Studying elite swings has Canadian Owen Caissie powering up draft board

San Diego Padres draft pick Owen Caissie. (Baseball Canada)

TORONTO – When thinking about his swing, Owen Caissie likes to visualize himself inside a 3-D box, from an overhead view of what the various parts of his body are doing. Is his head relatively still? What does his spine angle look like? Where is his front arm? Are his core and legs engaged?

The 17-year-old from Burlington, Ont., one of the youngest players eligible for next week’s baseball draft who may be pushing up into second round territory, likes to then compare that against the hitters he studies on his laptop every night. Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Charlie Blackmon are among his favourites, but he typically spends a lot of time watching Barry Bonds "because he has a lot of rotational power, not much linear, and that’s the same with me," Caissie says.

"I’m not comparing myself to him – he’s one of the best to ever do it in my opinion – but I try to look at players that do elite things, to see how they do it properly," he continues. "Nobody swings the same, but they all get the same contact point and it’s cool to look at how other people do it and I’ve found my way that way."

Chatter this week has Caissie pushing his way up into late second/early third territory when a draft cut down to five rounds by the COVID-19 pandemic gets going next Wednesday.

Bob Elliott’s Canadian Baseball Network ranks Caissie as the top Canadian, followed by Michigan outfielder Jordan Nwogu of Ottawa and speedy high-school centre-fielder David Calabrese of Maple, Ont.

MLB Pipeline has Caissie at No. 76, Calabrese at 98 and Nwogu at 109 on its draft list, while Baseball America puts Calabrese at 67, Caissie at 180 and Nwogu at 197 on its most recent 200.

As a collegiate junior Nwogu is more of a known commodity, while there’s more risk-reward attached to Caissie, who is committed to Michigan, and Calabrese, who is committed to Arkansas and also young for the draft at 17.

Another factor for the two high-schoolers is that the pandemic cost them meaningful spring looks during the junior national team’s abbreviated tour of spring training and a subsequent trip to the Dominican Republic to face summer league squads.

Caissie did, at least, manage to make an impression before the games were cancelled, hitting a towering home run to centre off Toronto Blue Jays farmhand Connor Overton, a 26-year-old who’s been in double-A.

It was in the dugout during that March 12 game that baseball shut down, the initial word filtering out from coach Adam Stern. Even though the club had heard about Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert’s positive test the night before, Caissie’s initial reaction was disbelief.

"I could hear the chatter from people in the stands, and then when I came back into the dugout, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we’re done. No more baseball after this one,’" recalls Caissie, who’s packed 45 pounds of muscle onto his six-four, 190-pound frame over the past two years. "It became more of a reality when people started leaving the ballpark."

Though he was "pretty heartbroken" as the team packed up and headed home, a dose reality hit soon after when word of a New York Yankees minor-leaguer testing positive filtered out. The Canadians were to play the Yankees on March 13 and "if we didn’t shut it down, it could have potentially spread to us."

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Back home in Burlington, that helped Caissie shake off the lingering disappointment of missing out on his spring schedule, and he committed himself to getting all he could out of whatever workouts he managed during the shutdown.

"I wanted to come out of quarantine better than I was before," he says, "and I believe I’ve done that."

A big part of that has been "hours and hours" of tee-work, leveraging the guidance and support he’s received from FieldHouse Pirates club team coaches Lee Delfino, the hitting co-ordinator, and George Halim, the director of player development.

Caissie has video of himself from when he feels good that he uses whenever he needs to realign himself, and data from Blast Motion he’s used to track "the rotational power, the attack angle, bat speed and the plane score" of his swing.

"If your plane score is good, you can technically never be late because you stay on the hitting path for the longest time, you can hit the ball to all fields," says Caissie. "But I normally go on feel off the tee when I’m not feeling it, that’s how I fix myself."

For now, there’s not much for him and other draft-eligible players to do but wait for the draft and then try to assess the best path forward in these uncertain times afterwards.

"I’m excited," he says. "I knew this was going to happen if I worked hard, this was my goal and I wanted something great to happen out of it. I’m not really anxious at all. I’ll embrace this chapter of my life but I want to move on, I want to get things going because I do feel like I’m ready for the next stage, whether that will be Michigan or the draft. But I’m very excited for it."

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