January 29, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2023 inductees on Wednesday at 9 a.m. E.T. Stay tuned to this site for coverage. Their induction ceremony will be held on June 17 at the Hall of Fame grounds in St. Marys, Ont.
-As you’ve already heard, former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. I wrote about his Canadian connections here, but one that I failed to mention is that Rolen’s induction will likely impact Cards outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.). O’Neill wears No. 27, the same number Rolen wore as a Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman for the Cardinals from 2002 to 2007. The Cardinals are likely to retire the number in Rolen’s honour.
-Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) was the first major league pitcher to retire with more than 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks. Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling have since joined that elite group. So just how remarkable was Jenkins’ control? Here’s a tweet that Codify Baseball posted on Tuesday:
-Cleveland Guardians catcher Bo Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) is the sole Canadian on the pre-season top 100 prospects lists recently published by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. The Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum comes in a No. 64 on the MLB Pipeline list and No. 68 on the Baseball America list. The younger brother of Josh was promoted to the Guardians’ roster on October 1, 2022 and proceeded to appear in five major league games. He was also on the club’s postseason roster. Before his big-league call-up, the soon-to-be 23-year-old catcher batted .263 with a .392 on-base percentage (OBP), while belting 21 home runs and stealing 20 bases, in 118 games between double-A and triple-A. For his efforts, Baseball America named him the Guardians’ Minor League Player of the Year and he was selected to the International League All-Star Team. He plans to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.
–Charles Leblanc (Laval, Que.) was blindsided by the Miami Marlins’ decision to designate him for assignment on January 4 after they signed veteran infielder Jean Segura. But the 26-year-old infielder has remained in the Marlins’ organization and the club announced on Wednesday that Leblanc will be one of their non-roster invitees to big league spring training. The versatile Canadian received his first promotion to the big leagues on July 29 last season, when he was called up by the Marlins. Prior to his call-up, he was batting .302 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 87 games and was leading the triple-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp with 96 hits and a .381 OBP. With the Marlins, Leblanc played 26 games at second base, 13 at third base and eight at first base. In total, in 48 big league games, he batted .263 with four home runs, 10 doubles and 12 walks. Following the season, he was named MVP of the triple-A Jumbo Shrimp.
-Junior National Team alum and former Toronto Blue Jays draft pick Will McAffer (North Vancouver, B.C.) has signed a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals. The Winnipeg Goldeyes, whom McAffer finished the 2022 season with, made the announcement on their website on Tuesday. Selected in the 25th round of the 2018 MLB draft out of Tulane University, McAffer posted a 5.39 ERA and averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 109 relief appearances in four seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization, rising as high as double-A. After starting last season with the High-A Vancouver Canadians, McAffer was released and signed with the Goldeyes where he recorded a 1.54 ERA and struck out 16 in 11 2/3 innings in 12 appearances. The 25-year-old right-hander also pitched for Canada at the Pan Am Games in 2019 and at the Americas Olympic Qualifier in May 2021.
-When I was at the Baseball Canada National Teams press conference on January 14, I asked senior national team manager Ernie Whitt about his former Blue Jays teammate Fred McGriff who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this July. “He was a great teammate. I thought he was a very underrated player. He was just so steady. He was just a calming baseball player that put up numbers year in, year out,” said Whitt. “He was a great guy in the clubhouse. He was a good defender at first base. He hit one of the farthest home runs I’ve ever seen and this was in an exhibition game in Sarasota, Florida. There is a trailer park that is probably about 500 to 550 feet over the wall in left centre field and he hit into the second row of the trailer park. It was just amazing the power he had.”
-Speaking of Whitt’s former teammates, it was 24 years ago today that left-hander Jimmy Key announced his retirement. Just how good was Key? For the 10 seasons spanning from 1985 to 1994, Key had 147 wins – that’s more than any other left-hander in the majors during that period and second only to Roger Clemens (163) among all big leaguers. And if you start looking at where he ranks in Blue Jays’ all-time statistical categories, you might wonder why his No. 22 isn’t already on the club’s Level of Excellence.
Here are a few highlights:
-His 116 wins as a Blue Jay are 32 more than any other left-hander in franchise history.
-He won between 12 and 17 games for the Blue Jays for eight straight seasons from 1985 to 1992.
-In 1987, he led the American League in ERA (2.76), WHIP (1.057) and lowest hits per nine innings (7.2) by a starting pitcher.
-In seven post-season appearances for the Blue Jays, he was 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA. He was also the winning pitcher in the Blue Jays’ 1992 World Series-clinching Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves.
-After signing with the New York Yankees following the 1992 season, Key was an All-Star twice in his four seasons with the Bronx Bombers before completing his career with two campaigns with the Baltimore Orioles. The five-time All-Star retired after the 1998 season with 186 wins and a 3.51 ERA in 470 games – including 389 starts.
-Congratulations to Dana Brown who was named the new general manager of the Houston Astros on Thursday. Brown was the Montreal Expos scouting director who hired Alex Anthopoulos in 2002. It was Anthopoulos’s first paid scouting position in the majors. When Anthopoulos was named Blue Jays GM in 2009, he hired Brown as a special assistant and Brown worked for the Blue Jays for nine seasons (2010 to 2018). For the past four seasons, Brown served as vice-president of scouting for the Atlanta Braves under Anthopoulos.
-The Blue Jays very quietly signed outfielder Wynton Bernard to a minor league contract on Friday. So who is Wynton Bernard? Well, he’s a Niagara University alum that made his MLB debut last season with the Colorado Rockies as a 31-year-old outfielder, batting .286 in 12 games. But it’s his 2022 triple-A numbers that stand out. In 108 games with the Pacific Coast League’s Albuquerque Isotopes, he batted .333 with a .590 slugging percentage and had 21 home runs, 31 doubles, eight triples and 30 stolen bases. Sure his offensive numbers are inflated in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but it seems like a bargain to acquire a player with his tools on a minor league deal.
-This week’s trivia question: After Jimmy Key, who has the second-most wins by a left-hander in Toronto Blue Jays’ history? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Over the years, Henry Aaron had three Canadian teammates with the Milwaukee Braves. Name one of them.) was either Ken MacKenzie (Gore Bay, Ont.), Ron Piche (Verdun, Que.) or Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.)