17 Canadians crack major league rosters
Bay, Bedard, Aumont among late additions
Some wondered if his baseball career had reached a point of no return.
Jason Bay was out of a job in mid-November, having been released by the New York Mets. But less than a month later the Seattle Mariners, looking to add offence in the off-season, signed the resident of nearby Kirkland, Wash.
The 34-year-old Bay attended spring training under no illusions, realizing he wasn’t in Peoria, Ariz., to compete for a starting job. Relaxed and excited about his new surroundings, Bay went out and hit .321 in the Cactus League with two home runs and made the Mariners as their fifth outfielder.
"The fresh start is the big thing," Bay, who hit only .234 in just over 1,000 plate appearances in New York, told Seattle reporters on the weekend. "No matter what I was going to do in New York, it wasn’t going to be enough to make up for all the things I didn’t do.
"I know where I stand [with the Mariners] and what my job is going to be. And I’m excited about it."
In 2009, Bay clubbed 36 homers with 119 runs batted in for Boston and received seven American League MVP votes. Today, he’s happy to be part of a major league roster.
Last season, 23 Canadians appeared in at least one major league game after a record 26 Canadians played in the big leagues in 2011.
Below is a status report on the 34 other Canadians who attended major league spring training.
JIM ADDUCI, OF, Texas: The 27-year-old outfielder was sent to triple-A Round Rock (Tex.) on March 26 after opening some eyes this spring by hitting .444 (12-for-27) with a homer and seven RBIs in 19 games. He'll likely serve as organizational depth at triple-A, and could see time with the big league club in the event of an injury.
PHILLIPPE AUMONT, RP, Philadelphia: Aumont won the final spot in the Phillies bullpen, beating out Michael Stutes two days before opening day. The 24-year-old from Gatineau, Que., allowed two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring, striking out six batters and walking three. Aumont sported a 3.68 ERA in 18 games for the Phillies last season.
JOHN AXFORD, RP, Milwaukee: Which Axford are Brewers fans going to see this season? The Canadian closer who lost his job last summer, only to win it back but still post a disappointing 4.67 ERA? Or the one who had 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 2011? Well, Axford blew a save in the Milwaukee's season opener, allowing a Dexter Fowler home run, but did strike out the side. In eight spring training games, the Port Dover, Ont., right-hander had a 5.87 ERA.
ERIK BEDARD, SP, Houston: Bedard, 34, is the Astros’ fifth starter after going 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts with Pittsburgh last season. On Sunday, Erik Bedard was credited with his first major league save after pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief against Texas. Bedard pitched six shutout innings in spring training while also dealing with a glute injury.
MIKE BLANKE, C, Chicago White Sox: The 24-year-old Blanke of Granby, Que., was sent to the club’s minor league camp on March 5 after going 0-for-1 in three pre-season games. He hit .240 with 10 home runs for Winston-Salem (N.C.) of the Carolina League in 2012.
NICK BUCCI, RP, Milwaukee: He was optioned to double-A Huntsville (Ala.) on March 12. Last season, the 22-year-old right-hander from Sarnia, Ont., suffered a significant latissimus dorsi strain behind his shoulder in minor league camp but was named to the Brewers’ 40-man roster this winter.
LUKE CARLIN, C, L.A. Angels: A non-roster invitee to spring training, Carlin, 32, was assigned to minor league camp on March 24 and will start the season at triple-A Salt Lake after going 1-for-13 in nine pre-season games. The one-time resident of Aylmer, Que., hit .252 in 62 games with Cleveland’s triple-A affiliate last season.
JESSE CRAIN, RP, Chicago White Sox: The Toronto-born right-hander avoided the disabled list and started the season on the active roster. Crain only pitched in four spring training games (12.27 ERA) because of a strained right adductor (groin). Crain, 31, missed 22 games last season with shoulder problems and has a 2.54 earned-run average in two seasons with Chicago covering 113 1/3 innings.
LARS DAVIS, C, Colorado: The 27-year-old from Grand Prairie, Alta., was among the Rockies’ first series of cuts on March 11 as he was sent to minor league camp. Davis didn’t have a hit in two at-bats in five spring training games but hit at a .287 clip with nine homers for double-A Tulsa last season.
RYAN DEMPSTER, SP, Boston: Veteran right-hander had a strong spring with his new team, posting a 3.74 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in six starts, and was named Boston’s third starter. The 35-year-old native of Gibsons, B.C., combined to win 12 games with the Chicago Cubs and Texas last season.
SCOTT DIAMOND, SP, Minnesota: Diamond (elbow) threw 65 pitches on March 28 in a minor league game and was expected to make two more minor league starts before joining the Twins' rotation on April 12. The 26-year-old left-hander from Guelph, Ont., who won 12 games for the Twins in 2012, had a bone chip removed from his elbow in December.
JEFF FRANCIS, SP, Colorado: The Rockies’ fourth starter enjoyed the most productive spring training of his major league career, posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 15/3 K/BB ratio over his 29 1/3 innings. The 32-year-old southpaw had six wins and a 5.58 earned-run average in 24 starts for Colorado in 2012.
TYSON GILLIES, OF, Philadelphia: The 24-year-old Phillies prospect was sent to minor league camp and expected to start the season with triple-A Lehigh Valley. Gillies was 1-for-9 in five Grapefruit League games after failing to record a hit in 14 at-bats as Canada’s leadoff hitter at the World Baseball Classic.
TAYLOR GREEN, INF, Milwaukee: Green, 26, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 22, with a left hip labral injury sustained while taking swings prior to a game. The native of Comox, B.C., Green managed only five hits in 36 spring training at-bats (.139) after hitting .286 (4-for-14) at the World Baseball Classic.
RICH HARDEN, P, Minnesota: Harden was reassigned to the Twins’ minor league camp on March 29. The oft-injured 31-year-old righty from Victoria threw six weeks of bullpen sessions at spring training and could be an interesting add to the Minnesota lineup as a relief pitcher during the season. Harden has been put on the disabled list 10 times in the past nine years with arm injuries.
JIM HENDERSON, RP, Milwaukee: Brewers’ set-up man struggled at spring training, posting a 6.14 ERA in eight appearances. At the recent World Baseball Classic, the 30-year-old Calgary native gave up five runs (all earned) on five hits in one inning of work over two games. Henderson had a 3.52 ERA and three saves in 36 appearances for Milwaukee last season.
SHAWN HILL, SP, Detroit: Hill, 31, left a good impression before the Tigers reassigned the Georgetown, Ont., native to minor league camp on March 26. Hill pitched well in his final three outings a left spring training sporting a 4.50 ERA over five games (three starts). In Hill, who has a 4.69 ERA in 45 major league games, Detroit will have triple-A starting depth.
GEORGE KOTTARAS, C, Kansas City: The 29-year-old Kottaras opens the season as Salvador Perez’s backup after hitting .306 (11-for-36) with a .468 on-base percentage in 18 spring training games to hold off Brett Hayes. Kottaras, who hails from Scarborough, Ont., has some power (24 homers in 249 major league games) and was strong defensively at spring training.
BRETT LAWRIE, 3B, Toronto: Recovering from a rib cage injury, the energetic Blue Jay resumed throwing on Monday and will continue to ramp up baseball activities but isn’t expected to return to the lineup for at least two weeks. The 23-year-old from Langley, B.C., hit .273 in 126 games for Toronto last season with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases.
CHRIS LEROUX, RP, Pittsburgh: Chris Leroux broke Pirates camp as a relief pitcher, despite a 9.72 ERA in eight appearances (one start). The Montreal-born right-hander blanked the opposition in his first three spring training outings (four innings, five strikeouts) out of the bullpen. Leroux, 28, had a 5.56 ERA in 10 late-season appearances with the Pirates in 2012.
ADAM LOEWEN, OF, Toronto: Converted pitcher was promoted from double-A New Hampshire to triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday after the Jays traded infielder Lars Anderson to the Chicago White Sox. Loewen’s plan entering spring training was to latch on with New Hampshire. Loewen, 28, hit just .118 (2-for-17) in 14 games this spring.
KYLE LOTZKAR, RP, Cincinnati: The 23-year-old hurler from Delta, B.C., was sent to double-A Pensacola on March 12. The Reds prospect threw one inning of relief against Canada’s World Baseball Classic squad on March 6 after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder last season. He went 7-6 with a 4.55 ERA in 2012 with Class A Bakersfield and double-A Pensacola.
RUSSELL MARTIN, C, Pittsburgh: After signing a two-year, $17-million US free-agent deal with the Pirates, Martin hit .150 (6-for-40) in 16 spring training games. The Montreal catcher also was hampered by a sore shoulder. The good thing is the Pirates signed Martin for his strong defensive skills as well as his ability to hit for power (21 home runs with the New York Yankees last season).
JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1B, Minnesota: Any spring training that Morneau gets through injury-free is a great spring. The native of New Westminster, B.C., missed much of the 2010 and 2011 seasons with concussion symptoms but posted a .267 batting average and 19 homers in 134 games in 2012. He also hit .267 in 15 games this spring with three home runs.
MIKE NICKEAS, C, Toronto: Vancouver-born catcher will open season with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ new affiliate. Nickeas played parts of the past four seasons in Buffalo, the former affiliate of the New York Mets. The 30-year-old was part of trade that brought knuckleballer to the Blue Jays in December. Known more for his defensive abilities, Nickeas hit .174 in 47 games with the New York Mets last season.
PETE ORR, 2B, Philadelphia: Phillies reassigned Orr to triple-A Lehigh Valley on March 30. Orr hit .250 with a .250 on-base percentage in 32 plate appearances with Philadelphia this spring. Last season, he hit .315 in 57 plate appearances with the Phillies. Orr, who offers little power and draws few walks, signed a minor league contract with the team in November.
JAMES PAXTON, SP, Seattle: Mariners optioned the left-hander to triple-A Tacoma on March 14. Paxton struggled this spring, allowing six runs while walking four over 3 2/3 frames. The 24-year-old from Richmond, B.C., is one of the team’s top pitching prospects and has plenty of upside. He missed five weeks last season with tendinitis in his right knee and fashioned a 6-1 record and 2.40 ERA in 11 starts upon his return.
CHRIS ROBINSON, C, Baltimore: He was reassigned to Orioles minor league camp on March 27 after recording four hits in 11 at-bats in 10 games. The 28-year-old, who hails from Dorchester, Ont., (near London) has played 566 professional games but zero in the majors.
MICHAEL SAUNDERS, OF, Seattle: Mariners right-fielder looks to build on last year’s career season (19 homers, 21 stolen bases). The 26-year-old Victoria native hit a disappointing .203 in 17 spring training games but was named the MVP of Pool D at the World Baseball Classic after hitting .727 (8-for-11) with a homer and seven runs batted in.
OSCAR TAVERAS, OF, St. Louis: Cardinals reassigned OF Oscar Taveras to minor league camp on March 29. The top hitting prospect in baseball, he batted .289 with two homers, 10 RBIs and two steals during Grapefruit League play and is widely considered major league-ready now. Tavares could be recalled from triple-A before June should Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday suffer an injury.
JAMESON TAILLON, SP, Pittsburgh: At six-foot-six, 225 pounds, the right-handed prospect is an imposing figure on the mound. He pitched two Grapefruit League innings before the Pirates assigned him to minor league camp. Taillon, 21, impressed at the World Baseball Classic, limiting the United States to two runs (one earned) in four innings. Recently, Baseball America ranked Taillon the 23rd best prospect.
MARK TEAHEN, 3B, Arizona: The once-promising Kansas City Royals outfielder and ex-Toronto Blue Jay was sent to minor league camp on March 24. Teahen, 31, tried to make the Diamondbacks after hitting .260 in 500 plate appearances last season for the Washington Nationals’ triple-A affiliate. Raised in Yucaipa, Calif., he is a Canadian citizen because his father Mike was born in St. Marys, Ont.
JOEY VOTTO, 1B, Cincinnati: Votto, looking healthy at spring training following a pair of operations last season to repair damaged cartilage in his knee, hit a robust .346 in 22 exhibition games with a .460 on-base percentage. The Toronto-born slugger had a .337 batting average with 14 homers, 56 RBIs and a career-high .474 OBP last season.
NICK WEGLARZ, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay: Weglarz was released by the Rays on March 24. The Stevensville, Ont., native received just four spring plate appearances for the Rays, who signed Weglarz to a minor league deal in the off-season. Once ranked as baseball’s No. 58 prospect, he hit .239 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 109 games last season for the Cleveland Indians’ double-A affiliate.