March 10, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Here’s a look at the right-handed relievers on Canada’s 2023 World Baseball Classic team:
Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.)
Selected 11th overall in the 2007 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners, this Junior National Team alum toed the rubber in the M’s organization for two seasons before he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of the package for left-hander Cliff Lee on December 16, 2009. After parts of three more seasons in the minors, he made his big league debut with the Phils in 2012. In total, he’d make 46 appearances for the Phillies between 2012 and 2015. He’d later pitch in the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers organizations. In 2019, the 6-foot-7 right-hander posted an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 18 starts for the Can Am League’s Ottawa Champions and was named the circuit’s Pitcher of the Year. Aumont, 34, is a national team veteran. He picked up wins in both of his starts for the silver medal-winning Canadian national team at the Pan Am Games in 2019, tossing a combined 13 scoreless innings against Argentina and Nicaragua. His dominance on the international stage continued when he threw eight scoreless innings for Canada in their 3-0 win over Cuba in the opening game of the WBSC Premier12 tournament in November 2019. He also pitched for Canada at the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.
John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.)
After being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round in the 2001 MLB draft and by the Cincinnati Reds in the 42nd round four years later, this Junior National Team alum did not sign and eventually landed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2006. He’d spend one campaign in the Bombers’ organization before inking a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Canuck righty would pitch in parts of two seasons in the Brewers’ organization before being called up in September 2009. Over the next three seasons, he established himself as the Brewers’ closer, topping the American League with 46 saves in 2010. In all, in parts of 11 major league seasons, Axford has posted a 3.90 ERA and has notched 144 saves in 544 appearances. His career has also included stops with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Guardians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s, Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers. He returned to the Brewers in 2021 but suffered an elbow injury on August 2, in his only major league appearance that season. The 6-foot-5 righty, who will turn 40 on April 1, has pitched for Canada’s national team on multiple occasions, including at the 2013 World Baseball Classic and at the Americas Olympic Qualifier in the spring of 2021.
Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.)
Chosen in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, this Kingston Thunder and Niagara Purple Eagles alum will be making his national team debut. Brash made just five appearances in the Padres’ organization before he was dealt to the Mariners on September 17, 2020 to complete a transaction for reliever Taylor Williams. Brash enjoyed a breakout season in the Mariners’ minor league ranks in 2021, combining to go 6-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 20 appearances (19 starts) between High A and double-A, which earned him a late season big league call-up. He made the M’s roster out of spring training in 2022 but after beginning the season in the rotation, the 6-foot-1 righty was successfully converted into a reliever. In total, after joining the M’s bullpen on July 9, the 24-year-old Canuck registered a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances and struck out 43 batters in 30 2/3 innings. In a combined 39 major league appearances (including five starts) in 2022, he posted a 4-4 record with a 4.44 ERA and struck out 62 batters in 50 2/3 innings. He also tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.
Trevor Brigden (North York, Ont.)
Selected in the 17th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, this Ontario Terriers and Okanagan College alum was invited to the Rays’ big league camp this spring. After a strong first season in the Rays’ organization, the 6-foot-3 right-hander split 2021 between Low-A, High-A and triple-A and finished with a combined 7-2 record and a 4.59 ERA, while fanning 69 batters in 49 innings, in 31 appearances. He followed that up by posting a 3.28 ERA and striking out 63 batters in 46 2/3 innings in 30 relief appearances for the double-A Montgomery Biscuits in 2022, prior to being promoted to triple-A Durham where he registered a 2.17 ERA in seven relief outings. The 27-year-old Brigden pitched for the national team in the WBSC Americas Olympic Qualifier in May 2021.
Indigo Diaz (North Vancouver, B.C.)
Chosen by the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round of the 2019 MLB draft out of Michigan State University, this North Shore Twins and Coquitlam Reds alum will be making his national team debut. After a solid showing in his pro debut in 2019, Diaz was lights out in 2021, posting a combined 1.20 ERA while striking out 83 batters in 45 innings in 32 appearances between High A and double-A. He followed that up by going 3-4 with four saves and a 3.08 ERA in 49 relief appearances with the double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022. On December 28, the 24-year-old righty was traded by the Braves to the Yankees, along with infielder Caleb Durbin, for left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge.
R.J. Freure (Burlington, Ont.)
Selected in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB draft out of the University of Pittsburgh by the Houston Astros, this Junior National Team and Ontario Blue Jays alum was outstanding in his first season in pro ball, posting a 3-0 record and a 0.98 ERA in 11 appearances (three starts) for the Class-A Short-Season Tri-City Valley Cats. He toed the rubber for two more seasons in the Astros’ organization, rising to the double-A level in 2021. Following that campaign, he was signed by the Braves and proceeded to go 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA and strike out 30 batters in 26 innings in 22 appearances for the High-A Rome Braves. Most recently, he has pitched with the Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association. The 25-year-old Freure started the gold medal game for Canada against Puerto Rico at the 2019 Pan Am Games.
Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, B.C.)
Chosen in the 17th round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Phillies, this Junior National Team and Langley Blaze alum would spend nine seasons in the Phillies’ organization, including parts of three in the big leagues. Prior to the 2012 campaign, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League. Over the next eight seasons, Mathieson evolved into one of the best foreign pitchers in the franchise’s history and as the most successful Canadian pitcher ever to toe the rubber in Japan. In 433 appearances with the Giants, the Canadian righty posted a 2.50 ERA and struck out 513 batters in 450 1/3 innings. He retired at the end of the 2019 season but he returned to the mound to pitch for Canada in the Americas Olympic Qualifier last spring. He has also pitched for Canada in three previous World Baseball Classics (2006, 2013, 2017).
Cade Smith (Abbotsford, B.C.)
Signed by the Cleveland Guardians as a free agent in 2020 out of the University of Hawaii, this Junior National Team and Abbotsford Cardinals grad is making his World Baseball Classic debut. After striking out a combined 68 batters in 43 innings between Low-A and High-A in his first pro season, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander was even better in 2022. Last year, he finished a combined 4-2 with 13 saves and a 2.93 ERA in 44 relief outings between High-A and double-A. He also fanned 99 batters in 61 innings. The 23-year-old Smith topped Guardians’ organizational pitchers in saves and was second in strikeouts by a relief pitcher. For his efforts, he was invited to the Guardians’ big league camp this spring.
Curtis Taylor (Port Coquitlam, B.C.)
Selected out of the University of British Columbia in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Taylor has since spent parts of six seasons in the professional ranks in the D-Backs, Tampa Bay Rays, Blue Jays and Washington Nationals organizations. He has pitched in triple-A in each of the past two campaigns. In total, in 147 minor league appearances (including 19 starts), he owns a 3.42 ERA and has struck out 297 batters in 255 innings. The 27-year-old righty signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs in early February. He will be making his national team debut.
Left-handed Reliever (I missed earlier)
Ben Onyshko (Winnipeg, Man.)
Chosen in the 24th round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Mariners, this Junior National Team and Vauxhall Academy alum just completed his fourth season in the M’s organization. The 26-year-old southpaw posted a 4.36 ERA and struck out 44 batters in 53 2/3 innings in 43 relief appearances for the double-A Arkansas Travelers in 2022. The 6-foot-1 lefty was originally chosen by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2014 MLB draft but he declined to sign and instead headed to Stetson University where he toed the rubber for four seasons, registering 165 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings. He also pitched for Canada at the Americas Olympic Qualifier in May 2021.
Check out my previous Canada World Baseball Classic previews here:
Read my Canada World Baseball Classic preview about Canada’s left-handed relievers.
Read my Canada World Baseball Classic preview about Canada’s starting pitchers.
Read my Canada World Baseball Classic preview about Canada’s outfielders.
Read my Canada World Baseball Classic preview about Canada’s infielders.
Read my Canada’s World Baseball Classic preview about Canada’s catchers.
Great rundown Kevin. Hopefully the younger pitchers can learn lots from the veteran pitchers such as Axford and Mathieson
Thanks for the rundown on the Canadian pitchers.