It’s my firm belief the Vancouver Canadians would never have repeated as Northwest League Champions in 2012 without Art Charles. After losing the first half West Division title to the Everett AquaSox, the C’s were in a close race with the Eugene Emeralds for the second-half crown. Vancouver’s bread and butter in 2012 was their pitching staff as they were led by a rotation of Javier Avendano, Taylor Cole and Roberto Osuna and a bullpen that featured Ian Kadish, lefty Colton Turner and Arik Sikula. Marcus Stroman also chipped in before being promoted to Double-A New Hampshire as the C’s led the Northwest League in runs allowed per game at 3.83 while placing third in earned run average of 3.54.
The offence was a different story as Vancouver compiled a league-worst batting average of .236 with a third-worst on-base percentage of .324. What the C’s were good at was hitting the long ball as they were third best in slugging percentage in .362 thanks to 44 home runs. Balbino Fuenmayor had a team-leading nine but finishing second was Charles, who belted seven long balls despite spending just half the season in Vancouver.
Charles was taken three times in the Major League Baseball draft. The Baltimore Orioles selected the 6-foot-6, 220-pound first baseman out of Ridgeview High School in Bakersfield, California in the 33rd round of 2008. He elected to attend Bakersfield College instead and was taken in 2009 in the 39th round by the Kansas City Royals. Again, Charles decided to head back to school and he was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010 in the 20th round. The Jays selected Charles after posting an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .919 in his sophomore season, an increase of 156 points from the year before. He batted. 317 with an OBP of .404 and managed to steal five bases in six attempts.
The Bakersfield native reported to Dunedin to play for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2010 and socked 11 doubles and four home runs for a .244/.331/.762 (AVG/OBP/OPS) batting line in 37 games. He was also quite proficient on the basepaths with five stolen bases in five attempts.
Charles continued to play short-season ball with the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2011 and improved his walk and slugging rates by slashing .240/.351/.468 to go along with a team-leading 11 home runs and 61 runs batted in to go along with 18 doubles and three triples. The left-handed hitting slugger returned to the Appalachian League in 2012 and really boosted his power and plate discipline with a .235/.463/.576 performance that produced a 1.040 OPS. That led to a promotion to Vancouver where his July 24 debut saw him go 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored to help the C’s beat Eugene 2-0 at Nat Bailey Stadium.
Charles would go hitless in the next three games, seeing his batting average drop to .133 at one point but he connected for his first Northwest League home run in a 5-1 victory against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes August 1. He capped off a five-game hitting streak with three doubles and four RBI in Eugene to help the C’s beat the Em’s 8-5. Another five-game hitting streak and a seven-game on-base stretch concluded with a 3-for-4 night with a home run, two RBI and three runs scored in a 14-3 demolishing of Everett August 17.
The most memorable home run off the bat of Charles came August 26 in the regular season home finale against the Boise Hawks. Felix Pena was taken deep – and I do mean deep – as Charles slammed the ball that easily cleared the tall right field fence and onto the rooftop of the Millenium Sports Centre. That helped tie the game at 1-1 in the fourth inning for Vancouver and they would go on to win it by a score of 5-1. The C’s were able to clinch the second-half West Division title by winning four of five in Yakima to close off the existence of the Yakima Bears franchise, who relocated to Hillsboro, Oregon after the season. After an 0-for-3 effort in the series opener, Charles went 4-for-12 with a home run and two RBI to help the C’s make their third straight playoff appearance. He completed the regular season by hitting .236/.310/.496 with 18 RBI in 33 games. His best work would come in the playoffs.
Charles was hitless in Game 1 against Everett in the North Division finals but his three-run home run in the first inning of Game 2 at Everett Memorial Stadium helped the C’s complete the two-game sweep with a 7-4 win. In the league final against Boise, Charles kickstarted an epic seven-run rally that shook Nat Bailey Stadium to the core as the C’s downed the Hawks 10-7. The C’s nearly wrapped up the title in Idaho two nights later when Charles delivered a two-out double to give Vancouver a 2-1 lead in the eighth. The Hawks would come back with runs of their own in the eighth and ninth for a 3-2 win to force a third and deciding game at Boise Memorial Stadium.
Charles made an early contribution with a first-inning RBI single and he would contribute to another seven-run rally in the eighth inning, belting a two-run triple to help erase a 7-5 deficit and give Vancouver an eventual 12-9 victory and second straight Northwest League title.
Despite a .300 post-season batting average with two home runs and nine RBI, that triple turned out to be Charles’ last in the Blue Jays organization. He was traded to Philadelphia on February 23, 2013 for 6-foot-8 righthander Michael Schwimer, who spent parts of 2011 and 2012 with the Phillies. His only contribution was six shutout innings of relief in Triple-A Buffalo in 2013.
As for Charles, he played in the Phillies system for three seasons with Single-A Lakewood, Clearwater and Double-A Reading, belting a combined 38 home runs but his best OPS was only .751 in 2013. He was released last March by the Phillies and had to go to independent ball where he played for the New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am League. Charles proved he deserved another shot in affiliated ball by mashing .352/.461./.699 for a whopping OPS of 1.160. He spent some time in winter ball in the Mexican League where he batted 204/.336/.419 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 27 games with Jalisco. That earned him a minor league contract from the Cincinnati Reds last October but he would be claimed by Milwaukee in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. Interestingly, his former C’s teammate Jorge Flores was taken one pick earlier by Philadelphia.
Charles was assigned to the Brewers camp in Arizona this week. There’s a good chance that if 26 year-old does not break camp with the Brew Crew, he could very well advance to the hitting haven of Triple-A Colorado Springs where he has the opportunity to hit some balls a very long way. Just ask the folks who were at the Nat on August 26, 2012.