As the Blue Jays continued to add big-framed pitchers in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, they reached north of the border and found one in Brampton, Ontario, native Zach Pop.
Pop, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander, was selected by the Blue Jays in the 23rd round, 684th overall, on Saturday.
A senior at Notre Dame Catholic High School, Pop had just come off the mound after throwing six innings of one-hit ball for the Ontario Blue Jays U18 team when he heard the news that he had been selected.
"To be honest, the first thing that went through my mind was, 'I'm out of the game,'" Pop said afterward by telephone. "But as soon as I took a seat, it started to sink in."
Pop was the eighth Canadian prospect selected in the Draft and the second to go to Toronto.
The Blue Jays drafted 6-foot-6 right-hander Jordan Romano in the 10th round, 294th overall. Romano is a native of Markham and is in his junior year at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.
What happens next in Pop's young career is not set in stone, but as of Saturday his eyes were still focused on attending the University of Kentucky to pitch for the Wildcats baseball program in the fall.
He acknowledged it would take "life-changing money" for him to sign a pro contract at this point, but he did not completely rule out taking the professional route.
Whichever path Pop chooses, the end game is the big leagues, he said.
"I have a great offer from a great program," said Pop, whose summer schedule is set to be packed with baseball. He will travel with the junior national team to Cuba to play that country's junior national program for seven games in July before heading to the University of Houston in late August, when the JNT will play a four-game set against the U.S. junior national team. From there, Pop and his teammates head to Mexico for the World Junior tournament qualifiers, which run until the middle of September.
Pop will miss the first few weeks of school because of his national team commitments, but it's a sacrifice he will happily make.
"You just can't turn down that opportunity to play for your country," he said. "It's an honor and such a great opportunity."
National team head coach Greg Hamilton said Pop had the makings of a big league pitcher, and he seemed confident the 17-year-old would end up in the Major Leagues one day regardless of the path he chose to take to get there.
"He's really got the pitcher's body, he's a strong, horse of a kid," Hamilton said by telephone. "He's got a strong lower half, and he's still probably going to put on 20 pounds. He'll be a big man, in a good way. "
The fact Pop's hometown Blue Jays drafted him was not completely lost, though, and he expressed gratitude in being drafted at all, let alone by a local team.
In total, 13 Canadians were selected in this weekend's Draft, the highest being Morgan Gareth, a high school outfielder taken by the Mariners in the Competitive Balance Round B.
Other Canadians drafted include:
- Brock Dykxhoorn, RHP, Central Arizona College, to Houston (6, 166)
- Chris Shaw, C, Midland College, to St. Louis (14, 435)
- Ben Onyshko, Vauxhall High School, LHP, to Milwaukee (16, 476)
- Mitch Robinson, 3B, Clayton Heights Secondary School, to Miami (22, 647)
- Rob Byckowski, 3B, Blyth Academy, to Cincinnati (22, 665)
- Kurtis Horne, LHP, Edward Milne High School, to the Mets (31, 925)
- Austen Swift, OF, Bishop Allen Academy, to Oakland (35, 1062)
- Cody Chartrand, RHP, Lewis-Clark State, to Texas (36,1086)
- Michael Foster, 2B, Northeastern, to Houston (38, 1126)
- Louis-Philippe Pelletier, 2B, Cegep De Maisonneuve, to San Diego (38, 1137)
Blue Jays bring in utility player in 13th round
The Blue Jays selected middle infielder Gunnar Heidt with their 13th-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Saturday afternoon.
Heidt, a junior at the College of Charleston, was ranked No. 193 on MLB.com's Top 200 prospects list, but Toronto took him with the 384th overall selection.
Heidt is known as a versatile and a well-rounded player, and he could become a utility man capable of playing the outfield corners. He is said to be a solid runner whose range and arm strength are decent on the left side of the infield.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound second baseman led his team in batting average (.335) despite missing some time after breaking a hand in late April when he was hit by a pitch. Heidt's slugging percentage (.482) is second on the team, and his 15 stolen bases rank third in the CAA despite his missing 18 games. He was named All-CAA First Team and was the CAA Player of the Week on April 14.
With his selection, Heidt becomes the 14th player drafted under Cougars head coach Monte Lee in the past six seasons.
A native of Murrells Inlet, S.C., Heidt returned to the starting lineup on Saturday as the designated hitter against Texas Tech in the NCAA Super Regional opener.
He led the Cougars with a .349 batting average and 54 RBIs in 2013, and topped the Southern Conference with seven triples and 13 stolen bases. He was named conference player of the month in March.
On Friday, Cougars signee Nick Wells was also selected by the Blue Jays in the third round.
Toronto adds high school arm in 12th round
The Blue Jays took another big high school arm with their 12th-round choice in the First-Year Player Draft on Saturday afternoon, selecting senior Tanner Houck.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander from Collinsville, Ill., can touch 93 mph with his fastball, which features a heavy sink and should gain velocity as he gets stronger. He also throws a split-changeup and slider.
Houck is committed to Missouri for next season. Some look at his frame and high-effort delivery and see Max Scherzer, while others point to his long arm action and the high elbow in his mechanics and see Justin Masterson, according to his MLB.com scouting report, which had him ranked No. 132 on this year's Top 200 list.
That the was selected 354th overall indicates the Blue Jays may have made off with a later-round steal with this pick.
Houck -- a multi-sport athlete who also plays basketball -- is set to play in the PNC Bank High School Baseball Showcase on Thursday for the region's top seniors at Busch Stadium.
Houck told the Belleville, Ill., News-Democrat that he had hoped to be chosen in the first 10 rounds this weekend.
"I think the Draft possibilities are high, but it's a little bit different than signing with a college," Houck said prior to the Draft. "You don't get to pick what team and what round, or what number you get picked. I've trained all offseason. I've showed them the best I've got every game this season."
Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.