By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Excited about what they’ve already been able to accomplish in the first year of the Canadian Premier Baseball League – winning the circuit championships at the two highest levels – the Ontario Blue Jays are looking forward to much more of the same success they found, and are hoping to improve as they move into their second year with the loop.
“We’re looking forward to having a little more balance in the schedule and creating some rivalries,” said Sean Travers, the director of player development for the OBJ program. “And the playoff tournament was outstanding. That was really cool, to come back after being on the road [playing games in the States], to play in that and finish up with that. That was definitely a plus. And after our latest league meeting, I like the direction of the league moving forward. Everybody’s on the same page, and we’re all just looking for good baseball.”
Travers and his teams enjoyed many advantages of being a part of the new league, and especially liked to see the organization throughout the loop, allowing for an increased number of evaluators to be present at more games, and getting more looks at Ontario’s talent right on home soil.
“There’s a lot more scout presence because they come in to see the players,” Travers said. “When we’re playing the Great Lake Canadians [for example], they can plan around that weekend and know who’s pitching, because the information we’re getting out is a lot better.
“It helps the borderline players who nobody is coming to see as well, because they can all of a sudden come up with a big weekend in front of a new set of eyes, and then they’re on the map. The league creates really good matchups, and scouts can plan their schedules a little bit better and see players against quality players.”
As they prepare to head into the second CPBL season, the Blue Jays have intensified their winter workouts, with an emphasis on different areas than they’ve focused on previously. Travers believes that their new training methods will help them gain an added edge on the field as they move forward.
“This is by far our best off-season we’ve ever had,” he said. “Mike [Steed, OBJ director of college placement and pitching] has really stepped up the whole pitching program. Mike and Joe [Ellison, OBJ recruiting coordinator] have done a phenomenal job of adding new drills and concentrating on different areas like velocity and team strength training.
“We’ve also added a new strength trainer, Reid Hall, who seems to be doing a great job. The guys are doing a lot of extra work too. For speed training, we have Courtney Brown, Jaden’s father, who went to the University of Illinois on a track scholarship, has taken over the program and a lot of players are taking advantage of that and having him has been a huge bonus.
“Our practices have just been a lot more intense. The coaches are maybe a little bit more demanding than they were in the past and the kids have really bought in and they’re sticking with us. And the work they’re doing on their own, you can see that they’re working on what we were doing in practice. So the intensity has been outstanding, and we’re just growing into our building and figuring out how to best utilize all the space we have now after moving in last winter.
“This year, we’ve also gotten involved with Program 15 [run by Jeremy Booth and based out of Texas], and that was a unique way to kick start our training [with a development camp run by the P15 instructors in December]. It got the guys not only physically ready to go, but the mental training got the guys locked in a little bit more.”
Four of the OBJ squads will get their first opportunity to put into practice what they’ve done all off-season when they head to the sunshine state for a week of spring training games, with everyone else starting when the CPBL kicks off its second year.
“We’re going to do our regular trip to Vero Beach, Florida for spring training,” Travers said. “We’re taking down four teams – two younger teams, and the 17 and 18-year-old teams – and we’ll play high schools and colleges in Vero. We’ll also have a scout day on Monday, March 13 when we’re there, for the pro scouts and college coaches.”
With an increased interest in players from American colleges of late, Travers is excited about what more is to come. With every success story coming from the program, there is more opportunity for the next generation of Blue Jays players to follow in their footsteps.
“We’re getting a lot more interest from schools about kids at an earlier age than we have in the past,” Travers said. “It’s a testament to the players who have been there before them and who have gone on and had success. When they have success, the coaches are then looking forward to who the next guys are. Even when they get recruited by schools and maybe don’t end up there, it builds that relationship and opens the doors for other kids.”
With opportunities to continue their baseball careers while pursuing post-secondary education, the Ontario Blue Jays have 12 players committed to college for the 2017 season, with Noah Naylor committed to Texas A&M for the following season.
Cooper Davis is heading off to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Alex Jones to Niagara University in N.Y., Harley Gollert to Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., Andrew Leggo to Arkansas State University, Owen Jansen to Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., Jakob Newton to Florida Tech University in Melbourne, Ryan Kula to Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., Garrett Takamatsu to Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City, Rashad Collymore to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, Andrew Wilkinson to St. Petersburg College in Fla., Devin Green to Paris Junior College in Tex., and Reece Reading to Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn.
Before those players graduate from the CPBL and the OBJ program, they will be taking the field right at home this summer. Travers is hoping for another strong season from his players, and especially those who are looking to leave a lasting legacy before they depart.
“The league will be even stronger than it was last year,” the OBJ director of player development said. “At the 16-year-old age group, we have about as talented a group as we’ve ever had. Our job is to get that to come together on the field, but the talent is incredible. And we’re doing things a little bit differently this year. Guys like [Canada’s top 2018 draft prospect] Noah Naylor would have never played on our 17U team before, he would have gone right to the 18U, but we’re keeping the teams age appropriate so our 17-year-old team will look a little bit different than it usually does, with guys like Noah.
“Our 18U team will be a veteran team with guys who have been here for three and four years in our program. Hopefully they’ll come together and want to go off and do something special before they leave the program.”