GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Four years ago, the Indians asked a then-17-year-old Nick Weglarz to make the drive from his home near Niagra Falls, Canada, to Cleveland for a pre-Draft workout. It was all pretty standard, right up until the baby-faced Canuck with the Paul Bunyan body picked up a wooden bat and stepped into the batter's box at the ballpark then known as Jacobs Field.
"He started hitting homers to the second deck in right field," scouting director John Mirabelli recalled, shaking his head. "He really put on a show." This spring, Weglarz, now 21, is taking his show on the road. He'll leave Saturday to represent Canada in the World Baseball Classic. The team will train in Clearwater, Fla., then begin Pool C play against the U.S. at Rogers Centre in Toronto on March 7. Weglarz is no stranger to the world stage. He initially got the Indians' attention while playing for Canada's junior national team as a teenager, and he also played on Canada's Olympic team last summer in Beijing. "I'd never turn down a chance to [represent Canada]," he said. "At the Olympics, it was pretty cool to think that all the best athletes in the world are right there in that little section of the world. Half the world's watching the opening ceremonies. To be with your country walking out there is pretty special." Weglarz, a third-round selection in the '05 Draft, has been putting up pretty special numbers in the Indians' system. At Class A Kinston last year, he hit .272 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and a .828 OPS in 106 games. What really stands out, though, is his walk total. He drew 71 walks against 78 strikeouts in 375 at-bats, posting a .396 on-base percentage. "He's really evolved," Mirabellli said. "He's a big, strong kid, but the hard thing to project is his patience and knowledge of the strike zone." Weglarz makes it sound pretty simple. "I know the Indians like seeing the walk percentage and on-base percentage," he said. "I try not to go out of the zone that much. I just wait for my pitch and, when I get it, don't miss it." You can't miss the red-headed Weglarz walking around the Indians' Player Development Complex. He's listed at 6-foot-3, and he's at least 250 pounds, with arms as thick as thighs. Some have compared his size to that of Jim Thome or Travis Hafner, but neither Thome nor Pronk were this big at this age. "When I was 12 or 13, I was 215 pounds," he said with a smile. "Playing hockey, that helps. I could crush kids when I played. Then I actually lost some weight, and I've just been putting it on and getting bigger ever since." Weglarz will have to watch how big he gets as he develops further, especially if he's going to have a future in the left field, his current position. "A lot of people think he's going to get too big for the outfield," Mirabelli said. "But I think he's going to stay out there. It's not like he's a clogger or a poor runner. He's a serviceable runner, and his arm's good. I think he's going to be an average Major League defender in left." Quite a bit of Minor League grooming still separates Weglarz from the Majors, obviously, but he figures to get his first taste of Double-A Akron this season. "I hope I have a good year and can show people what I do," he said. "I just want to have a good year and be consistent. That's the main thing. Keep my same approach I've had for the last two years." And if he makes it to Progressive Field, better bring your glove to the second deck.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.