November 12, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-The Toronto Blue Jays surprised almost everyone on Tuesday when they announced that Guillermo Martinez will return as the club’s hitting coach. Unfortunately, it was also revealed that Jimmy Van Ostrand (Vancouver, B.C.) will not be back as the team’s mental skills coach. The longtime national team member had served in that capacity since 2019. Selected in the eighth round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Houston Astros, the right-handed hitting outfielder/first baseman played parts of six professional seasons in the Astros’ organization before completing his pro playing career with two seasons in the Washington Nationals’ system. Over the years, Van Ostrand was a key contributor to the Canadian national team, including at the 2008 Olympics and on the 2011 gold medal-winning Pan Am Games squad. Van Ostrand had an important but unheralded role with the Blue Jays, providing an ear for players who were struggling mentally. There’s been no word on whether he’ll be reassigned in the organization.
-Milwaukee Brewers’ prized infield prospect Tyler Black (Stouffville, Ont.) recently donated a bat and a pair of spikes (see below) from his excellent 2023 season to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Selected 33rd overall by the Brewers in the 2021 MLB draft, Black split the 2023 season between the double-A Biloxi Shuckers and the triple-A Nashville Sounds, batting a combined .284 with a .417 on-base percentage (OBP) in 123 games. The Toronto Mets alum had 25 doubles, 12 triples, 18 home runs, 73 RBIs, 105 runs and 55 stolen bases. This earned him Brewers’ co-Minor League Player of the Year honours (shared with outfield prospect Jackson Chourio). The 23-year-old Black, who honed his skills under the guidance of ex-big leaguers and brothers Rob and Rich Butler for many years, had a combined 12 triples, which were the most in the entire affiliated minor league ranks. He also led Brewers minor leaguers in runs, stolen bases and extra-base hits (55), and ranked second in OPS (.930), hits (128), walks (88) and total bases (231).
-Ashley Stephenson (Mississauga, Ont.) recently donated a batting practice jersey and a hat from her first season as a coach with the Blue Jays’ High-A Vancouver Canadians. In 2023, she became the second female coach in Blue Jays’ history (to Jaime Vieira (Georgetown, Ont.) in 2022). A member of the original Women’s National Team in 2004, Stephenson concluded her 15-year playing career with the program in 2018. She then became a coach and was part of the staff that led Canada to a bronze medal at the COPABE Women’s Pan-American Championships in 2019. In 2022, she became the first woman to manage the Women’s National Team program when she was the dugout boss for their five-game series against the United States in Thunder Bay, Ont. In November 2022, Stephenson made history when she became the first woman to capture Baseball Canada’s Lionel Ruhr Elite Coach of the Year Award.
-Vauxhall Academy and Junior National Team alum Damiano Palmegiani (Surrey, B.C.) has boosted his stock in the Blue Jays’ organization with a stellar performance with the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). In 22 games, the 23-year-old infielder batted .263 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. He also belted 22 home runs in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game and helped the team to an AFL championship. His standout AFL performance came on the heels of a strong minor league season that saw him bat a combined .255 with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs in 128 games between double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo. Selected in the 14th round by the Blue Jays in 2021, Palmegiani socked 24 home runs and drove in 83 in 118 games between low-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver in 2022.
-Right-hander Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) is a minor league free agent. After being released by the Chicago Cubs in mid-July, the 31-year-old right-hander signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays and was assigned to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons where he proceeded to strike out 38 batters in 21 innings, while allowing just 10 hits. That’s good for a whopping 16.3 strikeout per nine inning rate. That has to be good enough to earn the Junior National Team alum at the very least an invite to a major league camp next spring. After parts of four seasons as an effective reliever with the Cubs, Wick failed to crack the big league team’s roster out of spring training in March and struggled to an 8.60 ERA in 23 appearances with triple-A Iowa before the Cubs let him go on July 15.
-Former Miami Marlins infielder Charles Leblanc (Laval, Que.) has also become a minor league free agent. The 27-year-old Canadian spent the entire 2023 campaign with the Marlins’ triple-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, batting .253, while posting a .384 on-base percentage (OBP), in 94 games. Leblanc made his major league debut with the Marlins on July 30, 2022 after batting .302 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 87 games with the Jumbo Shrimp that year. In 48 big league contests with the Marlins in 2022, he batted .263 with four home runs, 10 doubles and 12 walks. Selected by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft, Leblanc spent five seasons in the Rangers’ organization, rising as high as triple-A in 2021. He was then chosen by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft in December 2021. The Junior National Team alum also suited up for Canada in the Premier12 tournament in 2019.
-Another Junior National Team grad that has become a minor league free agent is infielder Adam Hall (London, Ont.). Selected in the second round of the 2017 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Hall has played parts of six seasons in the O’s organization. The speedy Great Lake Canadians alum had a promising start to his professional career. In 2018 and 2019, he batted .293 and .298 in low-A and High-A respectively, but he missed the entire 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been hampered by injuries during the past two seasons. In 2023, he suited up for just 11 games between Rookie Ball and High A.
-And yet another Canadian joining the minor league free agent ranks is right-hander Curtis Taylor (Port Coquitlam, B.C.). After a strong showing as a reliever for Canada at the World Baseball Classic, Taylor made three appearances with the triple-A Iowa Cubs before being released and signing a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins. The 28-year-old righty spent the bulk of the season with double-A Wichita, recording a 3.98 ERA in 31 relief appearances, striking out 46 batters in 43 innings. Originally selected out of the University of British Columbia in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Taylor has spent parts of seven seasons in the professional ranks. He has pitched in triple-A in each of the past three campaigns. In total, in 182 minor league appearances (including 20 starts), he owns a 3.60 ERA and has struck out 351 batters in 302 2/3 innings.
-Twenty-seven years ago today, Pat Hentgen became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win the American League Cy Young Award. He edged New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte for the honour. In 1996, Hentgen won 20 games and topped the American League in innings pitched (265 2/3), complete games (10) and shutouts (3). Three other Blue Jays hurlers would later win the award: Roger Clemens (1997, 1998), Halladay (2003) and Robbie Ray (2021).
-As we get set to watch former Buffalo Sabres star Pierre Turgeon be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, it should be noted that he was also an excellent baseball player during his youth. Turgeon, who scored 515 NHL goals, played for the Rouyn, Que., team that represented Canada in the 1982 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Here’s some footage of Turgeon at the tournament.
-This week’s trivia question: Most of the MLB award winners will be announced this week. Canadians Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1997 and 2010 respectively. Who is the only Canadian to win the American League MVP Award? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the first Canadian pitcher that Bruce Bochy caught during his major league playing career?) was Gordie Pladson (New Westminster, B.C.). Bochy was the catcher in two of Pladson’s appearances with the Houston Astros in 1979.