Photo: Perfect Game

Canadians strut stuff in States

Draft : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The two highly regarded shortstops made their way down to Monday’s Perfect Game Pre-Draft Showcase at Veterans Memorial Stadium from different cities in Ontario, Canada, but with decidedly singular reasons for making the trip.

Malik Collymore, a 6-foot, 195-pound prospect from Mississauga, Ont., and Daniel Pinero, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound prospect from Toronto, Ont., arrived at Perfect Game Field as the Canadian province’s two highest ranked shortstop prospects in the high school class of 2013. They have different body types, different strengths to their games and different backgrounds, but were like identical twins in terms of what they hoped to accomplish at the Pre-Draft.

“Just talking with my family, we thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase myself one last time before the (MLB) draft,” Collymore said Monday. “I’m feeling really good and I’m playing with some good guys and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I want to just relax and let my talent take over; that’s always been my thing.”

Pinero echoed his countryman: “I had heard that a lot of scouts and scouting directors were going to be here and it’s just another way to show myself and show what I can do in front of more people. Hopefully, something good will happen out of it.”

Both Collymore, a graduating senior at Port Credit Secondary School, and Pinero, who is graduating from Western Technical Institute, were both named to the Top Prospect list at the Pre-Draft, and seemingly accomplished their missions of enhancing their standing in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Collymore came into the event as the No. 178-ranked prospect nationally (both the U.S. and Canada) in his class and was considered a top-300 draft prospect in January, although his stock is certain to rise in the next couple of weeks.

He was named the Top Prospect at the Pre-Draft after recording the event’s fastest 60-yard dash time (6.54 seconds), throwing 90 mph across the infield and hitting three home runs in 10 BP swings; he also a home run in game action. Collymore is an alumnus of the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase and the 2013 PG World Showcase, and continues to impress each time he gets in front of the scouts.

He was also named to the Top Prospect list at the PG World in January, prompting PG VP of Player Personnel David Rawnsley to write:

“Collymore’s eventual defensive position is still to be determined but there isn’t much question that he’s a top level hitting prospect. The barrel whistles through the zone and he left observers with a ‘Wow’ reaction after batting practice.”

“I think you always have to set some expectations, and I set them high for myself,” Collymore said Monday. “I work hard to achieve them and then just let whatever happens happen.”

Pinero’s parents, father Reinaldo Pinero and mother Elena Vojmina, are Cuban and Russian born, respectively, and both are graduates of the University of Moscow. Pinero certainly has baseball in his blood; his father once played on the Cuban National team.

“Ever since I was a little kid, my dad would take me to the ballpark and would start hitting balls to me,” he said. “From there I progressed throughout high school and I kept with the sport and kept trying to be the best player I could be. I just kept playing baseball and really stuck with it, and now I’m happy to be here.”

Pinero also enjoyed a fine Pre-Draft, running a 6.86-second 60-yard dash and throwing 91 mph across the diamond. Pinero’s 6-foot-6 stature doesn’t exactly scream “shortstop” but he seems intent on staying at that position.

“Because I’m 6-6, not many people think I can play shortstop,” he said, “but I’ve done it all my life and when I go out on the field I just play ball. I guess I’m still (at shortstop), so I must be doing something right. I know I can play the shortstop position and that’s what I want to be (at the next level).”

Canada has produced its share of outstanding ballplayers through the years – think Fergie Jenkins and Larry Walker from days past, and Joey Votto and Justin Morneau from present times – but there is no doubting cold weather limits the amount of time players can get outdoors. The more determined prospects like Collymore and Pinero always seem to find a way, however.

“We have our league in Ontario where we play four or five games a week, weather permitting,” Collymore said. “We’ll always get our games in; we’re Canadians, we’re tough, and we’ll play through the weather.”

While the top prospects may play through the weather, there is no guarantee MLB scouts, scouting directors and cross-checkers will do the same. Exposure to the scouting community can be limited as suitable playing dates.

“Growing up in Canada is really tough for certain guys in terms of getting looks from scouts, and that’s why this is the perfect place to be right now, with all these scouts,” Pinero said while at the PG Pre-Draft. “Growing up in Toronto is tough and everyone thinks it’s just hockey, but we can play a little bit of baseball, too.”

Collymore and Pinero possess the real key to being Canadian while also enjoying optimum exposure. The two got connected with the Ontario Blue Jays, an elite travel ball organization led by Dan Bleiwas that takes the prospects to the scouts rather than waiting for the scouts to show up in Ontario.

“With the Ontario Blue Jays, we go everywhere around the States,” Pinero said. “In the fall, we went to all these great universities and played their teams, and at those places we get looks; in Canada you don’t really get looks. It’s just a great program to be involved with because of all the looks you get and how much it helps you out.”

The trip south always includes a five day stay at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., and event held in late October that typically attracts hundreds of MLB scouts, scouting directors, front office personnel and college coaches.

“Jupiter is a great atmosphere and I just love playing baseball there,” said Pinero, who has been to the blockbuster tournament with the Blue Jays the last two years. “There are so many good players … and it’s just a great atmosphere with a bunch of scouts; that’s where you really get a lot of looks. The games are good too, facing good competition and good pitching, and it’s really fun to be out there.”

Collymore has signed with Blinn College, a junior college with its main campus in Brenham, Texas. Brenham is about an hour’s drive from College Station, Texas, and Blinn is known for transferring more students to Texas A&M than any other two-year school in the country.

“Coach (Harvey) McIntyre seemed really interested in me right to begin with,” Collymore said of what attracted him to Blinn. “He came to me and he just seemed really ecstatic to have me, and I want to go to a program that really wants to have me.”

Pinero has signed with Atlantic Coast Conference power the University of Virginia, the nation’s No. 6-ranked team in the latest PG College Top 25. The Ontario Blue Jays made Virginia one of the stops on their travels through the States last year, and Cavaliers head coach Brian O’Connor made note of Pinero – perhaps intrigued by the 6-foot-6 athlete who found his way around the shortstop position so well.

“The coach saw me and he liked what he saw, I guess,” Pinero said. “The University of Virginia is ranked (sixth) right now and I know they’re a great team. I saw how their players were coached and I enjoyed it a lot, and I knew that was the place I wanted to go.”

Based on their performances Monday, there is at least a chance that Collymore won’t be in Brenham, Texas, next fall and Pinero may not land in Charlottesville, Va. The 2013 MLB amateur draft begins June 6 and both young prospects expect to hear their names called, possibly earlier than anyone could have imagined at the beginning of the spring.

 “Everyone wants to be (selected) as high as they can be in the draft,” Pinero said. “I don’t really think about it when I come out here; I just want to do what I can do best; hit the ball far, field the ground balls, throw as hard as I can and just play well. Hopefully I can show something to the scouts that they like and whatever comes in the draft comes.”

Collymore concurred:

“Playing professional baseball has always been my dream and I want to put myself in the best position to play professional baseball,” he said, “but whether it’s school or pro ball, I’ll just hope for the best. I feel like the best is still to come and that’s exactly how I want to keep it. I just want to keep getting better every day.”

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