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Tournaments | Story | 10/23/2014

Realizing plus potential

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – The word “potential” has been used frequently over the past two years whenever a quorum of scouts have gathered to talk about Canadian outfielder Demi Orimoloye. During such conversations, the word was usually accompanied by other adjectives, like “untapped” or “unrealized” to add even more clarity of context.

On Thursday, almost two-and-a-half months after an impressive two-week stretch of superior play in early August, Orimoloye arrived here for the PG WWBA World Championship with potential still oozing from his pores, only this time there are fewer references to untapped and unrealized.

Orimoloye is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior at St. Matthew High School in Orleans, Ont., Canada, who skyrocketed to No. 44 in Perfect Game’s class of 2015 national (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico) top prospect rankings after breakout performances at the East Coast Professional Showcase and the Area Code Games the first two weeks of August.

This is his third visit to the PG WWBA World Championship and his first with the Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team after attending in 2012 and 2013 with DBacks Team BC. Smiling easily after a batting practice session Thursday afternoon at the sprawling 13-field Roger Dean Stadium Complex, Orimoloye seemed very much at home in his element.

“The atmosphere here is really cool,” he said, his steady speech and easy manner giving all the indications of a gentle and intelligent giant. “I have a lot of friends that come here and there are a lot of scouts here; it’s a great tournament. It’s been a fun summer and this is a great way to end the summer. I’ve been to the Area Codes, the East Coast (Pro) … and this is right along those lines as a great (event).”

It was Orimoloye’s performances at the East Coast Pro in Syracuse, N.Y., July 30-Aug. 2 and at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., Aug. 4-9 that started a steady buzz in the scouting community that continued into the fall. It was at those events he finally showed an extraordinary blend of power and speed while smashing home runs and patrolling center field that scouts had long anticipated.

He had shown hints of that prowess at numerous Perfect Game tournaments and showcases the last two years – he ran a 6.57-second 60-yard dash at the 2013 PG Junior National Showcase before lowering his personal best to 6.50 seconds at the East Coast Pro – but never could exceed a 9.0 grade (10.0 is tops) at either of his PG showcase events in 2013.

As Perfect Game’s vice president for player development, David Rawnsley has been watching Orimoloye ever since the youngster’s first appearance at the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship. Rawnsley was also among the large contingent of scouts who witnessed his breakout performances at the East Coast Pro and the Area Code Games.

“Demi had been coming to Perfect Game events for two years prior (to August) and you always looked at him and you saw just the outstanding athletic body,” Rawnsley said. “Six-four, 220 pounds, runs a 6.5 60 (yard dash) – looks like he should be playing linebacker for Alabama type of physicality – but had very awkward hitting mechanics.”

Rawnsley said Orimoloye’s superb strength was evident early on when he squared the ball up during batting practice but during games his at-bats were off-balance and lacked sequence. Those tendencies made it difficult for scouts to project if he would ever be an effective hitter.

“The scouts have stayed with him because there is such a good athlete in there and he showed up in Syracuse (at the East Coast Pro) in August with different coordination and different hitting mechanics,” Rawnsley said. “All that strength and 6-(foot)-4 quick-twitch was all of a sudden squaring up the baseball and just driving it.”

Orimoloye, who has committed to Oregon from the Pacific 12 Conference, managed to extend the same type of performance he enjoyed at the East Coast Pro over to Area Code Games.

“He was even better in Long Beach, and this was against high quality pitching,” Rawnsley said. “…When you’re evaluating an athlete you see the athleticism but that doesn’t mean he’s coordinated yet. They were athletes before in that they could run and they were strong but they weren’t coordinated. It could just be a matter of Demi growing into that special hand-eye coordination and sequencing that evolves into a successful swing.”

Orimoloye agreed with Rawnsley’s assessment, adding that just being given the opportunity to perform on amateur baseball’s biggest stages like the PG WWBA World Championship brings out the best in him.

“There’s a lot of competition and everyone wants to be the best one there, so it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I like being around all the other kids and every time you step out on the field you want to be the best one there. I just felt really comfortable and we just had a lot of fun. Nothing really changed that much, I just went out and had fun and did my thing.”

Matt O’Brien is a South Florida area scout for the Toronto Blue Jays and he assembled the first Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team for last year’s PG WWBA World Championship. The idea was to put together a team of prospects from all over the country and Canada that O’Brien and his staff felt could compete on an equal footing with the top travel ball and showcase teams annually in attendance at the event.

There are four Canadians on this year’s roster: Orimoloye; 2015 right-hander Mike Soroka from Calgary, Alberta, who was also on the TBJST roster last year; 2016 catcher Andrew Yerzy from Toronto and right-hander Matt Ianni from Ottawa, Ontario.

“This year, being our second year, we decided to take more Canadian guys,” O’Brien said. “This year we decided to sprinkle in a couple of underclass guys so you have a core group of guys to carryover. Last year we had Jacob Gatewood as kind of the headliner and this year we’ve got Demi as kind of our headliner, but we’ve got a lot of good players.

“I get recommendations from our area scouts and I kind of go from there and put the team together,” he continued. “They do a good of finding me players that aren’t committed to be down here, and we scout them up and it’s good for us to get a look on the make-up of the guys and their backgrounds and see what kind of character they have and how hard they work and how they compete.”

Other top prospects on the roster include 2015 catcher Mike Hickman from Katy, Texas (ranked No. 108 nationally and an Oklahoma recruit); 2015 outfielder Tyler Williams from Peoria, Ariz. (No. 141, uncommitted) and 2016 middle-infielder Jaxon Williams from Rosenberg, Texas (No. 155, Arkansas).

“I had a good feeling about this group when it was on paper and I have an even better feeling about them now, that we’ve got to hang out with them for a day or two,” O’Brien said.

Orimoloye stands out amongst his peers. He was born in Nigeria but moved to Toronto with his parents, father Segun and mother Adenike, when he was just a year old, and he now has a younger brother named Temi. He previously participated in basketball, volleyball and track and didn’t really start taking baseball seriously until he reached eighth grade.

“He’s a great kid; very respectful and well-rounded,” O’Brien said. “He’s confident but not cocky, just an overall good kid. Baseball-wise, he’s got the power to hit in the middle of the lineup and he can run, and he’s big and strong – he checks all the boxes. He hasn’t been shorted playing very well on the field in all the summer showcase stuff.

“I think he’s done a good job staying calm and just letting his tool play instead of trying to press; he’s had a real good summer,” he continued. “I just think he got more comfortable being on the big stag. I think as the summer went on and he got more exposure in those big events it kind of calmed his nerves and he kind of let his tools play more.”

With each game the Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team plays at the PG WWBA World Championship over the next couple of days – they lost their pool-play opener to the Homeplate Chilidogs, 3-2, Thursday afternoon – Orimoloye will continue to realize more and more of his potential.

While hundreds of scouts watch his every move and gauge his value in June’s 2015 MLB Amateur First-Year Player Draft – he is ranked as a top-40 draft prospect in two separate rankings published online – Demi Orimoloye refuses to talk about untapped or unrealized potential. On Thursday morning he knew exactly what he wanted to take away from the experience at his third PG WWBA World Championship.

“I want to have fun, make friendships, perform and do my thing, and hopefully we can win,” he said –words spoken with a lot of potential.

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