Team Canada pitcher Mitch Bratt adds Olympic dreams to his MLB ones

Team Canada lefty Mitch Bratt delivers in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game. (Photo by Eugenio Matos/Baseball Canada)

Earlier this season, Texas Rangers prospect Mitch Bratt played for Canada at the World Baseball Classic. It was the first time the lefty pitcher from Newmarket, Ont. competed with the senior national team, but if he has his way it won’t be the last. And with the recent announcement that LA 2028 will reintroduce baseball to its program, Bratt can now add Olympic dreams to his major-league ones. 

Bratt, a 2021 fifth-round pick who’s now a top-20 prospect in the Rangers organization, recently completed his first full season of high-A ball. As the 20-year-old got set for Arizona Fall League playoffs this weekend with the Surprise Saguaros, Sportsnet caught up with him to talk about the Olympic news, how he assesses his play, and why he considers getting blown up by Team USA the highlight of his career.

This conversation is the third of six with top Canadian athletes in the six sports added to the Olympic schedule for LA 2028. The first two installments in the series featured flag football player, Sara Parker, and Larissa Franklin, a veteran of Canada’s national softball team.

SPORTSNET: You probably grew up with MLB dreams. How about Olympic dreams?

BRATT: One moment that actually sticks out about baseball at the Olympics is from my high school, Newmarket High School. Pete Orr went there, and he played in the MLB for a little bit, and they have a banner at the school that says: “Olympics Team Canada, Pete Orr.” I’d always look at that in high school and be like, ‘Oh, that’d be so cool if I can play in the Olympics for Team Canada.’ That’s the first thing I thought of [when it was announced baseball would be back in the Summer Games] to be completely honest. It’s pretty cool and surreal. I can definitely see myself playing for team Canada at the Olympics. It’s been a dream of mine, I’d say.

How did your baseball career start?

My dad [Brian Bratt] coached the junior team in Newmarket when I was young, and some of my earliest memories are going to the ballpark with him and hanging around all of the guys, throwing, catching, hitting the ball around.

I started playing soon after that, and my dad coached me up until I was 15. And then, um, we were kinda starting to butt heads a little bit [laughs]. I knew that if I wanted to take this next step in my baseball career, he would be not so much a coach, he would be there to give me tips and advice and all that, but I’d have another coach instead of that father-son relationship.

Did you join another team?

I did. I went to Brampton for one year and we kind of created this super team and won nationals and all these different accolades. And then I joined the Toronto Mets program the next year and that’s where I saw everything kind of take off in my career.

What’s in your pitching arsenal?

I would say my best pitch is my fastball — it has hit 95 [mph] quite a few times. Usually it’s 91 to 93, in that area. I feel like I’m able to locate that at any point and at any time, I have a really good feel for that pitch.

I have my fastball, I have a changeup, I have a slider and I have a cutter. The cutter is probably my most deceptive pitch just because I started throwing it very recently, and when hitters get the reports for the pitchers for that game they can see all the pitches they throw, and there really isn’t much information about the cutter. When I throw that, I kind of get some weird looks because of it.

When did you realize you could make a career out of baseball?

I want to say I was 15 the first time I noticed baseball could really be something. I was at the T12 [the Blue Jays’ baseball academy showcase] at the Rogers Centre for that event they do every year. I was at a tryout and throwing in the bullpen like everybody else was and then they stopped me halfway through. I thought I got in trouble, that I did something wrong. They stopped me and the guy was like, ‘Hold on,’ and he was on the phone, and then I see somebody running from home plate to the bullpen and he gets there and they’re like, ‘Keep going.’ My dad’s sitting there like, ‘What’s going on?’

Then I finished my bullpen and they call me and my dad over, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, your son could be pretty good at this baseball thing.’ And we kind of brushed him off like ‘Yeah, whatever, that’s nice but you don’t have to say that.’ And then he’s like ‘No, seriously, he could be really good.’

I went to the T12 tournament that year and pitched pretty well and got noticed. It was pretty cool. 

Did it take that moment at the tryout for you to really believe it?

I’d say that was the moment. I was pretty young at that point, so it wasn’t something that really crossed my mind as a reality. Growing up I was always like, ‘Yeah, I want to play in the MLB,’ and this and that, but I hadn’t put too much thought into it until that moment. And then during the car ride home I was definitely thinking this could maybe happen.

You kept playing in your last year of high school, through COVID, during a lockdown. How did you manage that?

We had quite a few talks with family and my coaches and we all came to the conclusion that the opportunity to go down to the States and play could be a really good idea. And to be honest with you, I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now if it wasn’t for me getting that opportunity and going down to Georgia and playing.

I was there for about two-and-a-half months, and then I went to West Virginia and I played in another league over there. In terms of development, I think that’s really when I started to take off, because during COVID time there was so much uncertainty of if we’d be playing or what would be happening. I just kept throwing and really staying on top of everything else. I think that’s what helped me — all the work kind of led up to that moment, doing stuff that nobody saw.

Were you just throwing in your backyard at that point?

I was. It’s a funny story because I went to the park one day with my dad and we were throwing into a net. This is March 2020. I had a police officer come up to me and say, ‘You’ve gotta leave. You can’t be doing this.’ I was like, ‘What’s the issue?’ He said somebody called in and they’d have to file a report and this and that. This was when they were saying nobody should go outside. I was outside, but I was alone with my dad, and we lived together. We figured we’d be able to be there.

But one of my really good friends lives down the street from me and he played baseball as well, so what we ended up doing was, we had the net already, and we took two wooden bed frames [laughs] and we put tires on the back and created a slope to go downhill and we started throwing that way for a month or two.

Sorry, a pitching mound made out of bed frames and tires?

Yeah, I had tires in the back and the bed frames were the slope going down. It was pretty funny and creative. It was a lot of fun, actually.

Where were you for the 2021 MLB Draft?

I was watching it on my computer in a hotel room in West Virginia. We were in the middle of COVID, so if I were to go home, I would’ve had to quarantine for two weeks and I wouldn’t have been able to throw. I stayed down in the States because I was already there and my dad and mom came down and we actually watched the draft together. It was nice that we were able to be together.

I got my name called and I really wasn’t expecting to get picked, and things kind of took off from there.

On your fall league team, you’re the youngest on the roster. What’s it like being the young guy in the clubhouse?

You kind of sit back and listen more than you talk, because there are a lot of other guys that have been in the game longer and are obviously older, so they’ve had more experiences. The more you listen, the more you can take in — and take into next year.

The good thing about the Fall League is that you have guys from all different levels. I’ve got quite a few guys on my team who were in MLB this past year, and I’ve been asking them some questions about how they moved up in their respective minor-league systems. I don’t want to pick their brains too much but it’s just tidbits of information. And then, obviously, the coaches, too. They’re from different organizations as well, so you get to hear different voices. I’m trying to hear other opinions on different things, so it’s been good.

What do you count as your career highlight so far?

It wasn’t my favourite moment, but when I pitched against Team USA this past March at the World Baseball Classic. It was in Phoenix and everybody is rooting against you, because we’re playing against the States, and there were 30,000-plus people watching.

I didn’t pitch all too well….

It was a short outing. [Bratt didn’t get out of the first inning and gave up six earned runs to a stacked Team USA lineup.]

Yeah, but I think that experience is what’s going to keep me going and kind of carry me and keep pushing me to hopefully go back in a few years — or even at the Olympics — and face Team USA again. It’s a chance to have that, kind of, revenge game where I pitch a little better.

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