WBC Preview: Team Canada Hitters

Now that I fully depressed every reader with yesterday’s piece on the direction Canada chose to take with this roster, here is a preview of the position players who actually made the team. Some of them might even be exciting!

Catcher – George Kottaras – 34 – Free Agent
2017 PECOTA – .200/.327/.365 – .251 TAv – -0.4 WARP

George Kottaras is my favourite baseball player, so I’m thrilled to get one another opportunity to see him in anything resembling the spotlight. There isn’t a player over the past decade with a more defined set of skills and weaknesses. He is a poor defensive catcher, and he makes next to no contact, however he combines those massive black marks with an elite walk rate and isolated power. For near a decade now I’ve thought his left handed skill set made the perfect prototype for a backup catcher, but even during his prime he just was never able to stick in that role.

By 2017, Kottaras is now far from his prime. He hasn’t even gotten a cup of coffee in the major leagues since 2014, and he spent the 2016 bouncing between the Giants and the Braves AAA squads. He heads into the World Baseball Classic unsigned for the 2017 season and it’s conceivable he could be looking to turn heads and earn himself a minor league deal for the upcoming season.

As a catcher, especially one who’s left handed, Kottaras can essentially continue playing baseball as along as he wants to, and honestly, look at that PECOTA projection. You can’t tell me that’s any worse production than the Blue Jays have gotten from Josh Thole these past couple seasons. And from the left side no less! I still think George can play, and given the lifespan of catchers he’ll essentially have a career as a minor league catcher as long as he wants one.

George is great, everyone should appreciate him more.

Catcher – Kellin Deglan – 25 – Texas Rangers (Double A)
2017 PECOTA – .196/.249/.353 – .207 TAv – -1.1 WARP

Deglan was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, though for a well under slot contract. As a high school catcher (out of the Langley Blaze program) it’s unsurprising that he has moved slowly through the minor leagues, moving roughly a level every two years. However, what is more disappointing is how his bat has failed to developed.

Deglan struggles to make contact on a consistent enough basis to allow his power to play through; 2016 was his first full season at the Double A level and he struggled mightily, hitting below the Mendoza line and striking out more than 100 times in less than 300 plate appearances.

Deglan still has a very strong defensive reputation, and that paired with his ability to hit from the left side makes him seem like an ideal backup catcher. However after seven seasons in the minor leagues it seems very doubtful that Deglan’s bat will ever develop enough for that to happen. He will likely be ticketed back to Double A Frisco

First Baseman – Freddie Freeman – 27 – Atlanta Braves
2017 PECOTA – .282/.374/.481 – 3.5 WARP

Freddie Freeman! Holy crap! He’s not actually Canadian – he was born born and raised in Orange County, California – but both his parents were Canadian, so he qualifies! Not only does he qualify, he passionately wants to play for Canada. I legitimately teared up reading the story that he shared via Twitter after being named to the team last week.

If you are reading this website, you know who Freddie Freeman is. Simply put, he is a superstar. Had he not spent last season toiling away on the basement dwelling Braves, he would’ve had a strong case to make for the National League MVP award.

When Canadian baseball fans heard that Joey Votto was going to be taking a pass on this year’s World Baseball Classic, it looked like it would be a massive blow. With Freeman now emerging, Baseball Canada has managed to replace Votto with one of the five people on earth who could conceivably be an upgrade at first base. Given the weakness of the Canadian roster, Freeman will be leaned on as heavily as probably any other player in the tournament.

He is the only hitter on the Canadian roster that I expect to be in the major leagues on opening day, so Baseball Canada welcomes you with open arms, Mr. Freeman.

First Baseman – Justin Morneau – 36 – Free Agent
2017 PECOTA – .260/.319/.415 – .255 TAv – 0.3 WARP

As a youngster growing up in New Westminster, British Columbia, I played baseball as a youth at the Moody Park baseball diamond. It’s no longer possible to play baseball at “the Moody Park baseball diamond” because that park is now rightfully “Justin Morneau Field.” Although Morneau has not announced his retirement, there is a strong possibility that the 2017 World Baseball Classic is the last opportunity that Canadian baseball fans will have to pay homage to the player that I believe to be the fourth best Canadian baseball player of all time, after Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, deserved Hall of Famer Larry Walker, and future Hall of Famer (?) Joey Votto.

Justin Morneau arrived as a meaningful big leaguer in his age 25 season, when he won the American League MVP (at a time when three of the four major sports MVPs were Canadian), and for a five year span he was as good as any first baseman not named Albert Pujols.

Unfortunately in my mind, Morneau’s career will always have a twinge of sadness to it. He remains a tremendous “What-If” because as many of us remember, his career was derailed by chronic concussions stemming from an incident at second base with former Blue Jay John MacDonald in 2010. Up to that point, Morneau had been on his way to the best season of his career at age 29 and unfortunately since that injury he has never really been the same.

Happily he has been able to return and has managed to have a somewhat successful second act of his career, albeit as a journeyman. Morneau struggled last season as a part time player on a poor White Sox team and has not signed a contract with any team for even an invitation to spring training thus far. While it’s still a possibility that Morneau could catch on, I’m somewhat doubtful.

While it is incredibly unfortunate that Joey Votto is taking a pass on the tournament, I think a silver lining can be seen in the situation. Had Votto been on the team, the first base and designated hitter positions certainly would’ve been occupied by himself and Freddie Freeman, which would’ve relegated Morneau into a pinch hitting role. As it stands now, Morneau should be the team’s starting designated hitter and likely bat cleanup. This will afford Canadian fans ample opportunities to show our appreciation for Morneau’s spectacular career, but also hopefully give Morneau enough plate appearances to have a memorable final moment at the plate.

Here’s to you, Justin Morneau. You were great.

First Baseman – Josh Naylor – 20 – San Diego Padres (High A)
2017 PECOTA – .233/.263/.379 – .221 TAv – -1.1 WARP

When Josh Naylor was selected with the 12th overall pick of the 2015 MLB Draft, he became the highest Canadian hitter ever selected and the third highest picked ever (now fourth after Cal Quantrill). However, even at the time his selection was seen as somewhat of an overdraft, especially given his lack of flexibility as an offense only first baseman. Unfortunately for Naylor, his time as a professional has done his prospect status no favours.

While he has shown some promise on the field featuring emerging raw power and a surprising 11 stolen bases, off the field he was in a fairly ugly off field “prank” which involved his unwilling teammate being cut by a knife, and requiring surgery.

It was then incredibly unsurprising when the Marlins seemingly sold low on Naylor, and traded him in a deadline deal with the Padres for injured starter Andrew Cashner.

I think the hope with Naylor is that in a new organization he will be given a fresh start, and with the prodigious power that could emerge from his bat that he is still a legitimate prospect. However, and to speak frankly, I’m not especially pleased that a player with a chequered off-field history has been given what seems to be one of the few developmental slots on the roster.

With Freeman & Morneau ahead of Naylor on the roster it seems doubtful that he has a path to playing time, so I would much rather have seen this roster spot be given to either one of Canada’s young raw outfielders in Demi Orimoloye, or Gareth Morgan, or carried a third catcher in last year’s first round pick Andy Yerzy. That being said, I think we can look forward to Naylor’s getting a few pinch hit opportunities late in games, and who knows, he might run into a fastball.

Second Baseman – Pete Orr – 36 – Free Agent
2017 PECOTA – . /./. – . TAv – . WARP

Over the course of his 16 year career, Pete Orr managed to play over 700 major league games. In his prime he topped out as a replacement level backup second baseman you would’ve had no problem going into a season as the number three second baseman on your depth chart. Even then, he was never even a very good hitter at the Triple A level, topping out at around a .750 OPS in the minor leagues.

That was a decade ago. Orr hasn’t played a major league game since getting into 15 with the Phillies back in 2013, and last season he didn’t play baseball at any level, and I had assumed he had retired. If Orr’s role on this team projected to be anything more than veteran leader and backup, I don’t think I’d have a major issue with his presence. He is a veteran of the program, who is deserving of that role. However, due to the retirement of Taylor Green prior to 2016 and Brett Lawrie missing the tournament, it currently appears that Pete Orr will enter the tournament as the starting second baseman.

No offense to Orr, but I’d severely hoped that Baseball Canada could do better than this.

Shortstop – Daniel Pinero – 23 – Detroit Tigers (Low A)
2017 PECOTA – .210/.279/.338 – .215 TAv – -0.3 WARP

While most will focus on the loss of Joey Votto or Russell Martin from the Canadian roster, it’s quite possible that the biggest loss the Canadian roster suffered from what one would’ve projected over the offseason is that of Sean Jamieson, a shortstop in Triple A and on the Diamondbacks 40 man roster.

Jamieson doesn’t have tremendous upside, but he is campaigning to become just the second Canadian shortstop to play in the big leagues since Dave McKay retired in the early 1980s. Unfortunately for Baseball Canada, offseason shoulder surgery has rendered Jamieson unable to compete, so as a result the job will likely be turned over to 23 year old, 2016 ninth round draft pick Daniel Pinero.

Pinero is actually quite an exciting prospect, coming off an incredibly distinguished at the University of Virginia and winning a National Championship as a sophomore in 2015. He gargantuan for the position, officially listed at 6’5” 210 lbs, which immediately leads me to believe he will not be a shortstop long term. He would be the tallest shortstop in major league history were he to make it.

That being said, by the low bar generally set by Canadian shortstops, and frankly by the rest of this roster, Pinero is someone that I’m actually quite excited to get a chance to see. In his half season debut after being drafted last season he held his own in the Low-A New York Penn league, posting a .371 on base percentage and walking almost as much as he struck out.

On a Canadian team that will probably struggle to win games, these are the type of players that I want to be seeing getting an opportunity.

Shortstop – Jonathan Malo – 33 – Les Capitales de Quebec (Can Am League)
2017 PECOTA – . /./.- . TAv – . WARP


Third Baseman – Eric Wood – 24 – Pittsburgh Pirates (Double A)
2017 PECOTA – .228/.297/.371 – .231 TAv – -0.3 WARP

After being a sixth round draft pick in 2012, Eric Wood has steadily marched through the Pirates system as a relatively low upside third base prospect. Last season, his second in Double A, the doubles power which he’d always possessed in his bat turned into home runs, as he doubled his career total with a total of 16 on the season.

With only the troubled Jung-Ho Kang and David Freese ahead of him on the Pirates depth chart, I think it is quite possible that Wood has a path to big league playing time should he produce in Triple-A.

On this Canadian team, Wood’s right handed bat will help provide balance to a lineup which will lean to the left as it always does.

Right Field – Tyler O’Neil – 22 – Seattle Mariners (Double A)
2017 PECOTA – .235/.299/.461 – .262 TAv – 0

Finally, at long last we get to a player who, without reservations, we can get legitimately excited about getting the opportunity to see. Baseball Prospectus just named O’Neill as the Mariners #1 prospect and the #53 prospect in all of baseball, and I believe he has a very real chance to be the next great Canadian player.

O’Neill has prodigious power; his 56 home runs the past two seasons have been among the leaders in all the minor leagues. However along with all those tantalizing home runs has come a penchant to swing and miss.

There are very few major leaguers who were ever able to have success while striking out more than a quarter of the time like O’Neill has been doing in the minor leagues. O’Neill is either one of those incredibly rare players, or more likely he will have to improve his contact rate in order to achieve success at the major league level.

I hope to write more about O’Neill in the leadup to the tournament, but I believe that the 2017 World Baseball Classic is a massive opportunity for the young man to put his name on the map across this country. If I was drawing up this lineup, he would play every game in right field and ideally bat right behind Freeman and Morneau.

It is still possible this could be too early for O’Neill. He’s just 23 years old and likely headed to Triple A to start the season. I’m hoping a hot WBC can help carry O’Neill onto the fast track to Seattle before the All-Star break. With Shohei Otani now pulled out of the tournament, personally there isn’t a player I’m more excited to see than Tyler O’Neill.

Center Field – Dalton Pompey – 23 – Toronto Blue Jays (Triple A)
2017 PECOTA – .262/.336/.404 – .258 TAv – 0.5 WARP

I believe that the strange path his career has taken has done significant damage to people’s perception of where Dalton Pompey is as a baseball player. Had he not broken camp with the Blue Jays in 2015 and proceed to flop and be demoted after a poor April, Pompey would still be perceived much more as the 23 year old, toolsy, high upside center fielder he is, rather than the busted prospect how many are now viewing him.

There’s no doubt that the past two seasons have been rough ones for Pompey, both due to performance on the field and various injuries which have kept him from playing at full strength. I still believe that if given the opportunity Pompey could be a starting calibre center fielder (or potentially in left as well). Given how reluctant the Blue Jays appear to be to add any competition to their left field mix, Pompey’s path to playing time is fairly easy to see and I still have hope.

On this Canadian team, Pompey will be in a featured role. He will start every game in center and presumably lead off as well. Pompey is one of the more interesting Canadian players to watch, especially for Blue Jays fans.

Outfield – Jamie Romak – 31 – San Diego Padres (Triple A)
2017 PECOTA – ././. – . TAv – . WARP

Jamie Romak returns Stateside after a short-lived stay with the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2016. He only managed to get into 30 games with the Bay Stars last season, which was very surprising given that Romak was coming off multiple seasons as a superstar slugger at the Triple A level; in 2015 Romak led the entire Pacific Coast League in home runs with 27 while playing at altitude in Reno. Over the course of his career, Romak has played more than 100 games at both corner infield spots, and left and right field. While he is probably a fringe major league talent, Romak has landed in an organization which might need just that, the Padres.

For team Canada, Romak’s defensive versatility gives the team a good amount of flexibility. He could start games at third base over Eric Wood, but I expect him to get the starting nod in left field. His best skill is hitting lefthanded pitching, so ideally he would fall into a platoon. On this team, given their lack of talent, Romak will likely have to face right handed pitching as well.

Outfield – Michael Crouse – 25 – New Britain Bees (Atlantic League)
2017 PECOTA – ././. – . TAv – . WARP

Once upon a time, Michael Crouse was a Blue Jays minor leaguer who I hesitate to ever say was a legitimate prospect. Crouse was drafted out of high school in the 16th round of 2008 draft and through the seven years he spent in the Blue Jays system, he had all of one promising offensive season (2011 in Lansing).

Crouse was released by the Blue Jays after a disappointing 2014 season in Double A New Hampshire, and after taking the 2015 season off, he returned to the independent leagues in 2016. I haven’t seen any news over the offseason that Crouse has signed, so in all likelihood he will return to the independent leagues after this tournament.

Outfield – Rene Tosoni – 30 – Sugar Land Skeeters (Atlantic League)
2017 PECOTA – ././. – . TAv – . WARP

Do you remember Rene Tosoni? He played 60 games of well-below replacement outfield for the Minnesota Twins all the way back in 2011, and hasn’t played affiliated baseball since 2013. I really didn’t think I’d need to type Rene Tosoni’s name again, but this is where we are.

That brings us to the end of the 13 position players that have been named to Canada’s roster. It does stand out that unlike the other nations involved in the tournament, who have all named a roster of more than 30 players, Canada has only named a 28 player roster, so it is still possible that more players could still be added before the tournament begins.

One can only hope.

Check back in later in the week when Ewan will preview the Team Canada pitching staff. 

Lead Photo: © Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “WBC Preview: Team Canada Hitters”


Blah. Y’know… when I think of the WBC I like to imagine Canada as the scrappy underdog team that shocks the world by going on a cinderella run to the final… but this group… not even my imagination can they be good enough to do that.

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