He may not be a man amongst men as of yet, but he certainly is an impressive boy amidst a group of his peers right now.
Gareth Morgan is the only player on Canada's junior national team roster born later than 1995, and he has been on the team for over a year. Getting his start with Team Canada at just 14 years old, the six-foot-four, 210-pound outfielder is a physical specimen whose baseball gifts were spotted extremely early by director of national teams Greg Hamilton.
"He’s an exceptionally talented kid," Hamilton said of Morgan. "If you look at him physically, he’s a man already at 15. He could walk out and stand in right field in the major leagues and nobody would be asking who the bat boy is or whose son that is. He looks like a big-league right-fielder right now.
"He doesn’t have to change physically at all. He just has to basically mature as a player. It’s not like you’re trying to project the body or say he’s got to put on 20 pounds or he’s got to grow two inches. Physically, he’s already a man in terms of the profile. Obviously he’ll get a man’s strength as he grows up a little bit, but he’s a special, physical player, and he’s got all the tools that you’re looking for and it’s just a matter of developing and refining them."
'He’s not hard to get out right now. But if his bat does happen to run into the ball, you better go and get yourself a new ball. It’s not coming back.'— One of Gareth Morgan's Canadian junior teammates
As Morgan continues to work on his baseball maturity, just his presence is enough to have people in the crowd whispering, "Can you believe this kid is only 15?" at every game he takes part in. Most recently in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) International Baseball series, teammates, parents, scouts and bystanders all watched in awe every time the young giant stepped up to the plate.
Though his size is intimidating, the pitchers who have seen him the most admit that there is a lot of room for growth in his game.
"He’s not hard to get out right now," one of his junior national teammates said. "But if his bat does happen to run into the ball, you better go and get yourself a new ball. It’s not coming back."
Not draft-eligible until 2014, Morgan has plenty of time to continue working. Ranked the No. 3 prospect in North America for his draft year by Perfect Game, the young outfielder is getting up to speed by facing a high calibre of competition with Team Canada.
Just over the last year Morgan has been to the U.S., Cuba, Dominican Republic and Colombia, where he and the rest of the national team qualified for the upcoming world junior championships in Seoul. Getting at-bats against both amateur players and professionals has given scouts a chance to see that there’s a reason the Toronto native is on the roster.
"He’s a 15-year-old that’s obviously playing against guys that are five and six years older, and have played professional baseball, and have a lot of games under their belt," Hamilton said. "But he’s holding his own and I think the fact that he’s holding his own says a lot for his talent and his ability."
Morgan’s skill set was recognized last summer by Steve Bernhardt, director of scouting for Baseball Factory. Bernhardt is in charge of making selections for the Under Armour All-America Game, and brought the Canadian fielder to Chicago last August to take part in the matchup at Wrigley Field, where he did not disappoint.
"The first thing was that he was impressive physically," Bernhardt said. "He certainly fit in with the older guys that we had at the Under Armour game last year. Physically, his tools are advanced. He's a strong kid, he's got power, he's got a lot of bat speed already and it's pretty easy bat speed.
"He's got arm strength, he can play right field, he's a pretty good athlete. So he's one of those guys with a lot of present skills for someone his age. And the arrow is pointing up on him. I've spoken with Greg Hamilton, the junior national team coach with Canada, and he's told me Gareth just continues to get better.
"He gets bigger and stronger and he's faced a high level of competition now for quite some time and challenges himself against older players a lot. Not only is he getting a better understanding of the game but his skills continue to get better as well."
Though Toronto Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Andrew Tinnish is the only member of Morgan’s hometown organization who has seen him in action, the 10th-grader is on the radar of many other scouts, both local and not-so-local.
"Other scouts that I've spoken with are extremely impressed with him," Bernhardt said. "He has a chance to be a really special player. Obviously the size and the strength and the athleticism stand out at such a young age, but he's got the baseball skills already. He seems to have a good aptitude to continue to learn and get better and he continues to improve. He has a chance to do some big things over the next couple of years."
Coming out of shell?
Garnering so much attention has been a little bit difficult for the notably-shy Morgan. During his first few trips with Team Canada, he acknowledged he "wouldn’t say a word" for whole trips at a time, but now that he’s been with the team for a significant amount of time, it’s become a little bit easier. The same can’t be said for when scouts or reporters are around.
"I’m trying to get used to it," Morgan said of all the attention. "But I still get nervous when I’m in the field and I know that people are watching, or when I’m doing interviews, and stuff like that."
Hamilton has also been trying to play a part in keeping the young prospect comfortable, and not letting him get ahead of himself.
"You want to keep him 15," Hamilton said. "But at the same time, you tell him not to apologize for being good. You want him to be aggressive, you want him to not feel for things, and be afraid to make mistakes.
"Then by the same standpoint you tell him that getting a big head and getting complacent isn’t the answer because that’s going to take you the other way. So it’s a balancing act. It’s a little bit of a push and little bit of an arm around him, and then another push.
"You’re just kind of watching how they react to certain situations and circumstances. Sometimes they get their heads down because they’re getting beat up a little bit and then you’ve got to put the arm around them. And then other times, they’re maybe going pretty good and think it’s easy, and you’ve got to push a little bit on them. It’s a balancing act with the young players."
The youngest of the young, and the only guy on the team who happens to be ineligible to even make an attempt at getting a driver’s license, Morgan has overcome his sensitivity to his age.
"I think last year I was worried about it," he said of always being the youngest on the team. "But now that I know the guys, and I’m comfortable with them, I don’t really think about it anymore."
What Morgan is concentrating on currently is continuing to progress his game, and learning how to translate his intimidating presence into poise at the plate.
"Learning to swing with confidence," Morgan said of what he’s working on. "Because last year I’d be swinging and I’d be like shaking in the box. So I’m trying to build confidence and just let loose."