Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
ORLANDO, Fla. – Somebody always has to be the youngest.
But age is just a number for Canadian Junior National Team members Isaac Deveaux and Adam Hall, who are both representing their country for the first time at just 15 years of age. The pair put on the red-and-white jerseys for the first time on Friday when the squad started its Orlando trip to face fall instructional league competition.
“That was something,” Deveaux said of donning the Team Canada jersey. “It was indescribable. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a little kid, just dreaming about it and now it’s finally happened.”
Both young players, Deveaux an outfielder from Montreal, Que., and Hall a shortstop from London, Ont., got into action in the team’s first game on Saturday against the Houston Astros, realizing pretty quickly how different the game is at the professional level, but also that they aren’t far away from fitting right in.
“It’s good being here,” Hall said. “Seeing some fastballs at 95-plus is a little different than what I’ve been used to seeing…I wasn’t nervous or anything for the first game and I didn’t feel overmatched by the pitching either so that’s pretty good. It didn’t seem as fast as you think it would.”
Deveaux added: “I feel a little bit more comfortable with the guys now after the first game. I’m just trying to make adjustments every game and do better every time I go up to bat or when I’m on defence here…I’ve gotten better already and I’ve learned a lot.”
Unlike Hall, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound outfielder, who turns 16 before the end of the month, did have some nerves coming into the trip. Since his arrival in Florida, they’ve disappeared and he’s completely enjoying the learning experience presented to him.
“It’s really fun,” Deveaux said. “It’s a great experience to be out here with the older guys and see how they do everything, and just tag along and learn from them…I was a little nervous coming here but I tried not to feel intimidated by the older guys. I try to play at their level and have fun.”
Hall, the youngest on the roster by seven months, knows the strengths of his game and plays to them. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound middle infielder possesses speed and power, and continues to work on all aspects of his game. His biggest weakness is his level of competition, something he has done a good job of putting into perspective since getting to Orlando.
“I’ve never really had statistical expectations,” Hall said. “Obviously you can go 4-for-4 with four crappy hits or you can go 0-for-4 with four line drives or deep fly balls. I know I’m not going to get as many hard hits but I still would like to work on doing that every single at-bat and just hitting the ball hard.”
Deveaux believes he is best at the plate, putting his power on the map with one of the longest home runs at the Toronto Blue Jays-hosted Tournament 12 showcase in September, and has already learned a lot defensively over the first couple of days of the trip.
“My strength would be my bat, usually I can go gap-to-gap with my drives and hit doubles and hit for power sometimes too,” Deveaux said. “My speed comes in well with the bat too…my defence needs the most work, my reaction and how I judge balls in the outfield.”
Team Canada coach Adam Stern has spent some time with both players as one of Hall’s instructors at home with the Great Lake Canadians program and in his specific work with the outfielders on the trip, and his best advice for them has been to just stick to what they know.
“Both of those guys obviously have the talent – they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t,” Stern said. “You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. Where they come from back home they’re the top of their age class but here, just compete; don’t try to do too much.
“They’ve got a year or two – both of those guys – to be here and try to soak it all in. They can’t think they’re overmatched just because of their age because both of them have the toolset to carry them. They’ve just got to go about their business and keep doing what they’re doing.”
Head coach of the Canadian Junior National Team Greg Hamilton has seen many young players come through the program and the results are often similar after facing professional pitching and defending against pro hitting for the first time. The team’s skipper sets realistic expectations so they can glean as much as possible from the opportunity.
“They’re going to deal with failure that’s real and failure that’s physical for the first time,” Hamilton said. “Most guys who are physically gifted at a young age physically dominate for the most part. Even if they experience an athletic failure they can always process it by saying, ‘That guy got lucky,’ or ‘I’ll get him next time.’
“Most of the time when they come down here for the first time they’re going to deal with that failure and they’re going to go back wondering if they can actually succeed at this level. The failure is real in the sense that the guy they’ve experienced failure from is very good and very physical. They’re going to see a 97-mile-an-hour fastball and a plus-slider and wonder whether or not they can hit that pitch.”
After just the first matchup, Hall knows that his biggest priority in the Sunshine State will be working to hold on and compete at the level Team Canada will continue to face.
“Keeping up with the pace of the game,” Hall said of what he’s working on. “It’s going to be a little faster especially at short, harder ground balls hit, so being ready for that and being ready for the faster pitching. You’ve got to make some adjustments to that too, not having quite as big of a swing and shorten up a bit.”
Added Hamilton: “Defensively everything is going to happen quicker, guys are going to run faster and plays that are easy back home – all of a sudden they’re going to come up with the ball and the guy is safe. In the outfield a ball gets hit and they think it’s a routine fly ball but the guy is stronger, he’s got more bat speed, it carries and then they get caught and it’s over their head. Base hits become doubles because they assume the guy won’t go to second, but he’s the leadoff hitter in professional baseball and he can run.
“So it’s really the hard-hitting failure from a performance perspective where for the first time they question themselves and whether or not they can succeed at this type of level and they can. Both of them can but it gets hard when you’ve had a lot of success and the game has been relatively easy for you.”
– Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis