Team Canada Lineup Speculation

Although the qualifying round for the 2013 World Baseball Classic is still a year away, I can’t help but speculate as to what the composition of Team Canada’s roster will be.

In June of this year, Major League Baseball announced that the 2013 World Baseball Classic Field will be expanded to 28 teams. 

This new “Qualifying Round” will consist of 4 4-team divisions with the bottom 4 teams from the last iteration of the World Baseball Classic serving as the top seeds in each division. Those 4 teams are: Canada, Chinese Taipei, Panama and South Africa.

These qualifying games will take place in the Fall of 2012 in a six-game double elimination format – the same as the 2009 Classic.  With Canada having to play its way into the tournament, having a solid team that plays well together is important in order to avoid the type of embarassment suffered vs. Italy in the last World Baseball Classic.

Without further adieu, this is the 25-man roster as I see it heading into the 2012 qualifying round.

Coaching Staff

Many were calling for manager Ernie Whitt’s head following Canada’s embarassing 6-2 loss to Italy.  Fans were disgruntled that Whitt chose relative no-names Mike Johnson and Vince Perkins to start games 1 & 2 and left the team’s de-facto ace - Scott Richmond – on the bench.  Whitt was kept on, however, and has recently guided Team Canada to a first-place finish in Group 1 at the 2011 IBAF World Cup and a bronze medal overall.  He’ll be joined by coaches Larry Walker, Stubby Clapp, Denis Boucher and Tim Leipner.  In the event that Whitt is unable to manage, Stubby Clapp will be there to take the reigns:

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First Base

Joey Votto

What can you say? Votto is a lock at 1B.  An absolute stud in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Votto not only has the international experience but he is also the best first-baseman in MLB not named Pujols or Fielder. 

Those clamouring for Justin Morneau to play 1B should remember that he is a constant concussion-case and would be better suited to a DH-role.

Second Base

Taylor Green

Green, a third-baseman by trade, had a torrid season for Triple-A Nashville in 2011. The Comox, British Columbia native hit .336 with 22 HR, 88 RBI, a .413 OBP and had a .997 OPS. If he can turf Casey McGehee at 3B for the Brewers in 2012, we’ll be able to have a clearer picture of what Green brings to the table. The fact that Green can play second base makes him very valuable to this team.

 

Mark Teahen

Canada has a problem producing middle-infielders.  That is a fact.  Teahen, although not a natural second-baseman, is the best of a very weak bunch at the MLB-level.  A utility infielder at this stage in his career, it is conceivable that Teahen can play a serviceable second.  He’ll be 6 years removed from an .800+ OPS so…. there’s that.  At least one won’t have to worry about his commitment to the team.

Third Base

Brett Lawrie

The 21-year-old Langley, B.C. native and starting third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, Brett Lawrie had an incredibly productive season split between Triple-A Las Vegas and Toronto.  Rarely has an athlete, a rookie, a Canadian no less, captured the imagination of a city as fast as Lawrie did upon his arrival in Toronto in early August.

After just 43 games, Lawrie led all rookies in the majors over that time in triples (4), slugging percentage (.580), total bases (86), and OPS (.961).  His total of 9 home runs since his debut tied him for first.

You can bet on Lawrie being Canada’s starting third baseman unless he finds himself on the disabled list yet again as a result of his all-out style of play.


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Shortstop

Jonathan Malo

Shortstop for Canada has always been a black hole and there doesn’t seem to be much on the horizon to contradict that fact.  There are a handful of guys who could plug the gaping hole here but none of them can really hit.  Malo, who spent some time this season at Triple-A Buffalo, is probably the best of the bunch defensively.  He gets the nod. 

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This just in:  Malo made the 2011 IBAF World Cup All-Star team as shortstop.

Cale Iorg has an outside shot should he ever be able to hit a baseball.  Keep an eye on Skyler Stromsmoe.

Outfield

Jason Bay

Jason had a poor season by his standards, having struggled with injuries through much of 2011.  He did, however, post a .313/.392/.563 slash line for the month of September.  That may mean he’s returned to health, or it may mean he loves to hit against September call-up pitching.  Regardless, he’s  on this team.

Rene Tosoni

The 25-year old Tosoni got his feet wet with the Minnesota Twins this year and struggled at times with the bat, but showed promise in the outfield defensively.  We’ll know more about Tosoni after the 2012 season.  Right now he’s on the bubble along with Michael Saunders and Adam Loewen.


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Michael Saunders

Saunders played centrefield this year for the Seattle Mariners in place of the injured Franklin Gutierrez, and he played it well.  What he didn’t do well was swing the bat – are you starting to see a theme here?


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Adam Loewen

Loewen had a breakout season in Triple-A Las Vegas in 2011, putting up a .306/.377/.508 line.  He was rewarded with a September callup and…. struggled with the bat.  He strikes out a lot;  Loewen struck out in almost 50% of his major league at bats.  However, Loewen (a former pitcher) has a cannon of an arm and would be well-suited to play rightfield for Team Canada.


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Adam Stern

Stern played for Canada in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.  He’s most known for 2 game-saving catches in centrefield to help Team Canada defeat Team USA 8-6 in 2006.  In that game Stern was a double short of hitting for the cycle and drove in 4 runs.  That said, Stern has 43 career major league at-bats and a career OBP of .156.  Bob Elliott tweeted me that he’s retired and is now running an indoor baseball facility in London, Ontario.  Could he be coaxed out of retirement for at least the qualifying round?  I’d bet on it.

Catcher

Russell Martin

Martin is one of the better catchers in all of baseball.  As long as he’s healthy, he’s the starting catcher.  This one’s a no-brainer.


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George Kottaras

In limited playing time this season, Kottaras put up a respectable .252/.311/.459 line. As well, he gained valuable post-season experience as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. 


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Cubs prospect Chris Robinson has an outside shot at the backup spot based on Martin’s and Kottaras’ health.

Designated Hitter

Justin Morneau

Morneau and his well-documented concussion problems were at it again in 2011, in addition to shoulder and wrist injuries.  He had his worst season to date in 2011, posting a slash line of .227/.285/.333 – well off his career norm of .281/.353/.499.  A healthy Morneau is a dangerous Morneau, and a 3-4 of Votto-Morneau in the batting order would be a challenge for opposing pitchers.

Utility

Pete Orr

Aside from Ernie Whitt, Pete Orr was one of the goats of the 2009 squad that lost to Italy. Orr can play an average second-base defensively, but has an even worse bat than Teahen does. Or does he? In 2012 father time might leapfrog Orr ahead of Teahen. We’ll see. Both are left-handed hitters.

Marcus Knecht

With so much uncertainty in the Canadian outfield, Marcus Knecht can propel himself into the picture with a successful 2012 season.  For a more detailed look at Knecht, click on his name above. 

Michael Crouse

Knecht’s teammate in Lansing, Michael Crouse, has just a good a shot at an outfield spot as Knecht does.   While he is a tick below Knecht in the power and average department, Crouse brings a valuable tool to the game that is lacking on the Canadian team:  speed.  Crouse was 38/46 in steals in 101 games.  He could make this team as a late-inning pinch runner.

Shawn Bowman

Idolizing Kelly Gruber growing up, Bowman became a third baseman.  There might not be a spot on the roster for Bowman because of the glut of third basemen who can play for Canada, but he’s put up OPS numbers of .780 and .814 the past two seasons at AAA.

Jimmy Van Ostrand

Van Ostrand has an outside shot at cracking this Team Canada roster based on his vast international experience.  A 27-year old in Double-A, Van Ostrand has a reputation for coming through with clutch hits and baseball World Cups and Olympic events.  That is, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Starting Rotation

Rich Harden

Harden missed the 2006 & 2009 World Baseball Classics due to injury.  If his comments from 2006 and 2009 are any indication, Rich will do all that he can to make himself available to play on Team Canada in 2012.


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Erik Bedard

Like Rich Harden, Bedard is a bit of an enigma.  The oft-injured left-hander can be untouchable when he’s on and an embarassment when he’s off.  The trouble is, he’s on as much as he is off.  His health will dictate his success and whether or not he decides to play for Team Canada in the qualifying round.


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Ryan Dempster

Dempster struggled this season.  Although he had an ERA near 5, he pitched over 200 innings for the 7th time this season.  Control problems plagued him as he walked 86 in 202 innings.  Dempster has always weaseled his way out of donning the Team Canada jersey in the past, so I wouldn’t expect him to join the team for the 2012 qualifying round.  But you never know.


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Jeff Francis

You know what you’re getting with Jeff Francis:  a below league-average left handed pitcher.  Which should be more than enough for the qualifying round, at least.

Shawn Hill

With Shawn Hill you don’t know what you’re getting.  What I mean by that is that at any moment, his arm could shatter into a million pieces.  After taking the 2011 regular season off to rehab god-knows-what, Hill played for Canada at the  2011 IBAF World Cup and pitched well.  It’s a crapshoot if he’ll be healthy enough to play in 2012.  Only time will tell.


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Scott Richmond

Richmond is on the bubble after a piss-poor regular season and World Cup performance.  He’s only on this team if a whole lot of pitchers refuse to play or are hurt.

Bullpen

John Axford

What can you say about this guy?  The “Axman” was simply dominant during the 2011 regular season.  The 28-year old Axford saved 46 games out of 48 opportunies, had a 1.95 ERA and struck out 86 in 73.2 innings.  He’s been lights out in the post-season, helping his Milwaukee Brewers to the 6th game of the NLCS.  The opposition won’t have a chance against him in the qualifying round.


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Blake Hawksworth

Hawksworth had a decent season for the Dodgers in 2011, pitching 53 effective relief innings with a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio.  He’ll be a solid piece of the bullpen puzzle.


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Jesse Crain

Crain has been an effective MLB reliever for 6 of his 8 seasons.  In 2011, Crain was lights out.  He struck out 70 in 65.1 innings and had a 2.62 ERA.  I have him pencilled in as the set up man to work the 8th inning and hand the lead off to the Axman.


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Trystan Magnuson

Former Blue Jay prospect Trystan Magnuson was traded to the Oakland Athletics along with Daniel Farquhar in exchange for speedy centrefielder Rajai Davis.   Magnuson made his major-league debut for Oakland this season and in short, he was not good.    In Triple-A Sacramento, Magnuson was much more effective:  46 strikeouts in 45.1 innings and opponents hit only .210 when facing him.  Magnuson should battle Scott Richmond for the Mop-Up Duty role on Team Canada.

Scott Mathieson

Mathieson spent most of 2011 pitching for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate and he pitched effectively.   He struck out 83 in 82.1 innings, however he walked an awfully high number of hitters.  50 in fact.  That’s not good.   Mathieson is trying to refine his control currently for the Tiburones de La Guaira in Venezuela.  Buena suerte to him.

Phillippe Aumont

Aumont is best known for his electrifying performance for Team Canada vs. Team USA at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.  For more on Aumont, click on his name above.  He’s finally putting it all together and should be slotted in to the 7th inning role ahead of Jesse Crain and John Axford.

Chris Leroux

The imposing 6’6″ Chris Leroux has a good chance of playing for Team Canada in 2012 and beyond.  Leroux made his debut in 2011 for the Pirates and pitched exceptionally well in limited work.  In 25 innings, Leroux struck out 24 and walked 7 with a 2.88 ERA, while not allowing a single homerun.


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Ones To Watch

Since we’re still a year away from the qualifying round, it needs to be said that a lot can change between now and then.  These players have an outside shot at making the team should they have a productive 2012 campaign:

RJ Swindle

Since Team Canada doesn’t have a left-handed reliever in the pen, opportunity could come knocking on RJ Swindle’s door.  Swindle has bounced between Triple-A and The Show, without achieving much success at the major-league level.  That said, he was effective at Triple-A Durham this season, appearing in 39 games while limiting opposing batters to a .205 average.  He might become Canada’s “LOOGY” – Left-handed One Out Guy.


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Nick Weglarz

Weglarz made an appearance for Team Canada on the 2009 World Baseball Classic team and did little to make an impression.  The Cleveland Indians’ prospect was injured for much of the 2011 season, however, he has great promise: Weglarz has posted an OPS over .800 the past 4 seasons.  An on-base freak, a healthy Weglarz could catapult himself into a starting OF position with a successful – and healthy – 2012 season.

James Paxton

The 37th overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009, Paxton refused to sign and went on to pitch in an independent league.  The Seattle Mariners selected him in 2010 and in 2011 he was assigned to single-A Clinton.  In 11 starts he was 3-3 with a 2.73 ERA, walking 30 and striking out 80 in 56 innings.  He was even better after being promoted to Double-A Jackson:  7 starts, 39 innings, 51 strikeouts, 13 walks and an ERA of 1.85.  Paxton could easily be the left-handed reliever on this team or even make his way into the rotation with a strong 2012 season.

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Although many things can happen between now and late 2012, I believe this list is a fairly accurate representation of what the composition of Team Canada will look like (save for a few dropouts who won’t view the qualifying round as important).  With this roster, Canada should breeze through the qualifying round easily.  I emphasize the word should because we all remember what happened against Italy in 2009. 

Who’s on your list?  Did I slight anyone?  Let me know in the comments section.

has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram (@callumhughson)

  • http://www.denote.ca Chris K

    “Magnuson should battle Scott Richmond for the Mop-Up Duty role on Team Canada.”

    Grooooooooan.

    LOVE the article. Would love to read more on James Paxton if you haven’t written anything. I recall a while back trying to find info on him and whether he signed with any team or anything and could only find old news story comments that died off in late 2010…

    • http://mopupduty.com/index.php/about-mop-up-duty/authors_callum_hughson/ Callum Hughson

      Sure Chris, I can put something together. It’s been an interesting contrast between Paxton and Jake Eliopoulos, both Canadian pitchers picked by the Jays in the same draft who refused to sign. While Eliopoulos has faded into obscurity, Paxton appears to be a rising star.

      • http://www.denote.ca Chris K

        Also, somewhat (but not quite related) to Paxton. What was the name of that player (pitcher I believe) not too long ago (I think a Boras advisee) who got a bit too greedy, turned down an obscene amount of money, went to college, sucked, was offered less money and drafted later, went to play independent, sucked further, still got drafted but offered less money, refused to sign, then continued to suck until he signed a standard minor league deal?

        What a story…I wish I could read the full thing again and my attempts to Google searching are turning up nil.

        • http://mopupduty.com/index.php/about-mop-up-duty/authors_callum_hughson/ Callum Hughson

          I think you’re thinking of Eliopoulos.

          • http://www.chriskol.com Chris K

            No this wasn’t a Jay….I’ll keep researching.

          • http://www.chriskol.com Chris K

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Harrington

            Matt Harrington. What a cautionary tale and “amazing” story.

          • http://www.chriskol.com Chris K
          • http://mopupduty.com/index.php/about-mop-up-duty/authors_callum_hughson/ Callum Hughson

            Ah yes, I have read that. I’m surprised he hasn’t committed suicide. You can bet every GM/scouting director throws down a copy of that article during negotiations with every player during the signing period.

  • Tommy Thompson

    What about Mark Hardy?

    • http://mopupduty.com/index.php/about-mop-up-duty/authors_callum_hughson/ Callum Hughson

      It’s too soon to tell with Hardy. While he’s decent enough, he’s only at single-A. Could he progress enough to make the roster in a year? It’s possible, but not likely. It could happen if a slew of players bow out because of injury or apathy.