Starting from the bottom: Canadian prospect finds it's a long road to the big leagues

Nobody said it would be easy.

Nobody said the road from the Toronto suburbs to the bright lights of Major League Baseball would be smooth.

Eighteen-year-old Andy Yerzy has quickly learned just how bumpy that road can be.

The game has always come naturally for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound catcher, and the Arizona Diamondbacks clearly saw promise when they made him the 52nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, rewarding him with a $1.2-million US signing bonus.

But no one hands you a spot on a big-league roster, and so Yerzy has started his professional career at the bottom of the Diamondbacks' minor-league system, bouncing back and forth between teams in Arizona and Montana.

Yerzy was only 17 when he arrived in Arizona last summer to begin his first year of professional baseball. It was an interesting year to move to the United States, he says.  

He kept his conversations focused on baseball. No politics.

"I really try and mind my own business," he says. "If people have certain beliefs, I let them have those beliefs."

Next level

Yerzy admits his first year of pro baseball was a struggle.

"[Rookie leagues] have a lot of guys who were just drafted, a lot of college guys," Yerzy says. "I was one of the younger players in the league but I didn't feel overwhelmed. I didn't do great but I didn't play terribly."

Being one the youngest players on the diamond wasn't new for Yerzy, who was named to the Canadian junior national team as a 15-year-old. But the pros are a step up.

"The junior national team does a great job in terms of being able to play against a high level of competition," Yerzy says. "But down here it's that level of pitching every single day, not for 12 days or for however long a national team trip is. It was every single day for three months. You really didn't catch a break."

Yerzy struggled at times both at and behind the plate, where he allowed seven passed balls in his first few games. He has learned just how difficult playing catcher can be.

"It was the same as the hitting — every single day you are going to see a good arm, throwing 90, 94 miles per hour," Yerzy explains. "And especially at lower levels of the minor leagues, the guys aren't going to have their command perfect yet, so they can be a little bit wild."

A chance to grow

There were bright spots. As the season progressed, Yerzy says he became more comfortable at the plate. In 45 games last year, he hit .216, including his first professional home run.

It's those moments that keep Yerzy's spirits up as he waits to find out where his baseball journey takes him next.

Currently, he is in Arizona, playing in what's known as extended spring training, waiting to see where he'll be assigned for the 2017 season. He lives in a motel close to the team's complex. There's free breakfast and clean towels.

Not bad, but not where he wants to be.

"It's everyone's goal to not be in extended spring training and start on a full-season team, but I don't see a reason that if I perform well I can't get called up," he says.

As a high draft pick, Yerzy will get a chance to grow, develop and prove himself. But he has learned that, at this level of baseball, nothing comes easy.

"It's definitely a long road but I don't see a reason why I'm not as talented as any of the guys there," he says. "It's going to come down to performance and how hard you work."