This story originally appeared in the official Tournament 12 program.
By Alexis Brudnicki
The time is now for Josh Naylor and Demi Orimoloye.
Two of Canada’s top-ranked players in their draft class, the pair have impressed on the diamond for years and they are finally able to start the countdown to their own selection process, coming up in June.
“It means a lot knowing that this year is the final push to hopefully reach my goal of getting drafted in the first round, and getting closer to reaching my ultimate goal of making the major leagues,” Orimoloye said.
Both players are particularly enthusiastic about the possibilities the upcoming draft may hold after seeing fellow Canadian Junior National Team player and Torontonian Gareth Morgan selected in the second supplemental round a few months ago, signing for $2 million US and starting his career in the Seattle Mariners organization.
“I’m really excited and I’ve just got to keep working hard,” Naylor said. “I want the best to happen for me and my family. I would like to go where Gareth went and maybe even higher. I’m just going to keep working hard and continue to define my all-around game and become a better player than I am today, hit better, field better, everything.”
Naylor and Orimoloye are no strangers to the big stage, having played in several major league parks and impressing at a few big showcases even just over the last couple of months.
Before leaving for the COPABE 18U Pan American Championship in Mexico with Team Canada, both participated in Baseball Factory’s Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in August, joining a prestigious list of Canadian names to take part in the match up.
“We have had a nice history from all the way back to when the event used to be in Cape Cod, of having some of the better players out of Canada,” said Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of Baseball Factory. “We had Phillippe Aumont years ago, we had Brett Lawrie, we had Gareth [Morgan] when he was young.
“We normally think they fit in with our top 36 players that we’re bringing, ability-wise, but it is nice to have Canada represented in our game, and most years we’ve had at least one and they’ve done great …
“We certainly like to find guys who played in the country, and we think sometimes just because they haven’t been seen as much maybe they don’t get the respect level that they should. The guys we’ve had pretty much always fit in.”
Prior to playing at the historic Chicago ballpark, both players had departed from California, where they played at the Area Code Games in Long Beach. Orimoloye’s performance highlighted the entire tournament and gave him an introduction to any scouts or recruiters who didn’t already know his name.
“A lot of people have heard about [my potential] but they haven’t seen it in person,” the 17-year-old outfielder said. “So them seeing me hit, run and throw at [the Area Code Games] and not just hearing it but getting a chance to see it is a lot different. I’m happy to show them what I can do.”
Just before that showcase, Naylor was selected to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego. The 17-year-old first baseman’s performance there followed an appearance in the Junior Select Home Run Derby during all-star festivities at Target Field in Minneapolis.
“It’s an honour to represent Canada and it feels good,” Naylor said. “I’m just going to keep working my butt off and try my best with everything, to be a leader on and off the field, and just play my game.”
While they enjoy travelling the world with the junior team and playing at big-league stadiums across America, the tournament that brings them home will always be special for Orimoloye and Naylor, who are both looking forward to their last chance at playing in the event.
“It was really cool,” Orimoloye said of the inaugural Tournament 12. “It was really fun playing at Rogers Centre, as it always is, and just knowing that it’s a big tournament in Canada is really special too. Last year was the first one and it was really special being a part of the first Tournament 12, and I’m excited for this one.”
– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis