My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· One of my annual traditions when I visit Dunedin Stadium is to find the names of Canadians who once starred for the Dunedin Blue Jays’ on the club’s wall of excellence located in the concourse down the right field line. The name of each Dunedin Blue Jay that eventually made the big leagues is on this wall. Each year, I make it a point to find Marysville, N.B., native Paul Hodgson’s name (photo above). He is the second Canadian (to Vancouver native Dave McKay) to suit up for the Blue Jays and a friend of mine. My hope is that this wall will be incorporated into the stadium renovations which are set to begin this month.
· Canadian Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) just can’t shake the injury curse. In case you haven’t heard, Pompey bumped his head on some bats above his locker prior to the game on Thursday. This might seem trivial to some, but for a player with a history of concussions, it’s very serious. This is Pompey’s third concussion (He had concussions in 2016 and 2017) and he’s now sidelined indefinitely under MLB’s concussion protocol. This setback ended what had been a relatively productive spring for the 26-year-old Canuck. The speedy outfielder had 11 hits in 39 at bats (.282 batting average) with five runs, three doubles, a home run and two stolen bases in 14 contests. The switch-hitting outfielder, who has had brief major league stints with the Blue Jays in four previous seasons, is out of minor league options. This means that when he’s activated he’ll have to occupy a spot on the club’s 25-man roster or he’ll be forced to clear waivers before being reassigned to the minors. Pompey was facing stiff competition from fellow young outfielders/outfield prospects Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk, Billy McKinney and Anthony Alford for a big league roster spot. But there were indications the Blue Jays were interested in retaining him. They had designated outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (since traded to the Baltimore Orioles) for assignment on March 5, Alford was sent to the minors on Tuesday and McKinney has seen a lot of playing time at first base. All of these moves seemed to open the door at least a crack for Pompey to head north with the club. His status is now up in the air, but it seems likely he’ll begin the season on the disabled list.
· In other bad news from Blue Jays’ camp, right-hander John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) was released by the club on Saturday after he had been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right elbow two days earlier. Blue Jays reporter Gregor Chisholm pointed out that this is the same injury that sidelined Chicago Cubs starter Yu Darvish after just eight starts last season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had allowed just one earned run in four appearances this spring after being signed to a minor league deal on February 8. Axford went 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 45 appearances for the Blue Jays last season before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. Set to turn 36 on April 1, the Canuck reliever has registered a 3.87 ERA and notched 144 saves in 543 big league appearances in his 10-year major league career that has included stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s, Blue Jays and Dodgers.
· On Monday, the Colorado Rockies released Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.). The left-handed hitting outfielder had gone 6-for-23 (.261 batting average) in 14 games for the Rockies. Saunders hasn’t suited up at a professional level since he was released by the Chicago White Sox last June. He played a combined 38 games in triple-A in the White Sox and Orioles organizations in 2018 and batted .158 with two home runs. The 32-year-old Canadian has struggled since his all-star campaign with the Blue Jays in 2016 in which he belted a career-best 24 home runs. He split 2017 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Blue Jays, where he hit a combined .202 with six home runs in 73 games. In all, Saunders has batted .232 and socked 81 home runs in parts of nine big league seasons.
· St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt announced on Friday that Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) has made the club’s Opening Day roster as a back-up outfielder. The muscular 23-year-old has belted a team-best five home runs for the Cardinals this spring. O’Neill made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2018 and socked nine home runs and had a .500 slugging percentage in 61 big league games. He also batted .311 and clubbed 26 homers and collected 63 RBI in 64 triple-A contests. Originally selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners, O’Neill was dealt to the Cards for left-hander Marco Gonzales on July 21, 2017.
· Markham, Ont., native Jordan Romano was told by the Texas Rangers on Thursday that he will not make the club’s 25-man roster. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was selected by the Chicago White Sox from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft in December and then flipped to the Rangers for cash. Romano, who was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, posted a combined 12-8 record and a 4.11 ERA in 26 starts between double-A and triple-A last season. As a Rule 5 selection, he had to crack the Rangers’ 25-man roster this spring. He will now have to clear waivers for the Rangers to retain him or he can be sent back to the Blue Jays organization for half of the $100,000 Rule 5 draft price. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told reporters on Friday that Romano is “more than likely” headed back to the Blue Jays organization. The Canuck hurler was originally chosen by the Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 2014 MLB draft.
· Veteran Jim Adduci (Burnaby, B.C.) was reassigned to the Chicago Cubs minor league camp on March 16. The Canadian outfielder/first baseman went 9-for-40 with a home run, a double and five walks (good for a .381 OBP) in 19 games for the Cubs this spring. The 33-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in December, enjoyed his longest tenure in the big leagues in 2018, batting .267 in 59 games for the Detroit Tigers. He also hit .309 and socked seven home runs in 70 contests for the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. The 6-foot-2 Canadian previously played parts of three major league seasons with the Tigers (2017) and the Texas Rangers (2013-14). Selected by the Florida Marlins in the 42nd round of the 2003 MLB Draft, he has now suited up for parts of 15 professional seasons. This represents his second tenure in the Cubs’ organization. He also played in the Cubs’ system from 2007 to 2012.
· The Cubs also reassigned North Vancouver native Rowan Wick to minor league camp on the same day as Adduci. The Canadian right-hander posted a 5.40 ERA with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings in seven appearances for the Cubs this spring after he was acquired from the San Diego Padres on November 20. Following a strong showing with the Padres’ double-A and triple-A affiliates that saw him register 14 saves, post a 2.67 ERA and strike out 64 batters in 54 innings last season, the hard-throwing right-hander was called up to make his big league debut on August 31. He tossed a scoreless ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies in his first taste of big league action. In all, in 10 appearances with the Padres, Wick toed for the rubber for 8 1/3 innings and struck out seven, while registering a 6.48 ERA. The 26-year-old Canuck, who was converted from a catcher and outfielder to a pitcher while in the Cardinals organization in 2015, has played parts of eight minor league seasons since being selected by the Cards in the ninth round of the 2012 MLB draft.
· This week’s trivia question: Who holds the record for most stolen bases in a major league season by a Canadian? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1979 Topps Gaylord Perry card, a 1983 O-Pee-Chee Tony Perez card, a 1987 Leaf Pete Rose card and a 2005 Fleer Ultra Albert Pujols card.