(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - We loved watching Marcus Stroman pitch in a Vancouver Canadians uniform and cheer rabidly when he is on the mound in Toronto. The question, what will even diehard fans do when Marcus Stroman and his Team USA charges take on a potential Canadian National Team at this year's World Baseball Classic? Could it happen, sure. But where would your loyalties lie?
Part of the World Baseball Classic's beauty is not just in the fact that players from all across Major League and Minor League Baseball lace 'em up and fight for their respective countries, but it also can occasionally show us a match-up between teammates that would be too good to look away from.
We'll save those moments for another article, but here in the meantime are a few former Vancouver Canadians players that are suiting up for their countries as we speak.
MARCUS STROMAN - Pitcher - Team USA
Stroman got the call to join Team USA from former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, and he's been on Cloud 9 ever since. There is no doubt that he is being monitored closely by the Toronto Blue Jays who have him as a big part of one of baseball's best young rotations. Stroman says it's going to be tough leaving the Jays mid-camp, but it was too good to pass up playing with some of the best in the game on the stage of the World Baseball Classic.
Will it effect his arm? Some suggest this tournament is ill-timed, especially for pitchers who put undue pressure on their arms early in the season, but Stroman vows that he arrived in Dunedin, FL ready for both the rigors of a Major League season and the efforts he will need in the WBC.
SANTIAGO CASILLA - Pitcher - Team Dominican Republic
Known during his playing days in Vancouver as Jairo Garcia (200), Casilla has been a mainstay in the Bay Area of California for the past 13 years playing with the Oakland A's for his first six professional seasons followed by the past seven across the bridge in San Francisco.
His strikeout-to-walk ratio is still about 4-to-1, and is a valuable piece of the bullpen puzzle for the defending WBC Champions. Expect a handful of key innings and some 93-95mph velocity from the 36-year old vet as the Dominican looks to become back-to-back champs.
NELSON CRUZ - Outfielder - Team Dominican Republic
As much as some baseball purests hate this event from a pitcher's perspective, few can deny that gearing up for the Major League season could be more beneficial for hitters who get a taste of good pitching every single outing at the WBC. For Nelson Cruz, who is coming off of a season with the Mariners (.287-43-105) that garnered him a few MVP votes in the American League, this tournament should be the perfect kick start to getting a few things down offensively.
Cruz, has quietly put together a wonderful MLB career over his 12 seasons hitting .275 lifetime with 284 home runs and 1,287 hits in 1,270 games primarily with the Texas Rangers. Not Hall of Fame worthy by any means, but very respectable for a guy that patrolled the outfield here at Scotiabank Field in the early days of the Northwest League Vancouver Canadians.
Cruz by the way was a part of last WBC's DR team that won the title.
SHANE DAWSON - Pitcher - Team Canada
Although Shane Dawson hasn't broken through at the Major League level just yet, the Blue Jays felt comfortable sending the lefty to the WBC in hopes he could gain some valuable experience both on and off the field.
There is no doubt that Canada was in need of pitching as unlike other countries who had an embarrasment of riches, Team Canada looked to both current MLB and MiLB arms and a few that had long since called it a career (Ryan Dempster, Eric Gagne). That said, the exposure to the likes of Dempster and Gage will only help Dawson who has all the ability in the world, but can still gly off the handle at times and could use a big brother scenario to get him over the hump. This tournament, should Canada stick around a while, could benefit Dawson greatly after going 10-4 at Double-A New Hampshire a season ago.
DALTON POMPEY - Outfielder - Team Canada
Can Dalton finally reach his potential with the Toronto Blue Jays organization? This year could prove to have the answer stuck somewhere within.
Pompey is no longer 'too young' or 'too raw' to carry those tags around with him anymore - so it's 'go' time for the now 24-year old outfielder who played with the Canadians back in 2011.
Pompey could use this WBC Tournament to gain the eye of a Blue Jays front office that may not envision the Canadian-born speedster the same way former Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos did a few years back when he took Dalton with a 16th round pick back in the 2010 draft. This is Year Seven for Dalton within the Jays organization and after a few cups of coffee with the big club, Pompey has to be feeling the pressure of not becoming the 'close, but no cigar guy' within the Jays system. He has all the tools of a Major Leaguer, and hopefully over the next few weeks he can showcase those on this hugely visable stage.
MIKE REEVES - Catcher - Team Canada
When former Vancouver Canadians catcher Mike Reeves got off the phone with Team Canada Manager Ernie Whitt, the feeling was almost euphoric as the Ontario native would trade in his blue catching gear for the red and white of Canada. Reeves, 26, played 53 games as Class-A Dunedin last summer as his abilities behind the plate are advanced. His bat is what continues to plague his advancement toward the bright lights of the Major Leagues (.236 career) so the former C's backstop went down under this winter to play in 21 games with Canberra of the Australian Baseball League to try and get a few more games in.
With Canada, he'll have the chance to work with a familiar face as Russell Martin will be nearby to help with his crash-course development. Martin was unable to get insured for the tournament as his knees just didn't show well -- thus Reeves gets the chance to step into a prime position with Canada.
This is a golden opportunity for Reeves to test his efforts from the off-season against some world-class competition and hopefully show the Blue Jays that he is ready to turn the proverbial corner.
ROBERTO OSUNA - Pitcher - Team Mexico
There is not much more you can say about Roberto Osuna other than 'wow'. At just 22 years of age, Osuna has 56 saves and is one of the most reliable closers in the American League. He is, based on his age, ahead of both Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman for saves at this age. Heck, neither of those two future Hall of Famers had a single save at this point, so let's just say, Roberto's trajectory is pointing straight up at the sky.
That said, how many of you hold your breath at the thought of Roberto Osuna offering up a pre-season fastball and thinking back to the days when he was rehabing from his Tommy John Surgery.
Not to editorialize, but I wouldn't have let this closer anywhere near this tournament with such a gifted arm that has been through the rigors of what Roberto's arm has been through. That said, I am not Roberto, nor a doctor, so I will just keep writing columns from 4,000km away and keep my fingers crossed that this tournament, which always makes me cringe for arms like Roberto's doesn't rear it's ugly head.
Osuna, for the record, is pencilled in as the Blue Jays closer despite reports nearing the end of the 2016 season that there would be conversation about seeing if he had aspirations of becoming a starter. Those talks were subtle, but had.
As well, Osuna should be amped up as Mexico plays in Group D which will hold it's games in Mexico. Having experienced this myself, that place will be beyond loud and completely locked in on Roberto's every move.
ZACH THORNTON - Pitcher - Team Isreal
Boy, what a story already! Isreal, a country that fought tooth and nail just to become a part of this tournament a few years back (2014) has suddenly stepped into the glass slipper of Cinderella by knocking off both Chinese Taipei and South Korea in the first round to advance at the WBC.
Zach Thornton (NY Mets) pitched for the Canadians in 2010, the last season that Vancouver was associated with the Oakland A's. This week he wears the blue and grey of Team Isreal and pitched in the 2-1 victory over South Korea that stunned the WBC fanbase.
Thornton is an outsider looking for a seat at the big table come Opening Day at the Major League level, but believe this, the run that Team Isreal is on right now will open a few eyes as the former Oregon Ducks standout looks to advance from Triple-A Las Vegas to the bright lights of New York this season.