By Todd Devlin
As many as five Canadians could be selected in the first five rounds of major league baseball’s first-year player draft this week (June 6-8).
Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC), a slugger with the Langley Blaze, and Edmonton-born Rob Zastryzny, a left-hander with the University Missouri Tigers, are both candidates to go in the second round [Editor’s note: Zastryzny was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the second round].
Infielder Malik Collymore (Mississauga, Ont.) of the Ontario Blue Jays and Nic Pivetta (Victoria, BC), a right-handed pitcher at New Mexico Jr. College, should go soon after that.
But the most familiar name in the group – at least to Canadian baseball fans – is that of Cal Quantrill, a 17-year-old out of Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ont. He’s the son of Paul Quantrill, a former big-league reliever who spent five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. He also happens to be the best high school pitcher in Ontario.
Quantrill heads into the 2013 draft ranked 90th on Baseball America’s list of top 500 prospects. Already considered one of the most polished draft-eligible arms, the youngster has seen his stock rise this spring as he has continued to develop his four pitches.
“The season has gone great so far,” said Quantrill, who recently returned from a trip with the Canadian Junior National Team to the Dominican Republican to play against Dominican pro prospects. “I’m throwing hard and my arm feels great. The slider has really come around in the last couple of weeks too, so I’m very happy with where I am.”
The 17-year-old jumped out of the gate this spring and he hasn’t looked back. He was the best arm on display at four separate Major League Bureau camps, and he opened his season with the Ontario Terriers with seven strikeouts in three easy innings against Delta College – in front of 29 scouts.
It’s been much the same throughout the spring for the 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander, who has also traveled with the JNT to Florida and Arizona to play against pros at extended spring training.
“There has been no shortage of innings,” Quantrill said. “I’ve been working on locating my fastball, but the biggest thing I’ve been trying to improve is my breaking ball.”
According to the scouting service Perfect Game, Quantrill’s fastball sits between 90-94 mph with late life. He throws two different breaking balls – a curveball and a slider – and has a very promising changeup.
It’s obvious that the youngster has benefited from the tutelage of his father, who spent 14 seasons in the big leagues and appears to have passed on his aggressive demeanor on the mound to his son.
“Having my dad as a pitching coach throughout my life has been incredible,” the younger Quantrill said. “I think the biggest thing he’s taught me is that there’s nothing more important than strikes, and more specifically, located strikes.”
An upbringing around the game has also provided Cal with more insight into the life of a professional baseball player than the majority of this year’s draft-eligible ballplayers. As a youngster, Cal joined his father during the summer months, living in L.A., San Diego and New York. He even played catch with Derek Jeter along the way.
Cal says his father, a Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, has helped him navigate the draft process.
“He’s been very helpful, but the most important thing is he’s left the choice up to me,” the younger Quantrill said. “And he’ll stand by me and help me no matter what I choose.”
That could include bypassing professional baseball for now and instead pursuing a baseball scholarship in the U.S.
As one scout put it: “[Quantrill] will be special, now whether he signs is another question.”
And therein lies the rub. There are certainly signability questions surrounding Quantrill, who is a top student and has committed to Stanford University in the fall.
“I’m very excited about that opportunity if I choose to go there,” he said. “I’m not really leaning one way or the other right now. I’m kind of playing it by ear and seeing how it goes.”
It’s a situation similar to that of left-hander Ryan Kellogg, the top Canadian arm in the 2012 draft. Signability issues dropped Kellogg to the 12th round last year. The Toronto Blue Jays took him there, but the parties couldn’t agree on a signing bonus. Kellogg instead went to Arizona State University, where he enjoyed a phenomenal freshman season, going 11-1 with a 3.15 ERA and a no-hitter.
The smart money — and Perfect Game — says Quantrill will also be taken by the Blue Jays, which hired his dad as a consultant in January. Quantrill, though, is said to be even further along at this stage than Kellogg and would likely need to be taken with the Jays’ second-round pick (47th overall) to make that a reality (and to buy him out of his commitment to Stanford).
But, of course, nothing is set in stone when it comes to the draft, and Quantrill says it’s hard to gauge any specific team’s interest.
As for having a preference, the 17-year-old says he doesn’t have one -– not even the Blue Jays.
“It’s an honour to even be considered in the draft,” he said. “I would be happy to be drafted by any team.”