Tournaments | Story | 7/13/2016

Blue Jays learn on the road

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – The rigors of travel over the course of a summer baseball season can be grueling for any team, but it is even more strenuous on the Ontario Blue Jays. Traveling from Ontario, Canada, the team has already seen half of the country stopping for tournaments in Houston and now Georgia.

Noah Naylor might have traveled more than the entire Blue Jays team. He missed the first few games of the 16u WWBA National Championship but rejoined the team on Tuesday. Naylor has been in Cuba playing for Team Canada in exhibition games and took a series of red eyes just to be able to get here for the last pool play games.

“For Team Canada we travel around the States and to other countries in order to face the next level of competition,” said Naylor. “We were in Cuba for about a week facing the Cuban National Team in a series of nine games. This gets me ready for Worlds in 2017 and it gives me a feel for what it’s like to play in that level of competition.”

Naylor is currently uncommitted and is the No. 21 overall player for the class of 2018. Naylor is excellent defensively as a catcher and has a good approach at the plate which results in a lot of barreled baseballs. His older brother Josh was drafted in the first round last year by the Miami Marlins as one of the top sluggers eligible for the draft who also participated in the 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park. While Noah is currently playing for Team Canada and the Blue Jays in the 16u WWBA National Championship, his older brother was recently in San Diego as he was selected to take part in The Futures Game a couple of days ago as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star festivities.

With the talent and projectability that Naylor has, he may not be too far away in joining his older brother in a minor league organization, or by moving up top prospects list.

“My older brother has paved the path for me,” said Noah. “He’s told me a lot about his experiences like what he’s had to do to get drafted in the first round and to be selected for The Futures Game. I try to follow in his footsteps as best as I can. I play the game to the best of my ability, always believe in and trust my skill and always have fun during the game.”

Naylor has been playing baseball for the Ontario Blue Jays organization – as his brother did – for quite a while. His manager, Sean Travers, has been coaching him since he was seven years old. That is the build of this Blue Jays team, they are a closely knit unit that has been playing with each other seemingly all of their life.

“I’ve had Noah since he was seven or so,” said Travers. “He’s been around a long time and we’re very close. Noah hasn’t been with us much because he’s been with Team Canada, but he’s played with most of these guys coming up so they’re really good friends. He’s one of those guys who comes back and you can just drop him in the lineup. He’s really important to this team because he plays shortstop, catches and is probably our No. 2 pitcher. It’s great to get him back, it’s like a shot in the arm, and I know he’s excited about it. He loves playing with these guys and he’s just a talented kid who goes out there and plays hard every day.”

High school baseball in Canada is nowhere near as developed, or as important, as the American version. This is an advantage for Travers and his team as he has the players for an entire year and not just during the summer. With training and preparing since March, this team is very close and immensely talented.

“Most of our guys are from the Toronto area,” said Travers. “Half are new to the organization and the other half have been with us for a while. The unique thing about our program is that we get the kids for 12 months; the kids don’t really play high school baseball. We start our next year in August with a camp so these kids have been with us for at least a year and this team has been together since March.”

With Team Canada playing at the same time, the Blue Jays have lost players, such as Naylor, for extended periods of time. That is a strain on the thin roster, but it provides a unique chance for some of the other guys to step up in big situations. That’s been what is happening as a lot of the players are being asked to play positions or do things that they normally wouldn’t.

“We don’t have a lot of POs (pitcher only) which is unusual for us, we have a lot of position players who have been giving us good innings,” said Travers. “We’ve had some guys been away for Team Canada so we’ve had some guys step up. Our lineup is pretty typical: speed at the top and some power in the middle. We’ve been coming together with our six- and seven-hole hitters starting to produce and we’re scoring runs.”

With a loss on Tuesday, their second straight shutout, the Blue Jays will not be able to advance to bracket play. It is disappointing, but Travers admitted that a lot of the team hasn’t seen the magnitude and level of competition that you will find at Perfect Game events such as this one. He really wants his team to compete and they have fought hard over the past week.

“Don’t really worry about who we’re playing and just play our game,” said Travers about how he addresses his team. “Don’t worry about what the other team is doing. A lot of guys haven’t seen this type of competition before, specifically the velocity. So this is all new to them and I just want to see them compete and get better every day.”

Emerson, Georgia is just another stop for what is a long year of travel for the Blue Jays. The team has talent and will undoubtedly compete for championships in the future, and of course it always helps when you have a player of Noah Naylor’s magnitude leading you there.

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