Tournament 12 is one-stop shopping for draft-eligible Canadian talent.
The Toronto Blue Jays have begun to release the names of the top talent from north of the border who have secured roster spots for the second annual event and scouts, evaluators and college recruiters can rest assured that a September trip to Ontario’s capital will be worthwhile.
Canada’s 2015 draft class is highlighted by slugger Josh Naylor and outfielder Demi Orimoloye, with righthander Mike Soroka not far behind, and all will be on display at Rogers Centre from Sept. 16-20. Joining them will be the rest of the country’s finest high schoolers, all in one place at one time for a unique evaluating opportunity.
“The 2015 class is solid…” one National League evaluator said. “The two guys I’m most excited about are Naylor and Orimoloye; both could go in the first five rounds. The pitching talent for 2015 is strong than 2014 and hopefully with the changes to the tournament it will allow for pitchers to pitch deeper into games.
“Overall, the tournament is a great thing. It offers scouts an opportunity to see many players one last time before the offseason, on a big stage. The majority of scouts have all seen these kids play before but it helps us see the kids in high-pressure games and players can really raise their draft stock going into the offseason.”
Last fall’s inaugural tournament went off without a hitch, but the Blue Jays decided to tweak the event and to give an improved glimpse into what the Canadian baseball future holds.
“We went from 10 teams to eight teams,” Toronto’s coordinator of amateur baseball T.J. Burton said. “We’ve eliminated an Ontario team and one of the teams from Quebec. We’ve trimmed the rosters down to 20 from 24. We just really think it’s going to bring out the best of the best.
“It’s going to make the jobs of our scouting department and Baseball Canada and all the people who are picking the teams a little more difficult but we really think we are going to get the best of the best.”
For many Canadian scouts, a significant amount of time is often spent evaluating the junior national team. But Greg Hamilton, head coach and national program director, knows that Tournament 12’s reach goes far beyond his own.
“Tournament 12 was very important for the country because it was all-encompassing,” Hamilton said. “I use that word, but I sincerely feel that. It touches everybody coast to coast.
“We really believe in the junior national program and obviously the value of the junior national program but it doesn’t touch as many kids. There aren’t as many kids who are directly impacted, obviously by nature of the selection process and the number of players who can play every year.
“So to run a showcase event that touches every province and goes coast to coast is huge, and then to be able to deliver that with all the best players is even better.”
The showcase got its name from the number worn by Hall of Fame second Roberto Alomar, who is commissioner of the tournament. Alomar said he is excited about the event’s maturation.
“Tournament 12 provides a great opportunity for Canadian baseball players to showcase their skills and abilities on a major league field,” he said. “I am very proud of how successful the tournament was in its inaugural year, and am really looking forward to seeing the next wave of Canadian baseball talent as this showcase grows.”
One success story already stemming from the first event is Andrew Case. The righthander signed a minor-league contract with the Blue Jays just four days after his Maritimes team became the first Tournament 12 champions. In his two appearances over the four days of games, Case threw nine innings, including a seven-inning no-hitter, and struck out 19 batters.
After being signed by Toronto’s Canadian scout Jamie Lehman out of the tournament, Case reported to the instructional league in the Dominican, and has since been dominating at extended spring training in Dunedin. Through 30 innings at Bobby Mattick Training Centre, the hurler has allowed just five runs on nine hits, giving out only one free pass and striking out 22.
“Tournament 12 has changed our whole family’s lives,” said Jade McDermott, Case’s father.
Local righty and one of Canada’s top high schoolers heading into the upcoming draft, Zach Pop earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky after being seen at the event, and couldn’t be more grateful for his opportunity with the Wildcats.
“Gary Henderson, the head coach, was at Tournament 12 and that was huge,” Zach’s father Sheldon Pop said. “He saw Zach and Zach did really well at Tournament 12 so that kind of got him on their radar a little bit…they (eventually) came out and offered Zach a real good scholarship opportunity and we just couldn’t say no to it.”
The Blue Jays are excited at the successes that have already built from the tournament and are looking forward to more.
“We’re proud that we got the tournament going and off the ground for the first year and it was successful,” Burton said. “We had a kid signed and a lot of kids got letters for schools …We just want to continue to give the best opportunity to give these kids possible to get them seen, get them down to schools, get them drafted, and just further their baseball careers.
“Any way we can help, that’s the goal of the whole tournament and that’s why we’re here doing all this work.”
One American League scout with a territory encompassing the Great White North found the opportunity great for everyone involved.
“The inaugural tournament was really the first of its kind in Canada for professional and college evaluators,” the American League scout said. “We were able to see the top talent in the country … all in the same place.
“Anytime you are able to see that quantity of players in a scouting-oriented event in one place, it really is a dream opportunity for a scout. It may save you four or five flights or phone calls and allow you to get an excellent grasp on not only what is coming up this year but the next two or three years as well.”
The upcoming event should show plenty of promise for Canada’s future.
“The 2015 class is as good a class as I have seen in my time doing Canada,” the American League scout said. “It isn’t just the big names everybody knows; it’s the depth of talent—much deeper than we have seen in recent years.
“Going to eight teams will ensure the absolute top tier of players are all involved in the tournament and competing against each other over the course of the event. Seeing the best players against the best players gives you that much more comfort and conviction in evaluations.”