The State of Baseball in Canada

A breakdown of baseball in Canada -- from little league to the MLB.

America’s pastime. That’s what we call the game of baseball. It’s a game that has been ingrained into the very fabric of American culture since the 19th century. Yet over the years, baseball has truly morphed into an international game. In 2019, 28.5% of all players on MLB Opening Day rosters were foreigners, representing 20 different countries ranging from traditional hotbeds like the Dominican Republic to non-traditional baseball countries like Germany. Somewhere between these two extremes on the baseball hotbed scale is Canada, the USA’s friendly neighbor to the north. As a Canadian myself who grew up playing baseball, I’ve always felt that Canada got an unfair reputation as only a hockey country, full of people who only care about baseball when the Blue Jays are competitive. Canada is also in the unique position of being the only foreign country (outside of Puerto Rico) that participates in the First-Year Player Draft (FYPD) along with players from the USA. This puts prep players from Canada in a very unique position — one that both colleges and pro teams don’t take enough of an advantage of.

In order to truly get a sense of the full picture of Canadian baseball, we should start right at the top. As of today, there are 10 Canadians on MLB rosters, including high impact players such as Joey Votto, James Paxton, and Mike Soroka. While it’s not the highest amount of Canucks to be in the show at one time, the quality of the players proves that Canada can influence the game at the highest level. In the minor leagues, there are dozens to hundreds of more Canadians, all working there way up to get there shot in the majors. This goes to show that overall, once established at the professional level, Canada is being represented fairly well.

However, when we look at prep baseball it becomes clear that players from Canada are not being represented in the same manner as their American counterparts, especially those from warm weather states such as Florida, Texas and California. While this makes sense for a multitude of reasons ranging from climate to opportunity, it still presents as something of a market inefficiency. Of the 59 Canadian prep and university players that have been drafted since 2015, a whopping 32 of them have been selected by the same five teams. That’s right: 54.2% of all Canadians drafted directly from Canada have been selected by either the Blue Jays, Reds, Twins, DBacks or Padres. On top of that, 8 teams — the Yankees, White Sox, Royals, Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Rockies — failed to make a single selection from the Canadian prep ranks in the last five years. Furthermore, three more teams — Cleveland, Atlanta, and the Marlins — only made one selection from the Canadian prep ranks over that timeframe and all three selections have some very unique similarities. All three were first round selections and played for the Canadian Junior National Team, meaning they played a significant amount of games in the US and could be scouted by team personnel without physically being in Canada. These three facts lead to several conclusions, chief among them being that it appears that over a third of the league doesn’t spend significant resources scouting the prep talent in Canada.

When we look to the NCAA ranks it becomes even more apparent that programs are overlooking talent from Canada. Only 10.5% of all NCAA Division 1 draft-eligible players get drafted to the MLB, while approximately 14.5% of all draft-eligible Canadians playing in the NCAA get drafted. This follows the same trend as the prep players, where the best of the best get noticed but other players, who can either be a solid college contributor or develop into a late-bloomer, often get overlooked. Many of these would be late-bloomers give up pursuing American opportunities and end up playing for Canadian Universities in the Ontario University Association (OUA).

I spoke to Matthew Brown, General Manager of the University of Ottawa who had this to say about the OUA: “From top to bottom, most teams will feature lineups or pitching rotations with high caliber baseball players that [considered enrolling or have transferred from] US schools.” This goes to show that the league has talent, as Brown went on to say that “[several] players have even gone on to pursue pro opportunities” after they had played in the OUA. Despite the level of talent, many people consider the OUA to be less competitive and serious than the NCAA. It’s one reason why certain franchises ignore the OUA, (and Canada as a whole) and certainly contributes to players putting less effort into their baseball training, as they believe they have no future in the sport as a player.

From a grassroots perspective, many young baseball players are multi-sport athletes and only play baseball during the summer months. While many people argue that being a multi-sport athlete is actually beneficial towards development, there is no debate that being forced to train inside for 8 months a year makes development a more difficult task. Despite this, several new elite programs are investing in new infrastructure and giving young Canadians the chance to develop and be exposed to opportunities. Additionally, in 2017, little league registration jumped over 200% as hundreds of thousands of young Canadians were enthralled by back-to-back Blue Jays playoff runs and wanted to play baseball for the first time. With the Blue Jays looking towards being competitive again, it’s reasonably to expect those numbers to grow.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Canada will continue to produce quality baseball players. Over the next 15 years, I predict we will have an influx of Canadians playing pro baseball, with many many more going on to have successful collegiate careers. The question, however, is will certain pro organizations and collegiate programs take advantage of this opportunity? There could be a significant competitive advantage to those that do, and as we all know, competitive advantages are what every team is striving for these days. As a fan of the Blue Jays, I hope that a third of the league remains ignorant to Canadian talent, but as a fan of Canadian baseball, it’s hard to believe that most organizations won’t soon recognize the opportunity in front of them and prove to the world that Canadian baseball has nowhere to go but up.

Zach Lindgren

uOttawa | Lund University | Ottawa BlackJacks | Pitcher List

2 responses to “The State of Baseball in Canada”

  1. Sidney Vlieg says:

    Well written Zach!

  2. Kevin Ryan says:

    Very interesting and informative article. Maybe MLB needs to develop a few scouts in Canada to help in identifying and quantifying talent earlier.

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