Canadian backstop Deglan is Draft bait
Catcher may be latest first-rounder from Great White North
It started, in many ways, with Larry Walker. It's continued with guys like Jason Bay, Eric Gagne, Justin Morneau and Russell Martin.
Recent Drafts have seen names such as Phillippe Aumont and Brett Lawrie go off the board early. This string proves one thing: The NHL playoffs might still be going on, but Canada isn't just about hockey anymore, though the perception persists.
"I do hear that," said Canadian high school catcher Kellin Deglan about his home country and hockey. "They're kind of shocked when we say we're baseball players. They say it must be really cold up there. It's not that cold where I live.
"But we hear that a lot. They hear we're from Canada, so we must be hockey players. But there's starting to be pretty good talent out of Canada. It helps motivate players like me to get to that level, too."
Deglan could be the next Canadian first-round pick on June 7, when the First-Year Player Draft begins at 7 p.m. ET live on MLB Network and MLB.com. It used to be difficult for players north of the border to be seen and evaluated. These days, however, thanks to the trailblazers of the past, everyone knows all about Deglan and other top Canadian players.
This week's Draft Reports
|Ryan Brett||Highline HS, Burien, Wash.|
|Kris Bryant||Bonanza HS, Las Vegas, Nev.|
|Nick Castellanos||Archbishop McCarthy HS, Fla.||Kellin Deglan||Langley Blaze (British Columbia)|
|Jake Hernandez||Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.|
|Kevin Munson||James Madison|
|Kellen Sweeney||Jefferson HS, Cedar Rapids, Iowa|
|A.J. Vanegas||Redwood Christian HS, San Lorenzo, Calif.|
"It's not that much of a challenge to be seen now because of all the guys in the Major Leagues," Deglan said. "All those guys have proven themselves to be good players. They set the path for us Canadians now. [Organizations] look at us and say, 'they can play baseball.'"
Deglan has indeed had plenty of opportunities to play in front of scouts. His travel team, the Langley Blaze -- the same club Lawrie played for a couple of years ago -- always makes a United States swing. Deglan and the Blaze played in a tournament against junior colleges in Arizona in March, and scouts were impressed with both his bat and his defensive skills behind the plate.
He's gotten even more exposure playing for the Canadian Junior National Team. That's meant not just participating in international tournaments, but also getting to see how they fare against young professionals, both in extended Spring Training and in the Dominican Summer League.
They'll head to the Dominican Republic from May 19-28, the last time scouts will truly be able to see Deglan in game action. It's been a trip that has benefited past Canadians. Aumont was lights out there and crept into the top half of the first round. Lawrie hit eight homers when he made the journey, and that helped land him in the middle of the opening round. Deglan hopes he can have similar success.
"I'm hoping to hit a few out down there," Deglan said. "You'll see more fastballs because those guys are a little raw, so I hope to take at least one or two out."
Deglan's biggest homer this spring may have come when Team Canada made that spring trek to Florida. Generally, that trip is all about the experience. A bunch of high schoolers tend not to fare particularly well against pros, no matter how new the pros are. But Deglan helped change all that with one swing of the bat this spring. Playing at the Disney Spring Training Camp in Orlando, Deglan hit a walk-off homer to give Team Canada its lone win of the trip.
"When you lose a lot of games, it gets frustrating, so getting that win felt really good," Deglan said. "They're professionals -- we realize they're really polished.
"I kind of look at those players and think, 'I can play with them and compete with them.' There are little things I need to improve on, to keep working on, but I think I can be one of those players who can try to get to the Major Leagues, too."
Because of his size, athleticism, position and the fact that he hits left-handed, Deglan sometimes gets a slightly unfair comparison to Twins All-Star Joe Mauer. That doesn't seem to faze Deglan, who keeps on working toward his goal of playing professionally. He got the chance to work out with Mauer's teammate, the fellow Canadian Morneau, at the Athletes Performance Institute for a week.
"That was awesome," Deglan said of the experience. "I lived with [Blue Jays outfielder] Adam Loewen for two days, Morneau for two days. Russ Martin and Eric Gagne were there. I was around all these big leaguers. That was kind of cool."
Just because these Canadians have found a home in baseball, that doesn't mean they've completely forgotten where they come from. Deglan, himself, hasn't played hockey competitively in any fashion since he was 10. But there's that old adage, "You can take the guy out of hockey, but you can't take hockey out of the guy," or something to that extent.
And that seems to be true of most of these players, from the big leagues on down. It might sound like the beginning of a joke -- "A bunch of Canadian baseball players got together, and a hockey game broke out," -- but when Deglan was working out in Arizona, that's exactly what happened.
"It was just one night down there," Deglan recalled with a laugh. "Justin Morneau called some of the players. He knows two goalies down there. They come out, and they rent the ice, and they get the Canadian guys to come out. That was the most fun hockey game I had ever played."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.