Oakland Athletics right-hander Rich Harden is hoping a healthy 2007 season follows a dominant spring training in which the Victoria native posted a 1.53 earned-run average and struck out 29 batters in 17 2/3 innings. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
Major League Canucks
Last Updated Fri., April, 6 2007
There was plenty for Canadian baseball fans to get excited about during spring training besides the Toronto Blue Jays settling on a fourth and fifth starting pitcher.
- How about left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard of Navan, Ont., allowing just five earned runs over 23 innings?
- Or Victoria's Rich Harden escaping March injury-free and striking out 29 batters in 17 2/3 innings?
- Or Mark Teahen of the Kansas City Royals making a relatively smooth transition to right field from third base and leading the team in home runs (four) and runs batted in (17)?
"Bedard is awfully, awfully good," New York Yankees minor-league pitching coach Gil Patterson told the Toronto Sun in March. "I like [Adam] Loewen [of Surrey, B.C.,] too and here is hoping Harden stays healthy."
However, there are question marks for some of Canada's finest as the 2007 major league season begins to unfold.
Will third baseman Corey Koskie recover sufficiently from post-concussion syndrome? Can Washington Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill avoid a fourth straight season with elbow problems? And how quickly will the Baltimore Orioles promote outfielder Adam Stern?
Others, such as Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who captured American League most valuable player honours in 2006, have raised expectations.
Morneau is also one of six born-and-bred British Columbia ball players to crack a big-league roster this season. Jason Bay (Trail), Ryan Dempster (Gibsons), Jeff Francis (North Delta), Harden and Loewen are the others.
A year ago, 23 Canucks appeared in the majors – the most since 1884. Below are the 20 Canadians who appeared on opening day rosters April 1:
Jason Bay, 28 – Trail, B.C.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' left-fielder made a seamless recovery from off-season knee surgery to hit .286 in 17 spring training games. Bay is coming off a 2006 season in which he hit .286 and set career highs in home runs (35) and runs batted in (109). He’ll hit third in the Pirates’ batting order, behind Jack Wilson and in front of newcomer Adam LaRoche.
2007 role: The Pirates’ No. 3 hitter and biggest offensive threat.
Erik Bedard, 28 – Navan, Ont.
The six-foot-one left-hander followed up a 15-win season in 2006 with an outstanding spring in which he gave up just five earned runs over 23 innings. As a result, Bedard was named the Orioles’ opening day starter for the first time in his career. A former sixth-round draft pick, Bedard topped Baltimore in wins (15), earned-run average (3.76), innings (196 1/3) and strikeouts (171) last season, all career highs. He avoided salary arbitration and signed a one-year, $3.4-million US contract on Feb. 18.
2007 role: The Orioles’ No. 1 starter.
Ryan Braun, 26 – Kitchener, Ont.
Right-handed relief pitcher emerged as the Kansas City Royals’ biggest surprise this spring by pitching his way into the club. Braun, who went 0-2 in 10 spring training games with a 3.48 earned-run average, has long been viewed as a potential future closer if he can gain better command of his mid-90s fastball to go along with his slider and curve. Braun went 0-1 with a 6.74 ERA and two blown saves in nine appearances for the Royals in 2006.
2007 role: Middle relief
Rheal Cormier, 39 – Moncton, N.B.
One of four lefties in the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen, the 15-year major league veteran can be used against both left- and right-handed hitters. Cormier went 0-1 with 5.68 earned-run average in eight exhibition appearances, allowing 10 hits and striking out six in eight innings. He had a 4.50 ERA in 21 games for the Reds last season following a July 31 trade from Philadelphia.
2007 role: Middle relief
Jesse Crain, 25 – Toronto
The hard-throwing right-hander has proved to be a solid set-up man for the Minnesota Twins but endured a tough spring with a 5.00 earned-run average in eight pre-season outings (12 hits, two walks in nine innings). Crain posted a 5.03 ERA in the first half of 2006 but settled down after the all-star break with an impressive 1.93 ERA in 32 games.
2007 role: One of the Twins’ primary set-up men.
Ryan Dempster, 29 – Sechelt, B.C.
The six-foot Dempster reported to Chicago Cubs spring training 20 pounds lighter, and did more throwing this off-season, which helped. After being bothered by back spasms early in camp, he went on to post a 2.70 earned-run average in 10 outings. In 10 innings, Dempster walked three and struck out 11. He converted only 24 of 33 save chances last year after leading the National League in save percentage (94.2) in 2005. Dempster struggled down the stretch, going 0-4 with an 11.30 ERA in 12 appearances from Aug. 29-Sept. 24. 2007 role: Closer
Jeff Francis, 26 – North Delta, B.C.
Francis enters the 2007 season on the heels of a strong spring training session with the Colorado Rockies in which he walked only three batters in 27 2/3 innings while posting a 1-0 record and 4.23 earned-run average. He also made headlines with a five-game suspension for throwing a pitch behind San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff on March 13. Francis's suspension is under appeal. He has added a sinker to his repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball and a nasty curveball.
2007 role: Rockies' No. 2 starter
Eric Gagne, 31 – Montreal
The injury-prone relief pitcher starts the season on the disabled list, but apparently isn't hurt. The Texas Rangers officials simply want Gagne to get more work before facing major-league hitters. The six-foot, 245-pounder appeared in just three spring training games, allowing five runs (all earned) on seven hits in three innings. Gagne had his 2006 season cut short in early July after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. The former Los Angeles Dodger later signed a one-year, $6-million US free-agent contract with Texas.
2007 role: Closer
Rich Harden, 25 – Victoria
The best news for Harden and the Oakland Athletics' coaching staff is the hard-throwing right-hander broke camp healthy. Sidelined most of last season with a sprained ligament in his right elbow, Harden was dominant in spring training, striking out 29 batters in 17 2/3 innings. He retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced in his final exhibition start to lower his earned-run average to 1.53. However, Harden hasn't yet stayed healthy for a full season, making only 28 starts the last two seasons.
2007 role: A's No. 2 starter
Shawn Hill, 25 – Georgetown, Ont.
The six-foot-two right-hander was the Washington Nationals' best pitcher at spring training. More importantly, Hill stayed healthy after he was shut down for the 2006 in mid-August because of soreness in his surgically repaired right elbow. While he experienced tightness in his right forearm before his first spring start, Hill went on to yield just four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings (1.37 earned-run average) over six starts. Opponents hit only .240 against him.
2007 role: Nationals' No. 2 starter
Corey Koskie, 33 – Anola, Man.
The nine-year major league veteran remains at his Manitoba home recovering from post-concussion syndrome. The Milwaukee Brewers' third baseman still can't do much more than walk on a treadmill after he jarred his head during a July 5 game and did not play the rest of the 2006 season. Koskie has seen a variety of specialists but continues to experience symptoms when he tries to elevate his heart rate.
2007 role: If healthy, will compete with Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell for playing time
Adam Loewen, 22 – Surrey, B.C.
Coming off a disappointing rookie campaign in 2006, Loewen drew rave reviews in the spring for his success with a new-look curveball adopted from Baltimore Orioles teammate and fellow Canadian Erik Bedard. The Orioles' first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2002 finished the exhibition schedule with an impressive 1.64 earned-run average with 23 strikeouts and nine walks in 22 innings. Loewen sported a 6-4 record and 4.72 ERA in 15 second-half games (14 starts) in 2006 and 6-6, 5.37 totals overall.
2007 role: Orioles' No. 4 starter
Canadian Russell Martin starts the 2007 campaign as the Dodgers' undisputed No. 1 catcher after he averaged .281 with 65 runs batted in last season, his first in the majors. (Ron Kuenstler/Associated Press)
Russell Martin, 24 – East York, Ont.
Martin moves up the Los Angeles Dodgers' batting order to the No. 2 hole from eighth last season after hitting .245 in 20 spring training games. The converted third baseman finished his rookie season in 2006 as the team's starting catcher, averaging .281 in 121 games with 65 runs batted in and enough votes for a ninth-place tie in National League rookie of the year balloting.
2007 role: Dodgers' starting catcher
Scott Mathieson, 23 – Vancouver
The six-foot-three, 190-pound relief pitcher will spent most of this season on the disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery performed last Sept. 29. Mathieson remains a fine long-term prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was called up to the big team for good last Sept. 1 after splitting the 2006 season in double-A and triple-A. However, he left six pitches into his start on Sept. 2 with a sprained right elbow. Mathieson finished with a 1-4 record and 7.47 earned-run average in nine games (eight starts).
2007 role: If healthy, a fixture in the Phillies' bullpen
Justin Morneau, 25 – New Westminster, B.C.
What can the Minnesota Twins' first baseman do for an encore? Morneau enjoyed an outstanding 2006 campaign in which he hit .321 with 34 home runs and 130 runs batted in on the way to becoming the first Canadian to win the American League most valuable player award. After failing to agree to a long-term contract during spring training, he hit .290 in 22 exhibition games and topped the Twins with 13 RBIs.
2007 role: Twins' starting first baseman and No. 5 hitter
Pete Orr, 27 – Richmond Hill, Ont.
Orr hit .372 this spring in 20 games to earn a roster spot, joining Chris Woodward as backup infielders with the Atlanta Braves. Orr entered camp as a long shot to make the team, but he was a beneficiary of Willy Aybar having to start the regular season on the disabled list. Orr hit .300 as a rookie in 2005, but struggled last season before rebounding with a .406 August for a .253 overall average.
2007 role: Backup infielder
Chris Reitsma, 29 – Calgary
The 2007 season represents a fresh start for Reitsma, who left the Atlanta Braves to sign a one-year, free-agent contract with the Seattle Mariners. He began last season as Atlanta's closer but was ineffective in the role, posting an 8.68 earned-run average and blowing four of 12 save opportunities in 27 games. During a July 1 game against Baltimore, Reitsma felt numbness in his right hand that led to a stint on the disabled list with ulnar neuritis. He later had elbow surgery to move a muscle that was wrapped around the ulnar nerve. Reitsma had a bittersweet spring training, converting three of four save chances to go with a 5.63 ERA over eight innings.
2007 role: Primary set-up man for closer J.J. Putz
Matt Stairs, 39 – Fredericton
The Toronto Blue Jays are Stairs's 10th team in 15 seasons and second Canadian organization after he broke into the majors with Montreal in 1992. He impressed in spring training, averaging .355 in 16 games (31 at-bats). Stairs spent last season primarily as a designated hitter with Kansas City, Texas and Detroit and batted .247 overall in 117 games with 13 homers and 51 runs batted in. He was ineligible to play for the Tigers in the post-season and signed a one-year, minor-league contract with Toronto last December.
2007 role: Blue Jays' fourth outfielder
Mark Teahen, 25 – Redlands, Calif.
Born and raised in southern California, Teahen has dual citizenship because his father, Mike, was born in St. Marys, Ont. The younger Teahen has shifted to right field this season from third base to make room for Kansas City Royals prospect Alex Gordon. Teahen has recovered from arthroscopic surgery to repair a partial labrum tear in his right shoulder and led the Royals in home runs (four) and runs batted in (17) in spring training. Last season, Teahen batted .290 in 109 games for the Royals with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs.
2007 role: Royals' starting right-fielder and No. 3 hitter
Scott Thorman, 25 – Cambridge, Ont.
The six-foot-three, 235-pounder opens the season as the Atlanta Braves' starting first baseman after he beat out Craig Wilson following the off-season trade of Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh. Thorman struggled in the spring, averaging .247 in a team-high 73 at-bats with just five runs batted in (22 games). He made his first big-league start last June 18, less than 24 hours after being told to head to Atlanta from triple-A Richmond. The first baseman/outfielder appeared in 55 games with Atlanta and hit .234 with five homers.
2007 role: Braves' starting first baseman
minimum 500 games
St. Thomas, Ont.
Ft. William, Ont.
John J. O'Brien
Bill B. Phillips
Maple Ridge, B.C.
- Canadian Teahen is jack-of-all-trades
- March 30, 2007
- Orioles ship Stern to triple-A
- March 28, 2007
- Contract talks end between Morneau, Twins
- March 22, 2007
- Hill tosses five scoreless innings
- March 19, 2007
- Rockies' Francis suspended
- March 17, 2007
- Canuck slugger Thorman braves Atlanta competition
- Feb. 28, 2007
- Canada's Loewen in striking form
- Feb. 21, 2007
- Calgary's Reitsma signs with Mariners
- Jan. 5, 2007
- Gagne, Rangers strike 1-year deal
- Dec. 12, 2006
- Stairs excited to be a Blue Jay
- Dec. 10, 2006