Simpson: Pendulum swings towards Ontario
*LHP Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.) shown here pitching in Columbia, is expected to be the top Canadian when the three-day draft begins …
By Allan Simpson
Canada Overview: Canada’s Talent Pendulum Swings Towards Ontario
Canada continues to make steady inroads on the draft, international competition and Major League Baseball, and invariably the nation’s best talent has come from two distinct sources: British Columbia, particularly the area in and around Vancouver; and Ontario, notably suburban Toronto and the regions to the west and east.
B.C. can claim the likes of retired major-league star Larry Walker, former MVP Justin Morneau and rising talent Brett Lawrie, while Ontario boasts Ferguson Jenkins, the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame, and another former MVP, Joey Votto, among the players it has produced through the years.
Insofar as the draft, B.C. has historically made the greater impact of the two provinces as lefthanders Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis, picked fourth and ninth overall in 2002, remain the two highest-drafted Canadians, while the first Canadian tapped in each of the last four drafts has also come from B.C., including the first three in 2011.
The talent in this year’s draft is not terribly strong, at least by Canada’s recent standards, and yet it’s noteworthy that almost all of the top draftable players are from Ontario, and not B.C., which has had a decided off year. In fact, the best high-school-aged talent in western Canada can be found this spring in Alberta, especially at influential new baseball academies that have sprung up south of Calgary, in Okotoks and Vauxhall.
In keeping with the odd dynamics at play in this draft, the two top-rated Canadians, lefthander Ryan Kellogg and outfielder Julian Service, both hail from the Ontario community of Whitby, located just to the east of Toronto. Kellogg has held steady as the top Canadian pretty much since last summer, especially after holding his own this spring against pro-level competition while a member of Team Canada’s junior-national team.
Kellogg is expected to be drafted in the third or fourth rounds, or roughly in the same spot as righthander Tom Robson, Canada’s highest draft a year ago. A B.C. product, Robson was claimed in the fourth round by the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s more of a toss-up who will be drafted after Kellogg, but Service and another outfielder from Ontario, Derek Jones, have made a strong push this spring. Two pitchers that had initially projected to be possible early-round selections, righthander Michael Couthier and lefthander Steven Dressler, also from Ontario, did not live up to expectations and their draft value has taken a significant hit.
Among Canadians attending college in the United States, the three players given the greatest chance of cracking the top 10 rounds are Maine righthander Jeff Gibbs and Stony Brook second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum, both Ontario products, and Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) JC outfielder Tyler Hollick, an Alberta product.
Canada typically has had 25-30 players drafted each year, but the roll back from 50 rounds to 40, effective with this year’s draft, may significantly impact Canada’s contribution as teams were inclined in the past to take late-round fliers on Canadians.
Canada in a nutshell:
STRENGTH: Ontario high-school-aged talent.
WEAKNESS: Draftable B.C. talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.
BEST COLLEGE TEAM: British Columbia.
BEST JUNIOR-COLLEGE TEAM: Douglas (B.C.).
BEST SUMMER-LEAGUE TEAM: Ontario Blue Jays.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Brock Dykxhoorn, rhp, St. Anne’s Catholic HS, Clinton, Ontario. An ex-hockey player from a small Ontario town, Dykxhoorn was slow to emerge as a top prospect for this year’s draft, but has made an instant impression with his huge 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame alone. Though he doesn’t currently throw particularly hard, and his secondary stuff and command are still at a very raw stage, he made obvious gains in his development this spring and actually pitched surprisingly well for Canada’s junior-national team against pro and international competition, and for the B.C.-based Langley Blaze on a trip to Arizona, where he pitched in front of some 150 scouts in an outing against a team of top prospects from the Dominican Republic.
WILD CARDS: Julian Service, of, Sinclair SS, Whitby, Ontario. Most high-school-aged players in Canada get extensive exposure as members of Canada’s junior-national team, which gathers several times a year and travels extensively in search of meaningful competition, but Service was too old to play for the team and generally have been left to showcase their skills for scouts in tryouts and showcase events. He’s an athletic center fielders and has enhanced his value for the draft this spring with impressive workouts.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Canada Connection: Jeff Gibbs, rhp, University of Maine (Attended high school in Toronto).
Top 2013 Prospect: Owen Spiwak, c, Cawhra Park HS, Mississauga, Ontario.
Top 2014 Prospect: Gareth Morgan, of, North Toronto Collegiate HS.
HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS
Draft History: Adam Loewen, lhp, Fraser Valley Christian HS, Surrey, B.C. (2002, Orioles/1st round, 4th pick).
2006 Draft: Kyle Orr, 1b, Lambrick Park HS, Victoria, B.C. (Dodgers/4th round).
2007 Draft: Phillippe Aumont, rhp, Ecole Du Versant HS, Gatineau, Quebec (Mariners/1st round, 11th pick).
2008 Draft: Brett Lawrie, ss, Brookswood HS, Langley, B.C. (Brewers/1st round, 16th pick).
2009 Draft: James Paxton, lhp, University of Kentucky (Blue Jays/1st round, 37th pick).
2010 Draft: Kellin Deglin, c, Mountain HS, Langley, B.C. (Rangers/1st round, 20th pick).
2011 Draft: Tom Robson, rhp, Delta SS, Ladner, B.C. (Blue Jays/4th round).
2011 DRAFT OVERVIEW
College Players Drafted/Signed: 14/11.
Junior College Players Drafted/Signed: 2/2.
High School Players Drafted/Signed: 17/10.
Best Athlete: Damion Smith, of, Holy Names Catholic HS, Windsor, Ontario.
Best Hitter: Nathan DeSouza, of, E.C. Drury HS, Milton, Ontario.
Best Power: Nathan DeSouza, of, E.C. Drury HS, Milton, Ontario.
Best Speed: Derek Jones, of, St. Marguerite D’Youville HS, Brampton, Ontario.
Best Defender: Derek Jones, of, St. Marguerite D’Youville HS, Brampton, Ontario.
Best Velocity: Logan Seifrit, rhp, Vauxhall (Alberta) Academy.
Best Breaking Stuff: Ryan Kellogg, lhp, Henry Street HS, Whitby, Ontario.
Best Pitchability: Ryan Kellogg, lhp, Henry Street HS, Whitby, Ontario.
TOP PROSPECTS, GROUPS ONE and TWO
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
GROUP TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)
1. RYAN KELLOGG, lhp, Henry Street HS, Whitby, Ontario
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Kellogg has been established as Canada’s top prospect for the 2012 draft for the better part of a year, and has only enhanced that standing this spring with a number of strong outings for the junior-national team against pro talent in Florida in spring training and extended spring training, as well as on Team Canada’s annual trek to the Dominican Republic just before the draft. In one noteworthy outing in March, Kellogg blanked the Toronto Blue Jays for two innings, retiring the likes of Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia, giving up a hit to only Brett Lawrie. Kellogg gets excellent downward plane on his pitches, and his fastball has typically been 87-89 mph, topping at 90-91. He should throw harder as his body matures. Kellogg’s changeup is a solid secondary pitch, while his curveball has shown steady improvement and is much firmer this spring. His greatest advances, though, have come in better command of all his pitches. He has an excellent feel for pitching, and few scouts question his competitive approach with the way he has stepped up this spring against pro-level competition. With limited high-school baseball in Canada, Kellogg has gained most of his experience playing for Canada’s junior-national team and also for the local Ontario Prospects, coached by former big-league brothers Rob and Rich Butler, since age 12. He has a college commitment to Arizona State.
2. JULIAN SERVICE, of, Sinclair HS, Whitby, Ontario
In a lean year for position talent in Canada, Service may have emerged as the top prospect. He has gotten stronger this spring by adding 15 pounds to his projectable, athletic 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame, and his swing, ability to make contact and general ability to hit have all made noticeable strides since last fall. Service’s 6.8-second speed and easy defensive actions are playable in center field, though he’ll likely become a fixture in right field with his superior arm strength. His development as a prospect will all hinge on his continued ability to hit, and most specifically to hit with consistent power. With a commitment to Northeast Texas Community College, Service is considered signable if drafted in the first 8-10 rounds.
3. DEREK JONES, of, St. Marguerite D’Youville HS, Brampton, Ontario
Jones and fellow Ontario outfielder Julian Service (No. 2) are considered very similar prospects by scouts—both from the standpoint of their lanky, athletic 6-foot-3 builds to their comparable tools. Jones is the slightly better runner of the two, with times of 6.6 and 6.7 in the 60, and covers more ground in center field with his long, gliding strides. He is also a better bet of the two to remain at the position. Jones has been more hot and cold at the plate, though, and is in need of more instruction to work out some of the kinks in his swing and develop a better overall approach to hitting, but all the raw tools are there for him to emerge as a legitimate prospect. Like Service, Jones has committed to a Midwestern junior college (Oklahoma’s Rose State).
4. DAYTON DAWE, rhp, A.B. Lucas HS, London, Ontario
Dawe is still growing into his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame, and projects to throw harder as he gets stronger as he has a quick, easy, clean arm action and repeats his delivery consistently. His fastball has been typically in the 88-91 mph range this spring, but he has shown flashes of his anticipated velocity gain by occasionally touching 92, and he even reached 93 on Team Canada’s trip to the Dominican Republic just before the draft. He gets good sink on his two-seamer and run on his four-seamer, and controls both variations of his fastball well to both sides of the plate. His secondary pitches, a curve and change, are solid but not plus, though he is able to throw them for strikes consistently. Dawe has been very steady all spring, and more than held his own against professional and international competition. With a commitment to the University of Maine, Dawe may the toughest sign of all the Canadians projected to be selected in the top 10-12 rounds.
5. BROCK DYKXHOORN, rhp, St. Anne’s Catholic HS, Clinton, Ontario
Despite his imposing size, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Dykxhoorn is extremely raw and usually has body parts moving in all directions in his delivery. His fastball typically ranged only from 83 to 88 mph this spring, though would occasionally touch 90-91 and show good life from a low angle. He also has no secondary stuff to speak of, though occasionally flashes a 71-72 mph curve and 73-75 mph change, and his command is inconsistent. Dykxhoorn’s appeal is based almost totally on projection, and it’s obvious he needs another year of development to refine his mechanics and prove his worth as a prospect. He would have been an ideal fit for a club under baseball’s since-abandoned draft-and-follow strategy.
6. DAVID OTTERMAN, lhp, University of British Columbia (Jr.)
Because of his Canadian upbringing, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Otterman is a little farther behind in his development than the typical college junior, but his arm works well, his delivery is clean and there is plenty of projection left in his big frame. His fastball typically sat in the 88-90 mph range most of the spring, occasionally peaking at 91. He also mixed in a slider, curve and change, and his slider has a chance to be a plus offering in time. Though it plays against NAIA competition, UBC is Canada’s most-recognized intercollegiate baseball program, and Otterman topped the club with a 2.57 ERA and .192 opponent batting average while going 5-3 with 22 walks and 45 strikeouts in 77 innings. More than anything, he needs to refine his command going forward to get the maximum out of his ability. A second UBC player, lefthanded-hitting second baseman Keaton Briscoe, is targeted for selection in the draft, even though he was academically ineligible to play this spring. Scouts had an opportunity to evaluate Briscoe in workouts and were intrigued with his lefthanded bat, contact skills and alert, instinctive defensive actions.
5 PROSPECTS TO WATCH
NATHAN DeSOUZA, of, E.C. Drury HS, Milton, Ontario
The one thing the muscular 6-foot, 185-pound DeSouza can do is hit. In fact, there isn’t a Canadian in this draft with more offensive punch, either as a pure hitter or power hitter. He has above-average bat speed and a balanced approach from the left side, and has little trouble squaring up quality fastballs. DeSouza more than held his own this spring hitting with wood for Team Canada, while facing pro pitchers, though an injury to the soft tissue in his back hampered his performance overall. DeSouza will need to hit at an advanced pace to progress, as he profiles as a left fielder. Another young Ontario outfielder, 6-foot-5, 225-pound Bryan Saucedo, has a similar profile as DeSouza, and may have even more raw power, though he hits from the right side.
FERNANDO FERNANDEZ, lhp, Edouard Montpetit HS, Montreal
Fernandez lacks physical maturity in his slender 6-foot frame, but only lefthander Ryan Kellogg (No. 1) and righthander Dayton Dawe (No. 4), Canada’s two top pitching prospects, may be more ready to take on the challenges of professional baseball among players in this year’s draft class. Typical of players from Quebec, who can graduate from high school at age 16, Fernandez is one of the younger prospects in his class (he doesn’t turn 18 until October), but through his intensive work at the Montreal-based Academic du Baseball Quebec, he has an unusually advanced approach to pitching with a quick, live arm. While his fastball is mostly in the 86-88 mph range now, touching 90, scouts believe he might reach the mid-90s with physical development. His breaking ball is also an acceptable second option, but he’ll need to sharpen the pitch and his command overall as he progresses. He profiles as a situational lefthander at the pro level.
LOGAN SEIFRIT, rhp, Vauxhall (Alberta) Academy
Though Seifrit is an under-sized righthander at 6-feet and 190 pounds, he has a very quick arm and may have more present arm strength than any high-school pitcher in Canada. His fastball is customarily 88-90 mph, but will often sneak up to 93. With baseball opportunities limited growing up in northern Alberta, Seifrit is a little behind some of his peers in his development and is still considered mostly a thrower with raw secondary stuff. But he has made up for some of his lost time by enrolling at the baseball-intensive Vauxhall Baseball Academy in southern Alberta, and participating with Canada’s junior-national team on its various travels to the U.S. and abroad.
CHRIS SHAW, c, Trinity Academy, Okotoks, Alberta
A native of Manitoba, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Shaw attends a thriving new baseball academy in Okotoks, Alberta, where he has made great strides in his development as both a catcher and hitter over the last year. He has also furthered his development in both areas this spring while playing for Canada’s junior-national team against pro-level competition. Shaw’s bat is considered his most-advanced tool at this stage of his development. He has a compact swing with gap power, though his untapped home-run power is often evident in BP sessions. Defensively, Shaw has a blue-collar approach to catching. He has sufficient arm strength for the position, but must improve his receiving and blocking skills to remain behind the plate over the long run. His bat would play at first base in the event his catching skills don’t progress.
DAMION SMITH, of, Holy Names Catholic HS, Windsor, Ontario
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Smith is a relative newcomer to the Canadian prospect landscape as he previously divided his time between multiple sports. But his lively frame and superior athleticism is readily evident to scouts. At this point in his development, Smith’s tools outshine his raw baseball skills, and his lack of baseball experience was the contributing factor in his being cut by Team Canada before its recent barnstorming trip to the Dominican Republic, even though he was one of the most-athletic players on the roster. Smith’s speed, defensive skills and arm strength have all progressed, but he needs to continue to refine his left-handed swing, although it has begun to show glimpses that there is something there that scouts can’t ignore.