The Toronto Blue Jays and their fans soon will get a chance to see how much 15-year-old phenom Gareth Morgan has matured at the plate and in the field.
He is a member of the Canadian junior national baseball team that will play a Blue Jays split-squad for the second straight year on March 13 in a 1:05 p.m. ET start at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Morgan has certainly grown physically since Florida ball fans last saw him. A six-foot-three, 195-pounder last spring, Morgan has added an inch and 15 pounds to his frame.
"It was a great experience not only playing against them, but also meeting them before the game," Morgan said of the junior squad’s inaugural game versus the Blue Jays last year in a statement from Baseball Canada. "Playing in the game was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life."
Canada’s junior players watched intently as Blue Jays players took batting practice and did infield/outfield work. Afterwards, they talked with some of the major leaguers to gain perspective on what it takes to play professional baseball.
"Knowing that they were in the same situation I was when they were younger inspires me to keep working hard," said Morgan. "It makes me believe in the dream that with time, experience and a lot of work, one day I could be where they are."
'He’s got a chance to be awfully special.'— Canadian junior national team coach Greg Hamilton on Gareth Morgan
One of the youngest players to ever earn a spot on the Canadian national junior team, Morgan is still two years away from being draft eligible.
Canadian junior team head coach Greg Hamilton, who doubles as Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, invited Morgan to the club in September 2010 following Baseball Canada’s Mizuno Elite Development Camp at Rogers Centre in Toronto for players aged 14-16.
"He’s got a chance to be awfully special," said Hamilton in March 2011. "You look at him and you’d never peg him to be 14. Part of that process is to keep it in perspective."
Ryan Kellogg of Whitby, Ont., will start for the juniors against the Blue Jays on March 13, and wondered what it would be like facing young third baseman Brett Lawrie and two-time defending American League batting champion Jose Bautista.
"If I get to pitch against Bautista or Lawrie in the game I would be a little more cautious about [my] pitch selection," h said. "I would still go after them just like any other hitter but I would probably give them more off-speed pitches and definitely not leave anything up in the [strike] zone."
Team Canada’s trip to St. Petersburg runs March 4-14 featuring games against the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles’ prospects along with the defending International Baseball Federation world champions from the Netherlands and St. Petersburg Junior College.
The 2012 IBAF under-18 championship is Aug. 30-Sept. 8 in Seoul.