Top Canadian talent tapped for Tournament 12
After successful inaugural showcase last fall, excitement surrounds event
Tournament 12 is a difference-maker.
Last September, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Blue Jays Baseball Academy hosted the inaugural event, inviting the top Draft-eligible talent from across Canada to play in a competitive four-day tournament, displaying their skills for many scouts and college recruiters.
On Wednesday, the Academy -- along with the tournament's commissioner, Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar -- announced the first 80 players selected for the upcoming event, taking place at Rogers Centre from Sept. 16-20.
Canada's 2015 Draft class is highlighted by slugger Josh Naylor and outfielder Demi Orimoloye, with right-handers Mike Soroka and Matt Ianni not far behind. Joining them will be the rest of the country's finest high schoolers for a unique evaluating opportunity.
"The 2015 class is solid …" one National League evaluator said. "The two guys I'm most excited about are Naylor and Orimoloye; both could go in the first five rounds. The pitching talent for 2015 is strong …
"Overall, the tournament is a great thing. It offers scouts an opportunity to see many players one last time before the offseason on a big stage. The majority of scouts have all seen these kids play before, but it helps us see the kids in high-pressure games, and players can really raise their Draft stock going into the offseason."
The nation's next pool of talent will hope for success similar to what the tournament has already produced, even before taking into account the upcoming Draft and college commitments that are still rolling in.
One success story from the first event is Andrew Case. The right-hander signed a Minor League free-agent contract with the Blue Jays just four days after his Maritimes team became the first Tournament 12 champions. In his two appearances over the four days of games, Case threw nine innings, including a seven-inning no-hitter, and struck out 19 batters.
After being signed by Toronto's Canadian scout Jamie Lehman out of the tournament, Case reported to the instructional league in the Dominican, and he has been dominating at extended spring camp. Through 30 innings in Dunedin, Fla., the hurler has allowed just five runs on nine hits, giving out only one free pass and striking out 22.
"Tournament 12 has changed our whole family's lives," Jade McDermott, Case's father, said.
Zach Pop, a local righty and one of Canada's top high school arms heading into the upcoming Draft, earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky after being seen at the event, and he couldn't be more grateful for his opportunity with the Wildcats.
"Gary Henderson, the head coach, was at Tournament 12 and that was huge," Sheldon Pop, Zach's father, said. "He saw Zach, and Zach did really well at Tournament 12, so that kind of got him on their radar a little bit … they [eventually] came out and offered Zach a real good scholarship opportunity, and we just couldn't say no to it."
The Blue Jays are looking forward to what more the tournament can bring.
"We're proud that we got the tournament going and off the ground for the first year and it was successful," Toronto's coordinator of amateur baseball T.J. Burton said. "We had a kid signed and a lot of kids got letters for schools. … We just want to continue to give the best opportunity possible to these kids to get them seen, get them down to schools, get them drafted and just further their baseball careers.
"Any way we can help, that's the goal of the whole tournament, and that's why we're here doing all this work."
The event will host a total of 160 players, with seven additional roster spots for each of the eight teams named on Aug. 15 and the final rosters being declared on Aug. 29. Alongside tournament commissioner Alomar, guests of the showcase will include Sandy Alomar Sr. and Blue Jays alumni Paul Quantrill, Duane Ward, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield.
One American League scout with a territory encompassing the Great White North found the opportunity great for everyone involved.
"The inaugural tournament was really the first of its kind in Canada for professional and college evaluators," an AL scout said. "We were able to see the top talent in the country … all in the same place.
"Any time you are able to see that quantity of players in a scouting-oriented event in one place, it really is a dream opportunity for a scout. It may save you four or five flights or phone calls and allow you to get an excellent grasp on not only what is coming up this year but the next two or three years as well."
After last fall's inaugural tournament went off without a hitch, the Blue Jays decided on some changes to the event to make it even better, and to give an improved glimpse into what the Canadian future holds.
"We went from 10 teams to eight teams," Burton said. "We've eliminated an Ontario team and one of the teams from Quebec. We've trimmed the rosters down to 20 from 24. We just really think it's going to bring out the best of the best.
"It's going to make the jobs of our scouting department and Baseball Canada and all the people who are picking the teams a little more difficult, but we really think we are going to get the best of the best."
For many Canadian scouts, a significant amount of time is often spent evaluating the junior national team. But Greg Hamilton, head coach and national program director, knows that Tournament 12's reach goes far beyond his own.
"Tournament 12 was very important for the country, because it was all-encompassing," Hamilton said. "I use that word, but I sincerely feel that. It touches everybody, coast to coast.
"We really believe in the junior national program and obviously the value of the junior national program, but it doesn't touch as many kids. There aren't as many kids who are directly impacted, obviously by nature of the selection process and the number of players who can play every year.
"So to run a showcase event that touches every province and goes coast to coast is huge, and then to be able to deliver that with all the best players is even better."
Named for Toronto's only Hall of Famer, the native of Puerto Rico is excited for the continued growth of the event, and to follow the developments of last year's participants.
"Tournament 12 provides a great opportunity for Canadian baseball players to showcase their skills and abilities on a Major League field," Alomar said. "I am very proud of how successful the tournament was in its inaugural year, and am really looking forward to seeing the next wave of Canadian baseball talent as this showcase grows."
Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.