The Vauxhall Academy of Baseball’s annual indoor Major League Baseball camp saw scouts from the MLB, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays put players through the paces, hoping to find some gems for the baseball diamond in the snowy prairie.
“We’re in the middle of winter, it’s minus-25 outside and you know, our guys are getting into the dog days of winter, too,” said Vauxhall head coach and director of operations Les McTavish. “You get a little bit of cabin fever and to get an opportunity to have the Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners and Major League Baseball come and watch our guys. I think it gives them some energy, it gives our program some energy and it can carry us.”
The Jets are a month away from the start of meaningful games, but for players hoping to secure scholarships or draft status, Monday was a big day. The lack of sunshine and outdoor practice, and the pressure of performing for the scouts was palpable but McTavish said no player is made or broken from one indoor tryout.
It’s a message McTavish, who has been with the program for its eight-year history, had reinforced by a distinguished alumni. Adam Nelubowich played college baseball for the Washington State Cougars and played last summer in the Houston Astros’ system.
He was drafted in the 18th round in 2013 and graduated from Vauxhall in 2009. He was back in Vauxhall for a few weeks working out and getting ready for Spring Training, while also trying to help out at his alma mater.
After going through several similar cattle calls, Nelubowich had a simple message for the players.
“You can’t expect to be better today than you were yesterday just because there’s a scout here,” he said.
“So you just kind of have to do your thing the whole time.”
Coach Mac told these guys yesterday there’s nobody going to get drafted from what happens today, but you’re trying to create a little excitement around Vauxhall, around Canadian baseball, around just the players in general and have them keep coming back.
“You know the more times they see you, the more likely they’re going to see something they like.”
MLB scouting director Walt Burrows echoed that, telling the players that today, despite all the nerves and pressure, is just one step.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of them, they’re in an elite baseball program now and they’ve come from small places, small towns most of them, and this is a big step for them,” he said. “But the message is that every step for them is another big step and they have to prepare themselves and get ready for the challenge.
“If they keep getting better, maybe you’ll see them playing on TV one day.”
Burrows pointed to the differing paths of Canadian MLB players Brett Lawrie and Jason Bay. While Lawrie, with the Blue Jays, has been a can’t-miss prospect since he was 14, Bay needed more seasoning. Bay went to North Idaho College and Gonzaga for baseball before eventually breaking through and winning the 2004 National League rookie-of-the-year award. He played last season with the Mariners.
Nelubowich might be on the same path. He’s hoping to stick with a high minor league team in the Astros system. The six-foot-two third baseman from Stony Plain played some short-season A baseball with New York’s Tri-City Valley Cats, winning their league. After that, he spent the rest of the summer in the Florida Instructional league.
Vauxhall pitcher Ben Onyshko might be on a similar track, although he’s going to have a high-profile assignment soon, as the Grade 12 left-handed pitcher will get a start for Team Canada against the Blue Jays in Spring Training soon. Onyshko was impressive on Monday, hitting 90 miles per hour on the speed gun, prompting some cheers from his teammates.
“It was little nerve-wracking at first, obviously, but a few pitches in I was able to stay loose, really find my stuff,” said the Winnipeg product. “Just another day on the mound, just focus in, same as always.”
He admitted that hitting a groove and throwing a 90 mph strike helps.
“Confidence is always a big thing when you’re pitching and as soon as I got the first couple out there pretty good, it started to roll.”
McTavish said Onyshko, New Glasgow, N.S. pitcher J.P. Stevenson and Calgary third baseman Nolan Bumstead would all play for Team Canada in exhibition. But like the performances on Monday, it’s all about building up a resume.
“We had some guys on the pitching side that came out and did really well, and you know at the end of the day you’re trying to get them to get intrigued by some interest and then they come back,” said McTavish.
“That’s what you’re trying to do, get these guys intrigued enough to come back.”