The inaugural Tournament 12 at Rogers Centre has been showcasing the top talent from around the nation in the hopes that some undiscovered Canucks will get their deserved chance to play professional baseball or earn a college scholarship.
With plenty of talent north of the border, though an obviously smaller pool than the baseball giants, part of the idea is that ballplayers from the far reaches of the country will finally have the opportunity to play on a big stage in front of dozens of scouts, with most teams in attendance.
The second day of the event hosted by the Blue Jays, and the first day of games, showcased many of Canada’s top pitchers, with Prince Edward Island’s J.P. Stevenson beginning the day in impressive fashion.
The 16-year-old southpaw stifled an Ontario lineup that included two of the best players in the country, Josh Naylor and Demi Orimoloye, for five innings, giving up just one hit, walking two and striking out nine. He effectively mixed a low-80s fastball with a high-60s curveball and high-60s changeup. And Stevenson, a member of the Canadian Junior National team, wasn’t even the best of the day.
“The most impressive arm was definitely [the Prairies Ben] Onyshko,” one American League scout said. “He showed command, had sneaky velocity, and a solid breaking ball.”
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound lefthander from Winnipeg, Manitoba needed just 33 pitches to get through four innings – with shortened counts – and struck out nine Futures batters, allowing no hits and giving up one walk. Onyshko, who featured a mid-80s fastball that touched 87 mph, faced just one batter over the minimum and didn’t allow a ball out of the infield. He pounded the strike zone, as 80 percent of his pitches went for strikes.
Pitchers dominated the day but the Tournament 12 did see its first home run, and in grand fashion. In the last game of the day, Robert Byckowski, a strong-bodied 6-foot-2, 205-pound third baseman from Etobicoke, Ontario muscled a 400-foot bomb to straightaway center field for his team’s only run of the game. Byckowski, the son of Reds crosschecker Bill Byckowski, was by far the best hitter of Saturday’s six games. He added two ground rule doubles, two walks and a hit by pitch to reach base in six of his seven trips to the plate.
The day’s surprises included 16-year-old Toronto-native Ian Wilson, who swung the bat really well on a day dominated by pitching, and 6-foot-7, 225-pound righthander Matt Ianni, also 16, who managed to light up radar guns for a couple of pitches at the end of the day, hitting 89 before settling around 83-86.
Pitching for the Toronto Mets, Zach Pop, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander in the 2014 class from Brampton, Ontario, showed some of the best velocity of the day, sitting in the high 80s and touching 91 mph. Pop struck out five and allowed one run against two hits and a walk in four innings.
Andrew Case, a righthander for the Maritimes Grey, struck out all six hitters he faced with a fastball up to 92 mph.