Showcase | Story | 6/16/2013

No performance, no problem

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twelve months ago, the top prospect invited to the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase that scouts never got to see perform at the event was Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart, who developed back spasms in the days leading up to the PG National and was unable to pitch.

Based on the knowledge that Stewart was highly regarded enough to even be extended an invitation to the PG National and then the 2012 PG All-American Classic -- and bolstered by a strong spring high school season -- the Minnesota Twins made Stewart the fourth overall pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 6.

The most highly ranked, highly regarded prospect invited to this week's 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase the scouts never got a chance to see perform was Canadian outfielder Gareth Morgan, who suffered a strained MCL while playing a couple of weeks ago, and was unable to perform at the National. The injury was minor and he'll be playing again as soon as next week.

How early Morgan will be selected in the 2014 MLB amateur draft won't be known for another 12 months. But even though he knew he wouldn't be able to perform at the PG National, Morgan and his father, Giles, respected the invitation enough that they came over from their home in Toronto on Saturday just to take in the scene.

"I was really excited about coming down here and playing but unfortunately I had this injury about two weeks before which is going to keep me out," Gareth Morgan said Saturday. "It's great to know that I've been highly ranked and people believe in my talents. I don't let it get to my head and I try to focus on baseball because I want to keep getting better and better."

Gareth Morgan is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound athlete who is no stranger to college coaches in the United States or to MLB scouting directors in the U.S. and Canada. He is the No. 6-ranked national (U.S. and Canada) prospect in the 2014 high school class and No. 1-ranked in the province of Ontario.

Morgan, like all good Canadian kids, grew up playing hockey but had developed an intense passion for baseball by the time he was in eighth grade. He estimates that he only has about four or five months a year to play outdoors in his hometown and when that time is up, that's when all the indoor training begins.

"I've never been one to follow baseball or particular baseball players but I've always been a fan of the game, and I've enjoyed watching Gareth," Giles Morgan said Saturday. "He started playing baseball when he was around six or seven years old and he seemed to be very successful from the start, and the team that he played with was very successful from the start. It was always enjoyable to watch."

Morgan, who turned 17 on April 12 and will be a senior at North Toronto Collegiate High School in the fall, was first named to the Baseball Canada Junior National Team as a 14-year-old and has already traveled the world representing his country.

He is a member of the this year's Baseball Canada Junior National Team and that association will take him to the Pre-World Junior Championships in Australia in late August and finally the World Junior Championships in Taiwan in early September.

"It seems like everything got better and better after I made the Junior National Team; that was kind of the turning point in my baseball career, you could say," Morgan told PG on Saturday. "Just from there, it's gotten better and better. When I first made the Junior National Team my coach (Greg  Hamilton) even said my swing was choppy and stuff but now he's saying  it's a smooth, powerful swing. I guess I've come a long way from that choppy, un-tuned baseball player."

Hamilton has been associated with the young power hitter and outfielder for the past three years. Speaking to Alexis Brudnicki from CBS Sports when the Canadian Junior National Team was in Dunedin, Fla., in March, 2012, Hamilton said:

"He's an exceptionally talented kid. If you look at him physically, he's a man already at 15. ... He doesn't have to change physically at all. He just has to basically mature as a player. It's not like you're trying to project the body or say he's got to put on 20 pounds or he's got to grow two inches. Physically, he's already a man in terms of profile. Obviously, he'll get a man's strength as he grows up a little bit, but he's a special, physical player and he's got all the tools that you're looking for; it's just a matter of developing and refining them."

Morgan began playing for Dan Bleiwas and nationally renowned and highly respected Ontario Blue Jays organization last fall and showed up at the Roger Dean Complex in Jupiter, Fla., for the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship at the same time Hurricane Sandy was causing havoc about 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

In one game during pool-play at the exclusive tournament, Morgan came to bat facing a still powerful and relentless wind and crushed a line drive home into left-center field that somehow defied the gusts and found its way out of the park. Many other batted balls that would have been home runs under more normal weather conditions died premature deaths that week in Jupiter, but Morgan's lived to make a successful jail break.

Other than that blast, Morgan -- like many other elite hitters -- struggled in those conditions the last week in October. Bleiwas, for one, didn't think it hurt Morgan's standing in the eyes of the hundreds of scouts that were in attendance.

"He's done an exceptional job all fall against college pitching and competition with our National Team," Bleiwas told PG in October. "Just the adjustment he's made and the progress he's making going from being an athlete to becoming a true hitter (is noteworthy). We're excited about that."

Morgan's responsibilities with and commitments to Baseball Canada will keep him from playing with the Blue Jays much this summer but he should be around for this October's PG WWBA World Championship. He wishes he could be with them on a more regular basis.

"I just joined them last fall and it's a great organization," he said. "They work with you whenever you want; we have a clubhouse you can go to and train any time of the day as long as someone is there. You get a lot of exposure because they do a lot of traveling in the states, so it's a great organization to be with."

His father agrees:

"I think it has been beneficial (to Gareth) just in the amount of baseball that they play and the amount of travel they do, and in a personal or selfish way, the exposure that he's gotten by being seen at so many universities," Giles Morgan said. "The coaching is great and they have their own facility in Ontario, and that gives (the young players) the ability to practice and train with a great coaching staff fulltime."

As Giles Morgan watched his son make the rounds through the Metrodome on Saturday, he couldn't help but smile. It just didn't seem all that long ago that Gareth was playing hockey on the rinks in and around Toronto.

"I didn't think things would happen this quickly," Giles said of his son's rise to the ranks of the elite. "I always knew that there was something about him where he had an inner drive and he'd always be pushing himself; he wasn't afraid to fall down and get up and try it again.

"No one can ever expect in any amateur sport that their son would reach any high level because there are so many kids out there and there's so much competition. But again, I always thought that there was something in him where if he wanted it, he could achieve."

During his first few years in the limelight, Gareth Morgan came across as painfully shy -- not really all that surprising considering his youth. He's worked hard at being more outgoing.

"When you're seen as a top prospect you need to be able to talk to a lot of people and you have a lot of interaction with coaches and other players," he said. "I was kind of shy, but over the years I've opened up a lot more because of baseball."

There will be more microphones pushed in his face in the days, months and years to come. Even without being able to perform at the PG National Showcase, Gareth Morgan won't go unnoticed.

"I keep on hearing about how it's going to be crazy and all that but I haven't seen it yet," Giles said. "I'm not hoping for it and I hope that everything stays in control and I hope that he stays healthy and things work out for him."

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