseball’s draft begins on June 4, and among the 30 young players invited to match up against Dominican Summer League prospects are 14 who hail from Ontario, and 11 members of Canadian Premier Baseball League teams.

Among those 11 CPBL players, four represented Team Canada at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 Baseball World Cup last September right at home in Thunder Bay, with Noah Naylor representing the Ontario Blue Jays, Eric Cerantola and Griffin Hassall hailing from the Great Lake Canadians program, and Denzel Clarke from the Toronto Mets organization. Fellow league members Dasan Brown, Jaden Brown, Blake Buckle, Daniel Carinci, Owen Diodati, Keegan Pulford-Thorpe and TJ Schofield-Sam will join the quartet in the Dominican, and all 11 players are following up a spring trip with the Canadian squad to Florida in April.

On the upcoming trip, Team Canada will play 13 games in nine days against clubs in the Dominican Summer League clubs from organizations that include the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball Canada’s director of national teams and manager of the junior squad Greg Hamilton leads a coaching staff that includes former national team member Chris Begg, and Robert Fatal, attending as a guest coach.

The Junior National Team program has travelled to the Caribbean baseball hotbed every year since 2011, with the trip providing young Canadian players with a truly unique baseball opportunity.

“The Dominican Summer League camp is a very important component to our Junior National Team program that will provide an invaluable experience to our players,” Hamilton said. “Players will be challenged with an intense schedule, while also dealing with elements in the Dominican Republic that they don’t face at home. The strides taken at this camp will better prepare our team for success going forward.”

In addition to providing an excellent development opportunity for players, the Dominican Summer League camp will aid in the selection process of Canada’s roster for the COPABE U18 Pan Am championships that will take place from November 23 to December 2 in Panama City, Panama. The event also serves as a qualifier for the 2019 WBSC U18 Baseball World Cup.

Dondrae Bremner soaks in final junior trip before Cincinnati

Down to his last day with the Canadian Junior National Team, Dondrae Bremner is hoping to move onto his next step and head to the University of Cincinnati with a bronze medal in his back pocket.

Before joining the Bearcats, the 18-year-old infielder and the rest of his Team Canada teammates will take on Japan at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup, Bremner’s final matchup with the group. The bittersweet moment will signify the end of an era in which he’s made the most of every moment, and is extremely grateful for.

“It’s been a really good time,” the 31st-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds said. “I love all the guys. I’m really going to miss it, especially playing for my country. I feel like this opportunity has prepared me for both university, and if I do get drafted in my junior or senior year. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that…

“It’s weird thinking that I’m pretty much not going to play with any of these guys ever again. It’s been a blast. I’ve loved it. But it’s been a little sad these last couple of days, realizing that it’s almost over and I might not see them.”

Bremner’s final trip began with two immediate World Cup losses to Chinese Taipei and Korea at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, leaving Team Canada in a hole it had to win its way out of. An epic ninth-inning comeback against Italy got the team started, and after rolling through Australia and Nicaragua, it was onto the super round, where it beat Japan and Cuba to secure a rematch against the Japanese squad for bronze on Sunday.

“We had a really good start, but we just couldn’t pull out the wins,” Bremner said. “But the intensity has gotten way better, and as a team we’re getting the job done. These last games have been really exciting…International baseball is exactly what Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] said it was going to be – high intensity, and we’ve pretty much got to be all in if we’re going to win.”

Hoping the crowd is on his team’s side on Sunday, the Toronto native believes the fans in Thunder Bay played a prominent role for the host nation early in the tournament, and in its most intense matchup, and will take all the help it can get as it fights for a medal.

“The crowd is amazing and that’s helped us,” Bremner said. “Some games, they haven’t been as intense as they were in the Italy game, but the crowd really helped us out in that game because they got us going…

“Against Italy, we played a good game. I felt like at the beginning we were putting too much pressure on ourselves and we weren’t doing what we needed to do. But towards the end, it got really intense, because we started playing the way we usually do, and we came back and pulled out a big win. This whole tournament has been a blast. I love it, especially playing for your country in front of your fans.”

Helping prepare Bremner for both his adventures with the Junior National Team as well as moving onto the American Athletic Conference has been the Toronto Mets program, where he has impressed with his development both on and off the field.

“Playing for the Mets really developed me, especially playing in the [Canadian Premier Baseball League],” the shortstop said. “We don’t usually see any arms that aren’t good; there are good arms coming at us every single game.

“Pretty much the talent here with the junior team, and in our league with the Mets, has been really good, and the coaches in the league have done a really good job of prepping me for what’s next.”

One of Bremner’s coaches over the years has been Chris Kemlo, who has seen firsthand the amount of progress the young player has made, and is excited for his next step, knowing that his ceiling is yet to be determined.

“At Cincinnati, he’s going to be someone who comes right in as a very athletic player with a lot of tools,” Kemlo said. “He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be when he leaves Cincinnati. There’s a lot of upside, and the biggest thing is the athleticism he brings. He’s got all the tools, but he has yet to reach his potential. There’s a lot more there.

“He’s come from being a skinny kid with little strength and lacking confidence…to somebody who wants the moment. He wants that at-bat with the game on the line, wants that ground ball with the game on the line, wants to be the guy. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously his body’s changed but his baseball IQ – forget all the tools – the way he approaches the game and the kind of person he is, those are the biggest changes.”

Beyond looking to get into game action with the bronze medal on the line on Sunday, Bremner is also excited to get the next step going once the World Cup comes to an end.

“I’m excited to go to school and get ready for the college life,” Bremner said. “Especially being down here, we go on two-week trips or three-week trips, it really preps you for being on your own and not with your parents. I feel like it’s done a really good job of that, so I won’t be scared or anything of university. I’m pretty much used to not being with my parents.”

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

Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart

Denzel Clarke using his toolbox to find success at World Cup

THUNDER BAY, Ontario – Denzel Clarke has been nothing short of impressive at the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay.

In just a short time, since joining the Toronto Mets program and heading to Everest Academy – where he has the on-field tutelage of Team Canada coach Chris Begg – and being added to the Canadian Junior National Team, the 17-year-old outfielder has made huge strides, with plenty of room left to grow.

“When I first saw Denzel, it was about a year-and-a-half ago when he came to Everest,” Begg said. “He was just raw. You saw the athleticism there, but he hadn’t put any of it together yet. Over the course of a year-and-a-half, to see him in everyday things like Phys. Ed class, or playing pickup basketball,  his athleticism was starting to show.

“Even on the baseball field, when we practiced he was very raw on the outfield, he wasn’t taking great routes to the ball, and his arm has come a long way since we started.”

Together for the World Cup, Begg has had a chance to see his young pupil in action firsthand at Port Arthur Stadium, and has been impressed by what Clarke has done. In eight games, with the bronze-medal matchup left to play, the 6-foot-3, 187-pound right fielder has shown defensive instincts and athleticism, as well as going 7-for-22 with two doubles, six runs scored and five driven in.

“It’s funny,” the national team coach said. “He’s much better in games than he is in practice. He’s still raw, but he’s able to put those pieces together and it comes through in games.”

Added Clarke: “I feel like I have a little bit left to grow. I feel like the main thing I have to do is put on strength, and that will help with my baseball, because I’m working on polishing everything. What I have now, I’m able to work with it, but I want to work as hard as I can and see what I can become.”

Team Canada began its run to the bronze-medal game with two early losses against Chinese Taipei and Korea to land in a hole that meant it needed to win each subsequent game to move onto the super round. Facing Italy with elimination on the line, Clarke and his Canadian teammates didn’t hold a lead until the ninth inning, completing an epic comeback in the most exciting matchup of the event.

“That game was crazy,” the uncommitted outfielder said. “It was a do-or-die game, and it was a tight one. So for us to never get our heads down, keeping our heads up and then just to keep battling and find a way to win was amazing. I never had any doubts and I don’t think the team did. We just need to be really confident in ourselves. We know we can hit, and it’s just about getting going.”

After taking down the Italians, the Canadian squad notched wins against Australia and Nicaragua to secure its spot in the super round. There, Canada defeated Cuba and Japan to land a spot in Sunday’s bronze-medal contest, where it will meet Japan once more.

“Everything has been awesome so far,” Clarke said. “Everything has been exactly how Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] said it would be, and the past alumni who have been on Team Canada said it would be. The crowd has been loud, and when you come here you don’t even need to be energized – the crowd will do it for you. It’s just been a great experience so far…

“Our mindset has always been to win, of course, but we need to always play hard and play our hearts out, and hope for the best.”

After growing up doing gymnastics, figure skating, tennis, track and more alongside baseball, the young native of Pickering, Ontario chose to stay primarily on the diamond at 10 years old – though he still trains with his mother Donna, a former Olympic heptathlete and current track coach. After starting with Pickering-Ajax clubs, he joined the Oshawa Legionaires, Ajax Spartans, and Ontario Blue Jays development program before the Mets.

“When I was younger, I did everything,” Clarke said. “I did a lot of stuff when I was growing up, until I hit the age of 10. It was just about trying different things until I found something I really hooked onto, and luckily baseball was it. It seems to be working so far, so hopefully I can stay with it…

“I still try to do any sports I can, whether it’s at school or when I go to a friend’s house, hanging out with them and playing sports. I love sports and I’ll play anything.”

Helped during some of his prime development years by the Mets and the Canadian Junior National Team, Clarke is excited to continue pushing his limits and make progress as he learns how to use his tools on the field.

“The Mets have been a really good program for me,” he said. “They took me in when I was 16 years old, and the way they help develop players has been really helpful, and playing in one of the better leagues in Canada and in Ontario has helped me a lot…

“The Junior National Team has been amazing. Facing the high level of competition on the March and April trips [against professionals at spring training], and going down to the Dominican in May was an eye-opening experience. All of it together has been really helpful for me.”

Clarke isn’t the only one looking forward to seeing what more he can do.

“His ceiling is as high as he wants it to be,” Begg said. “Look at the frame, look at the athleticism, look at the growth, look at the bloodlines – he’s got potential to be an all-star.”

Clarke is one of eight current or former Canadian Premier Baseball League players at the World Cup in Thunder Bay fighting for bronze. He is joined by Mets teammates Landon Leach and Dondrae Bremner, Great Lake Canadians Griffin Hassall, Lucas Parente and Eric Cerantola, and Ontario Blue Jays Harley Gollert and Noah Naylor.

Photo credit: WBSC/Christian Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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