* Phillies scout Alex Agostino (Montreal, Que.), left, managed the Philadelphia Phillies' scout team which had 1B Jonathan Martin (Montreal, Que.), along with RHP Matt Ianni (Ottawa, Ont.) OF Demi Orimoloye (Orleans, Ont.) and Jean-Francois Garon (Terrebonne, Que.). INF J.D. Salmon-Williams (Brampton, Ont.) was with the Cubs team. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College …. MLB Scouting Bureau camps
By Bob Elliott
SYRACUSE, NY -- Adamo Ianni walked to the table in front of NBT Bank Stadium wanting to buy tickets for himself and his wife, Suzanne, to Day III of the 18th annual East Coast Pro Showcase.
“Are you the parents of a player?” asked the teenager.
When Adamo nodded yes, the student reached for a book, saying “parents have to sign in.”
And then the ticket taker looked up.
He looked a waaaaaay up, as they used to say on The Friendly Giant.
“Oh ... you are a player,” said the ticker taker, looking up at 6-foot-8 right-hander Matt Ianni.
Later inside NBT, home of the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, the six-team showcase was in full swing.
Pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies' scout team, Ianni worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings the next day in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs' scout team.
Ianni, clocked at 85-89 MPH, was one of four Canadians on the Phillies' team managed by Phillies scout Alex Agostino (Montreal, Que.), along with OFs Demi Orimoloye (Orleans, Ont.), Jean-Francois Garon (Terrebonne, Que.), and 1B Jonathan Martin (Montreal, Que.).
INF J.D. Salmon-Williams (Brampton, Ont.) was with the Cubs' team.
Dante Ricciardi, son of former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was also on the Phillies' team.
* * *
A scout had emailed me on Thursday that Orimoloye had run an impressive 6.5 60 (tied for seventh quickest), reminding me that the East Coast Pro was on ... and since I was in Springfield, Mass. on the way back from Boston writing the July 31 trade deadline moves ... and since I’d be driving right by the park ... and since I saw my first ever pro game at MacArthur Park where the new digs now stood ... I figured it was a good idea to slide by, as former boss Gerald Redmond used to say.
I’ve been to Tournament 12, the 10-team tournament for Canadian high schoolers at the Rogers Centre last September, the Mizuno camp for 15 and 16-year-olds, and a few Ontario Cup camps with over 100 players on the field in Guelph ... they were the largest groupings of talent I’d ever attended.
Looking around the park, I was shocked:
There were roughly 300 scouts (6-to-10) per team in the grandstand.
Scouts included 20 scouting directors -- Chris Buckley of the Cincinnati Reds; Bill Schmidt, Colorado Rockies; Tony DeMacio, Atlanta Braves; Stan Meek, Miami Marlins; Billy Gasparino, San Diego Padres; Marti Wolever, Philadelphia Phillies; Tommy Tanous, New York Mets; Matt Dorey, Chicago Cubs; Damon Oppenheimer, New York Yankees; Gary Rajsich, Baltimore Orioles; Tom McNamara, Seattle Mariners, Lonnie Goldberg, Kansas City Royals, R.J. Harrison, Tampa Bay Rays, Ric Wilson, Los Angeles Angels; Brad Grant, Cleveland Indians; Kip Fagg, Texas Rangers; Eric Kubota, Oakland A’s; Brian Parker, Toronto Blue Jays, Deron Johnson, Minnesota Twins; and Houston Astros scout Mike Elias, whose ears must have been burning as the Astros failed to sign three players including the No. 1 over-all pick in North America, lefty Brady Aiken.
(At one time or another Buckley, Gasparino, Tanous and Rajsich all scouted for the Blue Jays.)
This was not a Western New York event, or a Pennsylvania event.
There were six teams composed of players -- the best heading into the 2015 draft -- from 26 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and Canada.
Justin Verlander, Josh Hamilton, Mark Teixeira, Matt Cain, Brian McCann Prince Fielder, Justin Upton, BJ Upton, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Sonny Gray, Matt Holliday, Neil Walker, Nick Adenhart, Brett Lawrie, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Zack Wheeler, Mike Trout, David Wright, Colby Rasmus, Alex Avila, Nick Costllanos, Rick Porcello, David Price, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Dellin Betances, Yonder Alonso, Casey Kelly, Cameron Maybin, Chris Nelson and Phillippe Aumont are graduates of the Showcase.
On hand were 10 of the current top 20 high schoolers, according to the Perfect Game showcase latest 2015 rankings, including the top two ranked players: OF Dazmon Cameron of McDonough, Ga. and the East Cobb Astros, the son of former major-leaguer Mike Cameron, along with SS Brendan Rodgers of Longwood, Fla. and the Orlando Scorpions, who fouled off a series of pitches Friday and then went deep over the left field fence. Next time up, Rogers lined to centre and Cameron tracked down the ball.
Others included RHP Mike Nikorak of Stroudsburg, Penn. and the Evoshield Canes, CF Daniel Reyes, of Miami Springs, Fla., South Florida Elite Squad, OF Jahmai Jones of Roswell, Ga. and the Georgia Roadrunners, RHP Ashe Russell, Indianapolis, Ind. and USAtheltic, INF John Aiello, Lansdale, Penn., Tri-State Arsenal, OF Kyle Tucker, Tampa, Fla., All American Prospects, SS Ryan Mountcastle, Winter Springs, Fla., Chandler 17u, INF Cornelius Randolph, Griffin, Ga., HomePlate Chilli Dogs/Maldonado, LHP Thomas Szapucki, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., All American Prospects, OF Christopher Chatfield, Riverview, Fla., Bullets Baseball and LHP Hogan Harris, Lafayette, La., Marucci Elite.
“The great thing about this event is its a team together for four or five days, but no one is going to squeeze in a run to win or pitch around a guy,” said Agostino. “An event like this gives us scouts coaching the teams an invaluable look into a player’s make up ... players reveal who they are pretty quickly.”
Agostino, along with other scouts Matt Hyde, New York Yankees, Mike Serbalik, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tim Alexander, Tampa Bay Rays, Ray Fagnant, Red Sox, Mike Pesce, New York Mets and Dennis Sheehan, Atlanta Braves, had a series of tryout camps to pitch the 25-man roster.
The Braves' scout team was made up of the best from the South Atlantic area (Georgia, North Florida, Eastern Tennessee).
The Cubs' players from the Ohio Valley area (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee).
The Cleveland Indians' players were from Mid Atlantic area (Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina).
The New York Mets' had players from the Deep South (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle area of Florida).
The Tampa Bay Rays' were from the South (Puerto Rico, from North of Orlando south) Rays.
And the Phillies' were from the northeast (New England States, Eastern Canada, Eastern Penn., New Jersey, New York, Delaware).
“The East Coast Showcase is a great opportunity to evaluate high school prospects,” said San Diego Padres scout Tom Burns, the former Jays scout who drafted Brett Cecil. “Scouts leave the event with a good feel for a player’s tools. It is especially helpful to see the hitters face high calibre pitching.”
He did know where he wanted to be next June.
“Hopefully, in the first round,” said the outfielder ... higher than his pal Gareth Morgan (North York, Ont.), who went in the second round to the Seattle Mariners for first-round money ($2 million US). “He’s a close friend, we text each other all the time.”
Segun Orimoloye, Demi’s father, was driving to Syracuse Saturday night after his son’s (Temi Orimoloye) 12U tournament in Lake Placid, NY. Temi plays second base and centre for the Orleans Red Sox, which produced not only older brother Demi but Baseball Canada’s Adam Morissette, who types better to his right, than his left.
“I’m headed to Ottawa,” said Demi, “but I won’t be there very long, I have to get up at 4 AM.”
Orimoloye was one of the few East Coast Pro showcase players invited to attend the Area Code Games in Long Beach. Yankees scout Matt Hyde puts that team together.
Orimoloye and Ianni are teammates with the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians, playing for coach Tanner Watson. A year ago, Orimoloye played for coach Don Campbell.
“I usually played up a year against older guys,” Orimoloye said. “The whole week in Syracuse was good, it was a fun experience.”
His best baseball experience ever?
“My first home run with the Canadian Junior National Team ... all of my home runs with the junior team,” said Orimoloye, who homered on a down-and-away slider against the Phillies' extended spring team at Al Lang Field in March. He said that was his fifth with the Juniors. He hit another last month in Cuba.
The best he ever played with? “Travis Seabrooke or Gareth,” said Orimoloye, who hopes to commit to a school in October.
Is he a first rounder?
“Probably a third rounder, but it’s early ... we’ve got 10 months to go,” said one scout.
Countered another: “the day he learns to use his lower half, he’s going to be a monster.”
“He is one of those guys who scouts like to dream on, his size and speed are enticing,” said a third. “The bat has a long way to go, though.”
* * * The non-profit event is run by scouts from all 30 teams with each having a scout on one team. The six teams rotate with the cost for the six sponsored teams at roughly $2,000 per team. Next year the Rangers take over the North East team, and the Orioles take over the South Atlantic area team. After one year, the Houston Astros will run the Deep South and the Kansas City Royals will run the Ohio Valley area team.
If there is any surplus in cash when all the umps and baseballs are paid for, the profit goes to charities -- all are scouting associations on the East. (Ney York Scouting Association, Professional Baseball Scouting Association, Mid Atlantic Scouting Association, Diamond Club (Florida), Southeast Scouting Association and the Buck O’Neil Scouting Association.
Plus, East Coast Pro helps out with the Florida All Star game in the spring in Sebring and individual scouts who have a need for some instant monies for some setback they may have occurred due to layoffs in this post-Moneyball era.
“Some kids don’t play under the lights, we get to see them in a pro atmosphere on a triple-A field,” said Schmidt, the Rockies' scouting director. “You might go to see a hitter in a high school game and he might walk four times.”
If a pitcher throws ball four, then a runner is placed on first and both the hitter and pitcher get one more pitch to show their stuff.
Bunt signs do not exist.
Players can steal at will ... show their stuff.
“The team comes together and wants to win as a team, but the coaches do not get in the way of the athletes,” said Agostino.
John Castleberry is the man who runs the ECP. You may have heard the name before. He can scout a little. He -- along with New York Yankees scout Dick Groch -- was in love with a left-handed hitter from Etobicoke, Ont., named Joey Votto, who grew up to be Canada’s highest-paid athlete.
From last year’s East Coast, 86 of the 154 players were drafted.
Castleberry said the highest number of East Coast Pro alumni drafted was “93 and I don’t think we’ve ever been below 78.”
“Once the players get here, it costs them $190 and they get room, board, three meals a day for four days and they all get a side trip to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame too,” said Castleberry. “We try to keep the costs down. Some teams sponsor players to get here if he or his family can’t afford it.”
What a unique concept: every player enters the park on an equal footing. No one paid more than the other.
“These hitters are facing pitching that they may never in high school season next spring, it’s a good time to evaluate: talent vs. talent,” said Yankees’ legendary scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who had 10 homegrowns on the 2009 World Series team that won title No. 27 for the Yanks.
Besides the Fab Core Four SS Derek Jeter, RP Mariano Rivera, LHP Andy Pettitte and C Jorge Posada ... scouts Gordon Blakely and Mark Newman signed free agents Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera from Latin America ... former scouting director Lynn Garrett signed right-hander Phil Hughes when Oppenheimer was a scout, and Oppenheimer drafted centre fielder Brett Gardner, relievers Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson.
The former goalie and former quarterback with College Laval Marauders must have had his ears buzzing as scouts asked “so ... tell me about the quarterback? Can he play?”
“He runs a Wishbone ... Oh, you mean baseball -- he can play,” I said.
Garon played football for five years and was a quarterback for two, saying he was “a scrambler like Cam Newton, I didn’t like to stay in the pocket, other teams did not like me because they knew I could pass deep and knew I could run.”
And he tried his hand at hockey, too, from the time he was four years old until three years ago, but “I didn’t like it as much as baseball, I had to chose.
If he was a field general like Newton, who was he like between the posts?
“Martin Brodeur, he was old school goalie, wasn’t a butterfly guy, didn’t care how he looked -- he just wanted to stop the puck,” said Garon.
Garon was eligible for the draft in June and is eligible 10 months from now.
“I wish I could have done it last year, I feel blessed to live it once,” Garon said. “It’s an amazing experience. It was a great competition. There were a few first round picks there. Every pitcher for us was 90 MPH.
“Alex did an amazing job running the Phillies. And coach Ray Fagnant was speaking French with me too. I think his parents are from Quebec.”
Garon will play in the Canadian midget championships Aug. 14-18 in Sherbrooke, then the Canadian Junior National Team flies to Houston for a warm-up series of games against Team USA before heading to Mexico for the World Junior Qualifier and then T-12 at Rogers Centre the next month. Canada has to finish in the top four to go to Japan.
“Cuba has a really good team, every year Team USA brings good players,” Garon said. “As a baseball nation, Canada has qualified almost every year, but it won’t be easy.”
He guesses Canada will battle the Dominican Republic and host Mexico for the other two spots.
Then, in October, he heads to the fall instructional trip with the Juniors and then to the Perfect Game World Wood Bat championship.
“I would like to play football, maybe flag football, but my calendar is pretty full.”
This summer, Garon played for the DBat in Dallas against teams from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. When their schedule was over, he spent two weeks with the London-based Great Lake Canadians.
* * * Canadian scouts on hand besides Agostino were Raimondo Callari (Montreal, Que.) of the Giants, Jason Bryans (Windsor, Ont.) of the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Higginson (Oakville, Ont.) of the A’s, Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.) of the Blue Jays, and Bill Byckowski (Etobicoke, Ont.) of the Cincinnati Reds.
Callari elected not to wear his World Series rings.
Besides Parker, the Jays' top amateur eyes, Dana Brown and Chuck LaMarr, were watching ... there were 16 Jays scouts in all by one count.
There was a moment of silence before the Braves-Rays game in memory of Rolando “Caz” Casanova, “a great baseball man, husband and father” who passed. Casanova used to coach the South team.
“It was awesome to pitch on the Rogers Centre mound,” said Ianni as he squeezed his knees and the rest of his large frame into a seat behind home plate.
He walked off the carpet and there to meet him was Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams.
“I knew who he was, but I’d never met him,” said Ianni, who grew up with Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander as his favorite player but has now switched to Los Angeles Dodgers' lefty Clayton Kershaw.
Since then, he’s made three trips to Florida -- twice to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, once to Al Lang Field in St. Pete’s -- a May trip to the Dominican Republic and a visit to Cuba last month.
Ianni used to go into an old-timey wind-up, raising both his arms over his head before delivering a pitch. The reason was to calm himself down. He has scratched that delivery. This spring when not with the national team, he pitched for the Canadians and coach Tanner Watson, after pitching for Canadians' 16U coaches Steve Boucher and Matt Duford.
“Tanner always corrects me, especially if I am living up with my release,” said Ianni, who has made eight starts with the Canadians, including a complete-game shut out against Team Ontario when he fanned seven.
Each day is father-and-son day at the gym, and Adamo and Matt head to the right-hander’s personal trainer Pat Woodcock of the Elite Performance Academy in Kanata. The two constantly train together when both are in town.
Ianni is a graduate of the East Nepean Little League where he played for coach Mark Keeping and the gentle giant remembers losing in the provincial final.
“I’ve played against and have known Demi since back then,” said Ianni.
The right-hander wants to “play pro ball, but school is very important to both myself and my family,” said Ianni.
Gareth Morgan, selected in the second round by the Seattle Mariners in June, is the best player Ianni has ever shared the same field with, pointing to his smooth swing and power.
“When we were in the Dominican playing against the Colorado Rockies, he hit a ball over the batter’s eye in centre, the sign read 410 feet and the screen was about 30 feet high -- he hit the ball over that,” said Ianni.
* * * The Games ...
-- The Phillies beat the Rays, 9-4, going ahead 6-1 after three innings.
“I’m not a big twitter guy, but a lot of these kids know each other from other events,” said Agostino. “Players from the south were saying it was going to be a cake walk playing the North East.”
And after the North East won the opener 7-0, “the twitter world shut down.”
Agostino said Orimiloye impressed with a number of bombs during batting practice and reached on an infield single, hit a ball to the warning track and knocked in a run.
“It was fun watching those Florida kids get beat by a team of kids from the north,” said a California based scout.
Playing left field, Garon made a strong throw in the first inning to gun down a runner at second. He was hitless in two at-bats.
Martin was hitless in one at-bat.
-- The Phillies then beat the Mets, 8-0.
Garon hit lead off, had a pair of singles and made a play in left that had scouts talking a day later.
“The ball was hit down the line going away from him, it would have been a tough play for a guy with his glove on his right hand, but Garon comes over (with the glove on his left hand) and made a diving back-handed grab,” said one scout.
Agostino said players in the dugout were calling Garon Hunter Pence, the San Francisco Giants outfielder who plays out of control and makes diving catches.
“That catch changed the whole complexion of the game, as it was scoreless as the time,” said Agostino, whose Phillies didn’t score until getting three in the fourth.
Orimoloye had two hits as the North East proved that the first game win was not a fluke.
Martin did not play.
-- Then the Phillies lost 5-0 to the Indians.
Orimoloye hit a “laser-beam” over the head of the opposing second baseman.
Garon was hitless in three at bats.
-- And in the final game, the Phillies lost 5-3 to the Cubs.
Ianni pitched the last 1 2/3 scoreless, striking out two without walking anyone. He was clocked at 85-89 MPH.
Orimoloye hit two long fly balls which were caught, one to deep centre and the other to deep right. One drove in a run. He also stole two bases.
Garon played centre and was hitless in one at bat.
Martin was hitless in two at-bats.
* * *
He was hitless in two at-bats as the Cubs beat the Mets 8-3.
Williams was hitless in four at-bats in a 7-2 win over the Indians.
And he did not play in a 6-4 loss to the Braves.
* * *
And on Sunday, many scouts headed to Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, made a connection in Detroit and went on to LAX and the Area Code Games in Long Beach where the best high schoolers from the west will be evaluated.
To paraphrase Robert Earl Keen:
The road goes on forever
And the search never ends.