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By Michael Levesque
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) It's a solid year for talent in Canada, but you might not see many of these players on minor league fields in 2004. U.S. immigration officials have an embargo on the type of work visas required for Canadians (and other players from foreign countries) to play minor league baseball in the U.S., and it's unlikely to be lifted this year. So visas probably will not be available for players drafted in June. Because Canadian players will likely have to sign a 2005 contract anyway, most teams will wait until the second day of the draft and take them as draft-and-follows.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Philippe-Alexandre Valiquette, lhp
Valiquette, who plays for Les Ailes du Quebec, a prominent youth team in Montreal, was the youngest player on the Canadian junior national team last summer. He elevated his stock considerably this spring when he performed well for the Team Canada on a spring trip to Florida. He has a slender, athletic build and lots of room for development. Valiquette has a loose, fluid arm action, and the ball explodes from his hand, producing a fastball in the 88-93 mph range with late tail and sink. His secondary pitches are not as advanced but have the potential to be at least average offerings. He throws a curveball with occasional late break and depth, and a straight change with tailing action. He maintains his arm speed well with the changeup. Valiquette can lose rhythm and focus on the mound, which causes him to overthrow at times and affects his command and pitch quality.
• Alexandre Periard, rhp
Periard has been well known to Canadian scouts for awhile, but he improved his stock after he performed well at an elite 2003 junior camp in Montreal. An impressive showing with Team Canada on a trip to Florida in March elevated his status further, as he flashed three average pitches and showed a much improved curveball and change. Periard will be one of the youngest players in this year's draft, as he won't turn 17 until June 15. He has a large frame but a slender build with lots of room for development. He has a no windup delivery, and a quick arm from a high three-quarters slot. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range with late tailing life, but seems much harder because the ball gets on hitters in a hurry. He complements his fastball with a curve that has good depth and bite and a change with sink and fade. Periard is aggressive with mound presence beyond his years. He projects to have plus command and control of all his pitches, but will need minor mechanical adjustments.
• Mike Saunders, rhp/3b
Saunders is a legitimate two-way prospect. He has a tall, athletic build with long arms and legs. On the mound, he has a loose, fluid arm action from a three-quarters slot and gets good extension over his front side. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range on a good downhill plane with late tail and sink, but his other pitches need work. He throws a curveball that he guides instead of letting it go, and slows his arm on his changeup. At the plate, he has an open, straightaway stance, and is a patient hitter with a fluid stroke that has a slight uppercut. The ball jumps from his bat and he projects to have above-average power. Defensively, he has above-average arm strength and a decent glove, but needs lots of ground balls to improve his fielding. He is a fringe-average runner who is better under way.
Others To Watch
• RHP Kris Dabrowiecki, is a solidly built 6-foot-4, 190-pounds with a lot of upside. He pitched for the Canadian junior national team last summer and almost upset Cuba, tossing nine innings and allowing only three runs. He has a prototype pitcher's frame with room for added development. His fastball sits in the 86-91 mph range with good sink and tail when he stays on top of it, and he complements it with a slider and changeup. His mechanics need work and he struggles to repeat his release point.
• C Joel Collins hit .327 and drove in 70 runs for Team Ontario's under-18 squad last summer. He collected 105 hits and walked 54 times, while striking out just 29 times in 321 at-bats. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder was also a member of the Canadian Pan Am Cup and junior national teams. Collins is an accomplished public speaker who has won regional awards. He has committed to South Alabama and plans to enroll in the communications and broadcasting program there if he doesn't sign. Collins is a polished, hard-nosed backstop with a sturdy build and has the tools to be an average to above-average catcher defensively. He has average arm strength and consistently gets his throws to second in less than 2.0 seconds, with his best being a 1.91 with good accuracy. He has a sure glove and good lateral movement and blocking skills. At the plate he has a level stroke but struggles because he lacks rhythm and timing. He has some length to his swing and places his hands too close to his body. He's a below-average runner but a decent athlete who also excels at basketball.
• RHP Tom Boleska is another Team Ontario product. He's smallish with a compact delivery and easy arm action and has the makings of two average pitches. His fastball was in the 87-91 mph range this spring, and he complements it with a curve that has good spin and bite. He has the makings of a decent change, and has a good idea of how to pitch. The 6-foot, 185-pound Boleska has signed with Miami (Ohio). He has a cumulative 18-4 record over three years with Team Ontario.
• 3B Steve Hornostaj is an athletic lefthanded hitter who projects well with the bat. He starts from a slightly open stance and produces a fluid swing with some lift, and as he matures should produce average power. He is a surehanded fielder with above-average arm strength and proper footwork, but is a well-below-average runner. His brother Aaron plays in the Giants organization.
• OF Tim Smith is athletic with a strong frame and an interesting array of tools. A member of the Canadian junior national team in 2003, he has a fluid, balanced lefthanded stroke and good bat speed. He has a bit of loft in his swing and shows above-average power potential. He is a solid defensive player with slightly above-average arm strength (he has been clocked at 89 mph from the outfield). Smith runs well for his size, registering a 60 time of 7.1 seconds.
• RHP Clay Caulfield was a third baseman until converting to the mound last year. He has a fresh arm and has touched 91 mph with a heavy, four-seam fastball that has good movement. Just a thrower at this point, all his secondary pitches need work.
• OF Adam Campbell is a draft-eligible sophomore at the University of British Columbia--the only Canadian college that subsidizes baseball--after taking a medical redshirt in 2003 with a strained ligament in his left ankle. The 6-foot, 190-pounder missed games this spring with a pulled hamstring but was hot with the bat after returning, and batted .320-6-34 for the season with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts. Campbell has solid-average tools across the board. He has a line-drive stroke with quick hands and alley power. Defensively he has average speed and arm strength but needs to work on his routes. He can be overanxious at the plate, with offspeed pitches giving him trouble.
• SS Chris Leendertse is the latest in a wave of Canadians to commit to Niagara, which is coached by Mike McRae--the only Canadian coaching a Division I team. The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder is a top basketball player who is raw on the diamond. He has a level stroke with good strength and quickness in his hands and gap power. Leendertse has solid defensive actions, with average arm strength, but he may be better suited to third base because of his size.