*Justin Marra (Toronto) has been to private workouts staged by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Toronto Blue Jays./Eddie Michels photo.
The top draft prospect in the GTA is on the phone answering questions.
“Where are we? About 40 miles west of Port Huron,” said catcher Justin Marra.
Why is the best Toronto area player in Michigan? He was making the drive home after attending an invitation-only, Milwaukee Brewers workout at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
Travel is what the best do.
Playing for coach Greg Hamilton’s Canadian Junior National Team, Marra has been to the Dominican Republic, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla, he's played against Korea and The Netherlands in St. Peterbsurg, Fla.
Playing for coach Dan Bleiwas’ Ontario Blue Jays he’s been to Jupiter, Fla., East Cobb, Ga., Memphis and Farmington, N.M. for the Connie Mack World Series, as well as playing at the University of Virginia, Michigan, Western Kentucky, Troy State, Florida International, East Carolina, Nebraska and Arkansas-Little Rock.
“It was awesome being on the field at Miller Park,” said Marra, as his father Lou Marra steered the car between the white lines. “At the Jays batting practice I did pretty well. My last round was my best, I hit a couple out.”
Third baseman Dustin Houle of Penticton, B.C. and Marra were the only Canadians at the Jays private workout in front of 10-to-12 Jays scouts.
Ajax outfielder Phil Diedrick, also of the Ontario Blue Jays and Toronto third baseman Jalen Harris, spending the spring with the Victoria Mariners, are top contenders. RHP Skylar Janisse (Maidstone, Ont.) will likely be the top Ontario player selected.
There may be an argument who goes first and first could be anywhere from the 10th to the 40th rounds. Signability is always an issue with high schoolers. Will he sign or go pro? Can the team and players agree on a bonus?
“He best asset is his throwing ability,” said one scout. “He’s under control, disciplined and very consistent with a 1.9-2.0 time to second.”
Another ranks Marra ahead of both Markham’s George Kottaras and Luke Carlin of Hull, Que. at the same age. Kottaras played with the Boston Red Sox and the Brewers, while Carlin has seen time with the San Diego Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians.
We first met Marra at the 2008 Mizuno camp for 48 teenagers from across Canada, including Kellin Deglan of Langley, B.C. a first rounder (Texas Rangers) last June, Tom Robson, expected to go in the first three rounds this week and Jonathan Paquet of Ancienne-Lorette, Que. now at the University of Kentucky.
Marra was impressive because he explained how he learned watching catchers Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez on YouTube.
Yogi Berra? From a 15-year-old?
I told a respected coach, about Gary Carter having a brain tumor last week and the age 24-year-old replied “who is Gary Carter?”
Marra threw out four MLB Supreme Tournament runners in a game enabling Team Canada to win as North York’s Garth Morgan doubled off the 375 sign in right centre in the Dominican.
When Canada played the pro Jays Marra picked speedster Anthony Gose off third.
“Aaron Hill and John MacDonald were so nice, they sat on our bench, helped shag balls, told stories, gave us advice,” Marra said. “Hill showed us a 35-ounce bat he uses in warm ups, it was a log.”
The teams shared the field during batting practice. So they rubbed shoulders with Canadian minor leaguers Brett Lawrie, Marcus Knecht, Adam Loewen and Michael Crouse.
Marra played T-ball and Little League at High Park, falling one game shy of a trip to Williamsport, losing to B.C. in Timmins. He switched to North York playing minor bantam, and bantam for coach Richie Panas.
Next was the Ontario Blue Jays learning from catching instructors Damon Topolie and Jamie Pogue.
Marra’s older brother, infielder Daniel Marra, attending South Dakota State University, gets credit for “always motivating me, always having time to go out and hit.”
What will Marra do if drafted during the three-day draft?
“My dream is to play pro, if not I’ll either go to Connors State or Jefferson College,” Marra said.
And his favorite team?
“The Toronto Blue Jays.”