Photo: Toronto Blue Jays

March 17, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Some Canadian baseball news and notes:

-According to multiple reports, Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) will make his Grapefruit League debut with the Toronto Blue Jays today in their game against the Minnesota Twins at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. Since signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays on March 9, Votto has been training and playing on the back fields at the team’s minor league complex. On Friday, Votto was spotted hitting against Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman. Last weekend, Shi Davidi, of Sportsnet, reported that if Votto makes the big league team, he will be paid a $2-million base salary in 2024. The contract also includes $2 million more in potential incentives. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) entrenched as the everyday first baseman and 39-year-old slugger Justin Turner likely to see the lions share of at bats at DH, it could be difficult for Votto to crack the Opening Day roster. Left-handed hitting slugger Daniel Vogelbach was also signed to a minor league deal this off-season. After a hot start to the spring, Vogelbach has seen his batting average fall to .160 in nine games. The 40-year-old Votto, who played 17 major league seasons with the Reds, batted .202 with 14 homers in 65 games in 2023 after returning from shoulder surgery. A seven-time winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip ONeill Award and the 2010 National League MVP, Votto has 2,135 major league hits, which leaves him just 25 behind Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) for most by a Canadian. His 459 doubles are 12 behind Walker and his 356 home runs trail Walkers output by 27. Votto already owns Canadian major league records for most games (2,056), plate appearances (8,746), walks (1,365), All-Star Game selections (6) and on-base percentage (OBP) (.409).

-That was former Vauxhall Academy and Junior National Team left-hander Adam Macko (Stony Plain, Alta.) who started for the Blue Jays prospects team against the Yankees prospects yesterday at the Spring Breakout game at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. The 23-year-old southpaw allowed two runs on three hits in 2/3 of an inning for the Blue Jays. Macko was added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster last November. He is the pitching prospect the Blue Jays acquired from the Seattle Mariners, along with reliever Erik Swanson, for outfielder Teoscar Hernandez on November 16, 2022. Born in Slovakia, Macko was raised in Stony Plain, Alta. Selected in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Mariners, the 6-foot left-hander struck out 106 batters in 86 innings in 20 starts for the High-A Vancouver Canadians in 2023.

-Great Lake Canadians and Junior National Team alum Calvin Ziegler (Heidelberg, Ont.) picked up the save for the New York Mets prospects team in their 4-2 Spring Breakout game victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday. The 21-year-old right-hander struck out two of the three batters he faced in his scoreless inning. Ziegler is hoping to bounce back after an injury shortened 2023 campaign in which he made just one appearance with the low-A St. Lucie Mets in September. Prior to the 2023 season, Ziegler had surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. Unfortunately, while recovering from that injury, he suffered a torn quad. The 6-foot righty was the first Canadian pitcher selected in the 2021 MLB draft when he was chosen in the second round by the Mets. He made 16 starts for St. Lucie in 2022 and posted a 4.44 ERA.

-Chicago White Sox right-hander Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) started and tossed four scoreless innings in his club’s 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels in Cactus League action on Thursday. Soroka allowed just two hits and struck out five. In three starts, spanning nine innings, this spring, Soroka owns a 2.00 ERA and has 12 strikeouts. The 26-year-old Canuck was traded to the Sox by the Atlanta Braves on November 16 after posting a 6.40 ERA in seven big league games last season. Those were his first major league appearances since he tore his right Achilles tendon for the first time on August 3, 2020. Soroka spent the bulk of 2023 with the triple-A Gwinnett Stripers, going 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts, striking out 92 in 87 innings. After initially tearing his right Achilles tendon in August 2020, Soroka then re-tore it the following June. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, he returned to game action in August 2022 and made six late-season starts between class-A and triple-A. A graduate of the Calgary Redbirds and Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. In 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

–Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) continues to swing a hot bat this spring with the Oakland A’s. The versatile 27-year-old belted a three-run home run off Kansas City Royals right-hander Brady Singer last Sunday. It was his first home run of the spring. He is now 12-for-33 (.364 batting average) with seven RBIs in 14 Cactus League games. Acquired by the A’s from the Brewers on November 15, Toro signed a one-year, $1.275-million contract with the As just two days later. The switch-hitting Canadian has a good shot at regular playing time with the rebuilding A’s. After going 5-for-15 (.333 batting average) in four games for Canada at the World Baseball Classic, Toro was impressive in his limited major league action with the Brewers in 2023. In nine games, he went 8-for-18, good for a .444 batting average with two home runs and nine RBIs. He spent the bulk of the campaign with the triple-A Nashville Sounds where he hit .291 with a .374 OBP with eight home runs and 58 RBIs in 96 contests.

–Ryan Divish, of the Seattle Times, reported on Saturday that right-hander Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) is set to “long toss to 110 feet at max effort.” If Brash feels OK after that, he will start to throw off a mound in “a few days.” This is positive news for Brash and the Mariners, but the 25-year-old reliever won’t be ready for Opening Day. In late-February, Brash experienced pain in the throwing elbow and there were concerns he would miss an extended period and possibly the entire 2024 campaign. An MRI in early March revealed that Brash had medial elbow inflammation but would not require surgery. Last season, Brash developed into a go-to late-inning reliever for the Mariners. He led major league pitchers with 78 appearances and had a 9-4 record and a 3.06 ERA. Thanks largely to his devastating slider, he fanned 107 batters in 70 2/3 innings, good for a 13.6 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate. His 24 holds were the 11th most in the majors and he topped all Canadian pitchers in appearances and strikeouts per nine innings.

-Happy 80th Birthday to two-time World Series-winning Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston! Signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, Gaston played 11 seasons in the majors before joining the Atlanta Braves as a minor league hitting instructor. He then followed manager Bobby Cox to Toronto to become the Blue Jays first full-time batting instructor in 1982. Gaston continued in that capacity until he replaced Jimy Williams as the clubs manager on May 15, 1989. Under Gastons leadership, the club registered a major league-best 77-49 record during the rest of the 1989 season and captured their second division title. Gaston would lead the Blue Jays to three more division titles and two World Series championships over the next four seasons. In 1992, he became the first Black manager in major league history to lead a team to a World Series title. Gastons first tenure as Blue Jays manager continued until 1997. For his successes, his name was added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre in 1999 and he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. After serving in various roles with the club including hitting coach, guest coach and team ambassador from 2000 to 2008, Gaston was rehired as Blue Jays’ field manager in June 2008. During his second tenure with the Blue Jays, he managed the club through the 2010 season. He finished with 894 wins as Blue Jays manager the most in franchise history.

-Right-hander Cade Smith (Abbotsford, B.C.) is having a strong spring with the Cleveland Guardians. In seven appearances, he has 11 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings and has posted a 2.45 ERA. Last season, Smith struck out 95 batters in 62 2/3 innings in 47 appearances between the double-A Akron RubberDucks and the triple-A Columbus Clippers. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s Wayne Norton Award winner, as top Canuck pitcher in the affiliated minor league ranks. Signed by the Guardians as a free agent in 2020 out of the University of Hawaii, the Junior National Team and Abbotsford Cardinals grad topped all Canuck minor league pitchers in 2023 in appearances, saves (15) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.6). He was added to the Guardians 40-man roster in November. 

-It was on this date 40 years ago that Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) was released by the Chicago Cubs, which his ended his storied 19-season major league career. Jenkins wrote in his autobiography, Fergie: My Life from the Cubs to Cooperstown, that he had offers to continue playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates and then later from Cleveland, but he opted to return to his farm in Blenheim, Ont. Just 16 wins shy of 300 for his career, Jenkins wrote that, in hindsight, he wished he had kept playing. He says Cleveland phoned him twice after he got home asking him to join them. “I said no. I do wonder what would have happened if I had pitched a little longer,” wrote Jenkins. “Gaylord Perry stuck around to get his 300th win. I probably should have done it.”

-Here’s a great piece of Montreal Expos trivia from Michael Markwell on the Baseball History – Research & Simulation Facebook page:

-As many of you know, Easter Seals is an organization that has helped my nephew Kalin immensely over the years. Kalin has cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t let that hold him back. He is full of positive energy and has worked tirelessly to advocate for improved accessibility in the London area. He has been attending Easter Seals Camp Woodeden for 16 years and is now an ambassador for the camp. The Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction is set to take place in Toronto on March 27. This is one of Easter Seals’ biggest fundraisers. One of the guests this year will be Blue Jays legend Ernie Whitt. You can buy tickets to the dinner here. But if you can’t go in person, you can still bid in their Silent Auction. There are some amazing sports items (tickets, signed items, etc.) up for grabs. You can check them out and bid here. Just an FYI if you do bid, you will likely have to pick up the item at the Easter Seals’ office in Toronto.

-This weeks trivia question: Felipe Alou has the most wins as manager of the Montreal Expos. Who has the second-most wins as Expos manager? Please provide your answer in the Comments section below.

-The answer to last weeks trivia question (There have been two Expos relievers who posted 35 or more saves in a season twice during their tenures with the club. Name one of them. ) was one of Jeff Reardon, or John Wetteland.

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