* Gareth Morgan and the Canadian Juniors impressed their major-leaguer counterparts, including starter Brandon Morrow, during Tuesday's 'Canada Day' match-up versus a Toronto Blue Jays split squad. (PHOTO: Eddie Michels)
By Bob Elliott
ST. PETERSBURG - Brandon Morrow was asked if he noticed the No. 3 hitter in the Canadian Junior National Team lineup.
“You mean the guy who nearly took my head off with the line drive up the middle in the first inning?” asked Morrow. “That guy? Yeah. I noticed him. He has a real quick bat.”
Morrow worked three innings, allowing two runs -- one earned -- as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Canuck high schoolers, 12-2, before roughly 2,000 fans and 50 scouts.
Many were there to see the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Gareth Morgan, rated anywhere from the first to a third rounder by talent evaluators heading into the June draft. Morgan has displayed light tower power during batting practice, but scouts want to see more during games.
Morgan doubled down the left field line against a second-year Baltimore Oriole farmhand on Monday and lined Morrow’s pitch through the box on Tuesday.
“These guys are far more advanced than I was in grade 12,” said Morrow, who went to high school in Santa Rosa, Calif. He compared what the young Canucks experienced -- sharing batting practice and the same field with Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus and Munenori Kawasaki -- to himself being on the same field with Barry Bonds or Jeff Kent of the San Francisco Giants or Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito of the Oakland A’s ... as a grade 12 student.
“They were hunting my fastball, they hit some balls hard,” said Morrow.
Morgan was the only Canadian named to the Perfect Game all-American team on Tuesday, the scouting service’s annual list of the top 50 high schoolers heading into the draft.
“I don’t think (Morrow) is 100% back from his injury,” said Morgan of the Jays starter who didn’t make a start after May 28 due to forearm issues.
“He’s usually 94 MPH. He gunned it up there a few times, but mostly he was around 90 MPH.”
Bautista, who grew up in Santo Domingo, compared the high school/big league experience to being on the field with Ken Griffey, George Bell and Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar.
Looking around during batting practice, Bautista noticed a difference from the 2012 Canada-Jays game: “let the kids come out and shag, so they can talk to the guys,” he said to no one in particular.
Within moments, the Canucks came out in their white uniforms and mingled with the Jays, dressed in blue, both in the infield and the outfield.
“This is like Christmas,” said Jaime Lehman, the Jays Canadian scout. “My favorite day of the year. You see guys here who were with this program five years ago -- Dalton Pompey, Marcus Knecht and Michael Crouse -- and stars like Bautista and Lawrie.
“For some high schoolers, this might be the most memorable game they ever play in.”
And it was memorable ... for some.
Winnipeg’s Ben Onyshko walked Kawasaki and Rasmus, allowed a single to Lawrie. Then, he retired Bautista on a fly ball, struck out Adam Lind and popped up Dioner Navarro.
“Yeah,” said Lind, “he buzzes me with two by my head and throws me a nasty breaking ball. I’ve played in two of these games and I haven’t got a knock yet.”
Mitchell Robinson of Surrey, B.C. doubled off Morrow in the second, and Montreal’s Louis-Philippe Pelletier walked, before Orleans Ont. slugger Demi Orimoloye had his drive tip off Rasmus’ glove. Jean-Francois Garon of Terrebonne, Que. singled in a run for a 2-1 lead.
Chris Getz singled, stole second and scored on a Kawasaki single, and Onyshko, who sat at 88 MPH, worked a scoreless third.
Not a bad day: he faced a big-league lineup and allowed four hits.
Brampton’s Zach Pop pitched a scoreless fourth before Lawrie doubled, then Bautista, Navarro and Moises Sierra knocked in runs.
“(Pop) had more velocity than the starter, and he has a developing slider,” said Bautista. “My measuring stick is maybe old -- it’s been a while since I faced high school arms.”
Touring teams like the Ontario Prospects and the Windsor Stars were spotted in the seats this March spring break Canada Day in St. Pete’s.
That giant in the Canada dugout was Phillippe Aumont of the Philadelphia Phillies, who brought a capacity crowd to its feet during the 2009 World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre as he pitched out of a bases-loaded none out jam.
Aumont watched the juniors as manager Greg Hamilton gathered his group outside the dugout for a talk: highlights and low lights.
Bring back any memories?
“Yep,” said Aumont, “good memories.”
Mississauga’s Pompey hit an inside-the-park home run for one of his two hits, while Justin Atkinson, of Surrey, B.C. had an RBI-double. Vancouver’s Mike Nickeas, Crouse of Port Moody, B.C., North York’s Knecht and Peterborough’s Mike Reeves were Canucks in the Jays dugout along with the Prime Minister of Canadian international ball, coach Stubby Clapp.
“Those guys look up to us, coming up with the national team, we always played video of big league guys,” Lawrie said. The biggest thing for them now is the WBC. When I was their age, that was my goal.”
Santana a No show: Ervin Santana was a no show in St. Pete’s, the birthplace of spring training, on Tuesday.
On day four of the Santana watch, players had stopped looking in the bullpen for him.
“We were talking on the bus on the way here from Dunedin,” said Lind. “How we were all hot and sweaty on Saturday about getting Ervin Santana.
“Now, it’s kind of lost its lustre.”
The angst will return amongst Jays fans if he lands elsewhere, and ditto for the excitement if he signs with the Jays.
The Jays made a one-year deal when the free-agent’s price tumbled to a one-year contract on Saturday. The Baltimore Orioles were also in at around $14 million US.
Then, the Minnesota Twins made a three-year $30-33 million offer on Sunday.
And on Monday, for the second straight day, the Atlanta Braves saw a starter go down. Will they chase Santana to replace either injured Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy?