The Vancouver Canadians held its annual Media Day at Nat Bailey Stadium for the first time in three years.
After no season in 2020 and a Zoom Call media session in 2021, the local press got to meet the players and coaching staff face-to-face Tuesday.
Manager Brent Lavallee set up shop in the home bullpen of the ballpark to field questions from the various media outlets Tuesday afternoon. The 35 year-old from North Delta, BC says his club his looking forward to playing at The Nat.
“Yeah, I’m happy for the players to get here to experience this, for myself and my family, it’s a pretty cool thing as well, but I’m just happy for the players and the fans to get to see the Canadians back here and on Canadian soil…It means a lot to the players to be here. You can tell when we got the group together, when it was announced, there was a special energy in the room when we had our first team meeting so it means a lot to them.
I’m happy for Alex Nolan and Will McAffer to come back to Canada and play here. Just a lot of kids that I’ve watched the last three years grow. We got a couple of young kids, P.K. Morris, Addison Barger were drafted out of high school from Florida, so this is their first time really out of Florida. I’m excited for them to get out and show the world what they can do…Representing the Blue Jays, representing the Canadians and being here in this city, in this stadium. it means a lot to myself, to my family. These kids that are here. Yeah, it definitely means a lot.”
Being back at The Nat stirs up a lot of memories for Lavallee.
“I remember where I sat back in their Triple-A (days) with the Angels and spent many nights here. I think summer of 17 and 18 brought my son here when he was young so I’ve got pictures of him as he’s been growing. Looking forward to getting some more. Yeah, this place has a special spot in my heart.”
After being named the 2020 manager of the Canadians—only to see the season be cancelled by COVID-19—Lavallee was not sure if he would ever get to manage Monty’s Mounties again.
“No. Not after 2020 and then when they had the minor league clampdown, crackdown, whatever it was, you know. I thought I had missed the opportunity, which was fine, you know. It’s not about me and my opportunities, but the players, the city. But then when we signed the deal to keep the team here, I thought OK, eventually I might get my shot to go back up there and just the way the pieces all worked together. This offseason, a couple of guys moved in different roles this year so it kind of opened this one up and and I took the chance I when was presented to me.”
After a long tenure as player at the college ranks at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, Lavallee cut his managerial teeth at the professional level with the Florida Complex League Blue Jays in 2021. Though his club finished 25-29, they outscored the opposition 361-301.
“It was a great season. I had a ton of experience with me on the bench. Dennis Holmberg, who’s been with the Blue Jays for 40 plus years. Paul Elliott has been a hitting coach with the org for 20 years. Jose Mayorga was my bench coach. He’s been here before and I am just surrounded by a ton of knowledge there so it was a great buffer, so to say, to get used to it and to get primed for pro ball. We were a very young team as was a couple other teams because of the COVID year, no one really knew, you know, where to send guys and guys hadn’t played especially the youngsters. It was a slow learning curve and we worked hard. These kids worked their butts off and it was a great experience getting to work with them and hopefully they’ll be here by the end of the year or next season so it was a fun challenge.
Turning to the on-field product, Lavallee believes his squad has all the ingredients to be successful in 2022.
“I think we’ve got all we need. Couldn’t ask for much more. A good offensive team, Defensively, I like where we’re at. On the mound, we’ve got some big names you guys have probably heard of before so yeah, we’re pretty primed and ready to go…I haven’t been at this level before, but looking at what our guys did in spring training with the groups we’re working with, we had a lot of them together for the entire time and we had a pretty successful spring, so yeah, a good year to come.
If you like offence, watch the middle of the order. If you like defence, take a look at the outfield. We’re very athletic, so you’ll see a lot of infielders in the outfield, lot of outfielders moving around, catchers will play outfield so just the versatility. If you like offence, you like defense. Pitching, we’ve got some big names and we like what we got in the back end of the bullpen as well.
Lavallee says fans will notice the higher level of play of High-A baseball.
“They’re clean, they know their routine, they know what to expect. And it makes it a lot easier on us as staff when they know what works for them and what they need from us. So it’s a mature player, especially compared to the short season like you’re used to seeing here. A lot of these guys have went through either four years of pro ball or four years of college plus a couple of years of pro ball already. Just a clean athlete who’s ready to go and they don’t need much.”
One challenge for Lavallee in managing a full-season squad is making sure the roster is utilized efficiently.
“We have to be cautious with their workload. You know 130 games plus all the travel and spring training. We hope that these guys move up. We hope we don’t have them here all year long. Some guys, we will, and that’s the plan.. The plan is to get there, get them their innings and get them their at-bats and to put them together in the way that works best for the club and the organization.”
The top rated Blue Jays prospect to begin the year in Vancouver is shortstop Leo Jimenez, rated fifth by MLB Pipeline and 10th by Baseball America. Lavallee says the 20 year-old from Panamanian brings a lot to the table.
“You’ll see everything you want. (He’ll) probably bat in the top two, if not leadoff. Leo’s terrific. An ultimate professional, a great defender. He’s worked incredibly hard on his body and his swing and just an absolute pro, so anything you want to see you’ll see it from him. He’ll run, he’ll pick it, he’ll hit. He’ll get on base, a leader. You can’t say enough about him…How long are we going to have Leo? It’s just depending on some of the other guys but with the amount of time he missed last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was with us for a while but you know, obviously his performance is going to dictate (that).”
Lavallee laid out the probable starters for the season opening series in Spokane.
“(Adam) Kloffenstein will be Friday night, then Trent Palmer is going to go on Saturday and Sem Robberse is going to go on Sunday. And then we’ll restart the week in Tri City and kind of see where we’re at…I really like the competitors that we have. A lot of them were in Double-A camp so we didn’t get to see a whole bunch of them work with us but that way but it was a very competitive camp at the Double-A level. These guys, they’re excited to prove it here and then hopefully move when they pitch well and go from there, but yeah, I like the names we’ve got here and it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.”
Lavallee and the Canadians take on the UBC Thunderbirds in a preseason seven-inning game at 6:30 p.m. this evening. The regular season begins Friday in Spokane at 6:35 pm. The home opener is Tuesday, April 19 against Eugene at 7:05 pm. All games are on CanadiansBaseball.com with Tyler Zickel and all home games can be seen on MiLB.TV.