* Gareth Morgan made news when he signed a $2 million signing bonus with the Seattle Mariners after going 74th overall in the June draft. Now, the youngster is getting his feet wet in pro ball, and he's got a couple of familiar faces around him. (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki). .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
He’s the two-million-dollar man.
Gareth Morgan has been the talk of the Canadian baseball community for several years, but when the first day of the 2014 draft ended in early June and the Seattle Mariners had selected the 18-year-old outfielder in the second round, 74th overall, it was just the beginning.
Not long after his selection, Morgan signed his professional contract, officially making him a part of the organization and also granting him a two-million-dollar signing bonus, almost three times above his pick’s slot value. It was the second-highest bonus for a Canadian-born player behind only Adam Loewen, who received more than three million dollars from the Baltimore Orioles as the fourth overall pick in 2002.
“It’s great for him,” said Stubby Clapp, the Dunedin Blue Jays hitting coach and Team Canada mainstay. “It’s great for the whole sport in Canada. Gareth’s been a big part of Baseball Canada, and he was pretty much raised there. It shows that what we’re doing over there is producing some guys that are of value. Obviously, my hat’s off to Gareth. He did all the work.”
Terrence Dayleg, a 26-year-old infielder and Burnaby, B.C. native currently playing for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in the Miami Marlins system, doesn’t know Morgan personally but he couldn’t have been more excited for him.
“It’s awesome, especially in the second round,” Dayleg said. “You really love seeing Canadian baseball players, especially high schoolers, getting recognition. It’s big for the sport, it’s big for the country and I love nothing more than seeing all these guys come up and get recognized for something they love.
“Baseball is not the biggest in Canada, but it’s awesome. The sport is growing in the country and Baseball Canada is doing an amazing job with that. I can speak on behalf of all of us, we love it when someone gets recognized.
“It’s not necessarily the signing bonus but the recognition alone that is putting us Canadian baseball players on the map. Words can’t really explain it, but I’m happy for him and I’m happy for all the guys who got drafted this year.”
Mitch Robinson was one of the other 16 Canadian-born players drafted this year. The power-hitting third baseman will fulfill his commitment to Florida International University after being selected in the 22nd round by the Marlins, but he echoed Dayleg’s sentiment for Morgan, even though it might have changed Robinson’s own fate along the way.
“I was thrilled for him,” Robinson said. “I actually probably knew a little bit earlier than other people from talking with him. It was almost a little bit, not disappointing for me, but I actually went to a Mariners workout beforehand and they said they were interested.
“So once I saw he had gotten such a high amount above slot, I kind of thought, that’s awesome for him, but also less chance that they were going to take me, or that they would have any money for me left. But it’s awesome for him and it’s a cool experience all in all. I’m proud of him – great kid, great baseball player – and I look forward to seeing what happens with him.”
Before the Mariners made their second pick of the first day of the selection process official, Morgan showed his faith in the organization by turning down an offer of $1.7 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was nothing to sneeze at, but not quite where the Toronto native had set the bar.
“I pretty much told them my number is around two [million dollars], so if it’s not going to be that, I’m not going to sign,” Morgan said of the Pirates.
The young outfielder was confident in the offer coming his way from Seattle, and the deal was done quickly with the Mariners signing the majority of their picks in the top 10 rounds well under slot value, leaving the wiggle room for Morgan. But the signing process left him a little bit fatigued.
“It was pretty tiring,” Morgan said. “I was there in Seattle for two days [for pre-draft workouts] and then came back [home to Toronto] for a couple days, then we went back when I was going to sign, then I came here [to Arizona], and then I had to go home again to get my [working] visa, and then I came back again. It was a long couple of weeks, but it’s worth it.”
Playing professional baseball with a couple million dollars in your pocket – or having his money with a “couple bank guys” as Morgan put it – is probably worth it.
“I was really excited for him,” Team Canada teammate Robert Byckowski said. “He’s worked hard, he’s had a ton of pressure, and he really stepped up this spring. He earned every bit of that.”
None of Morgan’s Canadian Junior National Team teammates were surprised at his pick, or the dollar amount his name is now attached to.
“Not at all,” said Josh Naylor, likely Canada’s next top draft pick. “He’s a fantastic player, great talent, he has [great] tools and I’m very proud of what he’s done, what he’s accomplished. He deserves everything he gets.”
Added outfielder Demi Orimoloye, an expected high-round selection for next year’s draft: “We were texting the whole time. So even before the draft he was telling me everything that could happen and was going to happen. When he was picked in that spot I already knew that was coming so I wasn’t surprised.”
The reaction to Morgan’s bonus amount from elsewhere in the Canadian baseball world varied.
“It’s crazy,” Dunedin Blue Jays outfielder Marcus Knecht said, who signed as a third-rounder in 2010 for an eighth of what Morgan got. “That’s a lot of money, all those zeroes. Wow. He’s a huge person, and if he fills out, locks it in and creates a good [reputation] for himself, he’s going to do it…It’s awesome, two [million] in the second round. Back in my day, man…
“But he’s got the tools, I’m happy for him, especially because he came from the Ontario Blue Jays. I’m happy for him. Tell him to get to work.”
Eric Wood, another former Ontario Blue Jay, currently playing for the Pirates' Florida State League affiliate Bradenton Marauders, didn’t know Morgan but made some educated assumptions based on the way the draft unfolded.
“He must be pretty good,” Wood said. “I know of him, but I don’t know him, I never met him. Two million, I must have thought he’s a pretty good baseball player. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me the way baseball is going nowadays, there’s such a big market in baseball, so it was about time. Brett Lawrie got a lot of money and I’m sure there will be more guys down the road.”
Clapp had similar thoughts.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Dunedin’s hitting coach said. “When it comes to giving away money to the signing bonuses, it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t sit there and watch the slots, I don’t watch the slot money and pay attention to all that, but…he’s earned it and now he’s going to have a chance to prove it, just like Brett [Lawrie] did.
“Brett’s coming along nice, where he’s at right now in Toronto and doing a fine job. Now Gareth will get to see if he can step up to the challenge.”
Morgan has 29 games under his belt with the rookie-class Arizona League Mariners and is still adjusting to professional baseball. He's struggled during that short span, batting just .168 with 51 strikeouts in 118 plate appearances. But he's being helped in his transition by some familiar faces in Phoenix. Former junior national teammates Lachlan Fontaine and Tyler O’Neill, along with Spruce Grove, Alberta native Logan Seifrit, welcomed Morgan to pro ball in the organization.
“It’s been great,” Morgan said. “It’s better here with a bunch of Canadians here, so I got welcomed nicely and I know all the guys now and it’s kind of like a family almost. It’s pretty good.”
Seifrit and Fontaine are still Morgan’s teammates, though O’Neill has since left Arizona after completing a rehab stint from a broken hand. The native of Maple Ridge, B.C. tried to impart some wisdom before he left however, warning Morgan of what might be his toughest adjustment.
“Playing every day,” O’Neill said. “Getting his body used to it, because that’s really all this is, a physical grind along with the mental too. You’ve got to stay tuned to what you’re doing and you can’t let your body break down. You’ve got to take care of it.”
Fontaine is Morgan’s roommate, and also the beneficiary of some of Morgan’s newfound wealth.
“He’s really good with that kind of stuff,” Fontaine said of Morgan picking up the occasional dinner tab. “He bought an XBOX for the room and he pretty much bought me an iPod.”
Morgan is also currently “looking at a few cars,” and trying to figure out gifts for his parents. He doesn’t believe that any of his teammates look at him as a bonus baby, because he and Seattle’s top June pick, Alex Jackson, are on the same roster.
“Everyone’s eyes are on Jackson, the real bonus baby,” he said. “I’m kind of blending in behind the scenes,” he said.
Still, near the forefront of the Canadian baseball scene, many are excited for what Morgan’s future holds, and share the thoughts of Justin Atkinson, a former national teammate who currently plays for the Lansing Lugnuts in the Midwest League.
“He’s come a long way, I’ll tell you that,” Atkinson said. “He worked hard, he deserves it, and hopefully he’ll show the Mariners what two million dollars looks like.”
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis