Former Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, has recently sent out a rallying cry to fellow American Major Leaguers to create a ‘Dream Team’ for the 2021 World Baseball Classic (WBC). In response, I’ve compiled my own Canadian ‘Dream Team’…certainly not as dreamy as the potential US team, but still be an interesting club.
‘Dreams’ do not always match reality, as players looking for new contracts, battling for MLB jobs or who are battling injuries will be hesitant to participate. So take this roster with a grain or two of salt.
QUICK HISTORICAL RECAP
Canada has had very limited success in the first four editions of the WBC, as they have failed to make it out of the round-robin round yet. In 2006, despite going 2-1, including a stunning defeat of the Americans, Canada failed to advance.
Since that first tournament Canada has gone 1-7, including going winless in 2009 and 2017. They have also suffered losses to much weaker baseball nations like Italy and Colombia, in this time.
Despite having recently turned 37, Russell Martin has made it clear that he has no intention of retiring at this time. Although the four-time All Star is clearly passed his prime, he was a serviceable backup for the Dodgers in 2019, hitting .220/.337/.397 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 83 games, with plus defence.
If Martin is scrambling to find a job at this time next year or ends up retiring, he may not play. But still he will be Canada’s most qualified backstop for 2021.
Canada’s top-rated player prospect, Noah ‘Bo’ Naylor, will be the Canadian catcher of future. The former first-round pick recently turned 20 and has not advanced past Single-A but in the perfect world he would hold the backup backstop spot in 2021.
One of Canada’s greatest all time hitters (Joey Votto) and “Canada’s” best current hitter (Freddie Freeman) both hold MLB starting first base jobs. Therefore I will give the first base job to the younger Freeman and the DH duties to Votto.
Freeman had another all star campaign in 2019, hitting .295/.389/.549, and earned a NL Silver Slugger. His 38 home runs tied Matt Stairs for the second most by a Canadian in a single season.
The Braves slugger was born and bred in California but to Canadian parents. He represented Canada at the 2017 Tournament but it is unclear if he would return in 2021.
Last year the 35-year old Votto had his worse offensive season, since his injury shortened 2014 campaign. That being said his slash line of .261/.357/.411, with 18 home runs was still above offensive league average.
If Freeman declines the Canadian first base job, Votto could step in.
Abraham Toro had a breakout year in the minors in 2019, hitting .324/.411/.527 in 114 games and earned his first cup of MLB coffee in August. He was in Astros Spring Training Camp and has a shot at one of Houston’s bench spots.
The Montreal-native will offer both the Astros and Canada some defensive versatility, as he can play first, second, third and in a pinch even catcher. Toro could play at third but Canada could possibly have another young Montreal-born player at third…but we’ll get to that.
Shortstop has been a blackhole for Canada, at the World Baseball Classic, and in the history of the sport. But as it stands there are two exciting young Canadians that have some experience at short – Adam Hall of the Baltimore Orioles and Otto Lopez of the Blue Jays. Both were at Spring Training Camp with their respective clubs but neither is expected to crack the roster anytime soon.
Of the two, Hall seems more likely to stick at short, as Lopez will likely become a utility man type.
Here is where I get really creative with the Canadian roster. Vlad Guerrero Jr. was born in Montreal when his father was a member of the Montreal Expos. The young Jays slugger was raised in the Dominican Republic, to Dominican parents, but due to his birthplace would be eligible to play for Canada in 2021.
In his rookie campaign Guerrero had flashes of brilliance but ended up hitting a modest .272/.339/.433 with 15 long balls. But at just 21, many are expecting him to continue to blossom offensively.
If Vlad declines a Canadian invite, Toro can shift over to third and Lopez can take over second base duties.
Josh Naylor (older brother of Noah) played 94 games in his rookie season in San Diego. The large framed, power hitter has some defensive issues, so he will likely have to play in left for Canada. He hit .249/.315/.403 with the Padres and managed 8 home runs.
Tyler O’Neill is currently in a crowded competition for one of the St. Louis Cardinals starting outfield job. He has shown he can hit home runs at the MLB level but his high strikeout rate and below average .311 OBP have prevented him form emerging as a Big League regular.
He does have the ability to play all three outfield positions and depending on who Canada’s third outfielder is, he could be deployed in right or centre.
The final outfield job will be wide open, as their are no other major league outfielders. The team could turn to a veteran with some MLB experience like Dalton Pompey or Jim Adducci, or they could turn the reigns over to a younger, less developed player.
Dasan Brown (Toronto’s #17 prospect) had glowing reviews thus far but he will be only 19 in 2021. Tristan Pompey took a huge step back in 2019, but he too was once a top prospect, in the Marlins system. And as mentioned above Lopez (Toronto’s #13 prospect) can play nearly anywhere on the infield or outfield.
Canada’s starting pitching has been a persistent issue at the World Baseball Classic. Canada has yet to assemble a MLB level starting-3 at the first four tournaments.
Here is what Canada’s starting three would look like if all hands were on deck:
Mike Soroka – Atlanta Braves
James Paxton – New York Yankees
Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates
Soroka is the bright light of Canada’s rotation, after he finished his All Star rookie season with a 13-4 record, 2.68 ERA, 142 strikeouts and 1.11 WHIP. The Calgary-native finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in NL Cy Young voting.
Paxton has yet to pitch for Canada at the World Baseball Classic, despite having been in the League since 2013. He has had injury issues earlier in the past and his 29 starts in 2019 was a career high.
Taillon, who was born and raised in Texas by Canadian parents, represented Canada in 2013. The 28-year old had Tommy John surgery in August 2019 and will likely not return until the start of 2021, so the Pirates may not be willing to lend him to Canada.
If Canada could recruit these three for 2021, this would serve as by far the nation’s deepest starting rotation at the Tournament.
In a perfect world all three of those other starters mentioned above would be moved to the bullpen in some capacity. Here is Canada’s eight-men pen:
Rowan Wick – Chicago Cubs
Cal Quantrill – San Diego Padres
Nick Pivetta – Philadelphia Phillies
Jordan Romano – Toronto Blue Jays
Zach Pop – Baltimore Orioles
Jordan Balazovic – Minnesota Twins
John Axford – free agent
Rob Zastryzny – Baltimore Orioles
Of this bunch, Wick has the most impressive 2019 resume. In his rookie campaign he had a 2.43 ERA, with 2 saves and 35 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. Wick helped stabilize an injury depleted Cubs bullpen last year and the Vancouver-native is expected to have a late innings role in Chicago this year.
Pivetta spent about half his games as a reliever for the Phillies in 2019. He put up a 4.38 ERA and 34 strikeouts in only 24.2 innings (11.3 strikeout-per-9) as a reliever, much better than his numbers as a starter. It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia decides to use him this season.
Quantrill looked brilliant at times in his rookie year, but faded hard down the stretch, giving him an unimpressive 6-8 record with a unflattering 5.16 ERA. The 2016 first-round pick will likely emerge as a starter, but for next year’s tournament it would be nice to see him follow in the footsteps of his Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer dad (Paul Quantrill) -and pitch some relief.
Romano could be Canada’s top arm out of the pen by the start of the tournament. Although his rookie season was underwhelming, many believe he has the stuff to become a late inning reliever for the Jays. In five innings of Spring Training relief Romano pitched 5 scoreless innings with 6 strikeouts for the Jays.
Balazovic and Pop are exciting young prospects. Balazovic is Canada’s top prospect and although was he was only at Single-A in 2019, he had a breakout campaign with a 2.69 ERA, an 8-6 record, with 129 strike outs in only 93.2 innings. Pop was out for most of 2019, but has showed solid numbers in the Orioles system, including a 2-1 record, 1.97 ERA and 7.9 SO/9 in 22 games at the Double-A level. If he can come back healthy in 2020, Pop could certainly climb the ladder in Baltimore’s system.
Axford and Zastryzny are interchangeable veterans arms and both have MLB experience. Other options could be former MLB pitchers, Phillipe Aumont or Andrew Albers. Axford brings a ton of MLB experience and veteran leadership to a pen that will be extremely young.
There are a couple concerns with this ‘dream roster.’ The first is recruiting the “Canadianish” players (Freeman, Guerrero, Taillon) because without these three Canada’s chances are greatly diminished. The second problem, as it is every WBC, is injuries. As it stands Taillon, Paxton and Pop are all recovery from injuries and we will. have to see who has to stay home next March. And finally, retirement.
But here’s hoping all these Canadian/Canadianish players answer the call next year and Canada advances out of the first round for the first time ever…or maybe just wins a game this time.
(Top Photo: Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press)