Canada has produced its fair share of top-notch MLB players but one position that has consistently come up short is the six-spot (shortstop).
If you look at the list of Canadian shortstops at the World Baseball Classic, there has been an underwhelming crop of minor leaguers. This includes Chris Barnwell (31 MLB plate appearances), Cale Iorg, and Jonathan Malo (both never played in the Majors).
The lack of depth at short has been so bad that in 2013, Gold Glover catcher Russell Martin volunteered to play shortstop for Team Canada (despite having never played the position at the Major League level).
The logic was that George Kottaras (who had a .351 OBP over 85 MLB games in 2012) could take over the backstop duties, and therefore Canada would have a Major League catcher and shortstop. Unfortunately, the plan fell through and neither man suited up for the 2013 WBC team.
If you look back at Canada’s best and brightest throughout history there have been almost no shortstops of significance. Hamilton-native Frank O’Rourke played 289 games at short between 1912-1931 and is the last Canuck to play the spot on a regular basis in the MLB. Canadians at short have been few and far between.
But last year two young Canucks made major strides in the minors, both playing the majority of their starts at short – Adam Hall of the Baltimore Orioles and Otto Lopez of the Toronto Blue Jays. It is dangerous to put too much stock into prospects before they rise past Single-A, but these two have got MLB potential.
The 2017 second-round pick had an unorthodox road to professional baseball. At the age of 12 he immigrated to Canada from the baseball hotbed of Bermuda. Hall knew from an early age, that if he wanted to continue to progress in baseball he would have to leave his homeland.
He continued to hone his baseball skills in London, Ontario and would represent Canada as a member of the Junior National Team. Hall was drafted 60th overall by the Baltimore Orioles at 18-years old.
In his first year in the minors he hit .667/.667/1.000 in an admittedly small sample size of 2 games. But in his first full season in 2018, in Single-A in the New York Penn League he hit .293/.368/.395, with 22 steals in 62 games.
Despite minimal power there is still excitement about the young Canadian’s bat. Hall is currently ranked as Baltimore’s 14th prospect and according to the MLB Pipeline page,
“Hall has natural feel to hit, demonstrating good bat speed and the ability to hit to all fields from the right side of the plate, albeit with below-average power. He does have some pop to the gaps, however, and should be a consistent source of doubles and triples as he adds strength to his athletic frame.”
Last year Hall was promoted to the South Atlantic League and hit .298/.385, with 33 steals in 41 attempts. MLB Pipeline notes, “Plus speed might be Hall’s best tool, and club officials rave about his base running instincts.”
His defence has also greatly improved since being drafted and he is now considered an above-average defender that could stick at short.
Hall may never be an all star but the belief is he has the skillset to become a regular MLB player. If he continues to dominate Single-A pitching, he could climb the minor league ranks in 2020.
Like Hall, Lopez came to Canada at a young age. His father’s job brought him from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Montreal. Four years later Lopez returned to the Dominican, in an attempt to sign as an International Free Agent. He ended up signing with the Blue Jays in 2016 at the age of 17.
Lopez noted he was excited to sign with Canada’s only MLB club.
“I was so nervous,” Lopez said after signing with the Jays. “I was so happy because Canada was where I grew up. After that, I realized that Montreal and Toronto are really close.”
It’s interesting that Lopez signed with the Blue Jays as an International free-agent the same year Vlad Guerrero Jr. did. Lopez is Dominican-born and Montreal-raised and Guerrero is Montreal-born and Dominican-raised.
In parts of four seasons, Lopez has hit a combined .310/.374/.421 and in 2019 he hit .324/.371/.425, good enough to earn the Midwest League batting title.
TSN recently released their Blue Jays top-50 prospect list and the young Canadian ranked 17th.
Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim spoke very highly of Lopez.
“Otto is one of our hardest workers, and he was one of the more exciting players in the system this past year, as he showed the ability to make a difference in all facets of the game,” Kim said. “He showed good contact skills while also getting on base consistently.”
Although Lopez played the majority of his games at short in 2019, he may not not stay at this position. His defensive diversity will allow the Jays to move him around the diamond as need be.
With the young Jays roster still being molded, Lopez’s Big League role may be determined by what’s needed at the time of his arrival. The TSN prospect list has his arrival set as 2022 – so there’s time.
Flash forward to the 2021 World Baseball Classic and Canada will likely not have an abundance of MLB options at short. Unless the team turns to a 38-year Russell Martin (who has played a career three games at short), Canada will likely turn to one of their minor league options.
In 2019, Canada only had two players above the Single-A level that played any games at short – Daniel Pinero (17 games) and Charles Leblanc(2). It is impossible to predict what will happen in 2020 but if Hall and Lopez continue to climb the ranks, one or both could answer Canada’s longstanding short question.
(Top Photo: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports)