By Martin Cleary
Fresh from being a high school graduate in June, Ty Hamilton is having just the best time to start his gap year.
The month of September is evolving as the perfect start to the next chapter in developing his amateur baseball career.
After being selected to the Canadian men’s junior team, he played in the 10-day World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida, which ended on Sunday.
A few days later, Hamilton is running onto the Ottawa Stadium diamond as one of the top prospects for the annual Toronto Blue Jays Canadian Futures Showcase tournament, which started Tuesday and runs through Saturday.
The Blue Jays’ organization conducted tryouts across Canada this summer and selected 150 players with Major League Baseball Draft and university eligibility for five days of testing and games in front of professional as well as American and Canadian university scouts.
For the first time in the tournament’s history, it is being staged in Ottawa at the home of the Frontier Baseball League’s Ottawa Titans.
The tournament has always been held at the Rogers Centre, the home stadium for the Blue Jays. But when a cancelled music concert was recently rescheduled for the same time as the tournament, organizers were forced to look elsewhere for a site, though they wanted to stay in Ontario.
About a month ago, Blue Jays and Titans officials agreed to have the top players across the country travel to Ottawa as the stadium offered a quality venue and accommodations within walking distance. The players have been divided into six teams and will play four games each under Canadian coaches with MLB or national-team experience.
An outfielder/pitcher, Hamilton, 18, started all eight games for Canada at the U-18 Baseball World Cup, primarily in centre field. Canada placed fifth in its preliminary pool at 1-4 and fifth in the placement round at 2-3 to finish 11th overall in the 12-country championship.
Hamilton had four singles in 18 at-bats, three walks, six strikeouts, 11 putouts, scored one run and added one RBI. In the three placement games, he was one-for-eight at the plate with five strikeouts and four putouts. Hamilton went 1.1 innings in his lone pitching assignment against South Africa for the save in a 5-2 win, allowing one hit, hitting one batter and fanning one hitter.
During his regular season this year, Hamilton played for the Watson Elite Baseball Club, which also has three other players at the Blue Jays’ showcase tournament.
First-baseman Tyler Bono, 18, catcher Sam Byers, 16, and right-handed pitcher Sam McKay, 16, as well as Hamilton were scheduled to be put through a full range of testing by the scouts on Tuesday before joining their teams for games Wednesday through Saturday.
Hamilton is on the Team Black roster and former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau is one of his coaches. Arnprior’s Tanner Watson, who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2000 and operates the Watson Elite club, and former Ottawa Lynx first baseman and outfielder Matt Stairs are coaching Team Red, which has Bono in its lineup. Watson has coached for a number of years at the tournament.
McKay is on the pitching staff of Team Grey, which has coaches Sebastien Boucher of Gatineau, who played 14 years of minor pro including his final four with Ottawa (2015-18), and Denis Boucher, who opened his MLB career with Toronto and finished with Montreal Expos (1991-94) and pitched four seasons with the Lynx.
Byers will wear Team Royal colours and former MLB outfielder Adam Stern, who played 54 games for Boston, Baltimore and Milwaukee, is one of his four coaches.
“This is something special for our players. It’s a great opportunity,” Watson said about seeing Hamilton, Bono, Byers and McKay advance to the premier showcase baseball tournament in Canada.
“This will help our players and give them exposure in a good environment. This is the most preeminent and prestigious showcase in Canada.”
Watson, who is manager for the 18-and-under team in the Watson Elite organization, says the players will benefit in many ways, including playing for a variety of new coaches.
Hamilton is viewed as an all-around offensive player, hitting for power and average and is a good runner. Defensively, he’s able to get a great jump on a fly ball, throws well and covers a lot of ground.
Bono has good power at the plate, but is “still relatively raw,” according to Watson. He’s also a well-rounded athlete, having been drafted in 2021 by the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.
Byers has focused on developing his catching skills over the past 18 months, but can play multiple positions. He hits for average and is tough to strike out.
Born in 2006, McKay is the youngest at the tournament, but can fire an 87-mile-an-hour fastball. He has good velocity for a young, developing arm.
The Watson Elite Baseball Club is five years old and plays in the 11-team, Ontario-based Canadian Premier Baseball League, which is considered the top amateur league in the country at the 18U level.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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