By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
With only one Canadian Premier Baseball League season in the books, the circuit has already proven to be a dominant force in the game both within the province of Ontario and in the country, leading the amateur scene in draft picks, prospects, college scholarship opportunities, interest from scouts and recruiters, and members of the Canadian Junior National Team.
Bringing together the top players from the Toronto Mets, Team Ontario, Ontario Nationals, Ontario Blue Jays, Great Lake Canadians and Fieldhouse Pirates programs, the CPBL provides the highest level of competition around, in combination with furthering the development of the players within it as well as the calibre of the game north of the border.
“The level of competition in the CPBL was overall pretty good throughout the league,” said Adam Hall, shortstop for the Great Lake Canadians and Canada’s top prospect heading into the upcoming draft. “Although there were definitely stronger and weaker teams, there was never a matchup where a team had no chance of winning.”
Having played around the world with Team Canada, and across North America for a variety of tournaments and showcases over the last four years, Hall offers unique insight into just how much having the CPBL at home can mean for the players involved.
“It was very successful in its first season,” the Bermuda-born native of London, Ont., said. “It proved that it is possible to have a league that is more concerned about developing players rather than a league that is purely about winning and following the rules exactly, causing players to maybe not develop or grow as much as they could’ve due to the restrictions that hold them back. In the end, at this age, although winning is nice and all, what the main concern should be is preparing the players for their next step whether that be college, university, or pro ball, so that they can be successful there.
“The CPBL has found a way to bring all the best players into one league as there are no zone restrictions keeping them apart. They are all playing against each other every weekend, which is exactly what you want when it comes to making sure the players are developing as much as possible.”
Fielding nine teams at the 18U level in its inaugural season, with 35 total teams participating among all age groups, the CPBL allowed each program to have more games on home soil, consistently attracting a number of area scouts and recruiters, and providing highly-anticipated matchups each weekend among some of the country’s top talent.
“The CPBL was great in its first year,” said Mike Steed, director of pitching and college placement for the OBJ program. “There were no hiccups, nothing like that. From a competitive standpoint, it forced my guys to come out and compete every day. You really couldn’t take any innings off, which we look for, especially for their development and moving on with our 18s going into college. It pushed them to compete every day.”
In June, 12 Canadian high schoolers were selected in the draft, with all six of those hailing from Ontario coming from the CPBL. Toronto Mets catcher Andrew Yerzy was the first one off the board, selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round, 52nd overall, and eventually signing for $1,214,100 before heading off to spend his season between the Arizona League and the Pioneer League.
Ontario Blue Jays righty Jordan Balazovic was taken in the fifth round, 153rd overall, by the Minnesota Twins, eventually signing for $515,000 and spending his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Twins, posting a 1.97 ERA over eight games and 32 innings before turning 18 years old.
OBJ catcher Luke Van Rycheghem was chosen by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round and spent his first pro season in the AZL after signing for $100,000. Mets southpaw Matt Jones was taken by Minnesota, and the 28th-round selection shared his rookie season with Balazovic in the GCL after he signed for $70,000.
Great Lake right-hander Austin Shields was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in the 33rd round and got in just over six innings of work in the GCL after signing for $205,000 just before the deadline. His Canadians teammate and outfielder Jake Wilson was taken in the 39th round by the Boston Red Sox, and opted to fulfill his commitment to Bowling Green State University.
In September, the Toronto Blue Jays-hosted Tournament 12 offered an example of just how bright the future is for the league, with CPBL players dominating its Ontario and Futures rosters, supplying the majority of talent from the area. Of the event’s total of just over 160 players from across the entire country, 52 spent the season in the CPBL with the Blue Jays, Canadians, Mets and Nationals, along with four of the tournament’s coaches.
“It’s a great sign of what our league has accomplished in such a short time,” said Kyle Fillier, 16U field manager for the Toronto Mets. “We are confident that we have the best players, coaches, and teams in the province. This is a testament to the league, and we will continue to showcase the best players to the most scouts and colleges.”
The highly touted and scouted tournament saw an Ontario team finish on top, with a roster that included 17 CPBL players and two coaches earning the championship victory. Hall was named the Tournament MVP after helping his squad to that win and dominating throughout the entirety of the event.
Heading toward June this year, many of the top high school players hailing from the Great White North will be playing in the CPBL before looking to the draft. Hall, committed to the Texas A&M Aggies, ranks first on both the PBR Ontario and Canadian Baseball Network’s draft lists, and is No. 16 among Baseball America’s Top 100 high schoolers.
Coming in at No. 2 for PBR, Texas commit and right-handed hurler Landon Leach is a product of the Mets, ranking at No. 42 for BA, and second on the CBN list. PBR’s No. 3 Dondrae Bremner is Leach’s Mets teammate, and the infielder is committed to Cincinnati. No. 4 for PBR Ontario is Cooper Davis, an outfielder in the OBJ program. The Vanderbilt commit also ranks fourth on CBN’s draft list – after University of Kentucky right-hander Zach Pop, formerly an OBJ pitcher – and comes in at No. 77 on BA’s top 100.
Among PBR’s top 10, every player hails from one of the CPBL programs, with 66 of the top 100 Ontarians participating in the circuit in its first year. Just under 40 players from the league are also committed to a variety of different American colleges with various scholarship opportunities.