As draft nears, Aumont getting noticed
Tall Canadian right-hander projected as big-league starter
Even in a hockey-mad country like Canada, it's difficult to be a baseball player and be ignored if you are a 6-foot-7 high school senior who has a 96-mph fastball, along with a curve and an in-progress changeup that can make hitters knees buckle.
As the date for the First-Year Player Draft approaches, Gatineau, Quebec, native Phillipe Aumont is attracting more scouts each time he pitches.
"I feel the pressure," he said. "I feel like I have to dominate each time out and have a good fastball and curve and changeup. I try not to think about it, but you do. The important thing, though, is not what round or by who, but just to get drafted."
Nationals scout Denis Boucher said, "It's a bit tougher for Canadian kids. They have a shorter season and don't get scouted as much, although things are improving. But that can sometimes be an advantage as Aumont's arm hasn't been used as much, so it's fresher."
By the time he was 14, Aumont -- who throws right-handed -- was already 6-foot-2. During the next six months, he grew to 6-foot-7 and now weighs in at 225.
"I started playing baseball when I was 11 -- center field -- but switched to pitching when I was 14," he said.
Aumont is a rare Canadian who isn't crazy about hockey, although he did play some growing up.
"Baseball was my first love, for sure," Aumont said. "I don't like to watch hockey, and baseball is a lot cheaper to play."
He cited the Orioles and Nationals as his favorite teams, but would be thrilled to someday play for Canada's only big league team, the Blue Jays.
"It would be great, being a Canadian," he said, "to play for our only Canadian team."
The buzz among scouts has been that Aumont will be taken in the first or second round of the draft. Boucher has no doubts on that prediction.
"I've seen him pitch plenty of times, and he's improved a lot over the past couple of years," Boucher said. "His breaking ball is much better now. His changeup is much better. He has the stuff, but now it's the pressure of having all of these scouts around that he'll have to deal with, and then the pressure to make the big leagues -- but that's what the Minor Leagues are for."
Aumont comes from a family of six, with one brother and two sisters and two proud and excited parents.
"They are pretty excited and nervous," Aumont said. "They want me to succeed."
Even with his talent, Aumont didn't really think about a career in professional baseball until a few months ago.
"When all the scouts started showing up about eight months ago, I realized that maybe this was possible, that I could play major league baseball someday," he said. "My advisor, Daniel Lawson, has been very supportive and has told me I could have a good future. I wasn't really thinking about it until then. I had to learn how to pitch and not just throw."
Aumont has played in baseball tournaments in Florida and was invited to spend time at the Indians' Spring Training camp in Florida in March. He made two appearances in extended Spring Training, one against the Tigers and one against the Indians, and was dominating against Cleveland.
"The mental part of it, [pitching], I've already improved," he said. "Playing baseball every day, playing in Florida and watching the Cleveland Indians in Spring Training has really helped me. But it's still a weird feeling when people tell you that you could turn pro."
Aumont hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of fellow French-Canadians Russell Martin and Eric Gagne and join them in the Majors.
"I've spoken to Eric, but not to Russell," Aumont sad. "A while back, I was at a banquet for Canadian baseball players and had a chance to talk with [Rockies lefty] Jeff Francis, but we talked baseball and not so much about being a Canadian baseball player."
The general scouting report on Aumont goes like this -- a heavy fastball that touches 96 mph, which he is able to keep down in the zone and a developing curve and slider that should continue to get better. He is also developing a nice feel for the changeup. Aumont is a big, powerful pitcher who's not a bad athlete for his size. He has a nice easy delivery. Aumont only has to get more experience to be right up there with his peers from Florida and Texas.
Boucher agreed, adding, "We look at the physical also. It's not easy throwing 94-95 mph for an entire game. We try and learn as much as possible about a player and compare notes and check who else is available in the upcoming draft. I've seen him often over the last three years, and even though he's come a long way, you could see it even back then. We definitely see him as a big-league starter one day."
With a bit of luck, good health and his strong desire to learn and improve, this amiable and genuinely modest teenager from Quebec shouldn't have to wait too long to pitch on the biggest stage in the world and against the best baseball has to offer.
Doug Bird is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.