A deep dive into Team Canada’s roster for the 2023 World Baseball Classic
7 months ago
Earlier this month, Baseball Canada and the rest of the 19 nations released their respective rosters for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, slated to begin March 8th and go until March 21st, with the championship game taking place in Miami, Florida at LoanDepot Park, home to the Marlins.
For Team Canada, their tournament begins in on March 11th, with the Canadians set to play their first-round action in Pheonix, Arizona at Chase Field, home to the Diamondbacks. They are currently in one of the tougher groups of the tournament in Pool C, which also boasts Mexico, Colombia, the United States, and Great Britain, who won their way into the tournament via a qualifier back in mid-Septmeber, besting Spain in extra innings. This will be a challenge for Canada, as Mexico and the United States look to be the favourites out of the gate and Colombia could also pose some problems, similar to the 2017 WBC. Canada would be looking to advance out of the first round for the first time in the history of the tournament.
Roster-wise, there is a solid mix of veteran and MiLB talent, with some players returning from retirement to don the Team Canada jersey once again. Ernie Whitt will lead the team as the manager of the squad, doing so in all previous World Baseball Classic tournaments, while former big leaguer Russell Martin will join the team in a coaching capacity as well.
Team Canada Position Players
Position players-wise, the club will be led by Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, who returns to Team Canada after donning the maple leaf back in 2017. The six-time All-Star and former NL MVP award winner will look to improve upon his previous tournament experience, where he went 2 for 11 with one RBI. Joining Freeman from the MLB ranks will be Cardinals OF Tyler O’Neill and Brewers INF Abraham Toro, both of whom bring some MLB experience to the diamond. O’Neill will also be looking to improve upon his time at the 2017 tournament (1 for 11) while Toro is suiting up for the first time at the World Baseball Classic.
Team Canada will also be sending some upper-level MiLB players in Blue Jays UTIL Otto Lopez, Guardians catcher Bo Naylor, Cubs OF Jared Young, and outfielder Jacob Robson, all of whom have limited experience at the big league level over the past three seasons.
Behind the plate will feature Naylor and Kellin Deglan, who has spent the past two seasons with the Blue Jays AAA team. Rounding out the infield is Twins second baseman Edouard Julien (15th-ranked Twins prospect), Blue Jays prospect Damiano Palmegiani, and Andy Yerzy, who spent the 2022 season in AA with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a former second-round pick of the organization back in 2016.
Speaking to Blue Jays Nation, Palmegiani talked about what it means to be selected to Team Canada’s roster, “It’s a huge honour to represent Canada on the biggest stage. It means a lot to me and my family and I have always been extremely prideful of the red and white growing up,” he said. “Going into the tournament, I’m going to be ready and prepared for any way the staff wants to use me so we can advance out of the pool. We have a talented team and when we get rolling, we’re gonna turn a lot of heads.”
To round out the outfield ranks alongside O’Neill, Robson, and Young is Cubs prospect Owen Caissie (10th ranked prospect) and Athletics Denzel Clarke (13th ranked prospect). Other than O’Neill, the remaining group has not suited up for the WBC but does have experience representing the nation with the Canadian Junior National program.
Team Canada Starting Rotation
Leading the charge on the mound for Team Canada will be Guardians starter Cal Quantrill, son of former big leaguer Paul Quantrill, and Boston Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta, with Pivetta rejoining the team after a solid outing back in the 2017 WBC (4.0 innings with one earned run against Colombia). Last season, Quantrill posted a 3.38 ERA through 32 starts with 128 strikeouts while making two starts in the ALDS against the Yankees.
To round out the rotation, Team Canada has a few pitchers to choose from including Mariners right-hander Matt Brash, Rangers prospect Mitch Bratt (highest-level Single-A), Phillies prospect Noah Skirrow, RHP R.J. Freure, and Canadian alumni Adam Loewen and Andrew Albers. Of the group, Brash and Skirrow are the most likely to get reps in the starting rotation alongside Quantrill and Pivetta given their recent experience in the MiLB.
Team Canada Bullpen
For the bullpen, there is a solid mix of veteran and MiLB talent, led by right-hander John Axford, who will be returning to the WBC scene after pitching for the Canadians back in 2013 and at the 2021 WBSC Baseball America’s Qualifier. Joining Axford in the relief pitching corps with MLB experience include RHP Scott Mathieson, RHP Philippe Aumont, and Pirates southpaw Rob Zastryzny. Mathieson, who spent parts of eight seasons with the Yomiuri Giants in the Nippon Baseball League, rejoins Team Canada after pitching with the club in 2006, 2013, and 2017 on the previous World Baseball Classic rosters.
“It’s such a big honour to play for my country, especially almost 22 years after I signed my first pro contract,” Mathieson told Blue Jays Nation. “I told Team Canada that I will never say no to putting on the maple leaf. But, I also never want to take the spot away from a younger pitcher that can do the same thing I can.” Echoing Palmegiani’s earlier comments, the right-hander believes Team Canada can get out of the first round given the current roster, “I’m going into this tournament with the mindset that we can move past the first round and I need to support all our great pitchers. I’m there to do anything they ask of me but I specifically want to help see some of our up-and-coming arms succeed.”
Rounding out the rest of the bullpen arms from the Minor League rankings include Guardians Cade Smith, Rays Trevor Brigden, Yankees Indigo Diaz, and Cubs right-hander Curtis Taylor. Evan Rutckyj also finds himself on the roster, recently spending this past winter in Australia with the Melbourne Aces.
Missing from the Team Canada Roster
One of the notable omissions from the roster is 16-year veteran first baseman Joey Votto, who is coming off surgery for a torn rotator cuff from last season. Votto last played for Team Canada at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Josh Naylor, brother of Bo Naylor, will also not be on the roster, informing reporters at the Guardians Fan Fest, “I would absolutely love to play for Canada, but I don’t know if it’s a smart decision. I want to do it, but God forbid if I get hurt or I tweak something during that tournament, that’s not going to be helpful for the Guardians.”
Marlins infielder Charles Leblanc is also not on the roster as well as superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who could have suited up for Team Canada given he was born in Montreal but he confirmed his intention to play for the Dominican Republic last year. Other Canadian prospects left off the roster include Orioles OF Adam Hall, Cubs OF Jordan Nwogu, and Tigers shortstop Trei Cruz amongst others.
In the rotation, Team Canada is missing a few prominent arms in the form of Mike Soroka, James Paxton, and Jameson Taillon, with Taillon, a dual citizen between Canada and the United States, suiting up for the Canadians back in the 2013 tournament. Soroka and Paxton both missed a large portion of the 2022 season while Taillon is joining the Cubs on a new, four-year deal.
For the bullpen, the Canadians are missing Zach Pop, Rowan Wick, and Jordan Romano, as Romano committed to play for Team Italy last summer but has pulled out of the tournament altogether. Prospect pitchers Jordan Balazovic (Twins), Calvin Ziegler (Mets), and Adam Macko (Blue Jays) are notable prospects left off the roster as well while this roster will also not feature veterans Ryan Dempster, Eric Gagne, Chris Leroux, Scott Richmond, and Ryan Kellogg.
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