Baseball Canada made waves yesterday in announcing a preliminary roster featuring 23 of their required 28 players for the World Baseball Classic. While the country isn’t loaded with Major League All-Stars, they have more than their fair share dotting the lineup and the nation has proven to be a tough out in the previous editions of the WBC. Let’s take a peak at the roster for our neighbors to the north:
Catcher: Russell Martin and Chris Robinson
Martin is a perfectly average Major League backstop, who mixes a little bit of power with some solid defense. The batting average is going to be ugly and he’s going to hit a ton of weak pop fly outs but he’s an intelligent player with a couple of All-Star appearances under his belt. Chris Robinson will probably act as nothing more than injury insurance. He’s basically at the point in his career where he’s achieved the dreaded “career minor leaguer” status, thanks in part to a bat that’s frighteningly powerless. In over 2000 minor league at-bats, Robinson has just 12 long balls.
1st Base: Justin Morneau and Jimmy Van Ostrand
Note: Joey Votto is still expected to be added to the roster. He wasn’t on the initial list due to insurance reasons being worked out in his contract.
First base is the one position on the roster where Canada should be just fine. Both Morneau and Votto bring excellent glove skills at first base and powerful left-handed bats. Morneau has never quite returned to his pre-concussion, MVP form since taking a nasty hit sliding into 2nd base in 2010, but he’s still one of his country’s best hitters. Votto, on the other hand, probably has the most legitimate claim of any big league player for the title of “Best Left-Handed Hitter Alive.” With Votto hitting 3rd and Morneau falling in right behind him, Canada will have a powerful 3-4 combo that could tear right-handers apart.
2nd Base: Pete Orr and Taylor Green
The real weakness on the Canadian roster is comes in the heart of the infield, at both 2nd base and shortstop. It’s not that Taylor Green and Pete Orr are bad players, it’s just that they are both fringe Major Leaguers. Orr is now 33 and the best thing that can be said about his Major League experience is that he’s versatile. At the plate he’s about as imposing with a wood bat as he is with a foam bat, managing just 35 extra base hits in 428 career professional games. Green has a little more promise for the future. He’s 26 years old and has a little more pop in his bat, but he’s about as green as the come in terms of big game experience.
3rd Base: Brett Lawrie
Lawrie should be a roster mainstay for World Baseball Classics to come. He turns 23 in just a few days and his glove work at 3rd is already among the best in baseball. Lawrie was among the AL leaders in almost every defensive statistic at the hot corner a year ago, and his bat isn’t too shabby either. Lawrie’s hit .278 over the first 2 seasons of his career, popping 20 homers and swipping 20 bases in just over 170 total games. He has a few All-Star appearances awaiting him in the future.
Shortstop: Jonathan Malo and Cale Iorg
About a month or two ago, new Pirates catcher Russell Martin made a couple of waves when he said he was considering playing shortstop for Team Canada. While it might have sounded crazy at the time, Martin may have been on to something because whoever Canada runs out at shortstop is nothing more than lineup fodder. Jonathan Malo is a career .243 hitter in the Mets minor league system and Cale Iorg is basically the AL equivalent playing for Detroit. Iorg’s hit a robust .199 and .165 at a couple minor league levels in 2011 and 2012 respectively. So, Russell Martin anyone?
Outfield: Tyson Gillies, Adam Loewen, Michael Saunders, and Tim Smith
Saunders is the star of this uninspiring group of ballplayers in their mid-20’s. Gillies, Loewen, and Smith have yet to make their Major League debuts and not a one of the trio is expected to do much at the Major League level. Canada would gladly trade for something like the United States’ 10th string outfield, because it would still contain more Major League talent and experience, but hey we can’t all be as great as America.
Pitchers: Andrew Albers, Phillippe Aumont, John Axford, Jesse Crain, Jimmy Henderson, Shawn Hill, Chris Leroux, Trystan Magnusen, Scott Mathieson, Dustin Molleken
My guess is that Baseball Canada will still add 3 more pitchers to this group, with the biggest potential get being Ryan Dempster, who signed with Boston this offseason. As things stand right now, the starting rotation will be Shawn Hill, a former Jays farmhand now with the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A club; Chris Leroux, a reliever for the Pirates; and Andrew Albers, a starter in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system. Phillippe Aumont may also get a chance to start, but his 4.22 minor league ERA makes him a risk as well. That group doesn’t exactly scream dominance, which makes Team Canada’s need for Dempster even greater.
If the starters manage to hand a lead off to Team Canada’s bullpen, they should rest easy knowing it’s safe. With John Axford and Jesse Crain at the back-end, the late innings are under wraps. The rest of the ‘pen is a little unproven, but in short work scenarios almost every big league caliber pitcher looks a little more electric.
While Team Canada looks to have a solid roster once again, they just don’t appear to have enough top to mid-tier pitching to do more than play the spoiler in this tournament. Compared to the rosters that the Dominican Republic, the US, and Puerto Rico (among others) are putting together, Canada just doesn’t stack up. The 2-3-4 combo of Lawrie, Votto, and Morneau should produce some big innings, but those outbursts may not be enough to overcome such a porous starting pitching staff. If Canada can bring Dempster aboard that would legitimize this roster in a big way. As it sits now, Team Canada just doesn’t appear to have the strength to advance much further than the group stage.
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