Courtesy of Daniel Goffenberg & Sportsnet.ca.
Jaden Brown moves around a lot.
The 16-year-old shortstop for the under-17 Ontario Blue Jays is constantly on the road, going from tournament to tournament – typically south of the border – in order to improve as a player, and showcase his talent to evaluators.
Fine by him.
“I love travelling,” says Brown. “I mean as a Canadian, and with everything in the States, you just have to be a part of it to get the exposure that is required to continue your career and continue growing as a player.”
Brown has done a lot of growing since showing up at the Ontario Blue Jays’ old training facility at just 11 years of age. His father, Courtney, a sprinter for Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympics, brought him in.
“Jaden was a hard worker, but not necessarily a great athlete at that time,” says Sean Travers, Brown’s current coach with the Blue Jays. “But he kept coming back.”
The following year saw Brown – still “kind of chubby,” according to Travers – make significant strides as a member of the Blue Jays academy, and he’s taken off since. He now stands at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds.
“He’s an athlete that hasn’t been seen too often in Canada,” says Travers. “Right-handed hitting, middle infielder … that’s different.
“Usually when you come to Canada, you’re looking at left-handed hitting catchers, or pitchers that throw hard.”
The teenager most recently became just the fifth Canadian to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic, at which the top high school prospects from all over North America competed at Petco Park in San Diego, Calif, on Aug. 12.
This came after winning consecutive tournaments with the Blue Jays, first the Future Stars Series in Houston and then the Marucci World Series in Baton Rouge, La., to close out July.
“We were the only Canadians there,” says Brown of those last two tournaments. “And we gotta like, represent, pretty much. The Americans, I don’t know if they respect us, but they just think that they’re better than us and we just have to prove that Canadians can play as well.”
As much as Brown appreciates life on the road – “it makes you get used to the lifestyle of travelling around on a bus like you would in college or as a minor-leaguer” – his next opportunity to prove himself will be back home; at Tournament 12, where he’ll suit up for the second straight year.
T12 was created in 2013 as a way to showcase young Canadian talent to pro and college scouts, and Brown will be a part of Ontario Black when the tournament gets underway on Sept. 13.
He was a member of the Futures team in 2017, and remembers hitting a ground-rule double over the centre-field wall at Rogers Centre as the biggest highlight of that experience.
“I knew I could play before, I knew I could do certain things,” says Brown, “but when I did that I was like ‘Wow, it’s starting to come along really well.’”
The Mississauga, Ont., native’s talent caught the eye of NCAA programs, and it wasn’t long before Brown committed to the University of Kentucky.
It seems unlikely that Brown will ever play as a Wildcat though, given how highly rated he is ahead of the 2019 MLB Draft, where he has a very real shot at being the first Canadian selected.
“I can’t imagine anybody being ahead of him,” says Travers, almost annoyed at the thought of Brown not being the first Canadian drafted next June.
“He’s a plus runner, he’s got a plus arm, he’s got plus power, he’s really worked on his swing and misses; he’s putting the ball in play a lot more. And his defence is, for me, something that’s going to be special.
“One of the biggest questions I get asked is will he stay at shortstop and for me at this point that’s the best thing he does.”