July 24 2018 Vancouver- The first half of the season came down to the final day for the Vancouver Canadians and Everett Aquasox. Both teams came into the day jockeying for position; with Everett having only a one game advantage on their Canadian counterparts. In the end, Everett would hold on to win the first half north division pennant securing their place in the 2018 Northwest League post-season.
Despite not securing the first half division title, the Canadians can draw lots of positives from the first half of their Single-A campaign. The Vancouver team began the year with three returning players from last season’s championship team, including a rare third year returnee in third baseman Bryan Lizardo. Other than the three veterans, the team is made up of a whole new crop of Blue Jay prospects and is being led by rookie manager Dallas McPherson.
The first half was a peculiar one in the Northwest League, with all four north division teams finishing within two games of .500 and within four games of each other. While the north division had its teams split their wins and losses, the south division sported three teams whose records would have been enough to secure top spot in the north.
Coming into the season the Canadians’ only member ranked in the top 30 of Jay’s prospects was McGregory Contreras, but based on some of the others’ performances there are more Canadians who have begun to show themselves as top prospects.
Contreras has not disappointed though; in his first 16 games he put up four home runs which has helped the Canadians match their home run total from 2017 less than half way through the season. Finishing the first half with a .229 batting average may not be as high as he had hoped, but it sets the young Venezuelan up for a successful second half. In his second season within the organization and first with Vancouver, Contreras has begun to look like a diamond in the rough signing by the Jays’ international scouts; who also signed Vladmir Guerrero Jr. as part of that same crop of international free agents in 2015. At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds he will only become more powerful as he fills out and should continue to be looked at as one of the Jays’ top prospects coming off his first half of “A” ball.
Alongside Contreras the C’s roster looked pretty slim when it came to top prospects. Half way through the year though a few players have stood out, most notably offensively Griffin Conine while Joey Murray and Will Mccafer have lit the pitchers mound on fire.
Vancouver hit only 25 home runs all of last season, and half way through 2018 they sit at 27 with a full half to go. This bounce back in hitting is directly connected to the success both Contreras and Conine have found at the plate. Conine leads the C’s with five home runs, which would be enough to top the club in 2017. The 52nd overall pick from Duke University, has settled nicely into Vancouver and finished the first half with a .255 average to go along with his impressive home run numbers.As the son of former major leaguer Jeff Connine, Griffin will do his best to keep up his slugging numbers in the second half of the season to hopefully earn a call up to the next level within the Blue Jays farm system.
On the pitching side of things, the C’s have been nothing short of exceptional as the they went on to lead the team to the league’s lowest ERA in the first half.
A rarity in Vancouver has been the chance to watch a local player play at the Nat Bailey Stadium. That has happened this year with RHP Will McAffer. Hailing from North Vancouver, the former B.C. Premier League standout started the year off strongly but struggled as the first half came to a close with his ERA jumping an insurmountable ten runs through the last few weeks of the first half. Despite his recent struggles, McAffer remains one of the C’s go to starting pitchers and will undoubtedly regain his form some point in the second half.
Eighth-round pick Joey Murray has also been great for Vancouver. He’s started four games and boasts a winning record and has been exceptional when called upon out of the bullpen. The Ohio native’s 12 innings pitched have been the best on the team. Not one run has been scored against him and he’s struck out 19 batsman. His strikeout to inning ratio is first in the north division as he continues on his first season of minor league baseball.
With the improved batting and exceptional pitching, the C’s look set to make a run for the second half pennant and a place in the postseason. The first portion of the second half will be played mostly on the road as the C’s now travel to first half division winners Everett for a three game series before returning to a five game home-stand against Eugene. After the All-Star game in Colorado the Canadians will travel all around the Northwest league before closing out the regular season September 3rd at Spokane.