The Vancouver Canadians first pitch is set for June 7th, and the roster is slowly but surely coming together. As is the case with minor league baseball, many rosters only have a few days to gel before having to play competitive baseball games. Nonetheless, baseball season is returning to the west coast of Canada, and the C’s are hoping to rebound with a championship after a 2018 season which epitomized the saying “close but no cigar”.
Looking back to last year, Vancouver were victims of the two half season structure and playoff format in the Northwest League. The team had the best record in the north division, and second best in the league, and they did not make the playoffs. The C’s missed out on winning both halves by a single game- therefore failing to make the postseason.
2018 was also a year of massive turnover around the entire organization. A manager change at the top of the ladder had trickle down effects all the way to the Nat Bailey. That means for the second straight season- the C’s welcome a new manager to town. Last year it was Dallas Mcpherson at the helm, he’s now a level up with the Lansing Lugnuts . Vancouver now welcomes former Montreal Expo’s infielder Casey Candaele. He headlines a 2019 staff that is largely new, as only assistant manager Aaron Mathews is returning from last years team. The new staff should be a breath of fresh air, as the Blue Jays organization enters the next stage of their major league rebuild.
Many of last years C’s roster has joined Mcpherson with the Lugnuts. Over half of Lansing’s team was on the Canadians at some point in the last two seasons, and many of the players have been performing exceptionally well. One of the most highly regarded players in Vancouver last year was heavy hitter Griffin Conine, who has recently joined up with the Lugnuts and is playing some amazing baseball. Unfortunately, he missed out on the first half of the season due to suspension, but he does not look left behind in what is a pretty good Lugnuts roster. Other than Conine, 2018 C’s all-star pitcher Josh Wincowski is also having quite the year in Lansing. These players have firmly established themselves in full season baseball, and are unlikely to find themselves back on Canada’s west coast. However, there could be some players struggling in Michigan who could return to the Canadians. Maybe Alberta native Tanner Kirwer? We’ll have to wait and see.
There will likely be a few familiar faces around The Nat this year although exactly who won’t be known until mere days before the opening game. These few familiar faces will grace the field alongside a glut of new players and draft picks.
The most highly touted player who could be coming in could very well be the Blue Jays 2019 first round pick, monster-sized pitcher Alek Manoah. From West Virigina University, the 6’6” 260lbs pitcher has what it takes to climb the ladder quickly in the professional ranks. Being 21, and with the Blue Jays current pitching crisis- the organization will want to accelerate his development as fast as they can. However, in the past the Blue Jays have readily sent their first round picks to the Canadians, and Manoah could be the latest in this trend.
“His pitch count will be extremely limited,” said Canadians Brodcaster Rob Fai in a tweet following Manoahs selection. The right hander pitched 108 innings in the college season, so the organization will not want to risk him burning his arm out and or falling to injury. Despite his appearances and innings likely being limited, he is a massive guy with a massive pitch- topping out around 97mph. If he is to take the mound for the Canadians this summer, he will surely be a sight to see for Vancouver Baseball fans. The Miami native draws comparisons to highly touted blue jays prospect and former Vancouver Canadian Nate Pearson, who helped the C’s to a championship and now finds himself in Double-A with the New Hampshire Fishercats.
The Canadians may be getting more high end talent this year, and could be sporting a younger roster than in seasons past. The Blue Jays have traditionally put highly touted prospects at their headquarters in Dunedin, although with the current renovations in their Florida facilities, they could opt to send more players to Vancouver.
As for the new experiences off the field, the Nat Bailey Stadium always represents summertime in Vancouver, and the 2019 season will have some new additions to this fond tradition. In the weeks leading up to the season, the ballclub ran a fan contest to name their newest ballpark cuisine. What is it you may wonder? Well, it is the “Ground Roll Double,” a sushi type snack, but instead of the traditional filling, it is made with a hot dog! The new treat, along with the ever popular three-foot long hotdog will be sure to draw the social media hashtags of many fans this season.
While it may be tough to make many predictions in Short Season A ball, this season will undoubtedly be a special one for the Canadians, with many storylines to keep an eye on. Who’s returning, what prospects could we see, and will there be a 2019 Northwest League championship pennant at the end of the season?