Otto Lopez placed eighth in the Northwest League batting race with a .297 average in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians infielder and outfielder Otto Lopez gets the spotlight in this episode of C’s Chat.
For long-time Blue Jays fans, the first Otto that comes to mind is Otto Velez. The man known as Otto ‘The Swatto‘ was one of the Original Jays who played in Toronto from 1977 to 1982. Blue Jays fans of this generation may soon have another Otto to root for, one with Canadian ties.
Through translator and 2018 C’s position coach Jose Mayorga, Otto Lopez said he grew up in Montreal and that’s where he first played the sport.
“Everything started in Montreal with my family. I started playing with a team over there but my Dad thought it was a good decision sending me to the Dominican, so that I can be in a program over there and also have a little bit different type of game. I went down to the D.R. and that’s where I was when the scouts saw me and signed me.”
Lopez got to see a lot of the Great White North by playing with a travel team.
“The team that I remember. I traveled a lot with that team, I traveled to almost like all of Canada and it was a good experience. Right now, I cannot say specific stuff because I was too young. I remembered traveling a lot and that was a great experience for me. I was like (there) for almost eight years in Montreal and then I went to the Dominican League and spent like a year to sign and then I went back to Montreal.”
The Blue Jays signed Lopez as a 17 year-old on July 4, 2016 from a baseball academy in his hometown of Santo Domingo.
“I was with my uncle back in the DR and he took me to this program, to this guy. They call him the nickname ‘El Niche’ so everything started there. My uncle took me there and I feel like (I showed) good stuff there and I started playing with them. And then all the scouts went to see me and then I finally signed with the Blue Jays.”
Instead of beginning his pro career in the Dominican Summer League in 2017, Lopez was assigned to the Gulf Coast League. He got a single in his first pro at-bat against the GCL Tigers West June 26. Other highlights included a four-RBI game against the GCL Braves July 21 and his first professional home run versus the GCL Tigers East August 19. Lopez batted .275 with a .361 on-base percentage along with 10 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases.
“It was a great experience for me. It was my first year, something I will never forget. The only thing I did was just play hard like I always do and tried to do the best (I can).”
Otto Lopez posted a .390 on-base percentage in 51 games with Vancouver in 2018.
The Blue Jays rewarded Lopez by sending him to the Lansing Lugnuts for their annual Crosstown Showdown exhibition game against the Michigan State Spartans in early September of 2017. Lopez had a hit in three at-bats and scored a run in a 5-1 Lugnuts victory that involved the biggest crowd he had ever seen.
“It was one of the big experiences (I had) because it was the first time I was playing in front of a lot of people, like fans and stuff like that. I was a little bit (in awe at) first but then when I got the opportunity to go to the field, I just know what I need to do, hit the ball hard and run hard too.”
The 2018 season saw Lopez report to Bluefield where he spent just over a week. Of the seven games he played, he reached base at least once in all but one game and had four multi-hit efforts. Lopez finished with a flourish by collecting five hits and three runs batted in against the Greeneville Reds June 29. The next day saw Lopez pick up two more hits and drive in a pair of runs in another win over the Reds. He enjoyed his brief time in the Appalachian League.
“It was a good experience, like there was a lot of energy, a lot of fun with the team and a good environment also.”
Lopez echoed those sentiments about playing in Vancouver.
“It’s a good place to play. A lot of fans too. Great place, great environment also.”
Canada Day was the day Lopez got the call to return north of the border as he was promoted to the Canadians. His C’s debut came July 2 when he delivered an RBI single in his second Northwest League at-bat against Salem-Keizer. Lopez got a hit in his first five games in which he had at least one at-bat. His first stolen base came during a pinch-running appearance in Everett July 4 and he had four stolen bases in his first five games before he was caught.
Lopez’s bat really started to heat up with a three-hit game against Spokane July 7 before turning in a 4-for-4 effort in Boise July 11. His first Northwest League home run came the next night at Boise Memorial Stadium.
Lopez’s batting average remained over .300 until the final days of the year when he finished with a .297 mark. He collected 14 extra-base hits, including three home runs, and stole 13 bases in 19 attempts.
The mental game for Lopez was a big reason for his successful 2018 season.
“I just keep my focus, that’s the key to my success. Keep (focused on) what I want to do and where I want to get and just stay with my approach at home plate. Just try to hit the ball hard always and run hard. That’s my game.”
Otto Lopez prepares for an at-bat in the on-deck circle.
A familiar sight for C’s fans in 2018 was Lopez swinging a couple of bats in the on-deck circle before stepping into the batter’s box. He says that’s an important part of his preparation.
“That’s part of my routine, taking two bats there. I try to do that so that it feels like when you get one bat, it’s lighter for me so that I can have like a little bit more bat speed.”
Otto Lopez played second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions for the C’s in 2018.
The Blue Jays appear to be grooming Lopez for a utility role as he has seen time at six positions during his first two years in the system. He committed just five errors during his time with the C’s. Lopez says pre-game preparation is the key to handling his varied assignments on the diamond and in the outfield.
“Everything starts in practice. He tries to go first and attack all his weaknesses, try to practice that first and then also try to get reps at every position because he knows that it is something that in his career that is going to help him out.”
As far as major league players Lopez would like to emulate, two names came to mind.
“I feel I identify with Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor because that’s the type of player I want to be when I get to the big leagues.”
Despite an impressive season that resulted in a berth on the Northwest League All-Star squad at the end of the year, Lopez was not rated among the Top 20 prospects in the Northwest League by Baseball America. He did receive plenty of love from the C’s organization by winning the Charlie Metro Team MVP and ArnieHallgren Offensive Player of the Year Awards.
The next step up the ladder in Lopez’s quest for the big leagues should take him to Lansing in 2019, the place where he ended his 2017 campaign. He will turn 21 on October 1. Lopez hopes to one day join another Blue Jays prospect with ties to Montreal in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who was born in that city during his father’s playing days with the Expos.
Muchas gracias again to Otto Lopez and Jose Mayorga for taking part in the latest C’s Chat. Thanks a million as well to C’s Media Relations officials Sharlene Canning and Jordy Cunningham for their encouragement and arrangement of this interview.
It took awhile but that wraps up all the interviews conducted with members of the 2018 Canadians at Nat Bailey Stadium this past summer. However, there are still a few things in the works with Spring Training approaching so please keep checking back here as Opening Day at Nat Bailey Stadium is less than four months away.
Jake Brodt uses his bat to draw a smiley face in the upper left-hand corner of the right-handed batter’s box before each at-bat.
2018 Vancouver Canadians first baseman Jake Brodt steps into the batter’s box in this edition of C’s Chat.
Baseball was definitely in the blood for Brodt as his parents also played the sport during their college days. His mother Christy was a pitcher at Indiana University and his father Dave played ball at Cypress Junior College in Southern California. Jake had an accomplished high school career in his hometown at Huntington Beach High School in California in which he played first base and pitched. Among the highlights were a .400 batting average, a 1.000 fielding percentage at first base and a second-team All-Sunset League All-Star berth during his junior season as captain of the Oilers in 2013.
Something that helped Brodt play well in high school was the ability play the game with a smile. Before each trip to the plate, he used his bat to draw a smiley face in the right-handed batter’s box.
“I started doing it in high school. I’m not sure how I came up with idea but I do it because it reminds me to have fun. In the game of baseball it’s inevitable that you’re going to strike out or fail in some way. So drawing the smiley face before an at-bat reminds me that no matter how far you make it in baseball, it’s still a game and we all started playing it as kids for no other reason but pure enjoyment. It helps me relax and just have fun in pressure situations.”
Jake Brodt batted .311 with an OPS of .802 when he was ahead in the count in 2018.
Brodt would commit to Santa Clara University in 2015 and began to tap into his power over his junior and senior campaigns. After just 25 extra-base hits in his first two years, he belted seven home runs and 21 doubles and slashed .338/.375/.532 with the Broncos in 2017. That performance landed Brodt on the First-Team All-West Conference squad.
A preseason All-WCC Selection heading into 2018, the 6-foot-4 Brodt continued his power surge in a big way when he belted two grand slams in one inning as part of a three home run game against Boston College on Opening Weekend February 17.
“It was opening weekend for college baseball so the magic was still in the air. I felt good in batting practice the last few days. I felt good going into the season. I wouldn’t say like that day was like anything special (beforehand) but as far as the game goes, I don’t even remember it. It was like one of those crazy games that you just kind of black out during the whole thing and you just don’t really remember a whole lot of it.
Yeah, I didn’t realize kind of what I actually did that day until like maybe a day or so later. I woke up the next day and I was on ESPN. I was like, ‘Holy cow!’ I didn’t really let it sink in until then. It was pretty crazy.”
Brodt was named National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Hitter of the Week for February 20. He would also win a pair of WCC Player of the Week awards on February 20 and March 19.
Broncos associate head coach Gabe Ribas told SantaClaraBroncos.com that Brodt has the ability to come through in big situations.
“Every time we talked to a coach about Jake they would use the word, ‘clutch,’” said Ribas. “We could tell that Jake is a very good athlete with a special skill set, but when you added that feel for getting the big hit when the lights are on, we knew Jake would be a great Bronco. Jake is a guy who clearly makes his teammates better, and anyone who is a team captain as a junior is demonstrating great leadership skills, which we believe will help him do great things at Santa Clara.”
Brodt says he relishes the opportunity to deliver in the clutch.
“That’s what it’s all about. If you’re not loving that moment, like those are the kind of moments you dream about when you’re a kid. You dream of you’re up in the bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded, two outs and you got to come through. When I was a kid and played in the backyard with all my friends from the neighbourhood, we always came up with that situation.
I’m looking forward to the spotlight. I try not to look at it as pressure because it’s the same game. Whether it’s the first inning I’m coming up there or it’s the bottom of the ninth. It’s the same guy throwing the same ball up there so yeah, I just go up there and do what I do.”
Brodt went on to slug a career-high .555 thanks to 15 home runs and 15 doubles and was named to the second All-West Coast Conference squad. That capped off his fond memories during his time in college.
“Just the relationships I made with my teammates. I’ve made some of the best friends that I could have made ever there. I got my degree from a great university. We have a new coaching staff over there under head coach Rusty Filter. He’s taking the team in a good direction so I’m excited to see the future of that program.”
Another plus for Brodt at Santa Clara was the opportunity to earn a communications degree and he plans on putting it to good use after what he hopes will be a long career on the diamond.
“It’s definitely been in the back of my head. I feel like I’m okay with talking and everything so yeah, I’d be comfortable doing that but as far as life goes right now, I’m focusing on baseball. I’m putting all of my marbles in that basket.”
Jake Brodt—chatting with reliever Denis Diaz—recorded 300 putouts and 22 assists at first base for the C’s in 2018.
The lead-up to the Major League Draft represents an exciting but uncertain time for players hoping to enter the professional ranks. Brodt was anxiously awaiting to hear his name called.
“I kind of wanted to keep it as low-key as possible. It was a stressful few days leading up to it just because you never know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of variables that go into the draft. I had my Mom there. She actually flew up for it. We were expecting a call so my Mom and Dad both flew up. My Dad was actually on the plane flight when I got the call so he was on his way but I was sitting in my Mom’s hotel room just trying to kind of get away from everything and get my mind off of it.”
Brodt then got the good news in the ninth round when the Blue Jays took him with the 266th overall pick.
“I got a text from Randy Kramer who’s the Blue Jays scout in my area and he said they were taking me with the next pick. We were just watching on the computer and then my name popped up. Me and my Mom screamed and we gave each other a hug.
It was pretty unbelievable. I had an expectation that I would be going (to be drafted) whether that day or the next. There’s nothing that can compare, like it actually happened. You can’t prepare yourself for that so I was ecstatic that I got the opportunity.”
Before the Blue Jays came calling, Brodt thought he was heading elsewhere.
“Well, it was funny. About five minutes before I got a text from Randy Kramer from the Blue Jays, I got a text from the White Sox that they were going to take me with their ninth round pick. They were (eight) picks before the Blue Jays I believe so I told the Blue Jays that and it was like, ‘Okay, if you slip to us, then we’ll get you,’ and the White Sox never called me. Yeah, it was pretty crazy.”
The Chicago White Sox elected to take catcher Gunnar Troutwine from Wichita State University instead with their ninth round pick instead. Brodt would see three of his Broncos teammates also taken in the draft including pitcher Penn Murfee who went in the 33rd round in Seattle. The two Broncos got to see each other again when Murfee was assigned to the Everett AquaSox.
With a $5,000 signing bonus from the Jays, Brodt headed east to Dunedin to begin his professional career.
“It was pretty crazy. I actually graduated I believe on June 16th, flew out the next morning at 6:00 a.m. so it was a quick turnaround. Flew out there and then the next day, we got after it. I got my physicals done. It was a long day but then I finally got to pick up the glove and the ball the next day which was good.
Me and (Griffin) Conine got there the same day so we kind of all went through it together. We got our feet wet in the GCL which was good. Just to see live pitching again, it was probably been a month for me as our team didn’t make the playoffs in college. I felt comfortable right away and (Blue Jays director of player development) Gil (Kim) gave me the opportunity to come out to Vancouver so I was excited.”
Jake Brodt made his Nat Bailey Stadium debut June 26, 2018.
After a two-game stint in the Gulf Coast League, Brodt was promoted to Vancouver and he made an immediate impact with his first two professional hits in his first two at-bats with the C’s. He added a double for a three-hit night during a victory in Spokane June 23.
Brodt’s first at-bat on Canadian soil was three days later and he produced an RBI single in his first plate appearance to jumpstart the C’s to a win over Tri-City. He immediately enjoyed the atmosphere at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“It’s been incredible. From the first time that I walked on this field, I saw the crowd. I was like, ‘This is going to be a good summer.’ They’ve treated us so well. I haven’t felt homesick at all. I felt a sense of home here and they’ve really welcomed us. Not only the team but like the crowd, the atmosphere, the organization. It’s been a great summer and it’s going to be one to remember.”
Brodt would belt his first professional home run in Boise July 14 but his batting average was just hovering over the Mendoza Line July 20. The next day saw him begin a 13-game hitting streak that included a grand slam to cap off a win over Eugene July 23. That stretch saw Brodt terrorize the Hillsboro Hops during a five-game set at Ron Tonkin Field in which he went 8-for-19 with four runs batted in. That helped Brodt put his early season struggles behind him.
“I knew that with pro ball, there was going to be a learning curve. I knew that there were going to be some things that worked for me in college that wouldn’t work at this level and I just had to figure those out. I think it just took me a little bit longer to get my feet wet in professional baseball but for whatever reason, leading up to that series, I had my Dad come out to the Vancouver series before that. I had a decent series then. My whole family came out to that one actually in Hillsboro so it was good to play to be able to play in front of them. I just felt a sense of comfort and I just going up there and having fun.
I just kind of put the stats behind me at that point because when I’m having fun, that’s when I play my best so I just went out there and tried to have as much fun as I can and we ended up getting a series win.”
Despite scuffling with the bat early on, Brodt takes pride on his defence at first as he committed just four errors in 326 chances with the C’s.
“I’ve always been told that you can win games on defence. Whether it’s a ground ball to shortstop, runner on third base, two outs. If he throws that in the dirt and you save that run, it’s pretty much the same thing as you hitting a home run the next inning, you know what I mean? I take pride in the defence part of it as well.”
Brodt also moonlighted at second base for two-thirds of an inning in the season finale at Spokane September 3 when Brandon Polizzi was making his rounds on the field by playing all nine positions.
Jake Brodt rebounded in the second half by batting .264 and slugging .425.
Baseball America lauded Brodt’s power by noting he has “a ton of strength in his bat” and “does enough defensively to stick at first”. When asked to give a scouting report on himself, he touched upon the same themes.
“It’s kind of hard because I don’t want people knowing the weaknesses too much from the outside perspective. I’m a powerful guy. I feel like I haven’t tapped quite into all the power that I could possibly have. There’s a lot still to be done and I understand that and I’m ready to put in that work too to achieve where I want to be.
I think I’m a player that has a lot of upside. I’m think I’m a first baseman who plays above-average defence over there. I’m not the kind of just big body you stick over there to hide him. I think I play a good defensive first base. I’m looking forward to being an asset on whatever team that I play for.”
It’s expected the next team the 23 year-old Brodt will play for will be the Lansing Lugnuts. He celebrated his 23th birthday on January 23.
My thanks again to Jake Brodt for being the latest guest on C’s Chat and to Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.
1992 and 1993 World Series winning manager Cito Gaston headlined the 2019 Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon. Toronto Blue Jays president emeritus Paul Beeston (right) is interviewed by the radio crew at Sportsnet 650.
The Vancouver Canadians recently held its 9th Annual Hot Stove Luncheon in support of the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation. The special guests were former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, current general manager Ross Atkins and president emeritus Paul Beeston.
Gaston addressed the local media prior to the luncheon and you can check out the transcription of that press conference at Batter’s Box.
Toronto Blue Jays manager Ross Atkins held court with the Vancouver media before the Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon.
Atkins was next up to face the press and was asked about the potential of having a franchise player in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“It’s interesting in today’s game. I think just five to 10 years ago, those types of comments probably wouldn’t have been made about a 19- or 20-year-old player but because of research and development and analytics, there’s a lot more certainty and confidence around what that level of performance means for a young player and what it means from a potential standpoint. The key word being potential so we continue to increase the pressure – executive, media, teammates, everyone, family. He’s handled it so well but at the same time, to say he’s going to be the face of our franchise, there’s a lot of really talented players on our team right now and there’s a lot of talented players in our organization so that would be a great outcome.
We’re not looking to have a face of the franchise, we’re looking to have a great team. What he means to the organization obviously is significant…it’s powerful because of the age, because of the talent. What we’re most excited about is the teammate that he is and how he treats his teammates, how much passion he has for competition. He’s why we do it, he’s one of the many reasons watching him play is exciting.”
Atkins was asked about the excitement Vladdy Jr. can bring to the franchise.
“It’s a group. Whether Cavan Biggio, Kevin Smith, names that don’t get mentioned as much as Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson and Vladdy Guerrero and the young pitching that we acquired and developed in the last three to four years has been on a steady incline that’s only going to continue to get better and we’re only going to continue to have more of it. I think what we’re the most excited about having is a very team-first approach. We’re looking to have a collection of individuals that are focused on something bigger than themselves. That’s what we’re excited about and we feel that that’s what ends up helping sustain environments that can win and win for sustained periods.”
The fourth-year general manager also addressed the speculation on the team’s interest in Bryce Harper.
“Bryce Harper is a very talented individual and we spent time on every free agent to understand what the opportunity cost, what the acquisition cost is. I think there’s not a team in baseball that wouldn’t have interest. Commenting on free agents, there’s very strict rules on that, on just exactly what our interest level is but as I said, he’s an exceptional talent that I think many teams would love to have.”
Atkins also commented on the Blue Jays affiliation with Vancouver.
“It’s exceptional. The job that the leadership does here and what Jake and Jeff have created. The empowerment and the resources they’ve given the leadership here to create a good environment for players to get better and players to win is exceptional. The fact that’s it’s in Canada is an incredible introduction to the country for the majority of our players that never have been in this country. It’s about as good of a relationship as it can be when it comes to affiliations.”
It feels like a very professional environment. It feels as close to a major league environment as you can create. That’s really important. Guys have to learn what it feels like on different stages. If you’re coming out of Vanderbilt or Clemson or Texas or University of Miami, you got some exposure to those stages but there’s a lot of players who don’t. This environment with the expectations of winning and with fans that are passionate, it’s a great step in development.”
Atkins did not shed any light on who fans could see in Vancouver in 2019.
“Not really. I mean it’s so draft-dependent and there’s such a steep learning curve for younger players. We could piece it together, we might get a third of it right.”
New Vancouver skipper Casey Candaele drew plenty of praise from Atkins.
“Casey’s awesome, man. I was a minor leaguer player when Casey was up and down in the major leagues. You can’t be in a clubhouse that he’s in and not have a smile on your face. He is positive and is energetic and is passionate about the game as any. The thing that is most intriguing for someone with as much experience as he has, he’s exceptionally open-minded. He likes to think about things in a different way. He’s creative, innovative, open to ideas and thoughts from whether he played two days or 200. I’m really excited about Casey.
The leadership is exciting and we’ve had very good leaders that have come through here and have won. Casey will set an incredible tone and a great environment for these guys to enjoy getting better.”
When it came to future moves, Atkins says there could be a couple of more changes that could be made.
“We’ll see. Obviously we’re not going to be as aggressive, we haven’t been as aggressive in free agency but we still have some offseason left. I think there’s a least a couple of moves remaining and maybe more than that. We have the benefit of financial flexibility, we have a great number of talented major leaguers obviously, a very strong system that will continue to look to create to be development. When these players transition and they’re all realizing their potential is when we’ll look to be much more aggressive whether it be trade deadline or in free agency next year. Hopefully we are talking about the trade deadline and potentially adding but we understand that being patient is paramount for us to do anything sustainable.”
Atkins was also complimentary about news Jays coach and former C’s skipper John Schneider.
“He’s exceptionally driven. He’s constantly learning, he’s constantly looking to improve. He has an incredible connection with players, coaches and front office so he has just an ability to connect and relate across many levels and that’s leadership. It’s encapsulated, 80 percent of it at least is that ability to connect. His passion for catching and expertise in that area will be a great complement and his knowledge of the hitters that are transitioning and all the players that are transitioning will be an incredible asset to Charlie (Montoyo).”
Toronto Blue Jays director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson before the Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon.
Also on hand for the C’s Hot Stove Luncheon was Jays director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson who shared his thoughts on the Jays/C’s partnership.
“It’s truly special. Like any relationship, it’s starts with good people. We’re delighted to be working with the Canadians starting with Jake Kerr, Jeff Mooney and Andy Dunn. We’ve got a great relationship. We’re delighted to have a team in Canada. It’s the first time we’ve been here in 15 years since we left the Pioneer League (Medicine Hat). Having the opportunity for our players and coaches to work and play and live in Canada is huge. Just working with the Canadians operation is what makes it special. Great people, wonderful partners and we really enjoy the relationship.”
With the Jays farm system among the best in the game, Wilson says it’s an essential component to building a World Series champion.
“Our goal is to develop every minor league player to their full potential and we’re doing whatever we can to help the minor league players get better every day. Our mission is to bring back a World Series championship to Toronto and we will be truly fulfilled when we see our minor league players reach their full potential and be the best version of themselves that they possibly can be. That’s where we’ll get our fulfillment is watching our minor league players develop and get better.”
Having been with the Jays organization since 1993, Wilson has been around for the highs, lows and in-betweens but he believes better days lie ahead.
“I think the journey in any job, if you focus on the journey, you’ll really enjoy it. There’s been a lot of changes with the Blue Jays and it’s been really positive. We’re really excited for the future. We’re very happy with the farm system, we’re happy with our staff, we’re happy with our minor league players, we’re happy with the direction we’re going. We’ve got a lot of resources and talented people working for the common goal. It’s a really exciting time. It’s a great time to be a Blue Jay and I think the best is yet to come.”
Vancouver Canadians talented broadcaster Rob Fai named to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame board @vancanadians
Fitz Stadler won four of his six decisions between Bluefield and Vancouver in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Fitz Stadler is the latest to take the ball in this edition of C’s Chat. The 6-foot-9 righthander from Glenbrook, Illinois had an opportunity to join the team he rooted for as a youngster when the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 32nd round of the 2015 MLB draft.
The Cubs decided to take a flyer on Stadler four years ago after he rung up 102 batters in 60-1/3 innings in his senior season. He won eight of 11 decisions to go with an earned run average of 1.22 with Glenbrook South High School. A three-time letter winner in baseball and a two-time letter winner in football, Stadler captained both teams in his final year of high school. That earned him numerous awards including Perfect Game All-American Honorable Mention and All-Midwest Region First Team honours. Perfect Game rated Stadler as the second-best prep pitcher in Illinois.
Stadler also turned in a dominant junior campaign by going 9-0 with a 0.69 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 39-2/3 innings and also captained the football team in 2014.
The Glenbrook South High School product was honoured to be taken by the Cubs but he decided to go to college instead.
“Just coming out of Chicago, it was very special to be drafted by the Cubs, very thankful that they gave me that chance but I chose to go to school and that was a lot of fun as well.
Coming to the Blue Jays organization, it’s been very special for me as well. Definitely different than the Cubs but I really like it out here. Vancouver’s awesome. It definitely was difficult but I chose the right path and now I’m here with the Blue Jays.”
Fitz Stadler posted a 1.10 ERA and a strikeout-walk ratio of 16-6 in 16-1/3 innings at Nat Bailey Stadium.
Remember The Titan
Former major leaguer Steve Stanicek coached Stadler during his high school days with the Glenbrook South Titans. Stanicek praised Stadler’s athleticism and work ethic in this story from The Chicago Tribune as well as his ability to control the running game, pick runners off and field his position. The Daily North Shorealso quoted Stanicek as saying Stadler has a “professional arm” with a smooth and easy delivery.
The author of a five-inning no hitter with 11 strikeouts, Stadler would go to college but he decided to break a family tradition in the process. His father Matt was an All-American swimmer at the University of Indiana and his brothers Walker and Sullivan pitched for the Hoosiers. Instead, Stadler decided to become an Arizona State Sun Devil.
“It was a pretty tough decision for me but at the end of the day, I knew I made the right one. I really liked going to Arizona State and playing in front of that kind of crowd. Arizona has the same kind of baseball culture as here (Vancouver). There’s a lot of fans that really love baseball. (Laughs). If you kind of screw up, there’ll be right behind you but in some cases, they’ll be hard on you. I really like out it here, there’s a lot of great fans that have your back so it’s nice.”
Two people that had Stadler’s back all along were his brothers, sibling rivalry and all.
“Definitely a big sibling rivalry but then again, it’s kind of like I would like to thank them for all they’ve done for me because they blazed the path and I kind of just like followed in their footsteps and tried to be a little bit better along the way. It’s definitely a competition and I definitely thank them a lot for it because it’s definitely a big thing to have a mentor in the same sense of baseball. Growing up, they played football and baseball in front of me and I kind of did the same thing so it was definitely a lot of fun following in their footsteps.”
Running With The (Sun) Devils
Stadler made 27 of his 31 appearances with the Sun Devils in relief and though he struggled with a career ERA of 6.62 ERA, Arizona State pitching coach Mike Cather praised Stadler’s athletic ability by noting the Sun Devils used him as a pinch-runner. He also lauded Stadler’s arm and pitching frame and felt he could start or relieve.
The Toronto Blue Jays saw the same things as Cather did and proceeded to draft Stadler with their 18th round pick in the 2018 draft. Stadler says he privately celebrated the moment at home.
“It was kind of low-key. I was with my parents and we were just at home. We were just hanging out and I was watching the draft. It was the third day and it was just special for them to give me a chance and I’m kind of living out my dreams so it’s definitely a big step in the right direction.”
Stadler received a $100,000 signing bonus from the Blue Jays after he was signed by scout Darold Brown. The Appalachian League would be Stadler’s first professional assignment.
“I went straight to Bluefield after a few days and Bluefield was very fun. I think both the teams that we have at these two levels, I have a lot of fun playing with them. When you’re having fun playing baseball, there’s nothing wrong with it. You’re having fun and you’re having success and there’s nothing better than that.”
Fitz Stadler delivered 12 scoreless appearances in his 16 games out of the bullpen for the C’s in 2018.
The fun began for Stadler in his professional debut when he pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts against Johnson City June 20. Stadler would earn his first professional win in his next outing with 2-2/3 innings of shutout ball in Burlington June 22. He found the win column again against Burlington in his fourth appearance July 2 by striking out six over three shutout innings.
Stadler did not give up a run in his first nine innings of pro ball and allowed just one run over 11 innings. He struck out 14 batters and walked only three while posting a 0.79 ERA.
One thing was clear—Stadler was too good for Appalachian League hitters who batted just .150 against him. He began to receive an inkling that a promotion was due.
“It was kind of funny. Throughout the day, the pitching coach was kind of hinting at it like ‘Hey, have you ever been to the Northwest?’ and they played a couple of songs where it was kind of like hinting at it. Everybody was like, ‘Hey man! You’re going to go up!’ I was pretty happy to get the call and just be in the locker room and having your teammates support you and say congratulations to you. It was very special.”
Even though he received his first promotion to Vancouver, he was somewhat sad to leave Bluefield behind.
“Definitely mixed feelings. We were having a good time, we were playing well. The coaches there were great and they were great with the promotion and everything like that but I was kind of sad to leave that team because we were having such a good time winning and playing good baseball.”
One thing Stadler had to adjust to was pitching in front of the much larger crowds at Nat Bailey Stadium as compared to those at Bowen Field.
“Definitely different. Definitely different crowd. I mean, it’s a lot of fun playing here (in Vancouver). There’s a lot of energy and I love it out here. It’s definitely a very welcoming crowd to the Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canadians and I really like that. When you hear them rooting for you and knocking down the other team, it’s pretty funny but at the same time, you kind of got to block it out and just zero in on your craft.
I feel like as soon as I come out of the pen, I’m already pitching on the mound, I kind of like zero in on my own thing. I don’t really hear much other than like loud cheers when it’s going the right way but it’s definitely very good to have this crowd on your side.”
Fitz Stadler induced ground balls at a 52 percent rate with the C’s in 2018 according to FanGraphs.
Stadler tossed a shutout inning in his C’s debut in Boise July 11. That was the start of five scoreless outings to begin his Vancouver tenure. Included in that run was three shutout innings in which he struck out four against Hillsboro July 19.
The only run Stadler surrendered in July came when he was tagged with an extra-inning loss in Everett July 25. The new overtime rule implemented by Minor League Baseball for 2018 meant he had to deal with a runner in scoring position before even throwing a pitch in the 10th inning.
“Once the guy’s on second, you kind of have the wherewithal that they might bunt. So once they might bunt, that guy is going to get moved over to third or if you get the chance to get (the runner) out, you can. But once he’s at third, when I’ve been in, we usually have walked a guy or put a guy on with four pitches on purpose so then we could get the double play chance after the one out. It works sometimes in your favour but it’s kind of challenging.”
Stadler would collect his first win with the C’s in Salem-Keizer August 12 and followed up with his second win by getting an inning-ending double play ball against Spokane August 19.
The game plan for Stadler every time he is on the mound is to be aggressive and keep the ball down.
“I usually just try to attack the hitter early. I’ve been told I have a very downward plane or downward angle towards the hitter and towards the strike zone which helps a little bit. Obviously having a great infield behind me, it’s definitely a blessing. Every time I get a ground ball, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, I got the confidence that they’re going to make the play, they’re going to get the out.’ It’s very nice to have them behind me.”
Stadler employs a two-pitch mix to deal with hitters.
“People kind of call me a sinker-slider guy. I throw a lot of two-seams (fastball) to my arm side and a lot of sliders to my glove side but I usually just try to attack early and get a ground ball and have my teammates right there behind me.”
One challenge for tall pitchers is to keep his mechanics in check with his long levers which can affect a pitcher’s release point but Stadler was able to make progress on that front towards the end of the season.
“I feel pretty good. There’s definitely a lot that I can work on and there’s definitely a lot that I can get better at to be at my best but right now, I’m having fun playing with all these guys. It’s kind of just a very good feeling to have all of the fielders behind me that I have right now.
I feel it’s just being more comfortable with the things that I have and just playing baseball to my strengths. Really just attacking hitters and once you attack hitters and you trust your stuff, you kind of just let them put the bat on the ball and let themselves get out.”
The number two dominated Stadler’s final line with Vancouver as he would finish with a 2-2 record, a 2.22 ERA and 22 strikeouts against nine walks over 24-1/3 innings.
Speaking of twos, Stadler will turn 22 years old on April 2. That will be two days before the start of the 2019 minor league season. It’s expected he will be with the Lansing Lugnuts who open their season in Fort Wayne.
Thanks once again to Fitz Stadler for pitching in for this edition of C’s Chat which was arranged again by C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning. For more on Stadler, check out the video below from CTV Vancouver.
Casey Candaele (left)—pictured here with outfielder Guillermo Heredia as Seattle Mariners first base coach in 2017—is the new manager of the Vancouver Canadians.
The Vancouver Canadians will have a former Montreal Expo leading the way. The parent club Toronto Blue Jays announced Thursday that Casey Candaele will be the manager for Monty’s Mounties in 2019.
Celebrating his 58th birthday January 12, Candaele completed his first year in the Toronto system as manager of the 2018 Dunedin Blue Jays where he led them to an above .500 finish at 69-68. Before that, he was first base coach of the Seattle Mariners in 2016 and 2017 where he appeared to enjoy his time there despite having to take one for the team in the first base coach’s box.
A free-agent signing by the Montreal Expos in 1982 from the University of Arizona, Candaele made his major league debut on June 5, 1986 at Olympic Stadium against Philadelphia. He collected his first big league hit by doubling off the Phillies Dave Ruckertwo days later.
Candaele retained his rookie eligibility in 1987 and clubbed his first major league home run against Rick MahlerJuly 19. The game-tying eighth-inning blast forced the game into extra innings where the host Expos prevailed over the Atlanta Braves. Candaele compiled 23 doubles and four triples to go along with a .272 batting average in 1987 and placed fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, won by San Diego Padres catcher Benito Santiago.
A tough start to the 1988 season saw the Expos trade Candaele to the Houston Astros for catcher Mark Bailey. He hit .172 with the Expos but did not fare any batter in the Lone Star State with a .161 batting average. Candaele would resurface with the Astros in 1990 and spend four seasons there. His first season was his best when he batted .286 with a career-high OPS of .761.
Candaele signed as a free-agent with the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers but he would not get back to the bigs until he joined Cleveland where he played a total of 38 games over the 1996 and 1997 campaigns.
Baseball was in the blood for Candaele as his Vancouver-born mother Helen Callaghan was a player of great renown in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League where she was known as the Ted Williams of women’s baseball. She was among the 64 Canadian-born players inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Wow this is huge for the C’s. Super knowledgeable guy, plus already has a nice Vancouver connection especially with his mom and aunt.
The assignment to Vancouver should prove interesting for Candaele as he returns to his late mother’s hometown and may get to re-live his Expos days should the C’s introduce an Expos-style throwback uniforms for a third year in a row. Candaele takes over for Dallas McPherson as he has been promoted to Lansing.
Dallas McPherson is moving on to the Lansing Lugnuts after managing the C’s in 2018.
Joining Candaele on the C’s coaching staff is pitching coach Demetre Kokoris who looked after the pitchers at NCAA Division II Point Loma Nazarene University. The 35 year-old Kokoris tweeted about his new job just over a week ago so that was an early indicator long-time pitching coach Jim Czajkowski was not returning to Vancouver. Czajkowski will be the pitching coach for Dunedin instead.
Jose Mayorga will move to the Dominican Summer League to take over as manager in 2019.
The other new addition to the coaching ranks is position coach Danny Canellas. The 23 year-old from Caracas, Venezuela first joined the Blue Jays organization as a free-agent signing October 9, 2017. His Baseball Reference page shows Canellas was a catcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers system in the Arizona League in 2014 and 2015. He also made two appearances as a pitcher in which he recorded three outs. Canellas was assigned to the Gulf Coast League, Lansing and Dunedin but never saw any playing time. He takes over for Jose Mayorga, who will get his first managing gig with the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays after spending the last two years in Vancouver.
Aaron Mathews is the lone returnee to the C’s coaching staff in 2019.
The lone holdover from 2018 is hitting coach Aaron Mathews. The 36 year-old spent seven of his eight minor league seasons in the Blue Jays system, reaching Triple-A in 2009. He was drafted by Toronto in the 19th round in 2004 out of Oregon State University.
Jim Czajkowski will be overseeing the development of Dunedin Blue Jays pitcher in 2019.
The Vancouver Canadians are hosting their 9th Annual Hot Stove Luncheon on Friday, January 25 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver from 12:00-2:00 pm. Former Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston will headline the event that supports the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation. CanadiansBaseball.com has
On January 25th, legendary @BlueJays Manager Cito Gaston will be joining us at our 9th Annual Scotiabank Vancouver Canadians Hot Stove Luncheon. #BeyondTheNat
Tickets are still available, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn more about Cito!https://t.co/QS9XMUph6u
— Vancouver Canadians (@vancanadians)
January 8, 2019 ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>a primer on the 1992-1993 World Series-winning manager.
Joining Gaston will be former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston and current general manager Ross Atkins.
It’s been a busy off-season for those connected with the Vancouver Canadians. Among the top headlines were former C’s skipper John Schneider joining the Blue Jays coaching staff, the Giants claiming 2015-2017 leftyhander Travis Bergen in the Rule 5 draft and fireballer Nate Pearson lighting up the radar guns during the Arizona Fall League. The following is a collection of tweets made by former and current C’s or about them over the last few months.
BLUE JAYS: What am I missing here? Toronto loses Jordan Romano AND Travis Bergen to Rule 5. Romano was EL Pitcher of the Year, Bergen, now healthy, is as good a lefty as I have seen since Nicolino (‘11) and just like that, gone? Again, not to throw shade but what am I missing? pic.twitter.com/wzFU1UyqC1
I’ve been watching (and re-watching) video from Vancouver’s 2018 season….and a few things stand out.
-Otto Lopez is one of those, get on base, play multiple positions, high baseball iQ guys. More of a contact/spray hitter at this point.
You can’t really overstate the 2018 Patrick Murphy had…..59% GB rate, 10.4% SwStr, average velo probably in the mid 90s. Added 5-6 mph on his curve, and more importantly, began to trust and use his change more. It’s the devo of that pitch that will dictate how high he goes.
Not sure why there is a huge fuss about the jerseys. The fact that ND got the rights to imitate one of the greatest franchises in sports is amazing. I’m not a Yankees fan but good job ND! Out with the gold helmets…. @ me. Pinstripes are swag #ShamrockSeries2018pic.twitter.com/bOC4JLAZLW
Everyone views Nate Pearson as potential top-of-the-rotation material if everything clicks, but the best part about seeing him air it out in a short stint tonight might be that the floor is dominant high-leverage reliever. That’s not too shabby in this super bullpen era.
When @WayneTwentyOcho rehabbed with the @FisherCats in 2017, he went 0 for 3 in a game that didn’t matter to him. We ended up winning in a walk off, and he was right there with us in the dog pile. The guy wants to win and loves the game, cool dude. #MVPearcehttps://t.co/nyadC4JPzE
A total of 40 players suited up for the Vancouver Canadians in 2018. The breakdown saw 19 position players and 21 pitchers take the field for Monty’s Mounties. Technically, the pitcher’s count is 22 as one position player was also on the mound. The 2018 player total is a drop from the 51 players who donned a C’s cap during the club’s 2017 Northwest League championship season.
Bolded names on the player list below indicate the last player to wear the number at the end of the year. Unbolded names for numbers with just one player indicate the number was not active by season’s end.
#1 – Otto Lopez
#2 – Sterling Guzman
#3 – Chris Bec
#4 – Brandon Polizzi
#5 – Freddy Rodriguez, Otto Lopez
#6 – Nick Podkul
#9 – Owen Spiwak, Griffin Conine
#10 – Griffin Conine, Jesus Severino
#13 – Vinny Capra, Yorman Rodriguez
#14 – Jose Espada
#15 – Jordan Barrett, Joey Pulido
#16 – Will McAffer
#17 – Jesus Navarro, Brett Wright
#18 – Orlando Pascual, Mitch McKown, Troy Miller
#19 – Tanner Kirwer
#20 – Josh Winckowski
#21 – Bryan Lizardo, Orlando Pascual
#22 – Denis Diaz
#24 – Cobi Johnson
#25 – Justin Watts
#26 – Reilly Johnson, Hunter Steinmetz
#27 – Sean Wymer
#28 – McGregory Contreras
#29 – Marcus Reyes
#32 – Joey Murray
#33 – Jake Brodt
#34 – Dalton Rodriguez, Yorman Rodriguez
#35 – Nick Allgeyer
#36 – Reilly Johnson
#37 – Juan Nunez
#41 – Connor Law
#43 – Elio Silva
#44 – Randy Pondler
#45 – Fitz Stadler
#11 – Aaron Mathews, hitting coach
#12 – Jose Mayorga, position coach
#23 – Dallas McPherson, manager
#48 – Jim Czajkowski, pitching coach
#2. Sterling Guzman – 1B/3B
Notes – Hit .279 with runners in scoring position…Enjoyed seven game hitting streak July 3-12 including a home run in Everett July 6…Made six starts at second base along with 21 at first base and 13 at third…Homered July 30 against Eugene…Stole six bases in nine attempts…Released by the Blue Jays December 27.
Season Highlight – Went 4-for-5 with a double, a run batted in and a stolen base in Salem-Keizer August 10.
#3. Chris Bec – C
Notes – Batted .304 in the month of August and reached base in 18 straight games…Drew 10 walks in a five-game stretch August 16-27 that included back-to-back three-walk games August 22 and 23…Went 3-for-5, doubled twice and drove in three runs in Spokane June 23…Stole 16 bases without getting caught…Made 23 starts behind the plate.
Season Highlight – Went 3-for-5 with a home run, a walk and a stolen base against Spokane August 18.
#4. Brandon Polizzi, OF/2B
Notes – Played 11 games with Lansing before returning to Vancouver for his second season…Enjoyed three-hit game with two stolen bases July 31 versus Eugene…Hit .273 with a .375 on-base percentage in August, earning the nickname ‘Mr. August’ from his teammates…Played all nine positions during season finale in Spokane September 3…Made 14 starts at second base…Won 2018 Ossie Chavarria Fan’s Choice Award.
Season Highlight – Made the catch of the year to start 8-4-3 double play against Boise August 25.
#5. Freddy Rodriguez – OF
Notes – Collected first Northwest League hit in Eugene June 18…Made four starts in right field and three in left…Played eight games for Vancouver before being promoted to Lansing June 28…Released by the Blue Jays November 2.
Season Highlight – Went 2-for-4 with two runs scored in Spokane June 24.
#5. Otto Lopez – IF/OF
Notes – Promoted from Bluefield to Vancouver July 1…Wore #1 when donning the C’s grey road jersey…First Northwest League hit an RBI single against Salem-Keizer July 2…Saw time at all three outfield positions as well as second base, third base and shortstop…Had 14 multi-hit games and batted .362 with runners in scoring position…Named a Northwest League Post-Season All-Star and won Charlie Metro Team MVP and ArnieHallgren Offensive Player of the Year Awards.
Season Highlight – Went 4-for-4 in Boise with two runs batted in at Boise July 11.
#6. Nick Podkul – 2B/3B
Notes – First Northwest League hit was an RBI triple in Eugene June 16…Had a pair of three-walk games in Spokane June 23 and against Tri-City June 26…Homered, singled, walked twice and drove in two runs in Boise July 14…Had perfect day at the plate August 24 against Boise by going 1-for-1 with a home run and two walks…Put together 11-game hitting streak in August.
Season Highlight – Singled, doubled and tripled with an RBI in a 3-for-4 effort in Eugene June 17.
#9. Owen Spiwak – C
Notes – Mississauga, Ontario native opened third season with the C’s with a single in his second at-bat in Eugene June 16…Threw out three runners trying to steal in seven attempts in four starts behind the plate…Called up to Lansing June 26…Played final game of the year in Dunedin August 26…Released by the Blue Jays November 2.
Season Highlight – Drove in two runs with sacrifice flies and threw out a runner at second in Spokane June 24.
#9. Griffin Conine – OF
Notes – Promoted from the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays to Vancouver June 23…Wore #10 at first before switching to #9…Doubled for his first Northwest League hit in Spokane June 24…First pro home run cleared center field wall at Nat Bailey Stadium before delivering game-winning run with a sacrifice fly against Tri-City June 28…Tied for first on C’s with 30 runs batted in…Earned a berth in the 2018 Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game…Strong right arm helped him collect eight outfield assists.
Season Highlight – Homered twice, doubled, walked and drove in three runs in a 3-for-4 night in Everett July 6.
#10. Jesus Severino – SS/2B
Notes – First Northwest League home run a grand slam in Everett July 5…Enjoyed a 22-game on-base streak that began July 7…Batted .327 during month of July…Hit .282 on the road and hit .333 with runners in scoring position…Made 27 starts at short, 12 at second base and one at first.
Season Highlight – Finished a triple short of the cycle in a 3-for-4 day against Spokane July 7.
#13. Vinny Capra – SS
Notes – Began pro career with a 20 game on-base streak…First Northwest League home run was in Spokane June 24…Second home run came in Hillsboro July 19. Hit .283 at Nat Bailey Stadium…Stole eight bases in 10 tries…Made 37 starts at short and helped turn 13 double plays…Promoted to Lansing August 3.
Season Highlight – Went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run batted in and a stolen base against Spokane July 7.
#13. Yorman Rodriguez – C/1B
Notes – Promoted from Gulf Coast League to Vancouver June 30…Wore #34 to start the season…Began C’s tenure with a 15-game hitting streak and was hit by a pitch to extend his on-base streak to 16 contests…Strung together six-game and seven-game hitting streaks in August and had four straight two-RBI games in Salem-Keizer August 9-12…First home run came August 11 in Salem-Keizer…Made 26 starts as catcher and seven at first base…Tied for first on C’s with 30 RBI.
Season Highlight – Went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and three RBI against Everett August 29.
#14. Jose Espada – RHP
Notes – Tossed six shutout innings in a victory over Eugene July 27…Won Northwest League Pitcher of the Week Award July 29…Posted 2-1 record with a 2.57 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 innings during the month of July…Tied for team lead in starts with 13…Finished with 70 strikeouts, good for third place in the Northwest League.
Season Highlight – Struck out eight and pitched five shutout innings of one-hit ball while contending with a 90-minute rain delay against Spokane July 9.
#15. Jordan Barrett – LHP
Notes – Prior to arriving in Vancouver, made one start for Double-A New Hampshire May 26 in which he gave up just one run in 3-1/3 innings…Allowed just one run in 4-2/3 innings in his first Northwest League start in Eugene June 17…Struck out 28 batters in 20-2/3 innings with the C’s…Earned victory in his final start for C’s in Everett July 5…Promoted to Lansing July 9.
Season Highlight – Finished one out shy of a quality start but struck out eight to earn first Northwest League victory in Spokane June 23.
#15. Joey Pulido – RHP
Notes – Promoted to Vancouver July 16 after stops in the Gulf Coast League and Bluefield…Pitched 3-1/3 scoreless innings of relief in Tri-City during his C’s debut July 16…Surrendered just two unearned runs, both against Hillsboro July 20 and August 1…Ended 2018 with 10 scoreless appearances and a 15-1/3 innings scoreless streak…Tied for team lead with six holds.
Season Highlight – Earned first Northwest League victory with two strikeouts over two shutout innings in Everett July 24.
#16. Will McAffer – RHP
Notes – North Vancouver native led C’s with seven wins out of the bullpen…Earned first Northwest League win in his pro debut in Eugene with 1-1/3 shutout innings June 17…Credited with finishing seven games…Enjoyed pitching at Nat Bailey Stadium as he posted a 4-0 record with a 2.18 ERA…Struck out 37 batters in 29-1/3 innings and limited Northwest League hitters to a .200 batting average.
Season Highlight – Pitched a perfect 3-1/3 innings and struck out three to pick up the win against Salem-Keizer June 29.
#17. Jesus Navarro – 3B/SS/2B
Notes – Singled in his third Northwest League at-bat in Eugene June 15…Recorded a hit in his first three games and four of his first five…Was 3-for-3 in stolen base attempts…Made four starts at third base, three starts at short and one at second…Promoted to Lansing June 26.
Season Highlight – Contributed a single, a walk, an RBI and a stolen base in Eugene June 17.
#17. Brett Wright – C
Notes – Promoted from the Gulf Coast League June 27……Walked twice and threw out two runners trying to steal against Eugene July 27…His five home runs placed him third on the C’s…Had isolated power mark of .213….Cut down basestealers at a 38 percent clip while making 17 starts behind the plate in 2018.
Season Highlight – Had two hits-including a home run-and a walk against Salem-Keizer June 29.
#18. Mitch McKown – RHP
Notes – Promoted from the Gulf Coast League July 2…Made C’s debut against Salem-Keizer July 3…Placed on 7-day disabled list August 8…Activated from disabled list September 27.
Season Highlight – Pitched two shutout innings of two-hit ball with one strikeout in his second and final appearance of the year in Everett July 6.
#18. Troy Miller – RHP
Notes – Signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays from the University of Michigan July 25…C’s debut came July 27 when he struck out the side versus Eugene…Held the opposition scoreless in six of his nine outings…Ended year with a trio of two shutout inning performances…Limited Northwest League hitters to a .224 batting average.
Season Highlight – Ended his season with a career-high four strikeouts over two shutout innings in Spokane September 1.
#19. Tanner Kirwer – OF
Notes – Sherwood Park, Alberta native rattled off 10-game hitting streak that began June 20…Enjoyed three multi-hit efforts in Everett July 4-6…Followed Otto Lopez home run with one of his own for back-to-back jacks against Tri-City August 15…Tripled twice against Everett August 30…Drew a walk against rehabbing Hisashi Iwakuma August 31. Tied for the Northwest League lead in stolen bases with 28…Earned a berth in the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game.
Season Highlight – Homered, doubled, singled and stole a base in a 3-for-4 effort in Everett July 4.
#20. Josh Winckowski – RHP
Notes – Earned first win in a C’s uniform with six innings of two-run ball against Salem-Keizer June 30…Finished second in the Northwest League in ERA (2.78) and strikeouts (71) and fifth in innings pitched (68.0)….Captured two NWL Pitcher of the Week Awards August 5 and August 19…Had shutout streak of 22-1/3 innings…Won Northwest League Pitcher of the Year Award and made NWL Post-Season All-Star Team.
Season Highlight – Pitched seven shutout innings of four-hit ball with six strikeouts against Spokane August 19, earning a Game Score of 80.
#21. Bryan Lizardo, 3B/1B
Notes – Ran off 11-game hitting streak as part of a 13-game on-base streak after a 0-for-12 start to the season…Enjoyed 4-for-4 game with three runs batted in and a stolen base against Salem-Keizer June 29…Hit .304 at Nat Bailey Stadium and .385 during day games…Made 27 starts at third base and five starts at first…Promoted to Lansing August 8.
Season Highlight – Homered and had two doubles in Everett July 6.
#21. Orlando Pascual – RHP
Notes – Made three April appearances with Lansing before being returned to Vancouver before the start of the Northwest League season…Wore #18 in his first stint with the C’s…Promoted to Lansing July 2 after three straight scoreless appearances with the C’s…Returned to Vancouver August 14…Earned saves in back-to-back outings in Tri-City August 21 and against Boise August 25…Released by the Blue Jays November 2.
Season Highlight – Earned the victory with two strikeouts over 1-2/3 scoreless innings against Tri-City June 28.
#22. Denis Diaz – RHP
Notes – Began the year with four scoreless appearances and six of his first seven…Pitched a season-high 2-2/3 innings twice on July 1 against Salem-Keizier and July 23 versus Hillsboro…Tied for third on the C’s with 21 appearances…Released by the Blue Jays November 20.
Season Highlight – Pitched 1-1/3 perfect innings with one strikeout against Boise August 26.
#24. Cobi Johnson – RHP
Notes – Struck out two batters in a perfect inning during his C’s debut in Eugene June 16…Picked up first professional save with two scoreless frames in Eugene June 19…Pitched career-high three shutout innings in Everett July 4…Converted all 10 save opportunities…Earned a berth in the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game…Ran off 12-inning scoreless streak over 11 appearances to finish up 2018.
Season Highlight – Picked up first pro victory in Tri-City July 18 after striking out three over two innings of one-hit ball.
#25. Justin Watts- RHP
Notes – Won all five of his decisions for the C’s…Collected three holds and finished three games…Held Northwest League hitters to a .185 batting average…Finished year with 15-1/3 shutout innings and had a 0.60 ERA in August…Led C’s relievers with 52 strikeouts to place third on the team…Had at least one strikeout in all 21 appearances with 15 multi-K efforts.
Season Highlight – Struck out six over three innings of one-hit ball for his first victory of the year against Salem-Keizer July 2.
#26. Hunter Steinmetz – OF
Notes – Promoted to Vancouver from Bluefield June 28…Singled for his first Northwest League hit against Salem-Keizer June 30…Recorded hits in seven of his first 10 games with Vancouver…Made 18 starts in center field and four in left…Enjoyed career high three-hit game including two doubles in season-finale at Spokane September 3…Swiped six bases in seven attempts.
Season Highlight – Doubled, singled and stole three bases in Everett July 6.
#27. Sean Wymer – RHP
Notes – Tandem starter with Joey Murray…Made seven starts and six relief appearances…Collected first pro victory with three shutout innings against Spokane July 8…Posted 3-1 record with a 3.57 ERA in July…Struck out career-high seven over three innings against Boise August 27…Recorded 34 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP in 35-1/3 innings…Allowed team-best 1.8 walks per nine innings.
Season Highlights – Allowed just one hit and struck out four over three frames to get the win against Hillsboro July 19.
#28. McGregory Contreras – OF
Notes – Homered twice to lead Vancouver to its first win of 2018 in Eugene June 17…Enjoyed another two-homer game in Everett July 26…Won Northwest League Player of the Week Award July 29…Batted .317 with runners in scoring position and slugged .491 at home…Led C’s with eight home runs, .460 slugging percentage, 99 total bases and tied for team lead with 30 RBI…Made 46 of his 49 starts in left field with two in right and one in center.
Season Highlight – Went 4-for-4 with a double and a stolen base versus Tri-City August 15.
#29. Marcus Reyes – LHP
Notes – Yielded just one unearned run over five appearances in June…Converted both of his save opportunities…Struck out the side in Tri-City to earn his first Northwest League save July 18…Second save came in Salem-Keizer August 12…ERA was below one for the entire Northwest League season until giving up two runs in the season finale in Spokane but still finished with a 1.35 mark…Made team-leading 23 appearances.
Season Highlight – Pitched career-high four shutout innings, holding host Boise to two hits while striking out two for first Northwest League win July 12.
#32. Joey Murray – RHP
Notes – Began season with 17-1/3 scoreless inning streak as a tandem starter with Sean Wymer…Did not give up a run until August 9…Never allowed a run in any of his six starts…Only gave up runs in two of 13 appearances…Struck out five batters against Salem-Keizer July 2 and Tri-City August 15…Had multiple-K efforts in 11 of his 13 outings…Led C’s with a 13.7 K/9 rate with 39 whiffs in 25-2/3 innings.
Season Highlight – Struck three of the six batters he faced over two perfect frames to earn his first Northwest League win in Spokane September 3.
#33. Jake Brodt – 1B
Notes – Promoted from Gulf Coast League to Vancouver June 23…Singled in his first two at-bats and went 3-for-5 in his C’s debut in Spokane June 23…Belted first home run July 14 in Boise…Homered again against Eugene July 29…Rattled off 13-game hitting streak from July 21-August 18…Hit .286 in August after a .214 June and .232 July…Draws a smiley face with his bat in the right-handed batter’s box before every plate appearance.
Season Highlight – His seventh double of a five-game series in Hillsboro brought in the tying and winning runs to give the C’s a series victory August 5.
#34. Dalton Rodriguez – RHP
Notes – Spent time in Lansing, New Hampshire and Buffalo before returning to Vancouver for the season opener…Promoted to Lansing June 29…Released by the Blue Jays November 2…Pitched two hitless innings and walked one while striking out two in the season-opener in Eugene June 15…Hurled two more scoreless frames by using two strikeouts to offset two hits in the home opener against Everett June 20.
Season Highlight – Punctuated C’s tenure with a strikeout in his final inning of work in Spokane June 24.
#35. Nick Allgeyer – LHP
Notes – Did not allow a run in 10 of his 15 appearances…Started the year by pitching nine times out of the bullpen before finishing the year with six starts…Had a 1.54 ERA as a starter…Held Northwest League hitters to a .196 batting average…Enjoyed pitching at Nat Bailey Stadium by posting a 0.77 WHIP.
Season Highlight – Tossed two shutout innings of one-hit ball and struck out four during the home opener against Everett June 20.
#36. Reilly Johnson – C/IF/OF
Notes – Walked in almost 10 percent of his plate appearances…Had hits in seven of his 10 first games…Hit his first professional home run during the home opener June 20…with the C’s to earn a promotion to Lansing June 29…Returned to Vancouver August 3 and wore #36 after wearing #26 in his first stint with the C’s…Started six games behind the plate and made four starts in left…Also made two appearances at second base.
Season Highlight – Went 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in Eugene June 17.
#37. Juan Nunez – RHP
Notes – Pitched 15 times out of the bullpen to go along with a pair of starts…Struck out four and walked one over 2-1/3 hitless innings in Spokane June 23…Best month was July when he recorded a 2.25 ERA over two starts and four relief appearances…Gave up just two runs over a combined 7-2/3 innings as a starter…Righthanded hitters batted just .208.
Season Highlight – Earned first Northwest League save with a perfect frame requiring just eight pitches in rain-shortended game against Spokane July 9.
#41. Connor Law – RHP
Notes – Pitched 3-2/3 scoreless innings over two appearances with Dunedin before joining Vancouver…Kept the opposition off the scoreboard in 18 of 22 relief appearances…Converted all four of his save opportunities..Surrendered just one home run in 27-2/3 innings…Handcuffed righthanded hitters with a .186 batting average…2018 winner of coveted C’s Plus Baseball Walk-Up/Mound Music award by using Eagles ‘Life in the Fast Lane’.
Season Highlight – Collected first Northwest League save in C’s debut with four strikeouts over 1-2/3 innings in Eugene June 17.
#43. Elio Silva – LHP
Notes – Pitched scoreless inning of relief in Northwest League debut at Eugene June 15…Made 13 starts after that relief appearance…Pitched at least five innings in 10 of those starts…Recorded an ERA of 2.61 in August…Longest outing was six innings of one-run ball in Tri-City August 14…Released by the Blue Jays December 27.
Season Highlight – Surrendered just one hit in five shutout innings to pick up first Northwest League victory in Eugene June 19.
#44. Randy Pondler – LHP
Notes – Saw action with Dunedin and New Hampshire before receiving the Opening Day assignment at Eugene June 15…Received no run support June 15 and against Everett June 21 despite allowing just three runs in 11 combined innings…Earned first Northwest League victory with six innings of three-run ball against Hillsboro July 22…Reeled off five quality starts out of six to erase 0-4 start to the season.
Season Highlight – Pitched season-high seven shutout innings of three-hit ball and struck out eight against Boise August 24.
#45. Fitz Stadler – RHP
Notes – Promoted from Bluefield to Vancouver July 8…Pitched a shutout inning in his C’s debut in Boise July 11..Put together five scoreless appearances and yielded just an unearned run in the month of July…Earned first Northwest League win in Salem-Keizer August 12…Picked up his second win against Spokane August 19…Kept the opposition off the scoreboard in 12 of 16 appearances out of the bullpen
Season Highlight – Walked just one hitter over three shutout frames against Hillsboro July 19.
#23. Dallas MacPherson – Manager
Notes – 1st season managing in Blue Jays system…Hit .241 in five-year career in the big leagues with Anaheim/Los Angeles, Florida and the Chicago White Sox.
#11. Aaron Mathews – Hitting Coach
Notes – Began coaching career as Bluefield Blue Jays hitting coach in 2015. … Batted .285 in eight-year minor league career in the Jays organization.
#12. Jose Mayorga – Position Coach
Notes – Completed second year on C’s coaching staff…Posted .341 on-base percentage during six-year minor league career in the Philadelphia Phillies system as utility player.
#48. Jim Czajkowski – Pitching Coach
Notes – Served as C’s pitching coach in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018…Made eight appearances on the mound for the Colorado Rockies in 1994.
MacPherson and company led the Canadians to the second-best overall record in the Northwest League at 40-36. After a 19-19 first half, the C’s finished the second half with a 21-17 record but they wound up missing the playoffs in both halves as Everett and Spokane were one game better. Vancouver finished fifth in the Northwest League in team OPS at .681 but second in team ERA at 3.37.
Thanks a million again to Rob Fai and the C’s organization, the players who have taken the time to chat with me in person or on the phone and to those of you who took the time to visit this blog in 2018.
Happy New Year everyone! Looking forward to June 14, 2019 already. For the 2017 Year In Review, click here.
Chris Bec made 23 starts behind the plate for the Vancouver Canadians in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians catcher Chris Bec steps up to the plate and behind the plate in the latest edition of C’s Chat.
If you go by the saying ‘game recognizing game’, the 5-foot-11 Bec could have a promising future in professional baseball. The Miami native was an outfielder and shortstop at Coral Springs Christian Academy but his move behind the plate was the result of some encouragement by a Hall of Famer.
“I got a recommendation by Pudge Rodriguez out of high school. I was a shortstop my senior year. He told me, ‘Hey, I think you could be a pretty good catcher.’ I was in a workout for the Texas Rangers and he invited me over to the bullpen. I had to catch a couple of bullpens, it was terrible! I almost broke my thumb like 10 times. It was tough.”
Despite the rough beginning, Bec began to enjoy life behind the dish and the responsibility that comes with it.
“Basically, (it’s) the amount of control that you have. It’s the only position that everyone is looking at you. Basically, I can cover the pace of the game just by throwing the ball back to the pitcher and getting set and getting this game going or slowing it down if necessary. I just like the amount of control that you can have in the game.”
Chris Bec drew a walk in just over 14 percent of his plate appearances with the C’s.
Rated among the Top 300 high schoolers in the USA by Perfect Game in 2014, Bec went to Miami Dade College for two years before transferring to the University of Maine. It was during those years that Bec began learning his craft with the catching gear.
“I started catching part-time freshman year and sophomore year in junior college. It was on and off still and then my junior year (at Maine), it was my first full year catching and then senior year was my second. I’m still on my second year (full-time) catching. One thing I have in this game is that I understand the game pretty well and I know what pitches to call and how to handle a staff and I think that’s my edge.”
Bec ended his two-year tenure with Miami Dade by earning 2016 FCSAA All-Southern Conference First Team Honors after slashing .396/.457/.513. Joining Bec as a First Team All-Star was his Sharks teammate Santiago Espinal, who was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays in the deal that sent Steve Pearce to Boston.
The 2017 season saw Bec leave the junior college ranks to transfer to the University of Maine. He batted .340 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .891 in his junior year.
Heading into 2018, Bec made the Johnny Bench Award Watch List as a contender for top college catcher honours. He proved worthy of that honour by tapping into more power in his senior year with the Black Bears, increasing his home run total from one to eight and slugging. 539, an increase of 74 points from his junior season. That earned him a spot on the America East First-Team All Star squad and the All-Tournament team.
Looking back on his time in college, Bec said he learned a lot from his coaches at Miami Dade and Maine.
“I had two really good head coaches in junior college, Danny Price, and in Maine, Nick Derba. They’re great baseball minds. They just teach you the little things in this game and it’s the little details that separate you.”
Vancouver Canadians catcher Chris Bec – chatting with lefthander Marcus Reyes – hit all three of his home runs at Nat Bailey Stadium.
The Toronto Blue Jays decided to take Bec with its 5th round pick of the 2018. Steve Ewen of The Vancouver Province pointed out that Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim was familiar with Bec when he was a scout with the Texas Rangers. It was in a batting cage when Bec found out he was drafted by Toronto.
“I was actually hitting with my hitting instructor back home. I had a pretty good idea I was going to go from the fifth to eighth round but you just never know with this thing. I was just hitting, trying to stay away from it.
I got a call from our Blue Jays scout Pete Holmes. He said I had a really good shot of going in the fifth round so just stay tuned. I said, ‘Alright. I’m in.’ Sure enough, he came through for me. He believed in me and this organization believed in me and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
As a senior sign, Bec did not have a lot of leverage in negotiations but he did receive a $5,000 bonus before reporting to Dunedin to begin his pro career. One thing Bec appreciated was the higher level of coaching at the professional level in Dunedin and Vancouver.
“It was great. Professional instruction is amazing. We got a really good group of guys, good instructors and good teachers for us. It’s amazing how much you can learn in this game, especially in this two months that I’ve been here (in Vancouver). I learned a lot more than I did in three years of college. It’s awesome, it’s been a great experience.”
Bec touched on some of the lessons he learned during his first pro season.
“The thing I learned the most is just stay humble. Play for the team, not more for yourself. Worry about the process, not so much about the result. Just have a good, strong, positive mindset because this game is all about failure and it’s about how you deal with it. That’s really what pro ball has taught me.”
Chris Bec strung together an on-base streak of 16 games that included hits in 11 straight.
Bec collected his first two hits and his first stolen base in his second professional game to help the C’s collect their first win of 2018 in Eugene June 17. That game was the start of three two-hit games in a row and he had a three-hit effort that included two doubles and three runs batted in June 23 in Spokane.
The first home run of Bec’s pro career came against Salem-Keizer July 2 and went deep again against Spokane July 9.
Bec would find himself in a slump that covered the latter part of June and a good chunk of July before heating up with a .304 batting average in August. He took the long view when it came to dealing with his struggles.
“Just staying within myself. Just trusting the process. This game is a game of failure. You’re going to fail. You’re going to have your slumps. It’s about how fast you get out of it and you shorten it. That’s basically it. I just stayed within myself. I didn’t try to do too much. I didn’t try to push my average up. I just tried to play the game and let it play out at the end of the season, it’ll show.”
Among the highlights was a 2-for-3 game with a home run, a walk, three RBI and a stolen base against Spokane August 18.
It’s been said that speed never slumps and that was definitely the case for Bec in 2018. He stole 16 bases without getting caught during his senior season in Maine and duplicated that feat with the C’s with another 16 swipes. Bec says he does a lot of preparation to be successful on the basepaths.
“Stealing bases, that’s what I do. I don’t really rely on so much on my speed but I rely on just looking at the pitcher and watching his times and watching his moves from the dugout and carrying it over to the game.”
One thing Bec had to deal with was batting at least once in every spot of the order except ninth, including six times in the leadoff spot. Bec feels he’s pretty flexible with wherever he is in the batting order.
“I’m pretty versatile when it comes to that. I just carry on my at-bat like normal just as if I was hitting in the three-hole or the four-hole. It doesn’t really matter. You just got to carry on and notice the situation you’re in and try to do what’s best for the team.”
Another challenge Bec had to deal with in Vancouver was the number of catchers vying for playing time with Reilly Johnson, Yorman Rodriguez, Owen Spiwak, Brett Wright and Brandon Polizzi (for one inning) in the mix. Bec took that challenge in stride.
“We work with each other. We give our opinions and that’s all it’s about. Catching – it’s tough, especially when you play every single day. You got to get good things from each other and help each other out and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
The importance of getting down a routine comes into play when entering professional baseball. Bec goes into how he gets ready for an evening game at Nat Bailey Stadium.
“I come to the field at 1:00, have the pitchers meeting at 2:00. We go over our last game and with all the other catchers, we talk about our game plan for the following game. I’ll tell the pitchers something that we saw something good or bad. We come out and practice, do some blocking, do some receiving and throw to the bases and go ahead and hit. Then after that, I’ll be out on the field about 45 minutes before the game starts. Go warm up with the pitcher. Go get my stretching in. Just do some dry work and then go ahead and throw with the pitcher and get ready for the game.”
Bec said he really enjoyed playing at Nat Bailey in 2018.
“Oh, it’s great. The atmosphere here – it’s amazing. I’ve never been a part of something like this. It’s one heck of a turnaround from coming from Maine and playing in 30-degree weather with 10 fans. At the end of the day, it’s baseball. Once I’m on the field, I don’t really notice too much but it is amazing to have a crowd that’s always backing you up and celebrating with you, it’s awesome.”
The one person who always backs up Bec is his mother. In his player profile page at Miami Dade, Bec’s dreams are to “tell my mom she has no need to work anymore, I got it” and to “support my family”.
Bec is expected to take the next step in his career with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2019. If all goes well, he could return to his home state with a promotion to Dunedin before the year is out.
My thanks again to Chris Bec for this episode of C’s Chat and to Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.
Nick Podkul led the Vancouver Canadians with 28 walks in 2018.
The latest player to check in on C’s Chat is 2018 Vancouver Canadians second baseman Nick Podkul.
Hailing from Munster, Indiana, the 6-foot-1 Podkul did his fare share of mashing before his arrival in professional baseball. The right-handed hitter batted .417 and .411 in his sophomore and junior seasons at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana. Nick and his brother Frank helped the 59ers win the Indiana 3-A state titles during Nick’s junior year in 2014. The Podkul brothers played to honour their late father Frank who died of cancer at the age of 59.
Podkul felt his father—who played baseball and football at Wabash College—and brother played a big role in his success.
“I would say all of my coaches have helped me throughout my career but on a more personal level, I would say my Dad and my brother. Just from the days we were playing catch in the backyard to going through middle school, high school and all that. They kind of showed me not only how to be a good baseball player but how to be a good teammate and how to be a good person. I have to feel like those are lessons that I have to take them with me and have helped me to come to where I am today.”
Nick Podkul stands at second after hitting of his 10 doubles for Vancouver in 2018.
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
After leading the 59ers to another 3A state title in 2015, Perfect Game rated Podkul the second-best shortstop in the state of Indiana. A three letterwinner in basketball, Podkul committed to play baseball in South Bend, Indiana with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. His freshman year in 2016 saw him get on base at a .413 clip and he moved around the diamond by seeing time at first and third base.
After his first season with the Fighting Irish, Pokdul played summer collegiate ball with the Battle Creek Bombers of the Northwoods League. His time with the Michigan-based club saw him sock six home runs and posted an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .825.
2017 saw Podkul hit for more power with Notre Dame as his extra-base total increased from seven to 22 in his sophomore season, including his first five home runs of his college career. He compiled a 27 game on-base streak and stole 10 bases in 12 attempts.
Podkul would pad his resume with an impressive summer for the Morehead City Marlins of the Coastal Plain League. He slugged .543 in 151 at-bats after clubbing nine home runs and eight doubles and won the Most Valuable Player Award at the CPL All-Star Game. Baseball America rated Podkul as the number two prospect in the CPL. The publication praised Podkul for his “above-average contact ability thanks to a solid approach at the plate and lightning-fast hands.” That solid performance at the dish was illustrated by drawing 23 walks against 22 strikeouts.
The 2018 campaign saw Podkul emerge as the Golden Domers’ leader in the slash categories with a batting line of .312/.433/.525. He also led the Leprechauns with 40 runs batted in and finished third on the team with eight homers. His batting eye continued to be sharp with 33 free passes against 32 whiffs. He also stole nine bases in 11 tries and showed an ability to take one for the team by getting hit with 13 pitches after being plunked 15 times the year before. For that performance, Podkul was named to the Second All-ACC team. Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki attributed Podkul’s success to
Podkul said being with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish carried its fair share of perks.
“It’s awesome. In the ACC, you get to play some of the best teams in the country. You get to travel to some really cool spots. Notre Dame has a really big alumni and we got to do a lot of cool things. We got to go to the Navy bases and we go on the road to LSU and they’d have an alumni dinner for us. There are just fans all across the country who are pulling for you so it was a really good experience.”
Nick Podkul had a line drive of over 23 percent according to FanGraphs.
On the recommendation of scout Matthew Huck, the Toronto Blue Jays took Podkul with their seventh round pick in the 2018 MLB draft. Podkul was at home with his family when he was selected.
“I was just kind of waiting for a call. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to go but obviously I wasn’t totally sure. I was just watching the computer waiting for my name to be called and then luckily the Jays got me. I had a little celebration with my family so it was a great day. After my name got called, we invited some more friends and family over and just hung out and made a night out of it.”
Before the draft, Podkul grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan where he enjoyed the rivalry with the crosstown White Sox. However, he feels the rivalry has lost a bit of its lustre as of late.
“I feel it’s been cooling down the past couple of years because the White Sox aren’t the same team they used to be. I don’t know that’s me being biased. I just remember when I was a kid, whenever the White Sox and the Cubs would come on, I’d be watching every single game on TV or even if I got tickets to go. It was a huge rivalry. My brother was a White Sox fan, I was a Cubs fan. You can fill in the blank on how the house was when that series came up.”
Podkul’s allegiance switched to Toronto after receiving a $175,000 signing bonus. He headed down to Dunedin, Florida to begin his life in the Blue Jays nest.
“It was just really exciting to be able to start off your pro career. You don’t really know what to expect. It all happens really quick too. A couple days after you get drafted, you head down there. They throw you right into it. We had our physical the first day and then after that, we were out on the field doing stuff, 6:00 am to 3:00 (pm). It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work and it was a dream come true, honestly.”
Nick Podkul drew a walk in just over 14 percent of his plate appearances in 2018.
Podkul’s first pro assignment was Vancouver and he got a scouting report about the city from a former college teammate and C’s second baseman.
“I talked to Cavan Biggio because he was at Notre Dame and so he told me about Vancouver. He said it’s a lot of fun, the fans are great and just a great atmosphere to play in. I had high expectations coming in and I could say that those expectations were definitely met.”
Podkul expressed his gratitude of having Biggio showing him the ropes when they were together during Podkul’s freshman season in 2016.
“He’s a great guy, a great baseball player. Just a guy I could always go to if I needed help with something baseball or just talk to him as a friend. He’s a really good guy. When I got drafted, he said if you ever need anything, kind of show me the ropes and stuff and I’ll always be there for you. It’s good to have a guy like that who’s older than you and he’s been through the situations you’re going through.”
Podkul also embraces the comparisons made between Biggio and himself coming out of South Bend.
“I would say so. I think probably just because we went to the same college and had the same coaches. I was coming in as a freshman and he was a junior. I’d guess you’d say he’s kind of like a role model to me and I kind of looked up to him and want to follow in his footsteps and kind of model my game after him.”
Nick Podkul made 43 of his 50 starts at second base in 2018.
Podkul began his pro career with a bang by tripling in just his second at-bat in Eugene June 16 and finished a home run short of the cycle the very next night.
After an on-base percentage of .388 and a slugging percentage of .462 during a dozen games in June, Podkul endured a tough July that saw him hit just .149 despite hitting his first pro home run in Boise July 14 and his first dinger at Nat Bailey Stadium July 22.
“Yeah, I definitely hit a rough patch and had a pretty big slump for awhile but that’s baseball. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about it because it’s just like game after game you’re not seeing the results that you want to, it’s pretty tough but we got a really good group of guys who are picking me up, saying ‘You’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine.’
I think what got me through it was just like investing in the team and trying not to worry about myself and how I can help the team win. If it’s like a defensive play or even drawing a walk, getting on base late in a game.
At the end of the day, (it’s) just having a positive mindset because if you have a negative mindset going in, you’re not going to succeed so it took me a while to finally get over the results and just worry about the process. I feel like since then I’ve been doing a lot better.”
Podkul would get the bat going again with an 11-game hitting streak as part of a string of 16 straight games in which he reached base. Among the highlights was his third homer of the season in Tri-City August 20.
Podkul also contributed with the glove by taking part in 30 double plays, including one on the catch of the year made by Brandon Polizzi in a game against Boise August 25. Podkul was the middle man of the 8-4-3 double play with Jake Brodt.
“It was a great play by Brandon. The shortstop and I were running towards the left-center gap because we thought it was going to be a double so we were going for the double cut. He laid out and made a great play and then got up and threw it. I knew that it was going to be a really long throw. I think it was raining that day so it was wet. I just busted over to be the cut-off guy and luckily I got there in time and then Jake Brodt got back to first and we got the double play. I figured if he was going to throw it all the way over there, that’d be one hell of a throw so I figured I might as well be there and help him out.”
Podkul spent the majority of his time on the diamond at second base but he did get seven starts at the hot corner.
“I played third base a bit in college but at the end of the day, it’s just catch ball, throw ball. There’s obviously a difference in you’re closer at third, you have more time at second, stuff like that. Just what you do in pre-game, how you prepare for it kind of sets the tone for how you’re going into the game but at the end of the day, wherever they’re going to put me, I’m happy.”
Podkul is expected to play much closer to home in 2019 with the Lansing Lugnuts in the Midwest League. He will turn 22 years old on April 11.
Thanks again to Nick Podkul for participating in this episode of C’s Chat and to C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for setting up the interview.
Josh Winckowski won the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Josh Winckowski is the latest to take the ball on this edition of C’s Chat.
The 6-foot-3 righthander from Fort Myers, Florida is expected to emerge as one of the Toronto Blue Jays top prospects on the mound in 2019 after enjoying a banner 2018. The 20 year-old Winckowski was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year this past season after finishing second in the league in earned run average (2.78) and strikeouts (71) and fifth in innings pitched (68.0).
Despite those impressive credentials, Winckowski did not land a spot on Baseball America’s Northwest League Top 20 Prospects list. In BA’s Northwest League Prospects Chat, Bill Mitchell did mention Winckowski was lauded by one of the league’s managers for his competitiveness on the mound. That sentiment was also echoed by his pitching coach Gary White at Estero High School. White told The Naples Daily News that Winckowski is “the nicest guy off the field, but when you get between those white lines, he’s going to come after you. He’s a kid that always wanted the ball, always wanted to win.”
Josh Winckowski averaged just over a strikeout per inning for the first time with Vancouver in 2018.
It was in the 15th round of the 2016 draft that the Toronto Blue Jays selected Winckowski from Estero High. He received a $125,000 signing bonus, forgoing the opportunity to attend Florida SouthWestern State College. According to The Naples Daily News, Winckowski will have up to eight semesters of paid schooling courtesy of the Blue Jays, something that he was happy to receive.
“Obviously your mentality is that you’re going to pitch in the big leagues and that’s your goal. I’ve always kind of been someone that’s if I want something, I go after it. I remember being a young kid and saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to play baseball.’ Adults would say, ‘What’s your Plan B?’ and I’d say, ‘There is no Plan B.’ But obviously, having it is smart you know because some stuff is out of your control – injuries or just certain situations that you can’t control. It did mean a lot to have that knowing that if something does happen, you can go back to school and hopefully get a degree that you can use in life.”
Things were up in the air for Winckowski in 2016 before he decided to turn pro.
“It was kind of a crazy (year) for me. I didn’t really get scouted that much to go to college at all. I got my early offer like halfway through my senior year. It was kind of weird because obviously you’re filling out stuff for pro scouts and going to a few events and they were looking at you and talking to you and saying some pretty good things.
It was kind of weird for me but I had a pretty good senior year. I thank my pitching coach Gary White for that. He helped me out a lot there and then fortunately enough when the draft came around, they called me. They called my name and I went from there.”
Josh Winckowski has made 27 starts in three seasons since turning pro in 2016.
High School Shift
Winckowski’s decision to transfer from Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers to Estero High before his junior season paid off as he got to experience the tutelage of pitching coach Gary White. The two broke down video of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Corey Kluber to help improve Winckowski’s posture on the mound. Winckowski was able to draw upon plenty of White’s wisdom during their time with the Wildcats.
“He played a little bit of minor league ball for the Orioles and he was obviously a really good pitcher himself and he was a lefty. He kind of prepared me for all of this. He kind of knows and knew some of the things I was going to go through. He was kind of a guy that didn’t really throw all that hard himself, he’s a little bit more of a crafty lefty. He kind of taught me some things that especially down the road I’ve definitely seen be valuable to me like hitting spots and mixing speeds and changing locations.
There’s a lot of guys who come out of the draft and throw really hard in high school. They kind of just blow everyone away and I could do that a little bit but I’ve known how to pitch for a long time. When you come here, you can’t just blow people away all that often unless you’re throwing really, really hard but it’s knowing how to pitch and change speeds (that) has helped me out a lot.”
Josh Winckowski had a 2.66 ERA in July before posting a 0.66 mark in August for the C’s.
The first pro stop for Winckowski was not too far away from home as he joined the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in Dunedin.
“It’s only about two hours away. It’s kind of interesting like you think you’d be able to go home all the time but when you only have like Sundays off in the ‘G’ (GCL), you don’t really go home that often but you go home a few times and then the mom can come visit you here and there so it is nice really nice being close to home because then you can just drive to the complex and having a car there is a pretty big deal. It makes packing a lot easier. (laughs)”
It only took two appearances for Winckowksi to earn his professional victory as he tossed three innings of relief August 3 against the GCL Pirates. He would get one more win against the GCL Tigers East August 17. Winckowski would finish with a record of 2-2 with a 4.61 ERA in his five appearances covering 13-2/3 innings in which he struck out 13 and walked four.
The jump from high school to professional baseball was a big one to make for Winckowski.
“That first year was just kind of getting used to all the routines and the sheer number of days and hours that you’re on the field. That’s definitely something you got to get used to. And physically, I had a lot of catching up to do. That first year, I kind of came in and the velo was down and some other things that was kind of from fatigue or whatever it was.
It was a lot of adjustments. In high school, you face a team that’s maybe one or two hitters you got to worry about and then you get here, every hitter one through nine is really good here. It’s definitely a lot of physical and mental adjustments that you got to make and it’s been a really big growth period. Still to this day, I’m still learning a lot.”
The 2017 campaign saw Winckowski report to Bluefield where he took some lumps before turning his season around. One highlight was a 10-strikeout game against the Danville Braves. He ended the year with five shutout frames against Johnson City in his lone relief appearance August 30. His final numbers were another 2-2 record with a 5.33 ERA.
“Last year was definitely not the year I expected. I was hoping to pitch a little bit better but I definitely did in the second half. I kind of picked it up like that game (against Danville). I kind of used my changeup more in the game and the second half.
It was really good to finish strong. It kind of set me up in a good mental state for coming into (2018). It made it a lot easier to go home and do all the things that I needed to do in the offseason. I learned an insane amount last year and I think it’s all helped me out this year.”
Josh Winckowski won two Northwest League Pitcher of the Week awards in August.
Vancouver, British Columbia was next up for Winckowski in 2018. He took the loss in his first two starts with the C’s in an up-and-down first half. His first win came at the end of June when he limited Salem-Keizer to two runs over six innings. That was followed up with five shutout innings to earn another victory in Everett July 6.
“The first half wasn’t bad. At different times, I got to have fastball location and then I had my slider and then sometimes the slider wasn’t on.
In the second half, it kind of just all came together. I’ve really been locating the fastball and I’m throwing my slider really well and mixing in the changeup there. When I have the combination of those three pitches going, it’s usually going to be a pretty good outing.”
Winckowski says C’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski played a big role in his best season to date.
“It’s been huge. He’s helped me a ton this year. I can’t even say all the things that he’s done for me. He’s helped me out with my pitches and mechanics a little bit but just mostly, I’d say 70 or 80 percent of what he’s helped me out with this year is on the mental side and like sequencing and just staying calm. I’m really competitive and at times it gets a little too much so he’s helped me out a lot with that this year and I can’t thank him enough. I owe a lot of my success to him this year for sure.”
The second half saw Winckowski spin seven innings of one-run ball against the Eugene Emeralds July 29 before tossing six shutout frames in Hillsboro August 4 for a second straight win. Two more scoreless outings in Salem-Keizer August 13 (6-1/3 innings with a career high nine strikeouts) and at home against Spokane August 19 helped Winckowski extend a shutout string of 22-1/3 innings that ended August 25.
That effort against Spokane earned Winckowski his second Northwest League Pitcher of the Week award for the month of August after earning one for the week of August 4. He found out the good news from one of his biggest fans.
“To earn that award was pretty cool. It’s kind of funny. My grandpa was the one that found out. He’s always checking on my all my stats and all that stuff and he saw those and texted me about it.”
The start against Spokane in a playoff-type atmosphere between the top two teams in the North Division was one Winckowski rated pretty highly.
“It was probably top three for sure. I’d have to dig a little deeper into if it’s the best start of my career. You don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself but you definitely know what’s behind the game, you know the rankings so you got into that one. They’d been hitting really well. We knew that as a staff. You go into it hoping to have your best stuff and luckily I had pretty good stuff that day. I just sort of put it together.
It felt really good to keep the team in because I think it was 0-0 when I left the game. When I’m starting, my goal is to keep the team in it. If we score three runs, then my job is to keep it less than three. Keeping the team in it was a big goal and I was able to do it that day.”
The radar gun showed Winckowski hitting 100 miles per hour on the radar gun during that start against Spokane but he was not buying what the gun was selling.
“The gun was pretty hot that day. Personally, I’ve been up to 97 I think this year. I’ve flashed a few (96’s), 95 is usually my number. A good day for me is 91-96, touch a decent amount of (95’s) and sit 93. That’s kind of like my good velocity.”
Winckowski says he uses a different type of fastball depending on the handedness of the batter.
“When I go armside into righties, I get a little bit of run and then when I got into lefties, I’ll cut it – it gets a little bit of cut. I hold it the same but it’s kind of wherever we’re going on the plate, it’s kind of gets a little different movement.”
Winckowski also adds he has two variations of his slider.
“I kind of have like a harder, sharper one and then I have like a little bit of a slower, big breaker that I kind of just use on what I’m seeing from the hitter. I usually use the big breaking one for a strike. I’ll set it like I get a chance or something to drop it in. When I’m going for the strikeout, I’ll start the harder one that’s like 86-87 (miles per hour) at the knees and just drop it in to the dirt for when I’m going for a strikeout.”
Winckowski is expected to put his three-pitch mix to the test with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2019.
A big thank you again to Josh Winckowski for being the latest guest on C’s Chat and to C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for setting up the interview.
Justin Watts is introduced on C’s Diamond Vision at Nat Bailey Stadium.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Justin Watts climbs the hill in this episode of C’s Chat.
Climbing the hill is something the 25 year-old Watts is still getting used to after getting a late introduction to pitching.
After lettering during his high school career in his hometown of Bryan, Ohio as a catcher and outfielder, Watts did not become a hurler until his freshman season in 2013 at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois. A strong right throwing arm and a sudden growth support led Watts to a new beginning on the mound.
“In high school, I never pitched an inning. I went to junior college and I was short, a little pudgy kid. Within two months of right before Christmas break, in the first semester of college, I sprouted up to 6-3 out of nowhere. I was struggling hitting and they threw me on the mound one time and I guess I looked pretty good to them. Ever since then, nobody wanted me as a position player anymore, they wanted me to pitch.”
Watts would post a 1-1 record with a 5.84 earned run average and a save for the Statesmen but he would be sidelined with Tommy John surgery on his right elbow due to mechanical and arm care issues. That caused him to miss the entire 2014 season.
Justin Watts has made 35 appearances in relief in his two-year pro career.
Buckeye State To Bluegrass State
Northern Kentucky University was Watts’ next stop in his college career. He made 14 starts among his 31 appearances for the Norse during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. Despite winning just three of his nine decisions with an ERA over six, Watts struck out 89 batters in 100 innings.
Something that helped Watts find his footing on the mound according to the linked story above from the Evansville Courier & Press was working out with former high school teammate and fellow Bryan, Ohio native Matt Wisler. The righthander spent parts of three years with the Atlanta Braves before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization last July 31.
Watts gained more experience on the hill by playing summer collegiate ball with the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League in 2015 and 2016. Pitching in Wisconsin prepared him for what to expect with Vancouver.
“It’s kind of similar to here (Vancouver) actually. They had a great fan base. We played in front of like 7,000 (fans). Madison, Wisconsin is a beautiful place. Great people, great coach. Donnie Scott (former major league catcher with Texas, Seattle and Cincinnati) was an awesome manager out there. I couldn’t have asked for two better summers.”
Fly Like An Eagle
The 2017 season saw Watts transfer to the University of Southern Indiana, the same place where 2014-2015 C’s righthander Jon Wandling pitched. Rated as the number 13 prospect in Division II by Baseball America heading into 2017, everything came together for Watts in his senior season. He became the Screaming Eagles closer, saving seven games and winning five of eight decisions with a 3.93 ERA and a strikeout-walk total of 45-9 over 34-1/3 innings. Watts had one four-inning start and allowed just two hits and struck out six against Kentucky Wesleyan College.
“My best memory of Southern Indiana was probably the fact that I was only there for one year and the fact that those guys took me in like I played with them for four years. It was just a great group of guys. We had a great team. We ended up losing in the regional but we were regular season champs. The first couple of weeks we struggled and after that we went on an absolute streak of just winning and it was just fun to play with those guys.”
Northwest League hitters batted just .185 against Justin Watts in 2018.
Getting The Call
The Toronto Blue Jays would take Watts with their 37th round pick in the 2017 draft, something he called the realization of a childhood dream.
“It’s everything I worked for my whole entire life since I started playing at age five. It’s all I ever dreamed of was getting to play professional baseball. Going through high school, just getting an opportunity to play college baseball to the point where you find out that you’re actually pretty good enough to go on and advance to that, it was just like an amazing feeling.”
Also sharing in the joy of Watts’ draft selection was Bryan baseball coach Jeff Inselmann, telling The Bryan Times it was “one of my most satisfying moments of my coaching career.”
It was the head coach at Southern Indiana Tracy Archeluta who first told Watts he was drafted.
“I was actually working at a baseball camp and I got done. The draft was about to end. We were getting toward the last few rounds and stuff like that so I headed home and then I got a call from my coach and he said, ‘Hey, you just got drafted by the Blue Jays.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t play with me. I haven’t heard anything like that.’ Then my Mom was calling and my grandparents were calling and stuff like that. I didn’t even hear from the Blue Jays yet but I found out through all of them and finally they called me.”
Justin Watts has won seven of his 11 decisions with an of ERA of 3.00 in his two seasons as a pro.
The Gulf Coast League was the first stop for Watts in his professional career. He collected his first save in just his second appearance against the GCL Yankees West June 29 by walking one and striking out four over two shutout innings. Watts then earned his first win in his next outing with two perfect frames and three strikeouts against the GCL Braves July 6.
Other highlights for Watts included a five-strikeout performance against the GCL Pirates July 20 and his second pro win against the Braves August 8. His last three outings were in a starting role and they would skew his final numbers by raising his ERA to 3.62 but he struck out 34 batters and walked eight in 32-1/3 innings along with two saves.
Pitching in the GCL for Watts took some getting used to.
“I mean, it’s hot. I’m not going to lie but it’s a different experience. I’m from up north and I was in college up north so I was used to the cold. It was a good change.
It was a different type of game. It’s nothing like it is playing here (in Vancouver). You don’t play in front of many people and stuff like that but it was a good experience to really learn how to pitch. I just became a pitcher a few years ago so it was like my first turning point of learning how to pitch and not just throw so it was nice.”
The month of August saw Justin Watts put up a microscopic ERA of 0.60 in 15 innings.
Next Stop – Vancouver
The 2018 season saw Watts make his first trip to Canada and first trip anywhere outside of the U.S. when he was assigned to Vancouver. His first appearance with Monty’s Mounties was June 18 in Eugene when he struck out three over two scoreless innings. He rung up a career-high six batters over three shutout frames of one-hit ball against Salem-Keizer to collect his first win of the year July 2.
The month of July saw Watts pick up two more wins in relief but he hit a rough patch by coughing up runs in four of five outings. August saw him finish up strong by allowing just one run, finishing the year with 15-1/3 shutout innings. That dropped his ERA to 2.45 and along with a 5-0 record, he struck out 52 batters and walked just 10 over 36-2/3 innings.
Getting to pitch in front of the fans at Nat Bailey Stadium was something Watts enjoyed.
“It’s an unreal feeling. These fans are unbelievable. You couldn’t ask for better fans that like I’ve played in front of. They’re always behind you and like it just gives you a little bit of a satisfaction knowing that they got your back too.”
Pitching Repertoire & Style
When asked to break down his pitching arsenal, Watts rated his four-pitch mix in order.
“I have a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup. My slider is definitely my go-to pitch right behind the fastball. My fastball is my one, my slider is my two, my curveball is my three and my changeup is my fourth.”
His variations of the fastball include a sinker along with a four-seamer. He says he wants to improve his curve and change.
“Just being more in control of my curveball and just keep developing my changeup. It’s something I really want to have in my repertoire to be consistent.”
One thing Watts also focuses on is being aggressive on the hill.
“I just attack. I’m a guy that’ll just come right at you and see what you can do with it. Just try to get the ball in play and try to get through the inning quick. I wouldn’t compare myself to anyone yet but someone I loved to watch pitch would definitely have to be Justin Verlander.”
According to Watts, a number of coaches have helped him develop on the mound.
“Truly, honestly, it would be a few guys. My coaches back at Southern Jeremy Kuester (assistant coach) and Tracy Archuleta (head coach), they were both impacts in developing me as a pitcher. A couple of years (with the Jays organization), it’s been Adam Bernero and Cy (Jim Czajkowski), our pitching coach (in Vancouver). Bernero helped me with my mechanics and then Cy helped with the pitch repertoire like knowing what to pitch and helping me make those decisions after and stuff like that.”
In terms of starting or relieving, Watts does not have a preference.
“As long as I get to pitch, I don’t care, you know. I just want to keep pitching, just keep playing ball.”
Lansing, Michigan or Dunedin, Florida is where Watts is expected to play ball in 2019.
My thanks to Justin Watts for this latest edition of C’s Chat and to C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.
Joey Pulido whipped Northwest League hitters with a 0.81 walks-hits-innings pitched ratio in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Joey Pulido gets the spotlight in this episode of C’s Chat.
The 5-foot-9 righthander from Clute, Texas pitched in the Lone Star State up until his professional debut this past season. Pulido attended Brazoswood High School in his hometown and lettered four times. One notable performance came in 2013 when he gutted out a seven-inning complete game in which he threw 134 pitches to help Brazoswood outlast Elkins. Brazoswood coach Bobby Williams praised Pulido as a battler who “has a lot of guts when he is on the mound.”
The 2014 season saw Pulido being named a First Team All-District pitcher and the District Pitcher of the Year. His efforts helped Brazoswood win two District Championships and an appearance in the regional final. The year was capped off by Pulido being named a 2014 Perfect Game Qualifier MVP Pitcher to lift the Houston Banditos to the Perfect Game WWBA South Qualifier championship.
Ryan Express College & Division I
It was off to Alvin, Texas for Pulido as he attended Alvin Community College, the same institution Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan attended. The 2015 season saw Pulido go 7-0 with a 2.86 earned run average with 10 of his 12 appearances coming out of the Dolphins bullpen. In 2016, Pulido was in the starting rotation and finished with a 5-4 record, a 4.86 ERA and three complete games. His 65 strikeouts in 64 innings bettered his 2015 total of 64 whiffs in 62 frames. Both seasons saw Pulido land a berth on the NJCAA First-Team All-Conference squad.
The 2017 season saw Pulido transfer to the University of Houston where he became a key member of the Cougars bullpen. His 21 appearances was tied for the team lead and he struck out 42 batters in 40-2/3 innings, collecting two saves to go with an ERA of 3.98.
In 2018, Pulido won six of eight decisions with a 3.55 ERA, six saves and 53 strikeouts in 50-2/3 innings. Of his 28 appearances, all but one were out of the bullpen. One of those outings out of the pen included 6-2/3 innings of relief against Houston Baptist University in March.
During Pulido’s tenure, the Cougars won back-to-back American Athletic Conference titles and advanced to NCAA Regional play. He also succeeded in the classroom with American All-Academic Team honours in 2017 and 2018.
Pulido has very fond memories during his time at the University of Houston.
“Houston was awesome. Great coaching staff, great players there. I got to spend two good years with them. My first year, I was kind of like in a mid-relief role. I got to come out of the bullpen. I think I had around 40 innings my first year. I pitched well. They helped me. They changed some things mechanically with me that allowed me to perform better.
My second year, they changed me into the closing role there at the University of Houston. I enjoyed it. I mean, I don’t know how many saves I had. I didn’t keep track of it too much but it was a fun year, a great time, the fans were awesome and I enjoyed playing there for two years.”
The pitching coach with the University of Houston was the one who got Pulido straightened out mechanically.
“My junior year, I had a big problem with closing off my body so I was coming in front, step in front of my body. My pitching coach at the time, Frank Anderson, who’s now at the University of Tennessee, he helped me open up more and start driving towards home plate. It really allowed me to kind of come more through my body and gain some velo and get more accurate with some of my pitches and hit locations and what not.”
Joey Pulido (with infielder Otto Lopez) held Northwest League hitters to a .148 batting average in 2018.
2018 MLB Draft
The 2018 Major League Baseball draft was next on the baseball calendar for Pulido and the Toronto Blue Jays came calling by using their 32nd round pick to take him, giving him a $1,000 signing bonus. Unfortunately, Pulido was not feeling like a thousand bucks that day.
“During the draft, I was feeling kind of sick. I was in bed laying down, following it on my laptop. I had talked to the Blue Jays a few times before the draft and they seemed to be very interested so I had a feeling that I was going to go at some point in the draft. I was keeping up with it on my laptop and as soon as I saw my name, about five minutes afterward I got a call from Charlie Wilson and my area scout (Brian Johnston) who drafted me and told me I got drafted by the Blue Jays.
I went home. I was in Houston at the time where I was staying for college. I drove down home, about a 45-minute drive and I spent some time with my family. It was a good time.”
Pulido says things moved fast once he was drafted by the Blue Jays.
“I got the call. I think it was a Wednesday afternoon whenever they drafted me. That day, when Brian (Johnston) called me, he was like, ‘Hey man, we have your flight info for Friday.’ It was a quick turnaround. I went home and spent (time) with my parents. Packed some things. I went to see my grandparents, talked to them for a little while. I went back to Houston. Packed all my things from my locker at the university. Thanked the coaches for the opportunity.
That next morning, on Friday morning, I was heading out to Dunedin. I got there, I got situated in at the hotel and the next day, we started our little mini-camp for all the new draftees.”
One thing Pulido was used to during his stay in Dunedin was the humid weather.
“Houston is really hot and humid. It’s about 100 degrees there too. The climate there was very similar to Houston so it wasn’t too much of a struggle for me.”
The Gulf Coast League was the first stop for Pulido as he made his professional debut June 18 in Bradenton against the Pirates. He induced a tapper back to the moudn and struck out the next two batters he faced and got a groundout. However, the first strikeout was a wild pitch that allowed the hitter to reach first base. Two singles, an error and a hit by pitch followed, leading to a pair of runs (one earned) before getting out of the inning.
Five days later, things went better for Pulido as he retired the GCL Tigers in order with two punchouts to earn a hold in his one inning of work.
Joey Pulido struck out 32 batters in 36-2/3 innings over three stops in the Blue Jays system in 2018.
The next time Pulido was on the mound was June 26 in Bowen Field, the home of the Bluefield Blue Jays. He wasn’t around for long as he needed just six pitches to retire the side in order against the Princeton Rays. Pulido needed just seven pitches two days later to take care of the Greeneville Reds. Though he would suffer his first professional loss, four of Pulido’s six outings in the Appalachian League were of the scoreless variety.
“Bluefield was awesome. It’s kind of smaller, a smaller location. You’re in the middle of a lot of mountains but I enjoyed my time there though. The team was fun. The guys were good. The coaches were good with Adam Bernero the pitching coach there and (manager) Dennis Holmberg were both great guys I got to meet and I enjoyed my time. I enjoyed being there.”
The second promotion of Pulido’s career came in mid-July when he was assigned to Vancouver and that was a boost of confidence for the righthander.
“Definitely. I’m just trying to take it day by day, whatever happens. Obviously being promoted is big. When I got the promotion to Bluefield, I was really excited, you know, going from the GCL to Bluefield. I thought I was going to stick there to be honest with you for the rest of the short season. Two weeks later, it was a short time there, they called me again and said, ‘Hey, we’re promoting you to Vancouver.’ I can’t say anything better about Vancouver than what it is. It’s awesome being here.
The atmosphere is tremendous. It definitely gives you a rush, a thrill when you’re on the mound. It makes you want to perform in front of these fans because they’re great. It’s awesome.”
Pulido made his C’s debut with 3-1/3 scoreless innings of relief in Tri-City July 16. He gave up an unearned run in his Nat Bailey Stadium debut July 20 against the Hillsboro Hops. Pulido was nicked for another unearned marker August 1 in Hillsboro. Against everyone else in the Northwest League, he slammed the door shut. Pulido ended the year with 10 scoreless appearances and a 15-1/3 innings scoreless streak. He finished the season with a 1-0 record and a 0.00 ERA. That first professional win came in Everett with two scoreless innings of two-hit ball against the AquaSox July 24.
When it comes to his arsenal of pitches, Pulido is confident in what he throws.
“I throw a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider so I throw four pitches, I like to think I can throw them whenever I want and have control of every pitch and I trust every pitch with everything.”
Pulido says he has two different fastballs he uses.
“Usually two-seam. I like to throw two-seam a lot just because it gets some movement inside and some arm-side run. I throw them both, two-seam and four-seam. I guess it kind of just depends on the count or the hitter.
When I’m trying to go outside, I usually try to go four-seam. That way, it doesn’t run back over the plate. I’m trying to go inside with the two-seam definitely, try to get it in under their hands or whatnot.”
The secondary pitches Pulido uses depends on the matchup but he does have a preference for which one he throws.
“Probably my slider. I mean, I guess it would depend on if it’s a lefty or a righty. With lefties, I like to go with my changeup. Righties, it’s a lot of slider and curveball.”
One major league pitcher Pulido likes to follow is 2012 C’s righthander and Toronto Blue Jay Marcus Stroman.
“I don’t think I compare myself to anyone in the major leagues but if there is one I’d admire and who I kind of look up to for what he’s done is Marcus Stroman. He’s a smaller guy, kind of like me and he has dealt through some adversity with being a smaller guy and I like to see smaller guys have success. He’s obviously one of the best at it.”
All 23 of Joey Pulido‘s professional appearances have been in relief but he still holds out hope of being a starter again.
Though he remained in relief in his first professional season and made 56 of his 72 appearances out of the bullpen during his college years, Pulido would love to be a starter again someday.
“Definitely. I started, pretty much started my entire life. I was a starter until my junior year in college. I went from two years in junior college being a starter, having over 90 innings, and then my role changed. Everything kind of changed, two completely different roles, but no, if I got a chance to start again, I’d definitely embrace it and I’d love to do it.”
The 23 year-old Pulido is expected to head to Lansing for 2019 and a promotion to Dunedin would not be out of the question if he can replicate his successful 2018 campaign.
A big thank you again to Joey Pulido for participating in this episode of C’s Chat and to C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.
Connor Law limited righthanded hitters in the Northwest League to a .186 batting average in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Connor Law takes his turn in the order on the latest round of C’s Chat.
The 6-foot-4 righthander from Chatham, Illinois was a free-agent signing of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 after a five year-stay at NCAA Division II Lindenwood University. A redshirt freshman in 2013, Law made only made four relief appearances totaling 4-1/3 innings in 2014. He remained in the bullpen for his first extended action in 2015 and compiled a 3-3 record with a 4.04 earned run average and two saves.
The 2016 season saw Law move into the Lions rotation in 2016 where he made 12 of his 15 appearances, winning six of his eight decisions with a 2.82 ERA. It was back to the bullpen for Law in 2017 and he averaged more than a strikeout an inning for the first time in his college career, ringing up 67 batters over 65 innings. Duplicating his 2016 record of 6-2, he saved 12 games and recorded an ERA of 3.16.
Roar Of The Lion
2017 was a banner year for Lindenwood as it won the MIAA Tournament Championship and NCAA Central Regional Championships to reach the Division II Championship for the first time in its four-year history. Law had a huge hand in that effort as he pitched a whopping eight innings of relief, allowing just a two-run home run as the Lions knocked off No. 1 seed Emporia State to advance to the Division II tournament.
That effort earned Law honorable-mention all-region honors on the heels of a 1st-Team All-MIAA selection after being named a 2nd-Teamer in 2016. His academic excellence never wavered as he was named to the MIAA Academic Honor Roll five years in a row.
The time Law spent at Lindenwood really helped him develop his craft as a hurler.
“I had never really pitched in my life and I came in as a pitcher so I was trying to figure out how to pitch and to throw strikes. It was a big thing. It took me a couple of years to get it down. I’ve been like at the bottom of the barrel, so they say, like I’ve hit rock bottom and don’t know how to pitch, don’t know how to do anything. It’s not a great feeling but I’ve been there.
I feel like that gives me an advantage of you could always go back up, you could always figure something out. There will always be a new day. I don’t know how to describe it but just hard work and stuff like that. The whole mindset of just getting through stuff. I just feel like it really gives you an advantage.
I pitched a little bit in high school, like 10 innings or so, and then a little bit in summer ball but I pitched like enough where the scouts had seen me. I threw decently hard so they were like ‘Well, we could always teach someone mechanics but feel (for pitching) is kind of harder to teach.’ At least I had one thing going for me.”
Working with strength coaches to put on weight and muscle to improve body control was one part of the equation for Law. The other part was the tutelage of Lindenwood’s pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
“Nathan Beuster, who’s a scout for the (New York) Mets now. He was my pitching coach down there and he taught me pretty much everything. It’s just night and day different on what I used to be and what he’s helped me do. He altered a lot of mechanics just how to feel out like how you’re throwing and how to make an adjustment.”
Connor Law signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent June 25, 2017.
When the 2017 Major League Baseball draft rolled around, Law did not hear his name called but he heard from the Blue Jays not too long afterwards.
“The draft ended about 15 minutes later. They called me and asked if I still wanted to play baseball. I said, ‘Alright, yeah. Absolutely!’ They were just like, ‘Alright. We’ll send you the information in about 10 minutes.’ It was just a plane ticket. It was that easy.”
I had my family over and we were watching it. I kind of expected to get drafted but the fact I wasn’t doesn’t change anything. I’m still here. I just wanted the opportunity and I got it so I can’t be too mad at it.
I know some teams had contact with my coaches and then I filled out questionnaires and then spoken to them a couple of times. That’s why I kind of expected to get drafted and kind of had an expectation in my mind but I couldn’t be more happy than to play for the Jays (organization).”
Not all of the questionnaires were the same according to Law.
“All the teams are different. Some of them have personality questions like who are your role models and stuff like that. Other people you may know that play professional baseball and then kind of like medical stuff but it’s nothing really too in detail. It’s kind of basic information.”
The man who brought Law into the Blue Jays nest is no longer with the organization.
“Jeff Johnson was the area scout. I think he’s actually in the front office with the (Tampa Bay) Rays now (as coordinator of amateur scouting). Great guy. He gave me this opportunity.”
Connor Law got a victory in his first professional appearance in the Gulf Coast League in 2017.
The Gulf Coast League was Law’s first stop as he made his professional debut June 27 when he earned his first win with two innings of one-run ball against the GCL Tigers West. He did not allow an earned run until his sixth appearance. His second win came against the GCL Phillies July 31 when he spun 2-1/3 shutout innings. That was followed by his first two professional saves versus the GCL Pirates August 4 and the GCL Braves August 7.
A 2-1 record and a 1.54 ERA earned Law a promotion to Bluefield where he completed the regular season with a victory against Johnson City August 30. That game saw Law strike out four over two innings as part of his three scoreless appearances with the Bluef-Jays. Law also got the win in Bluefield’s playoff opener September 2 against Pulaski but the Yankees would prevail in the Appalachian League semi-final.
Overall, the 2017 campaign was a good one for Law once he got over some early jitters.
“It was kind of scary. I was really nervous. I didn’t know how pro ball really worked. Any little thing, I would be like, ‘Oh no! Am I going to get released?’ The first year, it doesn’t really matter how you do. It’s more of the organization getting a feel for you. Once I kind of came to the realization of that, it was a lot more relaxing and it was a lot more fun that way. It was like all the pressure is off, just go play baseball.”
It was a good time though. The GCL (with) the 12 o’clock games and the humid Florida heat, that was a little rough. Going to Bluefield and having night games, that was a blessing. It was so nice and then coming here (to Vancouver), this place is unreal.”
Connor Law kept the opposition scoreless in 18 of his 22 outings with Vancouver.
Before getting to Vancouver, Law made his 2018 debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays and put together two scoreless appearances covering 3-2/3 innings against the Florida FireFrogs May 22 and against the Lakeland Tigers May 26. His C’s debut came in Eugene June 17 when he earned the save with 1-2/3 innings of shutout ball in which he matched his career high in strikeouts with four.
Though his ERA with the C’s was a little on the high side at 4.23, a couple of four-run outings against the Tri-City Dust Devils helped inflate that mark but he converted all four save opportunites, struck out 33 batters in 27-1/3 innings and limited Northwest League hitters to a .238 average.
Getting to pitch in front the sell-out crowds at Nat Bailey Stadium was something Law really enjoyed.
“Every game here feels like a playoff game with a packed house. It’s always loud, the fans are always into it. It’s just a great experience.”
Pitching out of the bullpen is something Law also thrives on.
“I feel like I almost do better when the game is on the line. I feel like I’m more locked in to the game. I just love ending the game. It just makes me feel like powerful and dominant over the other team.”
When it came to keeping his focus on the game on the mound at Nat Bailey Stadium, Law channeled his inner Billy Chapel.
“There’s a movie called For The Love Of The Game. In that movie, (Kevin Costner) always says ‘Clear the mechanism,’ and he clears out all the background noise. I don’t know how to describe it but that’s what you kind of have to do here.
As soon as the game is over and you hear everyone cheering and stuff, it’s so cool, but during it, if I sat there and listened to the fans, I feel like I get in my mind and be like, ‘Oh no!’ (laughs).”
Opposing batters have to deal with a three-pitch mix from Law, beginning with his fastball.
“I throw a four-seamer. I’m kind of working with a sinker. It’s just me holding the ball differently. It’s like a one-seam. It’s kind of hard to describe. I haven’t really thrown that a whole lot. I kind have just been focusing on my slider and changeup mostly but I feel like the sinker is going to come along as soon as I start getting on it.”
Also in Law’s arsenal are a changeup and a slider.
“I have a changeup that kind of acts like a split-finger, It just kind of has a violent drop to it, and then a slider. I wouldn’t say like it’s a sweeping slider, like real big. It’s almost like a cutter, like it’s pretty small but it’s late. I’m just making sure I throw them as hard as my fastball at least in my mind. It’s like the biggest thing.”
When it came to working with a breaking ball, Law opted for the slide piece.
“The slider is just easier because I can throw it basically just like a fastball so I feel like that’s going to be more of my suit rather than a curveball.”
Vancouver pitching coach Jim Czajkowski meets with Connor Law and Brett Wright (#17) on the mound.
Laws Of Confusion
Something that Law has had to deal since his arrival in the Blue Jays system is getting confused with fellow pitcher and 2017 Vancouver Canadian Colton Laws, a previous guest on C’s Chat. The situation was no different in Vancouver.
“Even Cy (Jim Czajkowski), our pitching coach still calls me Colton or Connor Laws. I always make sure I correct him but everyone does it. As soon as they know Colton, and then Connor, they’re like ‘Oh no!’ (laughs).”
A Cardinals fan growing up, Law could begin 2019 where he started in 2018 and that’s with the Dunedin Blue Jays. It would be fitting if the 24 year-old Law can accelerate his climb to the majors as he warmed up to The Eagles ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ out of the C’s bullpen.
My thanks again to Connor Law for participating in another C’s Chat and to C’s Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for setting up the interview.