TORONTO — An important by-product of hosting the annual Tournament 12 prospect showcase is that the event provides the Toronto Blue Jays an opportunity to learn more about the top draft-eligible Canadians than the other big-league clubs. From simple observations of how a player carries himself on and off the diamond to the testing done by baseball operations staff that turns into proprietary data, there’s a competitive advantage to be had, even if it’s one they’ve rarely capitalized on.
“I do get asked a lot, ‘How come the Blue Jays haven’t taken more high-profile kids out of T12 when you have the tournament?’” says T.J. Burton, the Blue Jays’ program manager, amateur baseball who heads up the event. “Now, you can’t say that anymore.”
No, people can’t, not after they spent their third-round pick, No. 88 overall, on Dasan Brown, an athletic and super-toolsy outfielder from Oakville, Ont., a three-time participant in T12 who was the first Canadian selected in the 2019 draft. The last time the Blue Jays picked the top Canadian in the draft was 2009, when lefty James Paxton was taken 37th overall. The Ladner, B.C., native didn’t sign, and ended up with the Seattle Mariners a year later.
Since the inaugural T12 in the summer of 2013, the earliest the Blue Jays have chosen a Canadian is in the ninth round of the 2015 draft, when they plucked Connor Panas out of Canisius College. That year, they had hoped to take Mike Soroka of Calgary with the 29th pick but the Atlanta Braves grabbed him at 28 instead, leaving them to pick Jon Harris. All of which is why Brown, 17, has a chance to be the Blue Jays’ first real draft-day dividend from the event.
“We’ve literally seen this kid grow year by year in our own building, which is a huge advantage,” says Burton. “Obviously, you see Dasan with the junior national team year over year and you see him play for the Ontario Blue Jays year over year. When he’s playing with the OBJs, he’s like a man amongst boys, when he’s playing with the junior national team, he’s facing professionals. At T12, he’s playing against kids that are his age and at the same skill level. Obviously, he’s a standout player but there are a lot of other standout players the same age.”
A Blue Jays fan growing up who regularly attended games and has played at Rogers Centre about 30 times already, Brown described getting drafted by them as “surreal.” While he has a commitment to Texas A&M, he certainly sounds like a young man intent on beginning his pro career, saying he received a call from his advisor around 11 a.m. Tuesday morning letting him know the Blue Jays were offering “a good deal,” and that he wanted to “take advantage of the opportunity presented.”
Among the many impressions Brown made on the Blue Jays, one of the most recent came in March during the annual exhibition game with the junior national team in Dunedin, Fla. Batting leadoff and playing centre field, Brown went 3-for-4 with a homer off Joey Murray, who is currently dicing up hitters at single-A Dunedin.
“That game, I went into it excited,” he says. “I tried to keep a level of composure because it’s just another game, you don’t want to think too much of it because that’s when you mistakes, errors happen. I tried to have as much fun as possible when I was out there and how I performed is a result of my preparation.”
Renowned for his speed — Baseball America rated him as the second-fastest runner among high schoolers in the draft — Brown has steadily built up other parts of his game, especially with the junior national team.
In particular, he points to the squad’s first spring trip last year as being an especially transformative experience.
“We were coming out of the winter, we were in gyms, batting cages and all that, so we got out onto a field and I was 16 at the time, we were playing grown men and we’d been doing it for a couple of weeks,” Brown says. “You can’t have a child’s mindset going into that environment so it really forced me to grow up, forced me to understand that I’m not going to be the best player right now, but what matters is the progress of it.”
Four other Canadians were picked on the draft’s second day behind Brown. Outfielder Jake Sanford of Cole Harbour, N.S., went later in the third round to the New York Yankees, right-hander Matt Brash of Kingston, Ont., went in the fourth round to the San Diego Padres, righty Josh Burgmann of Nanaimo, B.C., went in the fifth round to the Chicago Cubs while lefty Adam Macko of Stony Plain, Alta., went to the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round.
Macko also played in T12 a year ago against Brown, who believes his experience there “helped a lot” in getting him drafted by the Blue Jays because they know “what kind of player they’re getting, they’ve seen the ups, they’ve seen the downs.”
Not only that, but they’ve watched his development in a way other teams simply can’t.
“Every time you see him he’s improved something, whether it’s defence in the outfield, his two-strike approach, better routes he’s taking on balls, base-running, he’s always getting better,” says Burton. “And one thing you can never miss on Dasan is his big smile, his real love for the game and he’s such a good kid. On the junior national team, he doesn’t try to be a leader, he just is a leader.
“It’s awesome,” he adds of the top Canadian being drafted by the Blue Jays. “It’s just awesome.”