TORONTO -- Center fielder Denzel Clarke is brimming with athletic upside, and at 17, the Canadian Junior National Team member is using his return to Tournament 12 in Toronto as an opportunity to show the strides he's made over the past 12 months.Now in its fifth year, Tournament 12 (T12)
TORONTO -- Center fielder Denzel Clarke is brimming with athletic upside, and at 17, the Canadian Junior National Team member is using his return to Tournament 12 in Toronto as an opportunity to show the strides he's made over the past 12 months.
Now in its fifth year, Tournament 12 (T12) highlights the best Canadian amateur baseball players with college eligibility. Eight teams of 20 players take over Rogers Centre from September 14-17 with the Blue Jays on the road, including a scout day on Friday. The tournament is headed up by Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Clarke, who is from Pickering, Ontario, and also plays summer ball for the Toronto Mets, is coming off a great performance in the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, where he led Canada in on-base percentage (.487) and was named the tournament's Outstanding Defensive Player. With a 6-foot-3 frame that covers ground in long, effortless strides, Clarke's range in the field is immediately evident.
"I work on that the most," said Clarke, who is eligible for the 2018 MLB Draft. "That's the biggest part of my game right now, the biggest tool I have right now. I'm always trying to work on my reads, the jumps I get on balls, closing the distance, cutting balls off in the gaps. All the things that help me be a good outfielder."
Next to "athletic", the word you'll hear brought up in regards to Clarke is "raw". He's only been playing baseball since he was 10 years old -- just seven years -- but he openly recognizes the raw nature of his game and is focused on adding strength and polish to his overall game.
Tournament 12 has also put Clarke beside the three men who made up the greatest outfield in Blue Jays history: Devon White, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield.
"Last year when I was at T12, they were really encouraging," Clarke said. "They told me to keep working, don't give up, and I feel like the work I've put in has really helped me and I feel more comfortable in this atmosphere at T12 this year."
Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar is known for his glove, and one talking point he's come back to after several highlight catches is the importance of being a pure athlete. His mid-route adjustments and incredible diving grabs aren't something he learned on a baseball field, Pillar says. They are natural athletic reactions he gained on the football field or basketball court. Clarke is no different, and quickly rings off a long list of sports he played growing up that range from soccer to tennis and ultimate frisbee.
"Tennis, when I played when I was younger, you always have to have quick feet," Clarke said, "and it's always about getting back to your ready position. I feel that really helps with baseball."
Clarke went 1-for-3 with a line-drive single to left field in Ontario Black's opening game against B.C. Orange on Thursday night, a 6-0 loss.
Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.