Baseball News for Canadians
Baseball is the national pastime of the U.S. but it has never completely captured the imagination of Canadians. There are, however, several very good Canadian players at the Major League level and even more in the Minor Leagues.
The only native Canadian in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall of Fame is Ferguson Jenkins who grew up in Chatham, Ontario and had his best years for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. Today, Joey Votto of Cincinnati is considered a possible Hall of Famer but his career is still young.
The Toronto Blue Jays are the sole Canadian team in the Major Leagues. There are however many Canadian teams in the Minor Leagues or in the Summer College Leagues. Anyone organizing a baseball tour of Canada can plan many possible stops from Quebec to British Columbia.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have for the most part fallen on hard times since they were a genuine powerhouse in the American League, winning the World Series two years in a row in 1992 and 1993. They haven’t even made it to the postseason since then. They’ve been outspent by the ridiculously wealthy Yankees and Red Sox. Tampa Bay, in a small market, used the formula of nurturing young players and winning with pitching and defense. The Blue Jays seem to have floundered in this atmosphere having traded several top prospects in 2013 to acquire good veterans such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle.
In 2023, when the AL East was up for grabs as Boston, New York, and Tampa all imploded, the Blue Jays let the Orioles take the division. After leading the division for the first two months in 2023, the Jays slipped again. Now the AL East is considered the worst division in baseball and the Jays have as good a chance as any to win.
This winter the Jays added Russell Martin, a solid catcher and Josh Donaldson a former first-round draft choice and now a mere journeyman at 29 even though he was chosen to last year’s All-Star Game.
The Blue Jays still have to improve their bullpen which was porous to an extreme last year. The early line on the Jays is that they have a productive offense but major questions in the pitching staff. This is where Russell Martin comes in. He was a Gold Glove catcher earlier in his career. He was a much sought-after free agent this winter. Now with the Jays, everyone will look to see if he can develop the kind of rapport with the pitching staff that results in close victories, the kind that hinge on a handful of pitches.
Players to Pay Attention to
Spring Training will begin in late February. Here are the top ten minor league prospects that we should all keep our eyes on this spring:
- Daniel Norris, 21 years old, left-handed pitcher (lhp). Many think he may be ready to pitch in the big leagues this year.
- Aaron Sanchez, 22, rhp. Pitched well in 33 innings in the Bigs last year. Has made the jump from Rookie League to Majors in only three years.
- Jeff Hoffman, 21, rhp. Drafted out of college last year. Begins in low minors. The Jays have high hopes but probably won’t play in the Majors next year.
- Dalton Pompey, 22, of. Ontario native. Was drafted out of high school in 2010. Played at several minor league levels last year; excelled in AAA but struggled after being called up to the Blue Jays.
- Franklin Barreto, 18, ss. From Caracas, Venezuela, built in the mold of the most famous Venezuelan shortstop, Luis Aparicio. Will begin the season in the low minors.
- Max Pentecost, 21, c. This prospect is being groomed as the future bulwark of the young, upcoming pitching staff. It will be interesting to see if Russell Martin takes him under his wing. Pentecost is expected to play every day in the minors even if his skill set matures to Major League level.
- Roberto Osuna, 19, rhp. Needs seasoning.
- Richard Urena, 18, ss. From the shortstop capitol of the world, Macoris, Dominican Republic. There is an interesting competition upcoming between Urena and Barreto.
- Miguel Castro, 20, rhp. Slowly developing in the low Minors.
- Sean Reid-Foley, 19, rhp. Played in the Rookie League last year.
Blue Jays Popularity
The Blue Jays were immensely popular in Ontario from their first season. They set attendance records in several seasons and were the first Major League team to draw 4,000,000 fans in one season, in 1991. The following year, their first of two World Championship seasons, they again drew more than 4,000,000 people.
Montreal in Baseball History
We should note that the other Canadian Major League team, the Montreal Expos, left Montreal for Washington in 2005 primarily because baseball didn’t grab the attention of Montreal like the Jays did in Toronto. The Expos were best known for Rusty Staub who was a great player and because of his hair color became known as Le Grande Orange to Montreal fans.
Montreal baseball, however, will always be known for the welcome the city gave to Jackie Robinson when, in 1946, he was sent by the Brooklyn Dodgers to play for the Montreal Royals, then a AAA farm team of the Dodgers. The General Manager of the Dodgers Branch Rickey hoped to break the colour barrier in the Major Leagues and had chosen Jackie Robinson, a college man, to do so.
Rachel Robinson remembered the warm reception they received from their neighbors in a French-speaking area of Montreal. Mrs. Robinson was pregnant at the time and many neighbors helped her in small ways. Even though she and Jackie didn’t speak French they quickly became part of the community.