A casualty of COVID-19 disruptions the past couple of summers, the Toronto Blue Jays’ annual tournament featuring the country’s top young players, re-branded as the Canadian Futures Showcase, returns next month in Canada's capital.
Formerly known as T12, the event takes place Sept. 20-24 at Ottawa’s RCGT Park, a move from Rogers Centre forced by the rescheduling of a July 8 The Weeknd concert, postponed by a country-wide Rogers service outage, to Sept. 22.
Though the venue will be different for just this summer, the tournament remains the same, with 140 players spread across six teams participating in a scout day and four round-robin games before culminating in a home run derby and prospects contest. The first 75 players have already been selected with final rosters, chosen after tryouts held across the country, due to be unveiled Friday.
If all goes to plan, some 150 scouts, coaches and evaluators from Major League Baseball clubs and American colleges are expected at the Canadian Futures Showcase, which is aiming to lure them back to Canada more regularly and ease the need for players to head south to get looks.
“One of the things that's been so great this year is baseball has come back and kids are back on the field, but one thing that hasn't returned is the scouts back to Canada,” says T.J. Burton, the Blue Jays’ program manager, amateur baseball. “It’s creating this problem where Canadian kids are now going down to the United States to be seen and it’s hurting that middle prospect group. To have an event that is going to bring that is going to get the scouts to come here, it’s great for not only this group of kids, but just baseball in general in Canada.”
The phenomenon of Canadians heading to the United States and joining travel ball teams for month-long stints developed as a response to the travel restrictions triggered by the pandemic.
While on the surface it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the more kids that do that, the further the repercussions go. Minus the top talent, the level of play locally declines and if the best players can be seen down south, it disincentivizes evaluators from coming north, where they might end up discovering someone else they hadn’t known of.
There are other costs, too.
“These kids are missing out on their high school graduations, on such experiences of just going to high school with their friends because they're now living with a host family down in North Carolina and playing for a travel ball team for a month,” says Burton. “The elite kids, there are spots for them down in the States, but the kids that might be late bloomers or haven't got there yet, they're playing baseball, they’re loving it, they're so excited to be back out, but there isn't that scout presence that there once was.”
In its previous incarnation, T12 became a must-attend event offering big-league organizations and colleges the type of in-depth scouting opportunity so common on the American showcase circuit.
The Canadian Futures Showcase provides that for players aged 14-19, with the core group in the 16-17 range. With a handful of draft-eligible players opting for reclassification so they can push their draft status back a year and make up for lost time, this cohort may skew a bit older than in future years.
To better accommodate the arriving evaluators, the Blue Jays surveyed teams and schools to see what they wanted out of the scout day. They incorporated things like the 5-10-5 agility test and vertical leap measurements into the testing, while moving away from a results-based competition to a guaranteed-games format helps ensure pitchers’ arms can be protected.
“This is good for baseball in Canada and what's good for baseball in Canada is good for the Blue Jays,” says Burton. “We talk a lot about being Canada's team and how we go coast to coast. We feel like it's our responsibility to provide an opportunity like this and really do special things for Canadian kids.”