Commenter Malna asked a couple of great questions on the post about the Vancouver Canadians’ roster.
“What other Canadian born players do you suppose have a chance to help out the Vancouver Canadians this year?
How do you feel about a very forward Beeston (and to a lesser extent AA) in ensuring that there is as much Canadian talent playing in our system as possible?”
Well, to answer the first question, there are currently four Canadian-born players on the Vancouver roster: catcher Michael Reeves, infielders Justin Atkinson and Shaun Valeriote and pitcher Eric Brown. Other than those fellas, there are only a couple of Canadians on the initial roster for Bluefield* that could conceivably help out the Canadians this year.
Let’s focus on what’s in Vancouver now. A native of Peterborough, Ontario, Reeves has played in one game and had a great start, going 2 for 3. Drafted this year, he’s pretty much a wildcard with no professional experience and without a ton of experience (that I’ve been able to find) hitting with wood bats, something that potentially hamstrings young hitters. Looking over Reeves’s college stats, he hit well and showed good patience at the plate, but without much power. He also was voted the best defensive catcher in his conference by players and coaches. He profiles like many of the catchers that the Blue Jays have drafted in recent years: a college senior who’s a good defensive catcher with some potential in the bat.
I think he can be a key contributor to the C’s. If he hits well, the team will try to find a way to get his bat in the lineup on days that he isn’t catching. He’s the only lefty of the three on the roster, so he might get the majority of the playing time there but the Jays seem to like to split playing time for catchers fairly evenly, particularly at the lower levels when there’s no sure-fire prospect. But as we’ve seen in Dunedin, a guy who hits, like Derrick Chung, will get more at bats either as a DH or playing another position.
Infielder Justin Atkinson, from Surrey, B.C., hasn’t done a whole lot so far in his minor league career and certainly hasn’t put up any power numbers that would warrant his remaining at first base. He really hasn’t played that position until this year, playing second and third in his previous two years of pro ball. He’s totaled 1 professional home run and, including his two games this year, has a career .630 OPS. I’ve been told that he’s ready to take a big step forward, but I would think that unless he develops his power soon, he’s not going to stick at first base. He’s also the youngest Vancouver Canadian at 19 years old, so he has a lot of time to get bigger and stronger, but I really don’t know how much he’s going to be able to do this season.
First baseman Shaun Valeriote comes from Guelph, Ontario and is a rare draftee who came out of a Canadian university program (Brock University). He’s not a huge guy and will probably play some first base for the Canadians but wasn’t a full-time player last year with the GCL Blue Jays as a 22 year old. There might be some pop in the bat as six of his 20 hits went for extra bases, but he struck out quite a lot and he’s going to be seeing much better competition in the Northwest League. I wouldn’t count on too much from Valeriote this year as the Blue Jays have 2 first basemen that they drafted out of a strong college program (South Carolina) who will be signing soon and I’m predicting that the older of the two, L.B. Dantzler, will be headed to Vancouver. There’s also Eric Arce who may profile as a DH/1B down the road who’s repeating Bluefield after a pretty strong season there last year, so unless he jumps over Vancouver and goes to Lansing later this year or next year, he may also be pushing Valeriote out of playing time.
Finally, there’s righty Eric Brown who’s from Thunder Bay but played college baseball at UBC in Vancouver. He’s 24 and the veteran of two pro seasons already having seen some time at higher levels in Lansing and Dunedin. While it looks like he’s going to be pitching in a starting role in Vancouver, he’s done better out of the bullpen, particularly last year with a 7.07 ERA in 9 starts (all in Vancouver) and a 4.73 ERA in 18 appearances out of the bullpen. If he pitches like he did in the opener, he’ll be a key cog in the Vancouver Canadians’ season, but at his age, he’s strictly a depth guy and, unless something drastic happens, he’s not going to be a real prospect.
Looking at the guys in Bluefield, there are only two Canadians, pitchers Tom Robson and Shane Dawson. I could see Robson moving up to Vancouver if he really pitches out of his mind, but he’s only 20 at the end of June, so there’s no hurry. Same with the other Canadian the Jays drafted this year, high school pitcher Sean Ratcliffe. He’s young and will probably only see the Gulf Coast League.
As far as Beeston’s commitment to finding Canadian players for the system goes, I’m all for it. I don’t want the see the team overlooking better talent just to select Canadian players. But when it comes to filling a minor league system, something that takes a LOT of players, I’m all for bringing in Canadian guys to play and take up roster spots to fill the teams.
Clearly the Jays aren’t over-valuing Canadian prospects and minor leaguers. One look at the Canadian Baseball Network website shows that 21 Canadians were drafted (and I’m sure several more signed undrafted free-agent contracts) — only two of them by the Blue Jays. The Jays aren’t going after all the Canadians because they’re Canadian, they’re going after guys who fit within their player valuation strategies and maybe making sure that they don’t overlook any Canadians. I’m happy with how they’re running things. They’re certainly giving Canadians opportunities to play, but aren’t showing them any favoritism once they’re in the system.
If you look at the Dunedin Blue Jays, you can see an example of how the Jays treat a pair of Canadian outfielders there, Marcus Knecht and Mike Crouse. Both of them show some upside but are struggling with certain things. They haven’t given up on either one and both show some pop as well as good skills in some areas. This year, Crouse is having a better season but has had his at bats limited due to an injury early in the season. Neither is being moved up through the organization faster than someone who isn’t Canadian and neither is being kept in the lineup despite performing any worse than someone else. Following these guys over the last couple of seasons, it looks like the Jays are treating them exactly the way they treat any other player in the organization.
In Lansing, a guy like Dalton Pompey, who has had an up-and-down season, may get more interview requests from Canadian media who get down there, but he’s certainly not getting any preferential treatment from the Jays. He’s just like every young player there, trying to learn and get better and more consistent every day.**
In the major leagues, I think that Brett Lawrie has been treated as he should be: as a young player with tons of potential who hasn’t reached it yet who needs the opportunity to get there. He will continue to play every day when he gets back from injury but if the Jays think that he’ll benefit from a trip to the minors, he’ll go if he continues to struggle.
*Rookie-level Bluefield starts their season on Thursday, June 20. My story on that roster will be out this week. Thanks to Trey Wilson, the media director for the Bluefield Blue Jays for helping me out with some roster questions.
** I can tell you this from having been there are talked to players including Pompey and other outfielders who have struggled to some degree. They’re all young and are given the opportunities to go out there regularly and improve.