By Bob Elliott
How does the selection process for Tournament 12 work?
Well, Jamie Lehman, the Blue Jays director of Canadian scouting, has this spreadsheet.
And it spreads.
Lehman’s list expanded to over 1,000 players from coast to coast and then with the help of many evaluators, it shrunk to the 160 chosen few at the third annual T12 at the Rogers Centre.
“It’s a more refined process now,” said Lehman. “Not only have I seen everyone in the tournament this year, but I think you could walk almost everyone in front of me and I’ll recognize his face.
“We realize the impact being selected has on kids’ lives and have made every effort to make the process as thorough as can be and made every effort to get it right.”
So, let’s start at the start ... last October.
Lehman began work on his spreadsheet for 2015 within days of commissioner Robbie Alomar presenting Quebec coach Denis Boucher with the championship trophy.
As sandlots are covered with morning frost the search moves indoors. To the Great Lake Canadians showcase one weekend, another elite program’s indoor facility the next. A trip to Quebec and a gathering of talent indoors in Okotoks, Alta.
Then, Walt Burrows, Canadian Supervisor for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, stages his invitational indoor camps throughout the winter.
“We start out looking at a number of players, it is a fluid situation, guys will pop up,” Lehman said.
And with 300 names on his spreadsheet spring arrives as names of players come to life like spring flowers.
“We spent more time with tryouts and workouts than past years,” said Lehman, who made it clear that while he may be the keeper of the spreadsheet it is a group decision.
“We go by consensus, we value input from the Bureau, Baseball Canada and our alumni,” said Lehman. The T12 tryouts were organized and run by the Baseball Academy, while evaluations were done by Lehman, the Academy and alumni like Duane Ward, Jesse Barfield, Tanyon Sturtze, Rance Mullinicks, Homer Bush, Denis Boucher, George Bell, Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar and his Hall of Fame father, Sandy Alomar.
For the initial Toronto open tryouts in May, more than 600 players were evaluated by the academy and alumni with roughly the top 100 invited for the call back tryout in Ajax.
In Okotoks in July, 50 players worked out for the evaluators. Infielder Nick Cardinal, who had pitched in the past, was given a bullpen session. He showed as one of the better arms sitting at 84-86.
There were 85 players in Abbotsford, B.C. and Lehman was watching hitters when he received a text from Jays scout Don Cowan “maybe you better come to the bullpen.” And there he saw right-hander Indigo Diaz of Coquitlam Reds, a name not on anyone’s radar, at 87-89 mph.
There were 30 players in both Regina and Brandon in August. Infielder Robbie Wilkes was the standout in Regina. He wasn’t at the Canada Cup, so was a great example of the opportunity tryout camps do offer.
Nathan Stark was among the many great athletes in Brandon. No on knew about the lean right-hander from Medicine Hat with easy actions and a good breaking ball. He made the Alberta team.
And in Montreal, 75 players on hand. Scouts consider it a bonus when they get to see a someone that they haven’t seen before. And in this camp it was athletic outfielder Marc Antoine Lebreux.
To get a good look at the Atlantic provinces a four-team tourney was held in Moncton as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI fielded teams. The final entry was composed of players from Newfoundland and Labrador plus all-stars from the Atlantic. So roughly 100 players were on display.
New Brunswick infielder Declan Buckle, of Dieppe, was cut a year ago, took it as motivation and was one of the first five players named.
“The first five separate themselves from the others on each team, then the next group and finally you pick the best but you have to be mindful of putting a roster together,” Lehman said. “We had some baseball arguments, we went back and forth on a middle infielder, is this guy a Div. I or a Div. II college player?”
The goal of the tournament is to give players exposure -- both to pro scouts and college recruiters.
“As evident with last year’s draft class, a large number of players have the potential to play pro ball, and nearly every team in Major League Baseball attending reflects that,” Lehman said. “We want to put the best 160 players on the field, to give them an opportunity to play at the next level, regardless of whether that is collegiate or pro.”
Lehman said open tryouts help with perspective
“Kids realize how they compare well to others, or realize that they’re not quite there yet,” Lehman said. “That goes for people (coaches, parents) on the other side of the fence too.”
Lehman said putting rosters together the first year was a huge undertaking and a learning experience.
The second year the number of players seen doubled to over 500 for 2014 and doubled again this year.
“I’m really confident we saw everyone we had to see,” Lehman said, “players need to go to sleep knowing we really worked hard to put together a top 160.”