It will be another month or so until the MLB Awards start to trickle, so here is a look back at this year in Canadian baseball – the Canadian MLB Awards.
Let’s Get Started:
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves
94 runs, 23 home runs, 98 RBI, .309 BA, .383 OBP
The Atlanta Braves have won their first NL East title since 2013, and Freddie Freeman has been an integral part of it. The big lefty is top-three on the team in nearly every offensive category, including first in home runs, RBI, OBP, hits, and doubles.
In the Canadian context, the California-native led in nearly every offensive category, including home runs, RBI, hits, doubles, stolen bases, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Joey Votto would be the runner-up this year, despite having his worst offensive season since 2014. The Reds slugger is usually the top Canuck, but Freeman was clearly the better of the two in 2018. Whether Votto’s dip in production was based on his age (34) or teams just working around the best hitter on a very bad team (he had 108 walks and led the NL in OBP) remains to be seen.
Freeman will also likely be the only Canadian player to appear in the post-season (depending if John Axford is placed on the Dodgers playoff roster).
Cy Young Award (aka “the Jenkins”*)
*It seems wrong to hand out a reward to the best Canadian pitcher and not have it named after the greatest Canadian pitcher of all time – Fergie Jenkins.
Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates
14-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 179 K
Like Freeman, Taillon is American born-and-raised, has Canadian parents, and has played for Team Canada in the past. But unlike Freeman, the Pirates young ace is officially Canadian (a dual-citizen).
Over the last two months of the season, Taillon seemed to leap-frog Mariners starter James Paxton as the best Canuck hurler. Despite Paxton having a career year, with 208 strikeouts and a no-hitter, an injury-riddled August and September, let Taillon pull ahead.
Taillon led Canadians in wins, innings pitched (191.0), ERA, and BB/9 (2.2), while Paxton led in strikeouts, K/9 (11.68), and WHIP (1.10). For those who believe that traditional stats like wins and ERA are not of great significance, Paxton may still have the edge. But with an ERA gap of .56 between the two, we’ll let Taillon take it this year.
Rookie of the Year
Tyler O’Neill – St. Louis Cardinals
29 runs, 9 home runs, 23 RBI, .254 BA, .303 OBP
Tyler O’Neill entered 2018 as the Cardinals fourth top prospect, 94th overall in the MLB Pipeline preseason ranking, and was fourth highest among Canadians.
The 23-year old excelled in Triple-A, batting .311, with a .383 OBP, and 26 home runs in only 64 games for the Memphis Redbirds. O’Neill also demonstrated he could hit the long ball in the Majors, but it was his high strikeout rate that saw him get demoted in May, and then relegated to a bench role in September.
But his nine home runs in 60 games is still the highest total by a Canadian rookie since Freddie Freeman hit 21 in his first full season.
Canada’s second-highest ranked prospect, Mike Soroka was O’Neill’s main competition in this category. The Calgary-native was 2-1, with a 3.51 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in five starts for the Braves, but his season was cut early due to a right shoulder injury. But since Soroka only pitched 25.2 innings in 2018, he will still be rookie eligible next year.
O’Neill has demonstrated that he can hit home runs at any level, but whether he can be a more consistent hitter moving forward is still unclear. But he was still the top Canadian rookie in 2018.
Manager of the Year
Unless you count Russell Martin coaching the Blue Jays in game 162, there were no Canadian MLB skippers in 2018. In fact, there has not been a manager from the great white north since George Gibson coached for the Pirates in 1934.
Stubby Clapp – Memphis Redbirds
83-57 (.593), PCL Manager of the Year Award
Stubby Clapp has never coached in a big league game, but that might change in 2019. The Windsor-native has thrived with the St. Louis Triple-A affiliate, and many expect the 45-year old to get a crack at one of the vacant MLB manager jobs.
For Blue Jays fans, it is worth noting that Clapp will be coaching the Surprise Saguaros in this year’s Arizona Fall League – the team Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio are all set to play for. He also received the endorsement from John Gibbons, who projected that Clapp would be his successor in 2019.
During his two-year stint in Memphis, Clapp led his team to the best record in the PCL twice, won two PCL Championships, and the Triple-A National Championship in 2018.
Comeback Player of the Year
Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates
For Taillon, 2017 was a tough year on and off the field. The 26-year old saw his season interrupted by what was initially referred to as ‘groin discomfort,’ but ended up being testicular cancer. Understandably, he saw his production dip during his sophomore campaign, but he returned to his top-tier form that he demonstrated in his rookie season.
Looking ahead to 2019
MVP: Freeman and Votto will again be the favorites next year. Blue Jays phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (born in Montreal) could be a dark horse MVP/Rookie of the Year candidate in 2019.
Cy Young (the Jenkins): Taillon and Paxton will be the front-runners, but Mike Soroka could force himself into the conversation if he pitches the way he did in 2018 (admittedly in a VERY small sample size). Phillies starter, Nick Pivetta could also be in the conversation if he can pitch with more consistency.
Rookie of the Year: This title is Guerrero Jr.’s to lose. Blue Jays fans are hoping that baseball’s number one prospect will have a Ronald Acuna Jr.ish rookie campaign and take hold of Toronto’s offense. Soroka will certainly be in the conversation, as he is the 15th best prospect in the MLB.
Manager of the Year: Clapp and Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson will likely be looked at for some managerial jobs this offseason.
Comeback Player of the Year: Joey Votto would be the favorite to win this, as his mediocre 2018 was a huge step back for a player that is usually one of the best hitters in the game.
(Photo Credits: Steve Russell/Toronto Star, Amanda Fewer, Morry Gash/AP, Sportswire/Getty Images, Bobby Stevens/MLB)