By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Most of us think of Matt Stairs as a burly outfielder/pinch-hitter with a powerful, slo-pitch-like swing.
And we remember Larry Walker as a rifle-armed right fielder and Justin Morneau and Joey Votto as MVP Award-winning first basemen.
But none of these Canadian sluggers entered the pro ranks at these positions.
Yes, it’s hard for us to imagine Stairs playing shortstop or Votto or Morneau as catchers, but those were their most prominent positions when they signed their first pro contracts. And there are several other Canuck big leaguers like them.
Most of us think of Lawrie as a fiery third baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays who later manned second base for the Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox. But when the Langley, B.C., native and Junior National Team alum was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round (16th overall) in the 2008 MLB draft, he entered the pro ranks as a catcher/third baseman. He would only catch for the Brewers in Instructional League in 2008 before he was converted into a second baseman/third baseman.
In contrast to Lawrie, Martin became a Gold Glove-winning catcher during his 14-year major league career, but he was initially selected as a third baseman in the 35th round of the 2000 draft by the Montreal Expos. After the Montreal native declined to sign with his hometown club, he was then chosen as a second baseman by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2002 draft. When he arrived in the Dodgers organization, they moved him back to the hot corner for his first pro season in Rookie Ball, before, as the “Up Close” section on the baseball card above says, he “was converted from third base to catcher during 2002 instructional league play.”
Morneau was a four-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award-winning first baseman for the Minnesota Twins who also captured the American League MVP Award in 2006. But when the Twins selected him in the third round of the 1999 MLB draft, he was a catcher. He would play 22 games at catcher in Rookie Ball in 2000 before he was converted into a full-time first baseman the following year.
Most of us remember Stairs as a bulky outfielder/pinch-hitter who belted 265 home runs in parts of 19 major league seasons. But when the Fredericton, N.B., native was signed as an amateur free agent by the Expos on January 17, 1989, he was primarily a shortstop. And though he did play 29 games at shortstop in the Expos organization, the bulk of his early time in the pro ranks was spent at third base. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Expos asked him to focus on playing the outfield.
Votto has played first base during his 15-season big league career with the Cincinnati Reds. He even won a Gold Glove at the position in 2011. But he was originally drafted in the second round in 2002 as a catcher. His first Bowman card (above) illustrates as much. You’ll notice part of the “Skills” section on the card back reads, “Solid build for a catcher.” But Votto caught just seven games with the Reds’ Rookie Ball Gulf Coast League club in 2002 before he was converted into a first baseman the ensuing season.
Walker, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in September, is best remembered as a rifle-armed, Gold Glove Award-winning right fielder. But when he signed with the Expos on November 14, 1984, he was an infielder. In his first professional season with the low-A Utica Blue Sox in 1985, he played 42 games at first base and 19 at third. The following season with class-A Burlington, he played 36 games at the hot corner, but also played in the outfield. By his third minor league season (with double-A Jacksonville in 1987), he was a full-time outfielder.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted North Vancouver, B.C., native Rowan Wick as a catcher in the ninth round of the 2012 MLB draft. While the Junior National Team alum was learning how to catch at the professional level, he batted a combined .292 with 20 home runs in 74 games between low-A and class-A in 2014 before he was converted into a pitcher the next year. The hard-throwing right-hander served as a go-to, late-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs in 2019 and 2020, but he has been sidelined since last September with an intercoastal muscle strain injury.