Twins prospect wants to 'show the world' what Canada can do

March 5th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. – In the spring and summer of 2016, Edouard Julien used a stint with the Canadian Junior National Team to get noticed stateside. His play, particularly his hitting, alerted head coach Greg Hamilton that he could be a legitimate Division I player south of the border, and Hamilton told Brad Bohannon -- then head recruiter at Auburn, now head coach at Alabama -- to look into the left-handed slugger from Quebec City. Two years later, Julien was an SEC All-Freshman Team selection, breaking Frank Thomas’ Auburn freshman record with 69 RBIs.

“Still to this day, I think I owe a lot to [Bohannon] and the Team Canada coaches, because they gave me a chance,” Julien said. “And I'm grateful for the opportunity that I got to go to Auburn for sure.”

On Monday, Minnesota’s No. 4 prospect will fly from Twins camp in Fort Myers to Arizona, joining Team Canada once more. This time, the stakes are a bit higher. It’s for the World Baseball Classic, and another strong Canadian performance could get him not only international acclaim but one last big push to the Majors.

“I grew up watching the WBC and all these big-time players that play for Canada like Justin Morneau, Joey Votto and Russell Martin,” Julien said. “I think it's a great platform to just go out there, show the world that you can play there, that you belong with the best in baseball and also to represent your country. It's going to be super cool.”

The 23-year-old infielder should have made for an easy WBC roster decision for Canadian manager Ernie Whitt and staff.

An 18th-round pick as a Draft-eligible sophomore in 2019, Julien led the full-season Minor Leagues with 110 walks and a 21.4 percent walk rate at Single-A and High-A in 2021, the culmination of work that began his sophomore year at Auburn.

“That's when I learned that they're going to throw around me, and they're going to make me want to chase or get myself out,” he said. “That's when my approach kind of built. I started taking pitches. It was pretty hard for me in college to lay off the slider back foot or the changeup away that was just under the strike zone.

“I think here that's what I've been doing a good job [with]. I've been setting my sights up, and I just don't chase the slider down. I don't chase the changeup down as much as I was. I think that's helped put me in hitter's counts and put me in better counts for me to do damage.”

Although Julien took his free passes in 2021, his .247 average in 65 games at High-A Cedar Rapids highlighted an issue that concerned Twins coaches and evaluators slightly -- he was being a little too passive for a player who exhibited good raw power.

“Now we have to shift the mentality to, ‘The first three pitches, I want to dominate,’” said director of player development Drew MacPhail. “If they're not in the strike zone or they're on the edges, perfect, we're laying off those. But the ones that are over the heart of the plate, we get our 'A' swing off earlier. I think with Eddie, the walks are an incredible part of his game. … As you move up levels, pitchers are trying to spin you early so can they steal strike one. We wanted him shifting [his] mentality that, 'If they do that, I'm going to bang it.'”

Julien is making that approach alteration in conjunction with a mechanical one.

“I worked a lot on my bat path,” he said. “Two seasons ago, I think I was more steep and my bat was not in the zone as long as I wanted. I'm still working on it. I want my bat to be longer in the zone. Even if I'm late, I can put the ball in play. Even if I’m early, my bat is so long in the zone that I can make these little adjustments and I still can hit the ball with authority.”

Julien’s prospect profile jumped at Double-A Wichita in 2022. He bumped his season average from .266 to .300 over 113 games at the Minors’ second-highest level. True to his comments about a more level bat path, he started hitting fewer lazy flyballs, and his line-drive rate jumped from 19.6 percent at High-A to 31.3 at Double-A. His 144 wRC+ was second-best in the Texas League, while his .441 OBP led all Double-A qualifiers.

He didn’t slow down in the Arizona Fall League, either, finishing with a .400/.563/.686 line with five homers and a 22/23 K/BB ratio in 21 games, and the Twins added him to their 40-man roster when he became Rule 5-eligible in the offseason.

Julien’s defense at second base -- where he told the organization he took roughly 200 groundballs per day in the offseason -- remains the roughest part of his profile. If it’s adequate in early practices and exhibitions with Canada, he could find himself playing next to Freddie Freeman on the dirt during WBC Group C play against the United States, Mexico, Great Britain and Colombia.

“I haven't met him or ever played with him, and he's one of the best hitters in MLB, right? Top five for sure,” Julien said. “It's going be fun just to pick his brain, just to be around him and see his routine and how he goes about the game. Hopefully, I can play on the right side of the infield with him.”

Starting with the WBC opener next Sunday against Great Britain, the world will be paying attention to how Julien attacks the first three pitches, how he level his bat is through the zone and just how elite his eye truly is -- now in his home colors in a tournament that has seen its share of upsets.

“We’ve got a bunch of young guys that are hungry,” Julien said. “We're going to break some hearts. We're going to go out there and play hard, and I think we have a chance to win it all. We'll see how it goes, but I'm pretty confident.”