March 10, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Some Canadian baseball news and notes:

–Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported that Joey Votto was at the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin undergoing a physical on Saturday. This came after the longtime Cincinnati Reds slugger announced on Twitter on Friday that he had a signed a minor league deal with his hometown Blue Jays. 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. The Blue Jays officially announced the deal at around 6 p.m. E.T. on Saturday. Despite Vottos impressive resume, he is not a shoo-in to crack the Blue Jays Opening Day roster. 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 find playing time. The Blue Jays also signed left-handed hitting slugger Daniel Vogelbach to a minor league deal this off-season and he has two home runs in six games this spring. The 40-year-old Votto, who has 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).

Lots of great Votto merchandise available at MLBShop.com.

-Red Sox manager Alex Cora says either Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) or Brayan Bello will be the Opening Day starter for the club on March 28, according to Ian Browne of MLB.com. Pivetta struck out four Atlanta Braves batters in three innings on Thursday in his second Grapefruit League start this year. He threw two perfect innings in his first start on March 2. The veteran right-hander, who turned 31 on Valentines Day, has never made an Opening Day start. Pivetta appeared in 38 games (16 starts) for the Red Sox in 2023 and tied his career-best with 10 wins and topped Canadian big league hurlers in innings pitched (142 2/3), strikeouts (183) and WAR (2.4). His 4.04 ERA was the lowest of any season in his career. The Junior National Team alum is heading into his eighth big league campaign and his fourth with the Sox. In total, he owns a 50-59 record and a 4.86 ERA in 196 major league appearances (152 starts) and has 967 strikeouts in 883 2/3 innings.

-It has been an impressive spring for Chicago Cubs outfield prospect Owen Caissie (Burlington, Ont.). In 12 Cactus League games, he has gone 11-for-25 (.440 batting average) with a home run, three doubles and seven RBIs. Despite his performance, he was reassigned to minor league camp on Friday, but not before also wowing Jim Bowden, of The Athletic. Bowden recently wrote an article highlighting one “standout” in each MLB camp. His choice for the Cubs was Caissie. The 21-year-old outfielder has also been named to the Cubs’ roster as part of MLB’s first annual “Spring Breakout” games, a series of contests that will highlight the top prospects from each team. The Cubs squad will take on the White Sox prospects on March 15 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz. After starting 2023 with a home run and four RBIs in three games for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in March, Caissie enjoyed a breakout season with the Cubs double-A Tennessee Smokies. In 120 games, he batted .289 with 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. He also had a .399 OBP and a .918 OPS.

-Caissie is one of 15 Canadians that will participate in the “Spring Breakout” games. Four Canucks – LHP Adam Macko (Stony Plain, Alta.), OF Dasan Brown (Oakville, Ont.), INF Sam Shaw (Victoria, B.C.) and INF Damiano Palmegiani (Surrey, B.C.) – will showcase their skills on the Toronto Blue Jays squad. Meanwhile, two Canadian prospects will be participating on each of the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers teams: INF Tyler Black (Stouffville, Ont.) and INF Dylan O’Rae (Sarnia, Ont.) for the Brewers and LHP Mitch Bratt (Newmarket, Ont.) and C Liam Hicks (Toronto, Ont.) for the Rangers. The other six Canucks participating will be RHP Eric Cerantola (Oakville, Ont., Kansas City Royals), OF David Calabrese (Maple, Ont., Los Angeles Angels), LHP Wesley Moore (Surrey, B.C., Philadelphia Phillies), INF Trei Cruz (Toronto, Ont., Detroit Tigers), RHP Calvin Ziegler (Heidelberg, Ont., New York Mets) and INF Myles Naylor (Mississauga, Ont., Oakland A’s).

– Minnesota Twins infielder Edouard Julien (Quebec, Que.) is another Canadian off to a hot start this spring. In his first eight games, the 24-year-old second baseman is 8-for-19 (.421 batting average) with two home runs and five RBIs. This will likely be Julien’s first full major league season following his impressive rookie campaign. After going 7-for-13 with two home runs as Canadas leadoff hitter in the World Baseball Classic, Julien vaulted up the Twins prospects ranks and into the major leagues in 2023. In 109 regular season games, he set a record for most home runs by a Canadian second baseman in a major league season with 16. He also topped Twins regulars in walks (64) and OBP (.381). For his efforts, he finished seventh in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

–Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) is also off to a strong spring training start with the Oakland A’s. The versatile 27-year-old is 9-for-23 (.391 batting average) with three RBIs in nine 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.

The Boston Red Sox “Canadian office” in Fort Myers, Fla. Photo supplied.

-National Team alum and former Detroit Tigers right-hander Chris Mears (Ottawa, Ont.) is now a pitching coordinator in the Boston Red Sox organization. He recently sent the photo above to Bob Elliott. The photo showcases the sign outside of the “Canadian office” at the Red Sox spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. This spring, Mears is sharing office space with fellow Canuck Justin Willard (Brampton, Ont.), the director of pitching in the Red Sox organization, and Andrew Wright (Woodstock, Ont.), the Red Sox minor league field coordinator.

-Please take a moment to remember former big league left-hander Ken MacKenzie who would’ve turned 90 today. The Gore Bay, Ont., native passed away in December. MacKenzie posted a 4.80 ERA in 129 big league appearances in parts of six seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros from 1960 to 1965. He initially retired as a player after that season. But in Danny Gallaghers 2022 book, Bases Loaded: Inside stories about Eli, Cro, Cy, Terminator and the Expos, the author shared a little-known story about MacKenzie. Four years after his last big league pitch, MacKenzie spent 27 days with the Expos in September 1969. And though he didnt make an appearance in a game with the club, his time on the roster got him to the four years of service time necessary to qualify for the MLB pension plan. Following his big league career, he coached the baseball team at Yale University, his alma mater, from 1969 to 1978.

-Happy Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Jack Graney Award winner and legendary Globe and Mail baseball writer Larry Millson! Millson was assigned to the Blue Jays beat at the Globe and Mail in 1980 and worked full-time in that capacity for 26 years. He was in the Blue Jays press box for five of the clubs division titles and both World Series triumphs and has likely written more articles about the club than any other reporter. In 1987, he penned his first book, the groundbreaking Ballpark Figures: The Blue Jays and the Business of Baseball. It was one of the first books to examine the complex business side of the sport. Since leaving the Globe & Mail in 2009, Millson has covered baseball for MLB.com, The Canadian Press, Baseball America, The Sports Xchange and various other websites and publications.

-Former Montreal Expos ace Steve Rogers was one of the best pitchers in the National League for a decade, from 1973 to 1983. “But he only pitched in 12 seasons, his career was too short,” people will say to me when I talk about how great he was. Here’s why his career was short (this is from the Washington Nationals Single-Season Leaders page on Baseball Reference):

-This 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. Please provide your answer in the Comments section below.

If you’re looking for some great Blue Jays trivia, this book is for you. You can buy it here.

-The answer to last weeks trivia question (What pitcher led the Blue Jays in innings pitched in their inaugural (1977) season?) was Dave Lemanczyk with 252.

*You may notice some links encouraging you to buy stuff throughout my column this week. If you click on these links and purchase one of these items, I will receive a small commission that will help me pay the expenses involved with this site.

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