By Bob Elliott
Which team had the best year advancing players to the next level?
Going on volume and time spend in any and all organizations, in the year they were draft eligible for the first time, the leaders in 2009 are
The Vauxhall Academy Jets and the Langley Blaze with six players drafted each.
In 2008 the Intercounty Terriers and the Blaze shared top honours.
A partial list of the Langley alumni includes: Brett Lawrie (Langley), selected in the first round by the Milwaukee Brewers; Carter Morrison (New Westminster, BC) chosen by the Cincinnati Reds; Stosh Wawrzasek (Langley), Brewers; Jordan Lennerton (Langley) of the Detroit Tigers; Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) of the Philadelphia Phillies; Tyson Gillies (Langley) of the Seattle Mariners; Kyle Lotzkar (Tsawwassen, BC), Cincinnati; Adam Parliament (Penticton BC) who signed with the Atlanta Braves.
Langley of the BC Premier League may be the most productive team, but Vauxhall is the best high school program in Canada.
Vauxhall (pop. 1,100) 240 kilometers south of Calgary, is where pro scouts go often for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau camp and to see the Jets in action.
Before the Academy opened in September of 2006, Vauxhall was known as “The Potato Capital of the West,” with Sammy and Samantha Spud as town mascots. Now, its innovative program has baseball people from coast to coast almost as envious of Alberta as they are of the tar sands.
Vauxhall plays a 50-60 game schedule in the fall and spring. Plus there are another 50 with summer teams and the Jets play more than 100 games, much like the best programs in Ontario and British Columbia.
“Our kids are treated like celebrities and are asked to sign autographs,” head coach Les McTavish. “They make player appearances speaking at the senior centre or the Lions Club. It’s like a junior hockey franchise.”
They draw 200-to-500 fans per game, with cow bells going and music pumping under the lights.
The idea was borrowed from the town of Warner, 100 kilometers away on Highway 36. Four years ago, with Warner facing a shrinking enrolment, began a women’s hockey school.
Vauxhall did the same with baseball. The school had 226 students in 2005-06, down from 246 the year before. Rather than see the student body shift downward 10 each year, city fathers took action.
McTavish, a former national team pitching coach and a Seattle Mariners scout, won the job as head coach, besting 60 candidates. How many people can earn a living coaching baseball in Canada? Maybe 15, all with provincial and national bodies. Classes run from 8:45 a.m. until 1:20 p.m. Then the team is on the field or in the weight room for roughly three hours.
“Vauxhall is one of the driest places in Canada,” said Bob Miller, who helped renovate the local ball park. The team can usually practise outdoors by Jan. 10.
The province has chipped in with a $2.5-million grant for a new indoor facility. The Jets Prairie Baseball Academy, the University of Calgary, high school teams in Las Vegas and Twins Falls, Idaho, as well as American Legion teams in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Great Falls and Bozeman, Mont.
The town had been hurt by the closure of the grain elevator and the rail line. Now lights are on at more than just the ball diamond.
They come from near and they come from far to be a Jet, for once you are a Jet, you are a Jet for life.
“The draft was extremely successful, as good of a draft as we could ever expect,” McTavish said. “it’s as good a draft as any high school team anywhere in North America, so it’s pretty exciting.”
The top pick was RHP Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.) selected 197th overall in the sixth round by the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, given a $300,000 US bonus and makes our all-time top 200 list.
“There’s only a handful of guys in the history of Alberta that have went higher than Steven, so it’s a pretty big thing,” said McTavish.
The only Alberta players selected ahead of Inch in the first round were:
1996 1A (34th over-all) Red Sox RHP Chris Reitsma, Calgary, Alta., Calgary Rockies
1993 3rd (98th) Blue Jays RHP Joe Young, Fort McMurray, Alta.
2007 3rd (102nd) Rockies C Lars Davis, Grande Prairie, Alta., University of Illinois
2005 6th (192nd) Giants RHP Brad Cuthbertson, Edmonton, Alta., Prairie Baseball Academy
2009 6th (197th) Phillies RHP Steven Inch Edmonton, Alta., Vauxhall Academy/Canadian National Junior Team
“I think we’re moving in the right direction. Pro ball is the pinnacle in a sense, but our program is developed around trying to get kids ready mentally and physically and in the classroom, to play college ball. Pro ball is a by-product of that. It proves that we’re going in the right direction and we’re recruiting the proper athletes, both on the coaching standpoint but also in our support staff, our sports psychologist, strength coach and athletic therapist. Everybody’s pushing in the right direction. Hopefully we can continue suit, and continue to improve on things.”
Inch was the highest Jet selected in the MLB draft since the Academy’s inception and had committed to play at the University of Kentucky of the SEC Conference.
“Steven is a big, tall, lanky right-hander who has a really clean, loose arm and a really nice delivery. He throws a lot of strikes, he has a good curve and an 89-91 mph fastball. He’s one of the best pitchers in the country and has a bright, bright future. His projects very well because there’s not a lot of things he can improve besides just getting stronger,” said McTavish.
3B Adam Nelubowich (Stony Plain, Alta.) was selected 413th overall in the 14th round by the Seattle Mariners. Nelubowich committed to play at Washington State University of the PAC 10 Conference.
“Adam is a tremendous student, an extremely hard worker in the weight room,” said McTavish. “In Grade 11 he played third base primarily, this year he played centre for us primarily and he was drafted as a third baseman. That a testament to his athleticism, and people think he has a lot of potential power down the road,” said McTavish.
RHP Brandon Petite (Glace Bay, NS) was taken by the Houston Astros 911th overall in the 30th round. Petite has committed to play for Texas Tech University in the Big 12 Conference.
“Brandon battled nagging injuries throughout the year and would have been a higher pick probably if he could have stayed healthy,” McTavish said. “Brandon has great arm and is a big strong kid, with one of the best sliders in the country. If he’s able to get healthy and stay healthy, he’s got a real bright future, because his slider’s a difference maker and definite out-pitch at the next level.”
RHP Jordan Wong (Calgary, Alta.) was selected 1396th overall in the 45th round. Wong has committed to play at Hill College in Texas.
“Jordan’s a tall, lanky righty with a lot of projection. He’s got real wide shoulders, he’s 6-foot-5 with room for strength and a real loose arm. If you’re trying to predict the future, it could be as high as any of the guys. I think the sky’s the limit as far as how far he’s going to develop. It’ll just be a matter of time.”
The team-by team list:
The Langley Blaze, coached by Doug Mathieson had six: SS Wes Darvill (Langley, BC), Cubs (5th); LHP Jon Hesketh (Langley, BC) University of New Mexico, Mariners (20th); RHP Mike Monster (Kelowna, BC), Reds (25th); RHP Colin Kleven (Langley, BC), Phillies (33rd); Rory Young (Chase, BC) Astros (39th); C Brooklyn Foster (Langley, BC) Diamondbacks (43)
The Vauxhall Academy, run by coach McTavish had six: RHP Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.), Phillies (4th); 3B Adam Nelubowich (Stony Plain, Alta.), Mariners (14th); LHP Jay Johnson (Sussex Corner, N.B.) Orioles (25th); RHP Brandon Petite (Glace Bay, N.S.), Astros (30th); C Dale Anderson (Strathmore, Alta.) College of Southern Idaho, Rangers (45th); RHP Jordon Wong (Calgary, Alta.) Vauxhall Academy, Brewers (46th).
The Academie Baseball Canada run by Joel Landry with four: OF Jonathan Gilbert (Quebec City, Que.) Jays (40th); OF Marc Bourgeois (Granby, Que.) Chipolla Jr. College, Twins (42nd); RHP Francois Lafreniere (St. Bruno, Que.) Academie Baseball Canada, Phillies (43rd); RHP Jonathan Paquet (Ancienne Lorette, Que.) Angels (46th);
The Intercounty Terriers, coached by Danny Thompson with four: OF Josh Garton (Guelph, Ont.), Volunteer State, Reds (12th), INF Jeff Hunt (Cambridge, Ont.), Dodgers (15th); LHP Mitch Clarke (Kitchener, Ont.) Reds (19); OF Chandler McLaren (Guelph, Ont.) Brewers (29).
Douglas College Royals under coach Gerig Merritt and Josh Ridgway two: SS Bobby Wagner (Port Coquitlam, BC) Panola College, Cubs (38th); RHP Brandon Kaye (Langley, B.C.), Jays (45)
The North Delta Blue Jays under coach Ari Mellios, two: LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC), Kentucky (1st); SS David Narodowski (Vancouver, Ont.) University of Kansas, Diamondbacks (15th),
The Ontario Blue Jays, coached by Danny Bleiwas two: C Peter Bako (Mississauga, Ont.) of Connors State (15th) and C Mike Reeves (Peterborough, Ont.) (42nd).
Team Ontario, coached by Murray Marshall had two: OF Andrew Ruck (Pickering, Ont.) Padres (48) and RHP Jeffrey Gibbs (Toronto, Ont.) Jays (48).
The Toronto Mets, run by Jason Chee-Aloy had two: LHP Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, Ont.) Brantford Red Sox, Jays (2nd) and INF Maxx Tissenbaum (Toronto, Ont.) Jays (43rd).
The Parksville Royals coached by Dave Wallace had a pair: RHP Paul Barton (Qualicum Beach, BC) Reds (39th); RHP Brandon Kaye (Langley, BC), Douglas College, Jays (45th)
The White Rock Tritons under coach Josh Ridgway had two: OF Chad Stang (Surrey, B.C.), Midland College, Brewers (8th); RHP Burke Seifrit (Spruce Grove, Alta.) Jays (50th).
The Windsor Selects, coached by Richard Soloman and Al Bernacchi had two: C Larry Balkwill (Chatham, Ont.) Tigers (41st) and 2B Kevin Mailloux (Tecumseh, Ont.) Canisius College, Mariners, (45th)
Brantford Red Sox, managed by Adam Clarke, one: LHP Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, Ont.) Brantford Red Sox.
The Coquitlam Reds, coached by legendary Bill Green had one: RHP David Kington (Coquitlam, BC), Southern Illinois Cardinals (34th)
Eastern Wayne HS in Goldsboro, NC one: SS John Gourley (London, Ont.) Pirates (13th).
Guilford Tech Community College one: SS Jonathan Fernandez (Toronto/Boca Raton, Fla.) Jays (34th).
The Fraser Valley Chiefs, coached by Dennis Springenatic had one: SS Terrence Dayleg (Surrey, B.C.) Western Kentucky University, Marlins (22)
The Ontario Prospects, coached by Rob and Rich Butler one: RHP Jerome Werniuk (Toronto, Ont.) Rangers (20th).
The Niagara Rebels, coached by Tex Montgomery one: OF Royce Consigli (Welland, Ont.) A’s (30th).
Prairie Baseball Academy, under coach Blair Kubicek: LHP Jay Johnson (Sussex Corner, N.B.) Orioles (25th)
The Thompson Rivers WolfPack under coach Ray Chadwick: SS Kyle Dhanani (White Rock, BC) Brewers (43)
Yet, of course the runaway winner is Greg Hamilton’s Canadian National Junior Team with 20: LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC), Kentucky (1st); LHP Jake Eliopoulos (Newmarket, Ont.) Brantford Red Sox, Jays (2nd); RHP Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.) Vauxhall Academy, Phillies (4th); SS Wes Darvill (Lamgley, BC), Langley Blaze, Cubs (5th), 3B Adam Nelubowich (Stony Plain, Alta.) Vauxhall Academy, Mariners (14th); INF Jeff Hunt (Cambridge, Ont.) Intercounty Terriers, Dodgers (15th); RHP Jerome Werniuk (Toronto, Ont.) Ontario Prospects, Rangers (20th); SS Terrence Dayleg (Surrey, B.C.) Western Kentucky University, Marlins (22nd); RHP Mike Monster (Kelowna, B.C.) Langley Blaze, Reds (25th); RHP Brandon Petite (Glace Bay, N.S.) Vauxhall Academy, Astros (30th); RHP Paul Barton (Qualicum Beach, B.C.), Parksville Royals, Reds (39th); Rory Young (Chase, BC) Langley Blaze, Astros (39th); OF Jonathan Gilbert (Quebec City, Que.) Academie Baseball Canada, Jays (40th); C Larry Balkwill (Chatham, Ont.) Windsor Selects, Tigers (41st); C Brooklyn Foster (Langley, BC) Langley Blaze, Diamondbacks (43rd); INF Maxx Tissenbaum (Toronto, Ont.) Toronto Mets, Jays (43rd); RHP Francois Lafreniere (St. Bruno, Que.) Academie Baseball Canada, Phillies (43rd); RHP Jonathan Paquet (Ancienne Lorette, Que.) Angels (46th); OF Andrew Ruck (Pickering, Ont.) Team Ontario, Padres (48th) and RHP Jeffrey Gibbs (Toronto, Ont.) Team Ontario, Jays (48th).