February 24, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
The first base position has been a strength for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.
Minnesota Twins legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) has manned the position at the previous four tournaments.
In 2009 and 2013, Canada also had six-time All-Star and Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) on the roster.
This year, it will be six-time All-Star Freddie Freeman playing first for Canada. This will mark his second appearance at the event for the national squad. Freeman, who was born in Villa Park, Calif., dons the maple leaf as a tribute to his mother Rosemary, a Toronto native who passed away from skin cancer when he was 10.
Freeman will be the leader of an otherwise young Canadian infield. Each of the other infielders will be making their World Baseball Classic debuts.
So, for my second Canada World Baseball Classic preview, here’s a look at the rest of the Canadian infielders:
1B Freddie Freeman
As noted Freeman hails from Villa Park, Calif., but his parents were born in Canada. His late mother, Rosemary, was born in Toronto, and his father, Fred, was born in Windsor, Ont. Freeman, 33, will anchor the Canadian infield and likely hit third or fourth in the order. Selected in the second round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves, Freeman owns a .298 batting average, .386 on-base percentage (OBP) and an .895 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 13 major league seasons. He has 1,903 big league hits, including 292 home runs and 414 doubles. The 2020 National League MVP is a six-time All-Star and a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He is coming off his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he topped the National League in hits (199), runs (117), doubles (47) and OBP (.407). He also played for Canada at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
2B/3B Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.)
Selected in the 18th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins, this Junior National Team alum enjoyed a breakout season in 2022. He batted .300 and posted a .441 OBP and a .931 OPS in 113 games for the Twins’ double-A Wichita Wind Surge. He also belted 17 home runs, walked 98 times and stole 19 bases. The 23-year-old Julien continued to swing a hot bat in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) for the Glendale Desert Dogs, finishing with a .400 batting average in 21 games to lead the circuit. He also topped the AFL with a .563 OBP and 1.248 OPS. For his efforts, he was named AFL Breakout Player of the Year and the second baseman on Baseball America’s Double-A All-Star Team. Baseball America ranks him as the Twins’ fourth-best prospect. Julien played second base in 2022, but in 2021, he saw action at first base, second base, third base and in left field. My guess is he’ll start at second base and hit first or second in the batting order for Canada.
SS Otto Lopez
Born in Santo Domingo, D.R, Lopez spent part of his youth in Montreal and competed for the Canadian national team at the 2019 Pan Am Games qualifier. He was signed as an international free agent by the Blue Jays prior to the 2017 season. The versatile 24-year-old has played second base, third base, shortstop and in the outfield during his parts of six seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization. Lopez has hit well at every stop, posting a .305 batting average and .373 OBP in 426 minor league games. He has also swiped 77 bases, including 14 for triple-A Buffalo in 2022. Lopez got into eight games with the Blue Jays in 2022 and went 6-for-9 (.667 batting average). He is likely to play shortstop for Canada and bat first or second in the order.
Born in Caracas, Ven., Palmegiani grew up in Surrey, B.C. before honing his skills at the Vauxhall Academy in Lethbridge, Alta., and with the Junior National Team. Originally selected in the 35th round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Blue Jays, he declined to sign and ended up starring with the College of Southern Nevada Coyotes. In 2021 with the Coyotes, he batted .389 and belted 26 home runs, which earned him a spot on the Canadian Baseball Network’s All-Canadian First Team. His performance also convinced the Blue Jays to draft him again, this time in the 14th round in 2021. Palmegiani signed and belted 24 home runs and drove in 83 in 118 games between low-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver in 2022. For his performance, Palmegiani was named third baseman on the Blue Jays’ Organization Team. The 23-year-old slugger is primarily a third baseman, although he did play 23 games at first base in 2022. He’ll likely play third base and hit in the lower third of Canada’s lineup.
2B/3B Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.)
Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Houston Astros, this ABC Academy alum made his big league debut on August 22, 2019. He played parts of three seasons with the Astros before being traded to the Seattle Mariners. In 2022, for the second time in his major league career, he reached double-digits in home runs, belting 10 in 109 games for the Mariners. The versatile Canuck also added 36 runs, 60 hits, 13 doubles and 22 walks. The switch-hitting Canadian was also one of the Mariners’ top pinch-hitters, going 4-for-12 (.333 batting average) during the regular season. Toro was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers, along with Jesse Winker, on December 2 for Kolten Wong. He’ll be making his debut with the national team. During his professional career, Toro has played second base and third base almost equally. I suspect he’ll see action at both positions and will hit no lower than sixth in the Canadian lineup.
Earlier this week, my first Canada World Baseball Classic preview shone the spotlight on the national team’s catchers, you can read it here.