February 26, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) is back with the Toronto Blue Jays as a special assistant to baseball operations, according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. The 54-year-old ex-reliever is in camp with the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. Quantrill was one of the special assistants, along with Pat Hentgen, that was let go by the club in September 2020 as part of cost-cutting measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quantrill, who pitched six of his 14 major league seasons with the Blue Jays, owns the record for most major league appearances by a Canadian pitcher (841). He had worked in a consultant or special assistant capacity with the Blue Jays since 2013. Davidi also shared that Hentgen will return to the Blue Jays in March, as will former slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Both will “explore larger roles with the club.”
-Chicago Cubs closer Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) offered some insight about why he elected not to pitch for Canada at the World Baseball Classic last Sunday. “I would love to go over and do that,” Wick told Maddie Lee, of the Chicago Sun-Times about the World Baseball Classic. “It’d be a lot of fun. And I’m going to miss those guys, for sure. But I think being here is a little bit more important for me right now.” Wick is coming off his first full major league season after overcoming a serious oblique injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2021 campaign. In 2022, the 6-foot-3 right-hander topped all Canadian big-league pitchers with 64 appearances. He posted a 4.22 ERA and registered nine saves, while striking out 69 in 64 innings. He was particularly strong in the second half when he recorded a 3.42 ERA in 25 games.
-Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) still has not thrown off a mound at the Atlanta Braves’ camp due to tightness in his left hamstring, according to David O’Brien of The Athletic. Last week, Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters the injury is not a big concern. The 25-year-old Soroka has not pitched in a major league game since tearing his Achilles tendon in a start for the Braves on August 3, 2020. He then re-tore his Achilles the following June. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, he returned to game action in August last year and posted a 5.40 ERA in six late-season starts between class-A and triple-A before being shut down with elbow inflammation. A graduate of the Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. In 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
-It was a slow recovery from his third bout with COVID-19 that forced Boston Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic. “It’s a really difficult decision,” Pivetta told Chris Cotillo of Masslive.com on Wednesday. “I got the opportunity to play for Team Canada from a very young age. And then I got to play for them in the WBC [in 2017]. That was really important for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t been recovering the way I like to. The team and I came to an (agreement) and an understanding that I have to focus here and what I need to do here for this team right now . . . It’s unfortunate. I take great pride in playing for that team and playing for that country.” Pivetta was to have been a key starting pitcher for Canada in the tournament. The 30-year-old righty was a workhorse for the Red Sox in 2022, starting 33 games, which was tied for the most in the American League. Pivetta also set career bests in wins (10) and innings pitched (179 2/3) and registered 175 strikeouts. In all, Pivetta has pitched parts of six big league seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies and Red Sox.
-St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) will play for Canada at the World Baseball Classic. I was surprised to learn, however, that O’Neill, who has won two Gold Gloves in left field with the Cardinals, is in a competition for the Cards’ centre field job with Dylan Carlson this spring. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol indicated this to Katie Woo, of The Athletic, on Tuesday. O’Neill is coming off an injury-riddled 2022 campaign that saw him miss time due to hamstring issues, neck stiffness, a wrist injury and shoulder soreness. In all, in 96 games, the Langley Blaze and Junior National Team alum batted .228 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs.
-It was nice to see footage of a healthy James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) throwing at Boston Red Sox camp this week. The Red Sox are looking for a left-hander for their bullpen. Some have suggested that Paxton, who’s coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for the 2022 season, should be a candidate. But when Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was asked about that possibility by Chris Cotillo on the Fenway Rundown podcast on January 31, he dismissed the idea. “At the stage of his career that he’s at and having been through as much medically as he’s been through, adding the variable of asking him to do something he hasn’t really done is something we would have to think long and hard before doing,” Bloom told Cotillo. “That doesn’t rule it out, but you do have to factor that in.” When the idea of shifting to the bullpen was broached with Paxton recently, the Canuck southpaw didn’t outright dismiss it. “I like starting,” Paxton told MassLive’s Christopher Smith. “I’ve made starts my whole career. Obviously if that’s the conversation [about moving to the bullpen] they want to have, we’ll have it.” Paxton, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the club in November. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2021, Paxton had been working his way back in the Sox system when he suffered a grade 2 lat tear in late August 2022 that shut him down for the season. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the Canuck lefty has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-The West Coast League’s Victoria HarbourCats have hired former Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Steve Sinclair (Victoria, B.C.) as an assistant coach. The HarbourCats are a summer collegiate club. Born in Victoria, B.C, Sinclair was selected in the 28th round of the 1991 MLB draft by the Blue Jays. He spent the bulk of his first three seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization with their Rookie ball affiliate in Medicine Hat as a starter. He eventually rose through the club’s ranks to make his big league debut on April 25, 1998. In 24 appearances for the Blue Jays that season, he posted a 3.60 ERA. After just three games with the Blue Jays in 1999, he was dealt to the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Tom Davey for first baseman David Segui just prior to the trade deadline. Sinclair closed out his big league career by registering a 3.95 ERA in 18 appearances for the Mariners in 1999. Since hanging up his playing spikes, Sinclair has returned to his home province to serve as the director of operations of the Victoria International Marina.
-Congratulations to former big league pitcher, national team alum and longtime coach and instructor Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) who was elected to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in November. Johnson had a chance to visit the museum prior to his induction that will take place in May (See photo below). Selected in the 17th round of the 1993 MLB draft by the Blue Jays, the 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched parts of four minor league seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization before he was chosen in the Rule 5 draft in 1996 by the San Francisco Giants who then sold his contract to the Baltimore Orioles. He made his big league debut with the O’s in 1997 before being dealt to the Montreal Expos at the trade deadline. He proceeded to pitch parts of five seasons with the Expos. He continued to toe the rubber in the professional ranks until 2010. His best season came with the La New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 2008 when he went 20-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts) spanning 183 2/3 innings. Johnson was also a member of the Canadian national team that won gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Since hanging up his playing spikes, he has become a highly respected coach in his home province and is the director of the Parkland Baseball Academy.
-Congratulations to Blue Jays on Sportsnet broadcasters Dan Shulman (Thornhill, Ont.) and Joe Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) on their Canadian Screen Award nominations. Shulman is up for best Canadian sports play-by-play announcer. He faces competition from Chris Cuthbert (Hockey Night in Canada), Brenda Irving (2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games) and Gord Miller (2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Gold Medal Game). Siddall is up for best Canadian sports analyst against Cheryl Pounder (2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship: Canada vs. USA), Craig Simpson (Hockey Night in Canada) and Arianne Jones (2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games). Shulman and Siddall won in the same categories last year. The Sports Programming Award winners will be announced in a ceremony on April 11 that begins at 12 noon E.T.
-This week’s trivia question: Paul Quantrill made 841 pitching appearances in the majors. Six other Canadian pitchers have made more than 500 major league appearances. Name two of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (There are five umpires that have been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Name one of them.) was any one of John Ducey (Edmonton, Alta.), Bob Emslie (Guelph, Ont.), Jim McKean (Montreal, Que.), Doug Hudlin (Victoria, B.C.) and Ernie Quigley (Newcastle, N.B.).
Thanks for another Sunday morning read.
Thanks for your support, Bob.
Thanks for another Sunday morning Canadian baseball blog.
Thanks for your support and for reading.
Fergus Jenkins and Ryan Dempster would be two of the Canadians who pitched in 500 or more major league games..
You are correct, Len. Thanks for your support and for reading.
Rheal Cormier and John Hiller
You’re correct. Nice job! Thanks for your support.
Thanks for your excellence on yet another Sunday morning Kevin!
Sincere congratulations to Mike Johnson on his well-deserved enshrinement to the Alberta Sports HOF. In addition to his five years in the major leagues, he has also worn Team Canada’s jersey multiple times, and impressively contributed to many big wins and high placements in several international championships, while always being a lead-by-example performer and a first class ambassador for our country.
Riding on the heels of the Blue Jays ’92 World Series Championship, it was Pat Gillick himself, who was always pedal-to-the-metal, who pulled the trigger on drafting Mike in the 17th round in 1993. In true-to-form Gillickesque style, he flew out to Edmonton with Bill Byckowski just a couple of weeks before the June draft, to attend an invitational tryout that I was running as the Canadian Supervisor for the MLB Scouting Bureau. My bosses, Don Pries & Frank Marcos, knew to expect other GMs and scouting directors to be there as well, mainly due to the emergence of Fort McMurray’s Joe Young, who I had projected as having the potential to be a #1 or #2 starter in the big leagues. They strongly suggested, in other words, do-it-or-you’re-fired, NOT to do what I was known to do, which was to showcase as many as 20-30 prospects, since so many important sets of eyes were forecasted to be in attendance. What can I say? I just always wanted to show the Americans what they were missing up here! But, at that time of year especially, the brass who carried those titles wanted to get in and get out as soon as possible, so they could move on to see as many blue-chippers as they could before draft day. And a “quick in-and-out to Edmonton” was an oxymoron on top of that.
I therefore limited the participants to four, Joe Young, Mike Johnson, an outfielder and a catcher. I had written up Mike as both an RHP as well as an outfielder, with a higher OFP as a pitcher than as a position player. So, Mike threw from the outfield and took some BP prior to pitching from the mound. Joe would throw at the very end of the camp, because I knew that, if I had showcased him any earlier, only crickets would have been left behind to see any more. Most of the scouts would have high-tailed it to the airport.
.Back then, the most state-of-the-art cell phone resembled a brick. the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X offered about 30 minutes of talk time, and a full charge took about ten hours! I remember when Mike and the other outfielder were throwing to 3B and home plate from RF, hardly anybody paid attention. The vast majority were huddled up talking shop, or off on their own talking on their brick. But they were all intensely interested when Joe Young finally toed the rubber following Mike.
The Blue Jays drafted Joe Young in the third round two weeks later, and many were surprised when they selected a 6’1″ RHP who was clocked around 82 mph on the radar gun, a dime a dozen back then, in the 17th round. His name was Mike Johnson. You see, Gillick was one of the few that watched Mike throw from right field, and saw more velocity in his arm than he displayed as a pitcher. He knew that Mike’s ceiling was higher than most others projected. Gillick never stepped off a plane and let anything get in the way of his mission. His focus was always to collect and store the maximum amount of information available.
Mike made it to the big leagues, and unfortunately, Joe’s repeated arm injuries held him back from becoming the Jack Morris-style pitcher that, in my opinion, seemed possible as a youngster.
Thanks for sharing this, Tom. I didn’t know that Mike Johnson used to be an outfielder. That’s a great Gillick story, too.
SO much great information Kevin. A great read. Now ready for the week ahead. Thank you
Thanks for your kind words and support, Scott.