November 17, 2017
Courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
St. Marys, Ont. – One finished second in National League MVP voting and led the majors in on-base percentage, while the other was named his team’s Pitcher of the Year and the American League Pitcher of the Month for July.
Yes, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) and James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) enjoyed excellent seasons in 2017. But so, too, did left-hander Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.), who went 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA in nine appearances for the Seattle Mariners down the stretch and Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.), who was named the Atlanta Braves’ organizational Pitcher of the Year after registering 11 wins and a 2.75 ERA in 26 double-A starts.
In another highlight, Canadian Women’s National Team member Claire Eccles (Surrey, B.C.) became the first female player to suit up in a collegiate West Coast League game.
And while these Canadians were starring in North America, several others were shining in the international ranks. Between triple-A and his 102-game tenure with the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns, Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) socked 42 home runs in 2017. And in Japan, Vancouver native Scott Mathieson posted a 2.24 ERA and fanned 79 batters in 68-1/3 innings for the Yomiuri Giants.
So in a year with so many highlights, how do you choose which Canadian stood out the most?
That’s the dilemma the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame faces, and they would like your input to determine Canada’s top performer as they prepare to chose their 2017 James “Tip” O’Neill Award winner. This honour is given out annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.
The Hall encourages you to vote for the players you think are worthy of this award by noon E.T. on Thursday, November 23. You can e-mail your top three choices (please be clear on your first, second and third selections) to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can vote on the Hall’s website at http://www.baseballhalloffame.ca.
Fan votes will be one of the criteria the Hall will take into account when selecting the winner, which will be announced on December 5.
Here’s a summary of the prime contenders (and their 2017 accomplishments) in alphabetical order. (The Hall also welcomes write-in votes for players not on this list):
Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.)
This 32-year-old lefty was the feel-good Canadian baseball story of the year. After posting a 12-3 record and a 2.61 ERA in 26 games (17 starts) for the triple-A Gwinnett Braves, Albers was dealt to the Seattle Mariners on August 11. In nine games (including six starts) down the stretch with the M’s, he went 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA and recorded 37 strikeouts in 41 innings.
Claire Eccles (Surrey, B.C.)
Eccles made history on June 7 when she became the first female to play in the collegiate West Coast League when she made a relief appearance for the Victoria HarbourCats. The 19-year-old left-hander pitched in seven games (one start) with the Cats and registered a win on June 29 against the Cowlitz Black Bears. She left the Cats in late July to join the Women’s National Team Summer Program.
Russell Martin (East York, Ont.)
In the third year of his five-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, this hard-nosed catcher, who was raised in Montreal, walloped 13 home runs and posted a .343 on-base percentage (OBP) in 91 games. On July 29, Martin suited up for his 1,500th major league game, making him just the fifth Canadian to reach that milestone. He was also active in charitable endeavors for the Jays Care Foundation, most prominently lending his name to the second annual 55 Poker Classic, which raises money for projects that will aim to shrink the opportunity gap for marginalized children across Canada.
Scott Mathieson (Vancouver, B.C.)
In his sixth season with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League, this 6-foot-3 right-hander posted a 2.24 ERA and finished eighth in the league in appearances (59). He also tied for sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.4) and 10th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.39). For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s top pitcher of the year in foreign or independent ball.
Noah Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)
In the 18U World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ont., in September, this 17-year-old slugger went 10-for-32 (.313 batting average) with three doubles and six runs in nine games to help the Canadian Junior National team to a fourth-place finish. For his efforts, he was named the third baseman on the tournament’s All-Star team. Among his other 2017 highlights were advancing to the High School Home Run Derby final at the Major League All-Star Game festivities in Miami and playing in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in July. A highly touted prospect heading into the 2018 draft, Naylor also became just the fourth Canadian to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic that took place at Petco Park in August.
Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.)
After beginning his season by belting 19 home runs in 93 games for the Seattle Mariners’ triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, the 22-year-old outfielder was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 21. O’Neill was assigned to the triple-A Memphis Red Birds, managed by Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp, where he would wallop 12 home runs and collect 39 RBI in 37 games to help the club to a franchise record in wins and a Pacific Coast League championship. He finished the season with a combined 31 home runs and an .820 OPS. For his strong season, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s co-offensive minor league player of the year (along with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.).
James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.)
This 6-foot-4 southpaw enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, posting career-bests in wins (12), starts (24), innings pitched (136), strikeouts (156) and ERA (2.98). His performance earned him American League Player of the Week honours twice (April 17 and July 31) and the Seattle Mariners’ Pitcher of the Year award. Paxton didn’t permit a run in his first 23 innings of the 2017 campaign, the longest streak to begin the season in Mariners’ history. In July, Paxton went 6–0 with a 1.37 ERA with 46 strikeouts in six starts and became one of 10 left-handers in major league history to record at least six wins with an ERA of 1.40-or-better and at least 40 strikeouts in a month. Also, with his six wins in July, he became the first Mariner to notch six wins in a month.
Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.)
After toeing the rubber for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, the 6-foot-5 right-hander went 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA in five starts for the Philadelphia Phillies’ triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs before being called up. The 24-year-old rookie proceeded to post an 8-10 record and strike out 140 batters in 133 innings in 26 starts for the Phillies. He ranked second among National League rookie pitchers in strikeouts and third in starts.
Jamie Romak (London, Ont.)
After a red-hot start with the San Diego Padres’ triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas that saw him bat .347 with 11 home runs in 25 games, the right-handed hitting slugger was sold to the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns. In 102 games in Korea, he added 31 home runs, for a combined total of 42 – the most by any Canadian in the professional ranks this season. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s offensive player of the year in foreign or independent ball.
Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.)
In his third season in the Atlanta Braves organization, the 20-year-old righty recorded 11 wins and a 2.75 ERA and struck out 125 in 153-2/3 innings for the double-A Mississippi Braves. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s minor league Pitcher of the Year and the Braves’ organizational Pitcher of the Year. He was also selected to pitch in the MLB Futures Game and was named to Baseball America’s double-A All-Star Team.
Jesen Therrien (Montreal, Que.)
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander was dominant in double-A and triple-A in 2017, posting a combined 1.41 ERA in 57-1/3 innings while registering 65 strikeouts before being called up by the Phillies on July 28. Therrien would make 15 relief appearances for the Phillies before being placed on the 60-day disabled list on September 11. He has since undergone Tommy John surgery.
Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.)
The Cincinnati Reds first baseman, who was a close runner-up for the National League MVP Award, set a franchise record by reaching base 321 times this season (He broke his own record of 319 set in 2015) and finished the 2017 campaign as the NL leader in OBP (.454), walks (134), intentional walks (20) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) (1.032). Votto also ended up third in the league in batting average (.320), tied for fifth in home runs (36) and sixth in slugging percentage (.578). In the field, he topped NL first basemen in assists and was named a Gold Glove finalist. He also became the first Reds player in a non-strike season to start all 162 games since 1975. For his efforts, he was named to the NL All-Star team for the fifth time and was nominated for the NL’s Hank Aaron Award. Votto is also heavily involved with the Reds Community Fund, the club’s non-profit arm that’s dedicated to improving the lives of youth. He also regularly visits the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and participates in meet and greets with patients and staff at the ballpark throughout the season.
Jim Adduci (Burnaby, B.C.), John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.), Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) and Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) also appeared in the big leagues in 2017, while Scott Richmond (North Vancouver, B.C.) and Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) served as key starters in the Chinese Professional Baseball League and Korean Baseball Organization respectively.
The Hall’s Tip O’Neill Award is named after Woodstock, Ont., native James “Tip” O’Neill, who was one of Major League Baseball’s first legitimate stars. With the American Association’s St. Louis Browns in 1887, O’Neill set big league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases, while compiling a major league record .492 batting average. Walks were counted as hits in 1887, but if O’Neill’s average was calculated by today’s standards, it would be .435, the second-highest in big league history to Hugh Duffy who hit .440 in 1894.
Past winners of the James “Tip” O’Neill Award:
1984 – Terry Puhl
1985 – Dave Shipanoff
1986 – Rob Ducey
1987 – Larry Walker
1988 – Kevin Reimer
1989 – Steve Wilson
1990 – Larry Walker
1991 – Daniel Brabant
1992 – Larry Walker
1993 – Rob Butler
1994 – Larry Walker
1995 – Larry Walker
1996 – Jason Dickson
1997 – Larry Walker
1998 – Larry Walker
1999 – Jeff Zimmerman
2000 – Ryan Dempster
2001 – Corey Koskie
2001 – Larry Walker
2002 – Eric Gagné
2002 – Larry Walker
2003 – Eric Gagné
2004 – Jason Bay
2005 – Jason Bay
2006 – Justin Morneau
2007 – Russell Martin
2008 – Justin Morneau
2009 – Jason Bay
2010 – Joey Votto
2011 – Joey Votto
2011 – John Axford
2012 – Joey Votto
2013 – Joey Votto
2014 – Justin Morneau
2015 – Joey Votto
2016 – Joey Votto