By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Jay Lapp was in his usual spot as the fifth annual Tournament 12 got underway Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
Lapp was seated eight rows behind home plate charting velocities, times to first base and making notes on players.
Lapp won’t be there Friday for Day II.
It’s that time of the year.
September call-ups make for crowded clubhouses.
And meanwhile upstairs, teams are letting go scouts.
The Blue Jays let go scout Mike Alberts, who has covered the northeast for close to 10 years last week.
And this week Alex Anthopoulos’ choice as his pro scout when he took over -- Perry Minasian -- left to join the Atlanta Braves. Minasian rebuilt the Jays struggling bullpen last year being the man responsible for adding Rule V Joe Biagini from the San Francisco Giants and then dealing for Jason Grilli from the Braves and Joaquín Benoit from the Seattle Mariners for minimal costs.
And in the midwest, the Milwaukee Brewers said goodbye to Lapp (London, Ont.). This is bad news for Canadian players. Lapp ranked among the most active scouts north of the border.
Well, in the winter of 2008 an injured pitcher, who had been released by the New York Yankees, was having an indoor workout for area scouts to take a look-see. The indoor workout was inside The Baseball Zone in Mississauga. We should mention that on the night of the workout it was in the midst of a snowstorm.
Lapp was the only scout to show and we can imagine it was a relaxing drive from the snow belt in London. There he liked what he saw. And what he saw was RHP John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.). Axford signed March 4, 2008 and by Oct. 4 the next year he picked up his first save as the Brewers edged the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in 10 innings.
Axford struck out David Freese and Khalil Greene swinging, and then got Albert Pujols to pop up to short.
He picked up 24 saves for the Brewers that year, led the National League in 2011 with 46 saves and then had 35 saves in 2012.
How many Canadian scouts signed a pitcher closing games for a major-league club? And the drive through the snowstorm led to 144 career saves, second-best among Canadians. Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.) leads all Canucks with 187 saves. After Axford is John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) with 125 saves. Next is Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, BC) with 87 and Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.) with 82.
The 2011 Brewers came within two wins of making the World Series, losing in six games to the St. Louis Cardinals. And that year Lapp won the Jim Ridley award in memory of the late Jays scout for our annual scout of the year honours.
Lapp entered the scouting world in 1995 when he was interviewed -- one of 10 -- and hired to be the Canadian arm of Major League Scouting Bureau by head man Walt Burrows (Brentwood Bay, BC) during the Best Ever Coaching Clinic at the Regal Constellation at the airport strip.
Lapp led Burrows to parts of Ontario he had never been.
“He took me to Stratford to see a 15-year-old whom everyone said was too small,” Burrows said between games on Thursday. “He wound up going to the University of Nebraska and playing in the big leagues. His name was Adam Stern.”
Stern played 54 games in four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Brewers.
“And another day we drove to Stratford to see this Cambridge Cub, a real big 15-year-old,” said Burrows. “He went in the first round ... his name was Scott Thorman.”
Thorman played 175 games with the Atlanta Braves and last year was manager of the year in the Kansas City Royals organization. Thorman was selected in the first round (30th overall) in 2000 and Stern was the top pick a year later in the third round as the Braves grabbed the top Canuck again.
Lapp found Stern and Thorman long before they reached the Ontario Blue Jays. He also found a young INF Joe Yakopich (Windsor, Ont.) drafted in the 33rd round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999.
“That Axford story has everything to do with Jay Lapp,” said Burrows, who now scouts for the Minnesota Twins. This winter he worked out RHP Kyle Lotzkar (Delta, BC), released by the Texas Rangers, on the West Coast, liked him and signed him pending a physical. Lotzkar flew to Fort Myers, Fla. but failed the physical.
“If Kyle Lotzkar had made the big leagues you don’t think I’d be walking around with my chest stuck out?” Burrows asked. “His work ethic was off the charts.”
Burrows recalls turning down looking at one 14-year-old before. He was on the East Coast and asked his scout Ken Lenihan who was the best player.
“At the end of the conversation he tells me about this young guy, a shortstop, who catches and pitches and is a left-handed hitter,” Burrows said. “Ken says he might be a pretty good hockey player. I always ask how good when I hear that because it could mean OHL good or Western Hockey League good.
“Ken says ‘well they say he might be the next Wayne Gretzky,’” said Burrows. “It was Sidney Crosby.”
After scouting for the MLB Scouting Bureau from 1995 to 2003, Lapp took a job coaching University College of the Cariboo in Kamloops, BC. C John Suomi (Etobicoke, Ont.) was drafted in the 22nd round in 2000 by the Oakland A’s and knocked in 99 runs with the class-A Modesto A’s before injuring his knee.
Lapp also coached one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled when he guided BC to gold at the Summer Games in London. His staff included Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) and Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC), Brooks McNiven (Terrace, BC) and Adam Daniels (North Vancouver, BC). BC beat Ontario at Labatt Park to win gold.
The list of players scout Lapp drafted for the Brewers over the years outnumbers most Canuck scouts. He worked for GM Doug Melvin (Chatham, Ont.) and assistant GM Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) who believed that there was talent here. Dick (The Legend) Groch, who signed Derek Jeter set up a network which went from coast to coast.
Brock Kjeldgaard (London, Ont.), who sat with Lapp last night, Alexandre Periard (St. Eustache, Que.), Mark James (Toronto, Ont.), Mehdi Djebbar (Cap-Rouge, Que.), Chris Dennis (Windsor, Ont.), Cam Robulack (Toronto, Ont.). Adam Arnold (Kamloops, BC), Nicholas Bucci (Sarnia, Ont.), Marcus Knecht (Toronto, Ont.), Nick Fogarty (Richmond Hill, Ont.), James Kottaras (North York, Ont.), Chandler McLaren (Guelph, Ont.), OF Chad Stang (Surrey, BC), SS Kyle Dhanani (White Rock, BC), RHP Jordan Wong (Calgary, Alta.), RHP Joel Pierce (Windsor, Ont.), OF Rowan Wick (North Vancouver), C-3B Dustin Houle (Penticton, BC), INF Jalen Harris (Toronto, Ont.), OF Steve Adam (Tecumseh, Ont.), RHP Bryan Saucedo (Toronto, Ont.), C Chris Shaw (Winnipeg, Man.), OF Derek Jones (Brampton, Ont.), INF Taylor Green (Comox, BC), INF Charles Leblanc (Laval, Que.), LHP Ben Onyshko (Winnipeg, Man.), OF Demi Orimoloye (Orleans, Ont.) and of course INF Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) who went 16th overall in the first round in 2008.
Some signed, some went to school and resurfaced and others were released. Yet, there was no doubt about it that the Brewers were one of the most active clubs when it came to drafting Canadians and with the most in the minors.
“Jay Lapp was the leader of the competition when I started,” said Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.) the Blue Jays head Canadian scout. “As a scout he was aggressive and creative and that was scary.
“The best compliment I could give Jay Lapp is that I didn’t want to see him when I showed up at the park.”
There is another quality that Lehman admires in Lapp. And that is how he is always helping young scouts get into the game.
“He gives his time to guys trying to learn the business,” said Lehman.”
Lapp won’t be in his regular spot eight rows behind home plate on Friday.
"I'm always disappointed when I hear someone who is dedicated and works hard at their craft and is let go," said Philadelipa Phillies scout Alex Agostino (Montreal, Que.). "it's been a tough year in the northeast when it comes to hard working veteran scouts let go."
Pete Orr (Newmarket, Ont.) who began working as a pro scout for the Brewers last year will be assigned coverage of the Canadian Junior National Team.
Unlike Lapp, Orr won’t be taking his boss to Stratford, Wyoming, Petrolia or Cambridge. He will be too busy with his pro coverage.
And that’s sad but that is the scouting jungle in 2017.
SCOUTS IN FULL FORCE: Besides Jamie Lehman, scouting director Steve Saunders was on hand along with scouts Tim Rooney, Dan Cowan (Delta, BC), Adam Arnold (London, Ont.), Jasmin Roy (Montreal, Que.).
The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers each had two scouts here for Day I.
The Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels, New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and the Brewers were also represented.
All in all that's 20 pro clubs ... by our count.
SCHOOL COUNT: Junior College and NAIA schools like British Columbia Thunderbirds evaluators were on hand but the NCAA Div. I and Div. II schools won’t arrive until Friday after the NCAA blackout period for recruiting ends.