As Major League Baseball’s regular season commences, there are a number of interesting Canadian baseball stories to keep an eye on. Entering 2019, Canada could realistically have candidates for Rookie of the Year, MVP, and the Cy Young. Several Canucks look set to reach noticeable career milestones this year and others may set new Canadian records.
VOTTO AND THE 300-CLUB
Last year Joey Votto passed Matt Stairs for second all-time on the Canadian home run list, ending the 2018 season at 269. The 35-year old, six-time all star now trails only Larry Walker but has a way to go to match his 383 career long balls.
Walker hit his 300th home run on May 12, 2002 and like Votto he was 35. But in 2019 Votto could realistically join him as the only Canuck in the 300-club.
The Etobicoke-native had a noticeable down season in 2018, and his 12 home runs were his lowest total since his injury-riddled 2014 campaign. Baseball-Reference projects Votto hitting 20 long balls in 2019, but if he rediscovers his power he could reach 300 this season.
The Reds slugger is currently ranked fourth all-time in RBI’s among Canadians (897) and could realistically leap frog Stairs (899) and Justin Morneau (985) to move into second. Even if Votto moved past Morneau in 2019, he will still have a ways to go to catch Walker at 1,311.
COUPLE CANCUKS NEARING 200-CLUB
Freddie Freeman (189) and Russell Martin (185) are seventh and eighth respectively on the Canadian home run list. Both sit near the 200-mark, and could pass Jeff Heath (194) this year.
The Californian born-and-raised Freeman (who is the son of Canadians) seems a lock to pass Heath and the 200 plateau. He would need 11 home runs to reach 200, a mark he has surpassed every year of his professional career, except his first season in 2010 when he played only 20 games.
Martin on the other hand has no guarantees of playing time, as he will not have a starting role in 2019. In 2018, the Montreal-native managed to hit 10 home runs in a decreased role with the Blue Jays.
At 35-years old and with one year left on his current contract, there is no certainty that Martin’s career will continue past 2019.
ROOKIE HOME RUN RECORD
The Montreal-born, super-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the most anticipated slugger to ever hold a Canadian birth-certificate.
If you were to believe Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins, Guerrero Jr. may not make his rookie debut at all in 2019. But most experts believe Guerrero Jr. will make the MLB within the first month of the season and if he plays close to a full campaign, he could pass the Canadian rookie home run record.
Jason Bay hit 26 home runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004, Votto hit 24 in 2008 for the Cincinnati Reds, and Pete Ward hit 22 in 1963 for the Chicago White Sox to round out the top-three. Bay’s 26 home runs helped him win the NL Rookie of the Year honours.
It is hard to predict how a rookie will perform in his first MLB season but projections have Guerrero hitting between 19-24 home runs in 2019. Pre-season projections are usually fairly conservative, but it would seem possible that Guerrero Jr. could surpass the 26 mark and set a new all-time Canadian home run mark.
PAXTON AND THE 2-PLUS, 200 K CLUB
In 2018, James Paxton became only the seventh Canadian to strikeout 200-plus batters in a season and his 208 Ks were the eleventh highest total by a Canuck. Of the six Canadians that have accomplished this feat before Paxton, only Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Ryan Dempster have done so more then once.
The former Blue Jays first-round pick has spent his six year career, straddling the line between a top of rotation arm and ace status. Injuries have arguably been the biggest deterrent in the lefty’s career. But Paxton had a breakout season for the Seattle Mariners in 2018, setting career-highs in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and he had a no-hitter against the Blue Jays.
The Yankees acquired the Ladner, BC native in November and Paxton will now have a chance to build on his 2018 success in the strikeout heavy AL East. Fangraphs offers several projections on Paxton’s 2019 total, ranging from 162 to 206 strikeouts. Big Maple would join an elite Canadian Club if he struck out 200 or more this year.
If Paxton, reached 200 or more strikeouts he would also leapfrog Canadian Hall of Famers Rheal Cormier, Paul Quantrill, Russ Ford, and former Cy Young winner Eric Gagne on the all-time Canadian strikeout list. It would also make him only the tenth Canadian pitcher to pass the 800-K mark.
At the start of 2019 there will be seven Canadians on Opening Day rosters, including two American-born Canucks Jameson Taillon and Freeman. Veterans like Votto, Paxton, Martin, and Freeman will continue to cement their place in Canadian baseball history, while youngsters like Guerrero Jr, Tyler O’Neill, and Mike Soroka will look to establish themselves at the Big League level.
Photo Credit: (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo)