Team Canada's quest to win the World Baseball Classic finally begins today (games have been going on in the middle of the night and early morning in Japan for almost a week now). While there are quite a few recognizable names on the roster, there are also quite a few who you may not recognize. Let's take a look:
Team Canada's strength is its infield, and it's not particularly close (even without Brett Lawrie, who suffered a rib cage injury yesterday). Former MLB MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau will be splitting time between first base and DH. At shortstop and second base are Cale Iorg and Pete Orr, respectively, and we will probably see Taylor Green get playing time at third base now that Lawrie is out.
Cale Iorg is a shortstop in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was born in Toronto in 1985, and attended the University of Alabama, and was drafted by the Tigers in the sixth round of the 2007 draft. He has yet to make his major league debut, and has split time between AA and AAA over the past three seasons. His numbers are, well...not very pretty. Maybe Russel Martin at shortstop wouldn't have been so bad after all.
Pete Orr is a 33 year old second baseman from Richmond Hill, Ontario, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies' AAA team. Orr has spent most of the last six seasons with four different International League teams, but he has had a few chances with the Phillies over the last two seasons, and with Washington and Atlanta before that. His numbers could be a lot better, but after looking at Mr. Iorg's .207 OBP I'm not going to complain too much.
The last underwhelming infielder we'll discuss Taylor Green. He's a 26 year old third baseman for the Brewers (I guess they have a thing for drafting Canadian infielders) from Comox, British Columbia. He spent both 2011 and 2012 playing at AAA Nashville. He had a very good year in 2011, hitting .336/.413/.583 in 487 plate appearances, but his numbers went down in 2012 (.273/..345/.408).
Canada's outfield is far from All-Star calibre, led by Adam Loewen, Michael Saunders, and Tyson Gillies, but it should be enough to get the team past Italy and Mexico into the second round. Since we are all aware of those three from their time with MLB teams (Loewen hasn't had much major league experience, but I expect we're all quite familiar with him from his Blue Jay days), I'm going to focus on Canada's fourth outfielder: Rene Tosoni.
Tosoni, a 26 year old born in Toronto and raised in British Columbia, was drafted by the Twins in the 36th round of the 2005 draft. He had 189 plate appearances with the Twins in 2011, hitting an disappointing .203/.275/.343. Since then he's spent most of his time at AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, where he's been not very good at all. Hopefully the three outfielders mentioned above will keep us from having to see much of Tosoni over the next two weeks.
The most interesting of Canada's pitchers is Jameson Taillon, mostly because, well, no one knew that he was Canadian (he's a dual citizen) before his name appeared on Canada's roster. Taillon, one of baseball's best pitching prospects, was born in Florida in 1991 and attended high school in Texas. He has numerous connections to Canada through immediate and extended family, and his father and grandmother are living here now. He hasn't made his MLB debut yet, but his minor league numbers are pretty great. Taillon is almost certainly Canada's best pitcher, but let's take a look at a few other names as well:
Chris Leroux, Shawn Hill, and Scott Mathieson were named starters last week, and they're joined in the bullpen by recognizable names like John Axford and Trystan Magnuson (yes, I know Trystan Magnuson is only a recognizable name if you're a Blue Jays or A's fan).
Leroux pitched 11 innings for the Pirates in 2012, and spent the rest of the season in AAA. Former Blue Jay Shawn Hill pitched 3 MLB innings for the Jays last year, and 20 in 2010. He signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers this offseason. Scott Mathieson pitched poorly in a small sample size back in 2006, and then didn't see any MLB action until 2010. He spent 2012 in the Japanese Central League.
Chris Robinson and John Suomi will be catching for Canada. Robinson is a 28 year old catcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization. He was born in London, Ontario and has yet to play a game in the Majors. He spent the last four season in AAA, (one in the International League and three in the Pacific Coast League). Robinson is expected to be Canada's starting catcher throughout the tournament. John Suomi, a 32 year old from Toronto (who also has never played an MLB game) will be backing him up. Suomi has spent the last six years splitting time between various teams from A+ to AAA.
Team Canada is managed by former Blue Jay Ernie Whitt. Whitt played twelve years with the Jays, from their inaugural season in 1977 til 1989. He is not Canadian (he was born in Detroit) but he spent many years promoting baseball in Canada while with the Blue Jays, and was therefore offered a job as manager of Team Canada for the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Some considered Whitt a candidate for the Blue Jays managerial job this past offseason, but it does not appear as though Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the front office ever considered him a serious candidate.
Larry Walker (batting coach), Denis Boucher (pitching coach), Stubby Clapp, Greg Hamilton, Tim Leiper, and Paul Quantrill round out Whitt's coaching staff.
Canada's first game goes today against Italy at 2:30 PM. All of Canada's games will be broadcast on all four regional Sportsnet channels (and you can find every WBC game somewhere on the network-either on the regional channels or Sportsnet One).
Canada's game versus Mexico will begin at 2:30 PM tomorrow, and The Big Game against the USA will go at 4:00 PM on Sunday. If they finish in the top two in their pool (Pool D), Canada will move on to the double-elimination second round.
In the second round, the Pool D winner will play the Pool C runner-up, and the Pool C winner will play the Pool D runner up (same thing for Pools A and B). This means Canada could end up playing one of Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic. The losers of those two games will play on March 13, and the winners will play the next day. On March 15th, the winner of the Losers game will play the loser of the Winners game, with the winner of that game coming out to play the winner of the Winners game on March 16th.
Are you confused yet?
Just remember that a team has to lose twice to be eliminated, and it will begin to make some sense. You can also check out the schedule here.
From there it's quite simple: Winner and runner-up from Pool 1 (Pools A and B) will play the winner and runner up from Pool 2 (Pools C and D), and this time it's single elimination (lose and you're out). The winners of those two games will play in the final on March 19th.
And that is everything you need to know about Canada at the World Baseball Classic. The most important thing, though, is that when it's over we'll only be two weeks away from Opening Day!