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Draft shows depth of Baseball Canada program

TORONTO -- This will go down as a year to remember for Baseball Canada, as a record number of Canadians were selected in the Top 10 rounds of the Draft.

The 10 Canadians taken by Day 2 matched the all-time high set in 2007. By comparison, the program had three players selected last year. A total of 30 Canadians were taken over the span of three days, with the Blue Jays involved on third baseman Connor Panas (No. 272), catcher Owen Spiwak (No. 302) and infielder Mattingly Romanin (No. 1,172).

First baseman Josh Naylor generated the most buzz when he was selected at No. 12 overall by the Marlins to become the highest Canadian position player drafted. The depth goes well beyond that one pick, though, and shows just how strong baseball has become across the country.

"I think the game at the elite level in high school is probably stronger than it has ever been," said Greg Hamilton, who is the head coach and director of Canada's national teams. "There are more opportunities for kids, there's more coaching, there are more former pros who are back involved in the system.

"I think Canadians are no longer just Canadians. The comparables are there. If you're the top high school talent in Canada, you have the opportunity to be compared directly to the top talent available for the Draft."

One way Baseball Canada has accomplished that goal is by expanding the use of its Junior National team program. The junior team travels all over the world, with games in extended spring camps against Major League organizations, the Dominican Summer League and the instructional league in fall.

Hamilton estimated that Naylor played in 120 games against top competition during his time with the program. In the past, it was possible that some Canadian ballplayers would slip through the cracks, but when the best talent all comes together on one team, it ensures they all get exposure to big league scouts.

Spiwak, who was taken by Toronto in the 10th round, is one of those players. The 20-year-old represented Canada in two IBAF Under-19 World Cup events, which included winning a silver medal in 2012. Spiwak is coming off a year in which he hit .387 with eight home runs and 54 RBIs while appearing at first base and catcher for Odessa College.

"I think it's critically important in Canada, because of the restrictions you face weather-wise, competition-wise for your best high school kids," Hamilton said. "You're trying to convince those kids to play baseball and give them an avenue that stacks up against all the other sports at the highest level.

"They learn and get comfortable with the speed of the game, and they have a reference point for the decisions that they face when they're drafted and have those opportunities vs. a college scholarship. They have a reference point about what they're going to face when they get into professional baseball."

The feel-good story from Wednesday afternoon came when the Blue Jays selected Romanin, whose father Mal is the manager of baseball information in Toronto's communications department. Mattingly Romanin is a senior at Chicago State University and is coming off a strong year in which he hit .318 with 20 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs in 54 games.

The Burlington, Ontario, native was named team MVP as a senior at Notre Dame Catholic, and as a junior, he became a District 10 All-Star after helping his team advance to the regional championship. Mattingly also had a career .306/.407/.498 slash line over four seasons with Chicago State.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.
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