I just have a few thoughts after watching Team Canada’s exhibition vs. the Blue Jays Tuesday afternoon, as well as the first few days of action in the Tokyo and Seoul.
Canada Roster Changes
Canada has officially announced three changes to their roster.
First, Blue Jays farmhand Mike Reeves has replaced Rangers prospect Kellin Deglan as the backup catcher. Reeves is a 25 year old career minor leaguer who has never played above the Single-A level. I’m disappointed that Baseball Canada didn’t turn to 2016 52nd overall pick Andy Yerzy to fill that role. With Greatest Living Canadian George Kottaras entrenched as the team’s starting catcher, I really think it makes more sense to give the exposure to the youngster over the steady veteran.
Secondly, Cubs prospect southpaw Ryan Kellogg has been added to the team, replacing the withdrawing Adam Loewen. Kellogg, a 5th round draft pick back in 2015, is someone I thought should’ve been on this team all along. At just 22, Kellogg made an impressive debut in full-season ball in 2016, posting an ERA a shade over 3.00 in his 24 appearances in the Mid-West league. Control appears to be his primary asset, walking just 26 batters in his 130 innings last season, and he looked quite good in the clean inning he posted on Tuesday.
The loss of Loewen is disappointing, as it removes the possibility of Loewen being used both ways in this tournament. With the Canadian roster only featuring four outfielders, including starting a player the calibre of Rene Tosoni vs. the Blue Jays, I thought there was at least a possibility of Loewen seeing some time as a corner outfielder, especially late in games. With this news, that option obviously goes out the window.
Lastly, Athletics reliever, and Team Canada closer John Axford withdrew from the tournament, and has been replaced by Phillies relief prospect Jesen Therrien. Therrien made a serious jump last season, reaching Double-A and nearly doubling his strikeout rate to more than 12 per 9 innings. Along with Kellogg, Therrien is a player I’d have liked to have seen on the roster from day one and an intriguing arm that I hope we get a chance to see during the tournament.
Canada is Shorthanded
Unless there are more last minute additions to the roster, Canada will be going into the World Baseball Classic with open slots remaining on their roster.
In the World Baseball Classic, teams are permitted a 28-man roster, and from the announcements Canada has made thus far there are only 26 players currently on the team.
I can’t for the life of me explain why Canada wouldn’t want a full roster of players. There are numerous roles on the club that could be filled by additional players. As things stand right now, Canada only has four outfielders and three middle infielders, an issue that could constrain key tactical moves late in ball games. Also, purely as a fan, knowing that there are open slots makes me even further question why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t sitting on the Canadian bench. Even if you didn’t think he could help the team on the field, Guerrero would provide an interesting talking point, and a point towards excitement in the future for Canadian baseball fans.
Things get really confusing when you turn to the World Baseball Classic site to try to further investigate the Canadian roster.
When you scroll down to the roster section of that page, you see three new pitchers added to the roster in Dominican born Jose Fernandez, Texan born John Stilson, & Florida born Justin Shafer. Two of these pitchers (Fernandez and Stilson) pitched for Team Canada in their exhibition game vs. the Jays on Tuesday, and it wasn’t clarified on the broadcast so I just assumed those players had been loaned to Canada for the game by Toronto. After seeing them on Team Canada’s roster, I’m now questioning myself. As someone who’s been covering Blue Jays prospects for a long time, I can say with a good degree of certainty that John Stilson is not Canadian.
Weird stuff’s going on. I just don’t know what.
Eric Gagne gave up a hit and a walk while pitching a scoreless third inning. To my untrained eye he looked like a fairly credible pitcher with a fastball in the low 90s, and a bevy of junk ranging from a slow looping curveball and his typical circle change, to a slider that I do not remember him throwing during his heyday. I’m certainly intrigued to see him pitch more during the tournament, but where are the goggles?!
Youngsters getting a chance
Dalton Pompey looked good. Pompey reached base in each of his four plate appearances (once by an error), stole a base, and made a highlight reel catch in center field. He is going to get an opportunity to star in this tournament and I continue to believe he’s the Blue Jays best option in left field.
I like that Ernie Whitt slotted Tyler O’Neill into the third slot in the lineup, but O’Neill struggled. After walking in his first at bat, O’Neill saw just nine pitches in his remaining three at bats, striking out on three pitches each time. The strikeouts will be there with O’Neill, I just really hope he gets a hold of one of the pitches he swings very hard at over the course of the tournament. He’s gonna make a baseball go a long way.
Padres prospect Josh Naylor replaced Freddie Freeman at first base in the fourth inning, and ripped a double to center field in one of his two at bats. Naylor also impressed defensively, snagging a line drive down the line. Naylor is obviously blocked on the roster by Morneau and Freeman, but it appears he should be the first bat off the Canadian bench.
Canada got screwed by the draw
After seeing the calibre of play being shown in the first two days of action in Asia, I’m becoming increasingly bitter that Canada was put into a group where they have practically no chance of advancing.
Even a Canadian team in its depleted state is a stronger team on paper than the upstart Israeli team advanced out of Pool A last night. Meanwhile in Pool B, it does appear that this version of the Cuban National Team is a weaker version than we’ve seen in the past, which is hardly surprising given the recent spate of defections. Were Canada in Pool B in place of Australia, their chances of advancing would likely ride on a single game against the Cubans, and I’d take that dice roll.
All those hopes and dreams feel completely dashed due to Canada’s situation of being paired with the Americans and the Dominicans, who are the two most talented teams in the tournament. It’s a shame.
George Kottaras Played!
He got a walk and a hit. He’s awesome.
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