The short list is actually an extremely short list for B.C. players in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft.
This year’s 40-round draft goes June 5-7 and, by all accounts, the top prospect from the province is Langley Blaze third baseman-catcher Mitchell Robinson.
A Cloverdale native, Robinson is listed at 6-3, 220 pounds and has a gun for an arm. But there aren’t many other B.C. players behind Robinson, according to Arizona Diamondbacks scout Doug Mathieson, who is also general manager of the Blaze.
“I don’t think it’s a long list at all this year for B.C.,” Mathieson said. “It is a down year and I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. This is more of an Ontario-based year, but I think 2015 will be a rebound year for us and that will be exciting. Mitchell is probably the standard bearer from B.C. this year. On a strictly skill basis, he’s projected to go anywhere from the fifth to the 12th round.”
Robinson has committed to play NCAA baseball next season for Division One Florida International University, which can sometimes complicate matters. If MLB teams expect a player to opt for the college route — and, hence, not sign with them — they may pass them by.
Robinson insists playing professionally is his first choice, but needs a plan in the event his drafting situation goes sideways. He might not like the round he is picked or the money being offered. Florida International is his security blanket. “It’s really covering all the bases,” Robinson said, cleverly deploying a baseball analogy. “You want a path if Plan A doesn’t work with the draft. Then you still have that fallback into a pretty good scenario. But if it’s the right opportunity — and I’m not 100 per cent sure what that is — then, yes, professional baseball is obviously the dream.”
Robinson, 18, was a multi-sport athlete growing up. He played hockey, volleyball and basketball before settling on baseball two years ago. He’s in Grade 12 at Clayton Heights secondary and has an older sister, Kelsey. His parents are Darcy and Lynne. Before leaving for the Dominican Republic games, he was batting .321 with the Blaze.
“Ultimately, I just had the passion for baseball and it was definitely my strongest sport, so the decision to go baseball was kind of easy,” he explained. “But I think by playing volleyball, basketball and hockey, I had the athleticism that I was able to transfer to baseball.”
Robinson was in the Dominican Republic this past week playing for Canada’s national junior team in a series of exhibition games. Two of his teammates there, outfielder Gareth Morgan and right-handed pitcher Zachary Pop (both from southern Ontario), are the only Canadians rated ahead of him for the draft. Doug Mathieson expects Morgan to go in the first two rounds, Pop somewhere between the fourth and 12th rounds.
B.C. players rated behind Robinson include right-handed pitcher Cody Chartrand of Nanaimo, currently playing for NAIA Lewis-Clark State, and left-handed pitcher Kurtis Horne of Sooke, another member of the Blaze. A third Blaze player, catcher Luke Horanski, also has a chance. Horanski is from Dugald, Man.
Robinson is proud to be touted as this year’s top B.C. prospect.
“It definitely feels good,” he said. “Having any recognition in the province, and the nation, there is a lot of pride that comes with that. I try not to get too caught up in it, but it’s a nice thing to have and it gives you more confidence, for sure. Obviously with the draft coming up here, it’s exciting and it’s definitely hard not to think about it. But I am trying to go about my business and play the games and not let it control how I play.”
Meanwhile, over at UBC, the lone Thunderbird hope for the draft is left-handed pitcher Conor Lillis-White, who posted a sublime 9-0 mark and 0.46 ERA this past season. Lillis-White is from Toronto and throws in the mid- to upper 80s. He has a nice breaking ball, according to UBC assistant coach Wayne Corness, but his fastball needs some work.
“Our thought, and our belief, is that Conor could be a later-round choice,” said Corness. “He’s still working a little bit on command of his fastball and, once he gets that to where his breaking ball is, he could have a bright future.”
The T-Birds have had 18 players drafted, most notably 2002 first-rounder Jeff Francis, since the program began in 1998.
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