By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
–Langley Blaze and Junior National Team alum Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) is among the major league leaders with 13 hits so far this spring. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder is 13-for-33, good for a .394 batting average. Two of those hits have been home runs. Baseball America recently identified him as one of 25 players that scouts believe could have a breakout season. “A little bit towards the end of last year I saw him driving the ball to the opposite field more and that’s what he’s doing now,” a scout told Baseball America. “He’s driving fastballs oppo [to the opposite field] and he’s still on breaking balls. In the past he’s been more pull-oriented and really scuffled with secondaries.” The Cardinals are obviously hoping O’Neill’s success at the plate carries over into the regular season. He batted .173 with seven home runs in 50 games in 2020, but won a Gold Glove Award for his defence in left field.
-Also among Grapefruit League leaders in hits this spring is Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The Montreal-born infielder, who turned 22 on Tuesday, is 12-for-20 (.600 batting average) in 10 games this spring. Like O’Neill, he is identified in the recent Baseball America article as one of the 25 players that scouts believe could have a breakout season. “He’s stinging the ball. He crushed one the other day,” said a scout for the article, which was published on Wednesday. “At first base, he made two really nice plays around the bag. He’s more athletic now than you would expect. In terms of him getting more athletic and losing some weight, that was obviously a priority for them this off-season. His swing is a little more loose and he’s able to get it through the zone a little bit better than what he’s been. He had some trouble with the weight gain and some of the looseness and the athleticism in his swing last year. It’s still big pop. We forget he’s (22). I think he’s going to have a big year. Especially with the lineup he’s in, you can’t pitch around anybody.”
-According to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times, North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) will get his first Cactus League start for the Seattle Mariners today. Earlier in the week, Divish shared that the delay in getting Paxton into Cactus League action has had nothing to do with the Canadian lefty’s health, but rather work visa issues. “Major League Baseball sources confirm that Paxton has been dealing with issues in getting his work visa approved by the Canadian government since spring training started,” wrote Divish on Monday. Paxton, who signed a one-year, $8.5-million deal in February to return to the club he spent his first six big league seasons with, has been pitching on the back fields at M’s camp. The 32-year-old southpaw, who underwent back surgery last February, made just five starts for the New York Yankees in 2020, going 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA prior to being sidelined with a flexor strain in his throwing arm on August 20. In all, the Canuck lefty has pitched in parts of eight major league campaigns and had a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019.
-According to Craig Mish, of the MLB Network, it seems likely that Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) will be on the Miami Marlins’ Opening Day roster. The Canadian right-hander was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in December then quickly flipped to the Marlins. Pop has been outstanding this spring. He has not allowed a run in three innings in three Grapefruit League appearances and has struck out three. And the movement of his fastball has drawn raves from pitching experts like MLB and ESPN analyst Rob Friedman who posted the tweet below. Selected in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 MLB draft, Pop was traded to the Orioles in July 2018 as part of the package for Manny Machado. In parts of three minor league seasons – in which he has reached the double-A level – Pop owns a 1.34 ERA and has allowed just 48 hits, while striking out 80, in 80 1/3 innings. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2019.
-Victoria Eagles and Junior National Team alum Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) is turning heads in Boston Red Sox camp this spring. Highly respected baseball scribe Peter Gammons tweeted on Wednesday that Pivetta is throwing a 97-mph fastball, coupled with an 88-mph slider “with huge verticle rise” on his pitches. In three Grapefruit League starts for the Red Sox, Pivetta owns a 3.00 ERA and has eight strikeouts in nine innings. The 28-year-old right-hander is aiming to crack the Red Sox starting rotation. Pivetta already improved his chances for a rotation spot with two excellent starts for the Red Sox at the end of the 2020 season in which he went 2-0 and allowed just two runs and struck out 13 in 10 innings. The Canuck righty came to the Red Sox in a trade on August 21 after spending parts of four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. In all, in 94 career big league appearances, he is 21-30 and owns a 5.40 ERA, but has 434 strikeouts in 406 1/3 innings.
-Thanks to Expos Fest founder and Montreal Expos historian Perry Giannias for sharing this photo (below) on his Facebook feed. This is a photo of Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Marquis Grissom and Gary Carter in Ottawa Lynx gear from a special promotional appearance in 1992 for the Expos’ triple-A Ottawa Lynx prior to their inaugural 1993 season. For the record, none of the three ever played for the Lynx.
-Here’s a photo that should bring a smile to your face. Meet Suzette Burns’ two beautiful dogs: Cito and Gibby (Cito is the golden retriever) named after the former Blue Jays managers. She shared this photo on my Cooperstowners in Canada Facebook page this week. Suzette also shared that her family had a previous dog named “Wells” after Vernon Wells.
-Happy 29th Birthday to national team alum and former Orioles draft pick Dylan Rheault. The 6-foot-9 right-hander, who was born in Garson, Ont. (near Sudbury), was selected in the 19th round of the 2013 MLB draft by the O’s. He pitched for parts of three seasons in O’s system before moving on to the Giants’ organization for two campaigns where he reached the triple-A level. Last season, he toed the rubber for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent American Association. He has also suited up for the national team on multiple occasions.
-This week’s trivia question: Nick Pivetta is currently pitching for the Red Sox. Name two other Canadians that have pitched for the Red Sox during the regular season over the years. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (With 683 major league appearances, Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.) appeared in more big league games than any other Canadian left-hander. What left-hander has the second-most big league appearances by a Canadian?) is John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.), who appeared in 545 MLB games.