Highly-touted Morgan ready for draft day

* Gareth Morgan has been targeted as the top Canadian to go in the June 2014 draft, which begins Thursday evening. Will he go in the first or second round? Where will the youngster land? (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki). .... 2014 Canadian draft listCanadians in the Minors Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent 

By Bob Elliott

BURLINGTON, Ont. -- Questions, forms, testing and supplementary questions have all been asked and answered.

He flew west to work out for the Seattle Mariners' brass at Safeco Field on Tuesday.

The university tour has been completed and a decision has been made.

And now, after being targeted as the top Canadian to go in the June 2014 draft, one question remains.

Will North York outfielder Gareth Morgan of the Ontario Blue Jays be selected either Thursday night or Friday afternoon in the annual draft of North American high schoolers and collegians?

“If it’s not the first round, hopefully the second round,” said the 6-foot-4, 220 pound Morgan after hitting another homer to add to his list of tape-measure shots.

“Either way, it’s going to be a good situation.”

The Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and the Mariners have all shown interest in Morgan, with the Royals having twice as many picks (19th over-all, 28th, 40th, 56th) as the Rangers (30th, 59th), while the Mariners have only one (sixth) in the first round.

M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik, former scouting director of the Milwaukee Brewers, who took Brett Lawrie in the first round six years ago, was in the Dominican last month to watch Morgan.

Does a GM fly Seattle-to-Santo Domingo to watch a third-round pick? Do the M’s ask a third-rounder to the coast for a look?

“He has Edwin Encarnacion’s power and body, with Jose Bautista’s outfield tools,” said one veteran scout. “Gareth is unlike any Canadian player I can think of: he has Justin Morneau’s power from the right side.

“But Gareth is a better athlete. Justin was a catcher that couldn’t catch, Michael Saunders was a really good outfielder, Gareth has way more power than Saunders. Brett Lawrie doesn’t have that kind of power. Joey Votto didn’t have his power, he’s more of a gap hitter.”

The first round, with the Toronto Blue Jays selecting ninth and 11th, will be televised on the MLB Network Thursday at 6 p.m. Day One encompasses the first two rounds and compensation picks, 68 selections in all.

Rounds 3-to-10 go Friday afternoon, and the draft concludes with rounds 11-to-40 on Saturday.

Among the other teams who have come to meet with Morgan and his father, Giles, an engineer who attended Ryerson, at their house or visited the Ontario Blue Jays clubhouse in Mississauga, are the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals.

Not your first-place Toronto Blue Jays?

“No, but I know (Jays scout) Jamie Lehman pretty well, he’s been scouting most of our trips,” said Morgan.

The weirdest question Morgan has been asked during roughly 15 signability visits?

“One team asked me if I knew what color my eyes were,” said Morgan at Ireland Field on the weekend. “I found that question interesting.”

On dusty fields like Ireland, from Cloverdale, B.C. to Hunter River, PEI, major league dreams are nurtured, as they were as the Oakville Royals met the Ontario Blue Jays.

Except within the week, Morgan was on a major-league field, as he’s been at showcases at Petco Park in San Diego and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Now he’ll hear his named called in the draft.

Morgan has signed a letter of intent to play for the North Carolina State Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C. after being recruited by assistant coach Tom Holliday, father of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday.

“Our team (the Ontario Blue Jays) played there, I had a tour and a good conversation, they have a great facility.” said Morgan. “It will be great to get out of the cold.”

Pro scouts have watched Morgan since he was in grade nine facing pro pitching with the Canadian Junior National Team -- with a wood bat -- facing first and second year pros on their three trips a year to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., St. Petersburg and the Dominican. The first couple of years there were too many swings and misses. This year, Morgan has developed better plate discipline.

“He made an adjustment,” said Ontario Blue Jays coach Danny Bleiwas. "He now can pick up the spin on breaking pitches and has the ability to lay off those or drive a pitch to right field.”

Morgan hit .270 and showed poise against pro pitching in the past year.

“It’s a good thing he isn’t playing high school in California or Florida with an aluminum bat, or they would have carted a pitcher off the field,” said one scout. “He might be a 30-homer guy in the majors. All these high school hitters he’s being compared against ... most pitchers are throwing 82-85 MPH while he’s faced guys throwing 90-92 MPH.”

A product of the North York Blues (“still wearing my Blues Under Armour”), where he won five OBA titles, Morgan has played for the Toronto Mets, the Ontario Blue Jays and the Canadian Junior National Team, and he spent part of March in Arizona with the Langley Blaze.

What uniform will he wear next?


Tape-measure homers

1. University of Toronto-Scarborough, Victoria Day, 2014

Ontario Blue Jays vs. Team Ontario Distance paced off (508 feet), fans then moved cars before next AB

2. Dou-Liou Stadium, World Juniors, 2013

Canada vs. Australia, Taiwan LF, into light towers, out of stadium, over house

3. Chicago Cubs training facility, Mesa, Az. 2014

Langley Blaze vs. Cubs extended spring team Over the protective screen into parking lot

4. Perfect Game World championships, Jupiter, Fla. 2012

Ontario Blue Jays vs. Texas NY Yankees Scout Team 410-foot homer into Hurricane Sandy gail force winds

5. Dominican tour, Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo, 2012

Canada vs.Dominican Prospects Left Centre, 91 MPH

6. PG championship, Jupiter, 2013

Ontario Blue Jays vs. Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team Laid off close pitches, then right-centre field

7. Ireland Park, Burlington 2014

Ontario Blue Jays vs. Oakville Royals Homered into parking lot in left centre

8. Dominican tour, Guerra, D.R. 2012 Canada vs. Dominican Summer League Left centre, clear palm trees

9. University of Toronto-Scarborough, 2013

Ontario Blue Jays vs. Ontario Nationals Landed in a tree in straightaway centre

10. St. Joseph’s HS, Buffalo, N.Y. 2011

Toronto Mets, New Era tournament Over LF fence, over secondary fence 30 feet beyond the OF fence, landed in school parking lot.


Canadian first rounders

2010 (2nd over-all) Pirates RHP Jameson Taillon, The Woodlands, Tx. 2002 (4th) Orioles LHP Adam Loewen, Surrey, B.C., Whalley Chiefs 2002 (9th) Rockies LHP Jeff Francis, North Delta, B.C., UBC 2007 (11th) Mariners RHP Phillippe Aumont, Gatineau, Que., ABC 2008 (16th) Brewers C-INF Brett Lawrie, Langley, B.C., Langley Blaze 1998 (19th) Expos RHP Dave Wainhouse, Scarborough, Ont., Washington State 2010 (22nd) Rangers C Kellin Deglan, Langley, B.C., Langley Blaze 1997 (27th) Padres SS Kevin Nicholson, Surrey, B.C., Stetson College 2000 (30th) Braves INF Scott Thorman Cambridge, Ont., Team Ontario