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WBC Preview: Team Canada – A Club Without a Purpose

I love Baseball Canada. I believe I am one of Baseball Canada’s biggest fans. If you slap a Canadian jersey on a team, I will root as hard for those clubs to win as one can imagine. I also try to follow Canadian baseball players very closely; for the past five years I’ve had a running spreadsheet of all the Canadians playing in affiliated baseball, which has gotten more and more challenging as Canadian baseball has continued to grow.

The past two drafts have shown the strength of Canadian baseball not only by having elite talent taken in the top 15 (Cal Quantrill in 2016, and Josh Naylor in 2015), but also having the depth to have nine players selected in the top ten rounds of each of the 2015 and 2016 drafts. As such, I want to be clear that the criticism that is to come is in no way an indictment of the talent in Canadian baseball, but rather solely aimed at the composition of this year’s World Baseball Classic team.

The first question that I think needs to be asked before analyzing the roster is to ask “What is the objective of the World Baseball Classic?”

In Canada, I’d argue that the World Baseball Classic could provide many different purposes.

Objective 1 – Canada could put their absolute best foot forward, really put an emphasis on representing their country, and put together a team that looks something like the best 25 Canadian baseball players.

If Canada could actually do this, I think they would be a very live underdog in this tournament, and there are scenarios where I could see them even winning the tournament, which would be amazing.

For various reasons this largely wasn’t going to be possible in 2017. Catcher Russell Martin is unavailable due to insurance concerns, first baseman Joey Votto was taking a pass to focus on the season, shortstop Sean Jamieson was out with shoulder surgery, Michael Saunders was a free agent – and probably shouldn’t risk injury anyway, and Brett Lawrie isn’t playing because, well, I’m totally not sure why Brett Lawrie isn’t playing.

Since this option wasn’t a realistic possibility, I believe that Baseball Canada should’ve shifted fully towards…

Objective 2 – Canada should put an emphasis on youth development. Take the five or six major league calibre players available to this team, and fill around with nothing but young, recently drafted players or high ceiling prospects.

From a player and program development standpoint, you give a young player a platform to be seen across the country and work against the World’s best. From an entertainment aspect, the viewer gets to watch a young, exciting team and hopefully dream towards the future.

The offensive half of this roster fails to do that spectacularly.

While the team does have some youth in Mariners top prospect outfielder Tyler O’Neill & Padres first baseman Josh Naylor, in my opinion it is sorely missing Blue Jays third base wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Diamondbacks first round catcher Andrew Yerzy.

This doesn’t just apply to the top prospects listed above; there have been a total of 26 Canadians taken in the first ten rounds of the past four MLB drafts, and there are only three represented on this year’s squad.

Instead what we have been given is a roster that includes three players (Michael Crouse, Jonathan Malo, & Rene Tosoni) who last played baseball in the independent leagues, one player who seemingly retired last year (Pete Orr), and two current free agents whose careers could be at an end (George Kottaras and Justin Morneau).

If one wasn’t paying close attention, you could hear that the team was missing their starting shortstop (Jamieson) and second baseman (Lawrie), and think they had no other options but to turn to minor league veteran Jonathan Malo at short and Pete Orr at second base.

However, in this case Canada should be looking to a player like Charles LeBlanc, who the Tigers drafted in the fourth round last year, and who put up at least somewhat respectable numbers in his professional debut. I ask you the reader, who would you rather watch, 20 year old Charles LeBlanc, or 36 year old retired Pete Orr?

Had that choice been made only once or twice on the roster, it would be understandable, but when you turn to the outfield, you are met with a pair of indy leaguers again in Crouse and veteran Tosoni. Both of those players have been away from affiliated baseball long enough that it is impossible for me to get PECOTA projections for them to accompany the full hitter preview coming tomorrow. On the other hand, there are six Canadian outfielders who were drafted in the past three drafts, and I refuse to believe that one of Gareth Morgan, Demi Orimoloye, or Miles Gordon isn’t a better use of everyone’s time on the roster than a 31 year old Tosoni. Call me crazy.

In the case of many of the pitchers (who will be broken down at the end of the week), I understand why they might decline to participate in an event like the World Baseball Classic for fear of injury due to unusual workloads, however unless reported otherwise, I can’t understand position players having the same outlook. Thus, I have to assume that this is what Baseball Canada thinks is the best they can put forward and frankly, that’s incredibly disappointing.

Look for a full break down of Team Canada’s hitters on Wednesday, with the pitcher preview coming later in the week. 

Lead Photo: © Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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