Draft : : State Preview
Sunday, June 05, 2011

State Preview: Canada

Allan Simpson        

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Canada State-by-State List

Canada Overview:
No First-Rounder This Year, But Canada Should Still Impact Early Rounds

With its wide expanse, tricky demographics, cold climate and unconventional training centers, Canada is not an easy territory to scout. Most of the quality baseball talent is concentrated in British Columbia in the west, most of the quantity in Ontario in the east. But the two provinces are three time zones apart.

Canada has almost no formal high-school or college programs, such as exist south of the border, to develop its talent, and has had to resort to alternative means to give its best young talent the experience and exposure necessary to eventually flourish in professional baseball. Canada’s junior-national team and several powerful travel teams have taken the lead in both those areas.

For scouts, it has often become most practical to evaluate Canada’s elite high-school talent while facing professional competition.

And it was in that environment, in Arizona, that B.C. products Brett Lawrie and Kellin Deglan put the wheels in motion to become first-round draft picks in two of the last three drafts. Lawrie was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 16th overall pick in 2008 (he has since been acquired by the home-nation team, the Toronto Blue Jays), while Deglan went 22nd overall to the Texas Rangers a year ago.

Since Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, began taking Canada’s junior club to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Florida in 1999, to play minor leaguers in spring training and extended spring training, and instructional league in the fall, Canadian high-schoolers have received more than their share of exposure against quality competition. It has been a case of taking talent to where all the scouts are.

Typically, Canada’s junior-national team makes three annual trips abroad, in the fall and early spring to Florida, and late spring to the Dominican Republic. In each case, it usually plays against first- and second-year pros.

The dividends have been substantial.

Despite a grassroots development system that is radically different in many ways than that in the United States, Canada has factored into the first round in each of the last four drafts. In addition to Lawrie and Deglan, Quebec righthander Phillippe Aumont was a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2007, and University of Kentucky lefthander James Paxton, a Ladner, B.C., product, was a supplemental first-rounder in 2009.

The biggest payoff has come at the major-league level, and Canada is having a greater impact on Major League Baseball than at any time in its modest history. In just the last five years, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), in 2006, and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ontario), in 2010, have earned league MVP awards.

With high-school baseball almost a complete non-factor in Canada, the best Canadian talent typically plays on elite-level travel teams like the Langley Blaze in B.C., and the Ontario Blue Jays. Both those teams play upwards of 60-80 game a year, on both sides or the border.

While Canada will not have a first-rounder in the draft for the first time in five years, it should still produce a steady diet of talent with as many as 6-8 players in the first 10 rounds. By most accounts, the nation’s top three prospects are righthanders Thomas Robson and Vaughn Covington, and third baseman Dustin Houle.

All three, coincidentally, are from B.C., and the balance of power in Canada’s 2011 draft crop clearly has a western flavor to it. Over the next two years, there should be a pronounced shift to the eastern half of the country as Ontario is unusually deep in 2012 and 2013 talent, while B.C. should be relatively thin.

That look to the future doesn’t even speak to 2014, when possibly the best Canadian talent to come along in years, outfielder Gareth Morgan, who turned 15 in April, should bring a steady procession of scouts to Ontario. Though just a freshman at a Toronto high school, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Morgan is the only player from either the 2013 or 2014 draft classes to play this spring on Canada’s national junior team. Not only does Morgan have impressive size for his age, but he already has above-average power and arm strength.

For this year’s draft, only Robson is given a realistic shot of going in the top three rounds.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ladner, B.C., product pretty much cemented himself as Canada’s best 2011 draft with his performance at last year’s World Junior Championship in Thunder Bay, Ontario, when he started against eventual gold medalist Cuba and locked horns with ace Cuban lefthander Omar Luis. Robson left a scoreless game after six innings, only for Cuba to go on to win 3-0.

After Luis defeated the United States 3-2 in a critical quarter-final game in the playoff round, handing a talented American squad its only loss of the tournament but also eliminating it from medal contention, Robson took on Cuba again in a semi-final contest, with a medal at stake. He pitched well again in the early innings, before the powerful Cuban squad finally solved Robson.

Not only did Robson handle that charged-up environment extremely well for a 17-year-old, but he commanded three pitches on both occasions against Cuba. His fastball was a steady 91-92 mph.

Robson’s fastball was generally in the 88-90 mph range, touching 91, for Team Canada on its trips this spring to Florida and the Dominican Republic, though reached 93 in Arizona in March, while pitching for the Blaze. With natural development, scouts expect Robson to reach the mid-90s in time.

Houle, a player of native Canadian descent from Penticton, B.C., who moved to the Vancouver suburb of Langley in order to further his baseball development, has emerged as a solid No. 2 pick behind Robson, his Blaze teammate. He doesn’t turn 18 until November, making him one of the younger players in this year’s draft.

Houle made huge strides this spring at the plate, generating significant bat speed with a short, compact swing, and putting balls into play with authority. He has easy defensive actions at third base, but may end up as a catcher in the long run.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Covington is something of a wild card in this draft as he underwent Tommy John surgery last September and has been unable to pitch since. Scouts say he may have the best arm and greatest upside of any Canadian pitcher in the 2011 class, Robson included. Before he was hurt, Covington’s fastball was an easy 90-92 mph, touching 93-94 last summer. He generated excellent sink on the pitch, along with a tight rotation on his curve.

Covington has begun playing light catch again, but may not see a mound again until September. As a result, it might be a significant gamble for a team to consider drafting him in the top 5-8 rounds. But Covington is considered very signable and may benefit in the short term from the no-rush environment in pro ball, where development is encouraged.

After those three players, the talent thins out, though several more prospects could still work their way into the top 10 rounds.

Righthander Skylar Janisse should be the first player drafted from Ontario, although he has drawn mixed reviews this spring. The 6-foot-5 Janisse has a big, projectable frame with a clean arm action, and has added 4-5 mph in velocity in the last year. Though his fastball still registers only 90, he should add more velocity as he progresses.

Outfielder Cory Scammell, who has grown up in a frigid climate in Edmonton, is understandably very raw in his development, but has excellent lefthanded power potential in his 6-5, 210-pound frame. None of his other tools stand out, so teams would have to bet almost entirely on his bat.

In Quebec, where students normally graduate from high school at age 16, two recent graduates enrolled in local junior colleges, righthander Jesen Dygestile-Therrien (Ahuntsic College) and third baseman Jonathan Jones (Vanier College), have created a stir. Since neither of their junior colleges fields a baseball team, both players have developed their skills with the Montreal-based Academie du Baseball Canada, while also playing for Canada’s junior-national team.

Dygestile-Therrien was drafted a year ago by the New York Mets (36th round) as a 17-year-old, though never was offered a contract. He has since made significant strides with his easy, effortless delivery. His fastball is mostly in the 88-90 mph range and his command inconsistent, but scouts recognize plenty of upside in his arm and 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, and Dygestile-Therrien should significantly improve his draft position this year.

The 6-foot-3 Jones is a relative newcomer as a draftable prospect, and made his presence felt with his powerful bat. Though he plays third base and probably has the arm strength to remain there, the rest of Jones’ tools are fringy or below-average, and he likely will end up at first base.

B.C. is the one province that has structured intercollegiate programs of any consequence, with the University of British Columbia playing a full-blown NAIA schedule against U.S. competition, while nearby Douglas College is a member of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges. Both those schools have candidates in the middle rounds, notably Douglas power-hitting outfielder Chandler McLaren.

Noticeably missing from this year’s Canadian draft pool are some high-profile players attending U.S. colleges. Paxton, then at Kentucky, was the 37th overall pick in 2009, though ended up not signing with the Blue Jays. His University of Kentucky teammate Chris Bisson, along with Connors State (Okla.) JC outfielder Marcus Knecht, were both taken in the top four rounds a year ago.

This year, the highest-ranked Canadians enrolled in U.S. colleges are Northeastern University righthander Leslie Williams and Cameron (Okla.) University outfielder Chase Larsson.

Befitting the often-curious and unconventional development patterns that Canadians take in their pursuit of a career in professional baseball, Williams and Larsson were heavily-scouted players out of Canadian high schools but literally fell off the map when they left for schools in the U.S.

In Larsson’s case, he was a 16th-round pick of the Kansas City Royals out of a Vancouver high school way back in 2006. He played baseball as a freshman at Odessa (Texas) Junior College, but was barely heard from again before suddenly resurfacing this year at Division II Cameron, where he had a breakout year, leading all Division II hitters in homers (29), RBIs (84) and slugging (1.000).

Williams, a Toronto native, played baseball for four years at Northeastern, initially as a talented two-way player. He eventually gave up playing in the field in order to fulfill his potential as a pitcher, but it wasn’t until this year, as a senior, when Williams’ game finally started to blossom. With an increase in velocity, along with better command of his other pitches, he went 5-6, 3.98 with 18 walks and 77 strikeouts in 95 innings. In his first three seasons at Northeastern, Williams was a combined 5-12, 4.56.

Some of the other Canadians playing at U.S. colleges who will get a shot, probably in the middle rounds, are Franklin Pierce (N.H.) College righthander Ryan Thompson; Yavapai (Ariz.) JC righthander Zak Miller and Oregon State third baseman Carter Bell. All have western Canadian backgrounds.

Thompson, a Calgary product who pitched sparingly in two seasons at Connecticut before transferring to Franklin Pierce, had a breakout season at the Division II school, going 11-1, 1.23, with a fastball that touched 94 mph. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Miller, a transfer from New Mexico who is committed to play at Arizona State next year, has an ideal pitcher’s frame and flashed a low-90s fastball and plus slider this spring.

Bell was an unsigned 22nd-round pick in 2008 out of a Courtenay, B.C., high school when he enrolled at Oregon State, but his career has been much slower to evolve than expected, and his 2011 season was interrupted by injuries (quad, sore finger). He hit just .299-1-22 for the Beavers. Where he eventually plays in the field in pro ball is a continuing concern as he doesn’t have the range to play shortstop or the raw power for third.

With a new short-season Class A affiliate in Vancouver (Northwest) this year, the Blue Jays are expected to put more emphasis than ever on drafting Canadian talent to stock that club with home-grown players.

The Jays are Canada’s only remaining big-league team, and drafted nine Canadians in 2009, though got burned when both Paxton and second-rounder Jake Eliopoulos, two of their first three picks, didn’t sign. Undeterred, the Jays selected seven more Canadians a year ago.

Eliopoulos, a lefthander from Newmarket, Ontario, remains unsigned, and his career has been on a downward spiral since he inexplicably turned down Toronto’s substantial six-figure bonus offer two years ago.

He never lasted at two Florida junior colleges, rejected a 15th-round offer in the 2010 draft, and spent most of this spring back home, throwing bullpens, until he joined a Michigan-based semi-pro team, the Detroit Jet Box, late in the spring. In his first start for that club, Eliopoulos worked two innings and walked 10. His fastball, which was in the low- to mid-90s at the prime of his career, barely cracked the mid-80s.

Canada in a Nutshell:

High-school pitching.
WEAKNESS: Athletic players.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

British Columbia.
BEST CLUB TEAM: Langley Blaze (B.C.).

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Dustin Houle, 3b, Langley (B.C.) HS.
Houle transferred high schools so he could play baseball on a regular basis with the Langley Blaze, Canada’s top travel team, and his game has taken off, especially at the plate.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Jake Eliopoulos, lhp, Newmarket, Ontario.
A second-round pick of his hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays, just two years ago, Eliopoulos ill-advisedly chose not to sign, and his career has unraveled since. He didn’t even play for a college team this year, and his fastball had lost nearly 10 mph when he made his spring debut late in for a Michigan-based semi-pro team.

WILD CARD: Vaughn Covington, rhp, Killarney HS, Vancouver, B.C.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Covington may have more upside than any Canadian pitcher in this year’s draft, but he underwent Tommy John surgery last September and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the better part of a year. He may be too much of a risk for a team to pop him in the first 5-6 rounds.

Leslie Williams, rhp, Northeastern University (attended high school in Scarborough, Ontario).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Ryan Kellogg, lhp, Henry Street HS, Whitby, Ontario.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: No candidate.

Draft History: Adam Loewen, lhp, Fraser Valley Christian HS, Surrey, B.C. (2002, Orioles/1st round, 4th pick).
2006 Draft: Kyle Orr, 1b, Lambrick Park HS, Victoria, B.C. (Dodgers/4th round).
2007 Draft: Phillippe Aumont, rhp, Ecole Du Versant HS, Gatineau, Quebec (Mariners/1st round, 11th pick).
2008 Draft: Brett Lawrie, ss, Brookswood HS, Langley, B.C. (Brewers/1st round, 16th pick).
2009 Draft: James Paxton, lhp, U. of Kentucky (Blue Jays/1st round/37th pick).
2010 Draft: Kellin Deglin, c, Mountain HS, Langley, B.C. (Rangers/1st round, 20th pick).

Best Hitter: Dustin Houle, 3b, Langley (B.C.) HS.
Best Power: Jonathan Jones, 3b, Vanier (Quebec) College.
Best Speed: No candidate.
Best Defender: Justin Atkinson, ss, North Surrey (B.C.) HS.
Best Velocity: Thomas Robson, rhp, Delta HS, Ladner, B.C.
Best Breaking Stuff: Thomas Robson, rhp, Delta HS, Ladner, B.C.


(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. THOMAS ROBSON, rhp, Delta HS, Ladner, B.C. / Langley Blaze, Team Canada
Unquestioned ace of Canada JR team; commands 3 pitches, FB 88-90/T-93, will throw harder when fills out.

(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

2. DUSTIN HOULE, 3b, Langley (B.C.) HS / Langley Blaze, Team Canada
Made huge strides with bat; ++ bat speed, puts ball in play with authority; all skills for 3B, catcher in future.
3. VAUGHN COVINGTON, rhp, Killarney HS, Vancouver, B.C. / Vancouver Cannons
Sidelined since September with TJ surgery; + projectable arm/frame (6-4/210), FB 90-92, + rotation on CU.
4. JESEN DYGESTILE-THERRIEN, rhp, Ahuntsic (Quebec) JC (Fr.) / ABC Academy, Team Canada
Mets 2010 draft, just turned 18; lean/projectable build (6-2/190), quick arm, 88-90 FB, chance for 3 pitches.
5. SKYLAR JANISSE, rhp, St. Thomas/Villanova HS, Maidstone, Ont. / Windsor Selects, Team Canada
Top Ontario prospect; inconsistent spring, but 6-5/205, easy/clean arm action, 90 FB now, more velo in tank.
6. CORY SCAMMEL, of, St. Francis Xavier HS, Edmonton / Edmonton Cardinals, Team Canada
Physically strong (6-5/210), intriguing power potential, ball jumps off bat; rest of game/tools very unpolished.
7. JONATHAN JONES, 3b, Vanier (Quebec) College (Fr.) / ABC Academy
Product of Quebec’s ABC academy, late bloomer; ++ power, made big strides at plate; 3B now, 1B in works.
8. JUSTIN ATKINSON, ss, North Surrey (B.C.) HS / Langley Blaze, Team Canada
Most polished player in Canada, ++ actions, bat/power potential; tweener, lacks speed for SS, power for 3B.
9. JUSTIN MARRA, c, Michael Power HS, Toronto / Ontario Blue Jays, Team Canada
Struggles to put it all together, flashes bat/defensive skills; has short swing to hit, lacks + arm, but + release.

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