By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Returning to Rogers Centre for his third round of Tournament 12 competition, Ben Abram is a long way from where his baseball whirlwind began.
Now 17 years old, the right-handed hurler got his start two years ago with the Futures squad as one of the youngest players in the event. Since his initial chance at the showcase, he earned a mainstay position on the Canadian Junior National Team roster, committed to Oklahoma University, won a Tournament 12 championship with the Ontario Black squad last year, and experienced an evolution on the mound.
“My T12 experiences have been awesome,” Abram said. “My first year was really exciting. The first time, obviously I was one of the younger guys, I was on the Futures team, and it was a really cool experience just getting to play at Rogers Centre. It’s always been a dream of mine, obviously to do it at the major-league level, but it was incredible. We had a great team and I pitched really well against a couple teams, and it was really exciting. And that’s where I was first initially exposed.”
It was that exposure that led to Abram’s first chance to don the red-and-white Team Canada uniform, representing his country against professional competition in spring training, extended spring training, in the Dominican Summer League, and during the Fall Instructional League, on his way to the U18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay.
“The Junior National Team has been everything that I hoped it would be,” the native of Georgetown, Ont., said. “Growing up, I always wanted to play for Canada. That’s the highest honour. For me, it’s like playing in the big leagues. Playing for Canada is amazing, and being able to start at a young age and play for two years already has been crazy. You learn so much about yourself and so much about the game, and you have a great time with all the guys who join the team along the way and it’s a tremendous experience.”
With an arm that hasn’t quite caught up to Abram’s 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame, the education he gained on the mound through his recent experiences led him to a helpful revelation, and brought newfound levels of success.
“I really needed to learn that velocity is not what gets people out,” he said. “It’s about controlling all your pitches, having great off-speed pitches, and it’s really competing when you go out there, throwing things with a purpose. That’s a big thing I learned, because before I was just throwing and now I’m really pitching, and I’m getting guys out. Over these last few years, that’s really what’s helped.”
Between bouts of Tournament 12, those learning experiences and the implementation of changes led Abram from being a standout youngster to impressing among his peers, showing improvements in his second event, and finishing out the championship game with three scoreless innings, impressively throwing every one of his pitches for strikes.
“When you’re a young kid, you want to play the best, you want to be the best, and that’s really where you start,” the 17-year-old righty said. “That’s where it all starts for anyone in Canada. To be there, as a super young kid, it felt like I had something to prove, to go out there and throw those pitches as well as I could, and try to mow everybody down.
“Before coming back last year to T12, over that year I figured myself out more as a pitcher…I wasn’t throwing super hard or anything, but I figured things out and knew what I needed to do to get guys out. Then obviously we had another great team, went to the finals, and it was really special. And for me to pitch in the championship and get a win, it was really exciting.”
Amidst his seasons of realization and improvement, Abram also learned that even his ugliest outings may have glimpses of greatness, or at the very least might not be as bad as he sometimes thinks.
“I committed to Oklahoma during the summer going into Grade 10,” he said. “I was at a showcase in Indiana and it was probably my worst outing ever. I walked a ton of guys, was giving up base hits here and there, the infield wasn’t helping me out, the outfield wasn’t helping me out, it was honestly a disaster. But I got a text a few days later from [Prep Baseball Report Ontario director of scouting] Chris Kemlo telling me they wanted to talk to me, and I thought, there’s no chance. I had the worst game of my life, it wasn’t possible.
“[But] they loved me. Even though it was my worst game, they were looking at different things, the intangibles, compete level, stuff like that. Then they saw me in a few other events…and they saw me with the national team, and then it wasn’t too long after that they offered me a scholarship. I had a few other offers on the table, but I really loved the school, loved the coaching staff, and I thought that would be a great place to go and compete. In my mind, if I go and do well there, then I can do well anywhere.”
Aiding Abram in his preparation for the rigours of what might be a collegiate baseball career have been the Ontario Terriers, the program he’s grown up with from the beginning.
“It’s such a good program and they really understand what it’s like to be a student-athlete and to be a person first before a baseball player,” he said. “With them, I really learned how to be a leader, the different things you’ve got to do on the field, and it’s not always just about going out there and playing, there are a lot of things you can learn. They’ve helped me along the way and I cannot thank them enough, all the coaches, all the players, the owners, it’s an amazing program.”
In addition to his off-field developments, Abram has yet to stop growing physically, continually learning how to use his size on the hill and stay coordinated and consistent in his delivery.
“I grow on average an inch-and-a-half every winter,” Abram said. “It’s ridiculous. My wing span increased six inches over the off-season. My mom [Sandy] is 6'3", and my dad [Brett] is 6'3", so I was always going to be a tall guy, but playing sports has helped me stay coordinated.
“I’ve tried to make my delivery as repeatable as possible, not to do anything funky, but obviously I feel it here and there. I know I look a little different one day, or something’s a little off, or I don’t feel coordinated. It’s a height thing. I used to be very uncoordinated, and a stick, but I worked hard at doing the same thing over and over again to the point where I would be able to do it repeatedly. Being tall, it’s hard to get everything moving in the right direction and on time, just because there’s so much more of it.”
Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s national teams director, has been impressed with how Abram has performed, especially in comparison to some of the other young players he’s seen at similar ages and with similar size.
“You don’t often see a kid that big in high school who has the coordination, from a delivery perspective, that he has,” Hamilton said. “His delivery is pretty efficient, it works, and he’s a strike thrower for the most part.
“Kids at 6’8” in high school don’t usually repeat and throw a lot of strikes, so really for him, he’s going to grow into velocity naturally and it will come to him, but one of the pluses is he’s got a real good feel for the strike zone, he’s got a real good understanding and feel for his delivery, and he’s able to repeat. It’s just a matter of time, and the velocity will go up, and he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Heading into his final tour with the national squad and his last Tournament 12 experience, and after watching so many of his friends go through the same process he has, Abram is excited for what his future may hold, no matter the direction it takes him.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys come through this program and be very successful,” the young hurler said. “I was friends with a lot of guys who were drafted this year and the year before, and to hear them talk about it afterwards about how much this program has helped them, it gives me a lot of confidence, saying I’ve been here. If these guys are moving onto big things, I feel that just means I can do it. It’s really good to hear them praise the program because I believe it’s the greatest thing that’s helped me along the way…
“Thinking about the draft is super exciting. I couldn’t tell you how that’s going to go, and maybe it won’t, but I watched it this year. I stayed up to watch [former Tournament 12 participants and 2017 second-round picks Landon] Leach and [Adam] Hall get drafted, and that was amazing. Hopefully something like that happens to me.”
No matter where he winds up when another year has passed, Abram will bring a sense of consistency to his next team, continuing the progress he’s made along the way and using all of the tools in his belt.
“He’s going to throw strikes, he holds runners, and big kids tend not to because there are a lot of limbs and arms to get going, they tend to be slow to the plate and struggle with holding runners, certainly high school pitchers, and he doesn’t,” Hamilton said. “His time to the plate is good and he stays in his delivery, so he gives you an honest outing. You know what you’re going to get when you put him out there. He’s got a pretty good feel for how to use his pitches and he’s a solid kid."