Aumont adds Canadian flair to Futures
Young righty comes from diverse clubhouse in Wisconsin
When Phillippe Aumont walks into the Yankee Stadium clubhouse for the XM All-Star Futures Game on July 13, he will be the only Canadian in a locker-room melting pot. In total, World manager Tino Martinez will be juggling players representing eight countries, ranging from Australia and New Zealand to Curacao and Cuba.
After spending half a season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, it will be just another day at the ballpark for Aumont.
After all, his Timber Rattlers might just be the most diverse team in the Minor Leagues. Pitching prospect Juan Ramirez hails from Nicaragua. Third baseman Alex Liddi is one of the Minor Leagues' rare players from Italy. Israel Nunez represents Mexico in the Wisconsin clubhouse. The team boasts three players from Venezuela and five from the Dominican Republic. In total, it's a team with six foreign countries represented, providing Aumont with a background in communicating through language barriers, as he might have to do with the trio of Latin catchers on the World roster.
"It's been different; it's my first time being around guys from other countries," Aumont said. "That's really a big thing for me, being on one team, getting to know the players, getting to know the team and having fun, instead of always being the new guy on a new team. We play around with that, messing around, talking trash."
However, the 19-year-old Quebec native is confident that his World team will forget debating the merits of their respective countries on July 13 and instead focus on the unified goal of a victory.
"I'm going to be there to beat the Americans," he said. "It's a tremendous honor to be part of that World team. I look at the roster, and most of these guys are playing in Double-A and Triple-A. I can go there and learn, and meet some good guys."
Aumont's confidence would seem boastful if he didn't back it up with a full-season debut worthy of admittance into the Minor Leagues' most revered All-Star contest.
The big right-hander's pitching line had zeroes in the hits column in three of his first six appearances with the Timber Rattlers. More importantly, he had a zero in the earned runs column in all six outings, not allowing an earned run until his 20th inning in the Midwest League. In fact, Aumont's ERA stood at a measly 1.47 when he took the mound June 9. Five outs and 14 batters later, he left with a sore elbow, an ERA more than a run higher and the worst outing of his professional career.
"I felt something a little bit in my elbow in the bullpen before the game, then I went into the game and it didn't feel bad at all," Aumont said. "But I kept thinking about it and it took my game away."
Following the start, the Mariners placed their first selection from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft on the disabled list with a sore elbow, and he has yet to return. Finally cleared to pitch recently, the Mariners' plan is to send Aumont to Yankee Stadium with strict instructions to stay on the bench and off the mound. For now, he's relegated to bullpen sessions, and his return to the Timber Rattlers should follow shortly.
"We don't want his first time back to be in front of 50,000 [fans] in an All-Star Game with the adrenaline pumping," said Greg Hunter, the Mariners' director of player development. "We want to get him started in a more controlled environment."
Aumont is aware that his injury validates the opinion of some scouts from his amateur days, as many predicted he would have arm troubles pitching from his three-quarter arm slot. Others weren't worried so much about his health, but that he wasn't taking advantage of his 6-foot-7 build enough by dropping his arm down. However, concerns and complaints fell on deaf ears, as the Canadian had worked hard in perfecting his delivery. He also asserts that his current injury is not the result of his arm slot.
"I might do something on the pitch to make it not good, but it's not going to be because of my arm slot," he said. "I've always thrown like that and it never hurts.
"If [Seattle] would have said something, I would have said, 'Don't talk to me.' ... You've just got to go with what you feel, and what you think is best for you. You have the last decision."
In other areas of his game, Aumont has been more than willing to accept instructions provided by the Mariners organization and Timber Rattlers pitching coach Jaime Navarro. The team has worked hard with Aumont to throw his breaking ball for strikes, as batters learned quickly in the Midwest League that the Canadian could only bounce the ball in front of the catcher. He also has thrown his four-seam fastball less frequently than in the past, turning instead to a sinker that he commands better.
"My game now is not throwing 99. I have to think about pitching," he said. "One year before the draft ... you don't really think about your command. Every pitch is max effort, you throw as hard as you can and show the scouts you can blow that radar."
Listening to Aumont recount his history in baseball, it's clear that he has always been aware of the scouts in attendance. It's the result of a pitcher who was unnoticed in 2004 while throwing 81-83 mph, but was drawing hoards of scouts with radar guns the following year when the lanky right-hander was up to 92-93 mph with the Canadian national team.
"Growing up, I was not the best player. There were way better players than me," Aumont said. "People kept telling me, 'You have a chance, you just have to work.' So I kept working and working."
His work ethic was strong enough to keep him on the Canadian national team, though Aumont admits he didn't belong given significant command issues. Still, the opportunity provided Aumont with experience donning the Canadian flag, and he cashed in, serving the junior national team well, then pitching again in the World Cup last fall.
"It's always something special when you represent your colors," he said. "It's always an honor to wear a Canadian uniform. There are so many guys who want to be in your place, and you just represent the jersey you have on your back."
On July 13, Aumont will have a World jersey on his back. While the small Canadian flag on one sleeve will stay in his heart, his focus will be navigating his teammates' languages to beat their opponent.
Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.