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Morgan's potential has Tournament 12 abuzz

Canada's 'next big thing' touted as complete package, cream of potential Draft crop

Special to

TORONTO -- If Gareth Morgan makes good on his potential, there's no telling just how much upside Canada's top prospect has.

The 17-year-old, who just started Grade 12, has been labeled as the next big thing to come out of Canada since entering high school. Morgan, a Toronto native, is a baseball prodigy in Canadian circles and looks like a man among boys whenever he suits up against competition similar in age.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Morgan's physical traits are imposing, and his abilities make talent observers dream of a future superstar in the making. While far from a finished product, Morgan -- who has been a member of the Canadian Junior National Team since he was 14 years old -- is said to have plus, plus power, a plus arm, plus defense and can run. He has all the tools scouts look for, drawing lofty comparisons to players such as Atlanta's Jason Heyward and Philadelphia's Domonic Brown.

Eligible for the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, it appears as if the sky's the limit.

"If Gareth puts together a spring, he'll be the first overall pick," said one coach familiar with the upcoming Draft class. "If he puts it together, and he has done it already -- we've seen it -- he's hitting balls into the upper tank and he's throwing the guy out from right field.

"It's scary. It's awe-inspiring."

When you talk about the best players from Canada who were drafted out of high school and went on to graduate to the professional ranks, names like Brett Lawrie, Adam Loewen and Michael Saunders start to surface. None of them, insists one coach closely involved in amateur baseball in Canada, had the ceiling of Morgan.

When he was 16 years old, Lawrie was considered a lock to one day make the Majors -- something he delivered on at 21 -- but Morgan is in a class all by himself. For one American League scout, Morgan has as much upside as any player out of high school he has seen.

"There aren't many people that have the physical ability that he has," the scout said. "That's what creates the ceiling and the interest. When the time comes to perform and he does perform, he has a chance to be very special."

People familiar with Morgan have many stories to share, like the time he went toe-to-toe with Vladimir Guerrero's nephew, Gabriel -- a Mariners farmhand -- at the Dominican Summer League Camp in May 2012. The duo exchanged homers, outfield assists and left many in attendance gushing over Morgan's ability.

Talent evaluators point to two areas in which Morgan needs to improve-- his ability to make contact and his level of confidence. One coach said Lawrie always believed he was the best player on the diamond, even during an off game, and that's an attitude Morgan needs to develop.

"His challenge right now is to come to the ballpark every day and take a look out on the field and say, 'That's the guy on the other side? I'm going to be better than him, because I'm the best player there is, period,'" the coach said.

"Morgan is a freak -- he's the whole package, and the power is sick. I think Gareth can hit 40 home runs, be a plus right fielder and play in All-Star Games. There is a risk, though, he might not make it -- but that's the ceiling. You don't see guys like that in Canada."

Greg Hamilton, the director of Baseball Canada's national teams, who knows Morgan nearly as well as anyone, said the hype surrounding him is warranted. Hamilton has played a pivotal role in the development of many of Canada's top young talent throughout the years and, in many respects, has never seen anyone like Morgan.

While the power potential appears to be the most talked about part of Morgan's game, Hamilton stresses that his defense makes him the complete package and his size is what separates him from many prospects around the world. Morgan is no slouch in the speed department, either, as his 6.7 60-yard dash time at the Tournament 12 showcase at Rogers Centre ranked among the top 10 fastest.

"The reward is huge," Hamilton said. "With Gareth, it doesn't matter who he plays for, he's the guy.

"I've never seen a Canadian right fielder that physically you don't have to project in high school. You don't have to project any physical aspects with Gareth Morgan."

At the recent 18U World Cup in September -- a tournament in which Canada was knocked out of medal contention by Japan -- Morgan, playing against many future Draft picks and star prospects, was said to be the most physically gifted player there by a long shot. He currently has the body of a professional player, and he will only continue getting stronger.

A month prior to that, Morgan became the first Canadian to play in the prestigious Perfect Game All-American Classic -- a showcase of the top high school players in North America -- at Petco Park in San Diego. He flashed big league power during batting practice, hitting multiple balls out at the pitcher-friendly park.

"[He's a] dominating right-field presence, and you don't see that in high school very often," Hamilton said.

Morgan said he used to not pay too much attention to the lofty expectations that have been placed on him since he entered high school. He knew the day would come where he would be entering his Draft year, but he tried to block it out and not concern himself with all the whispers and media attention he was receiving.

These past few months, however, have been difficult. Morgan knows wherever he plays, there will be many eyes on him from professional scouts to college recruiters. And depending on what he does, it could alter his stock in either direction.

"This is the biggest year, stress-wise," Morgan said. "The more you don't think about it, the less you really feel it, I guess. The less you think about it, the more you can be relaxed. Just be you on the field and play to your potential."

Whether or not a team makes Morgan a first-rounder, he's likely to be a high Draft pick and the first Canadian selected off the board in June.

"His physical ability is what puts him in that position," a scout for a Major League team said. "We can't teach that."

Chris Toman is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays