(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - To stand alongside Vancouver Canadians manager Rich Miller on Monday afternoon as he held court with local media was to almost feel as if he was drinking from the proverbial 'Fountain of Youth'. Miller, 65, was bubbly, insightful and committed to bringing winning baseball back to historic Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium.
"You can't win without pitching, this much I know," stated Miller as he assessed the arms he brought up from Florida as strong.
"We're going to compete this summer and hopefully these 6,000 fans that come out each night appreciate that."
Miller was manager when the Canadians hoisted their first-ever Northwest League Championship back in 2011 after he joined the team shortly after the midway point of the season. He led Vancouver to a 10-13 record, but found a way to give the Canadians a little extra gas at the right time to get things back on track just hours before they took to the field against the heavily favored Eugene Emeralds.
"I showed each and every one of them the ring that I won with the Mets organization. It's hard to win a World Series ring and it can be just as hard to win a ring in the Minor Leagues. I wanted them to see how much it meant to play hard," added Miller as he spoke to a throng of reporters just moments before he brought out his 2017 squad for the first time to take batting practice and get familar with the new surroundings.
Miller was of course speaking of the World Series ring that was won by the 1986 New York Mets and given to those within the coaching ranks of the organization. At the time, Miller was manager of the Little Falls Mets of the New York/Penn League where he led the Short-Season squad to a 36-40 record while grooming a young Heathcliff Slocumb toward the bright lights of the Major Leagues.
Miller has had some powerhouse teams during his previous eight years as a manager. In 1984, he led the Columbia Mets of the South Atlantic League to an impressive 82-57 (.590) record. That team featured the likes of Manny Lee, Joe Klink and Jose Bautista. Not THAT Jose Bautista, but a Jose Bautista none the less...
The Canadians of 2017 you ask?
What can we tell you other than we expect them to be fast on the base paths and consistent on the mound.
Reggie Pruitt is one that comes to mind when it comes to those who are aggressive on the bathpaths. Aware of who Roemon Fields (2014) is, Pruitt has the knack for getting on-base and then taking liberties with catchers from around the league. The speedster has 31 career stolen bases and has only been caught four times (88.6%) and will have his success this season come from getting a better feel for the strike zone. Pruitt has 80 strikeouts in 294 at-bats (27.2%) and only 25 walks. The native of Kennesaw, Georgia bumped his batting average 14 points last season and if he can do that again, he will surely pierce through the Top 20 Blue Jays prospects.
On the mound, a "local boy done good" might have a say in the Canadians efforts from the 'pen in 2017. Brayden Bouchey has intriguing numbers that if they come north with him this summer could be a big help for his hometown team.
The 21-year old Bouchey (pronounced Boo-Shea) went 2-0 between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues in 2016 with a 3.12 ERA. The intriguing stat comes when you see that the native of White Rock, B.C. has more than a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as he punched out 38 hitters in just 26 innings while walking 17. If he can continue to pound the strike zone along side veteran pitching coach Jim Czajkowski (pronounced Sigh-Cow-Ski), then this could be a very welcoming season for the 6'6" right-hander.
Last season, the Canadians went a franchise worst 29-45 (.392) and were never really in a pennant race at any point over the course of the summer. Miller vows to improve on last year's woes and should the Blue Jays have an aggressive MLB First-Year Player Draft, this Canadians team could return to the post-season with a little bit of luck and some good ol' fashioned DP Busting baseball.
Click HERE to see the 2017 Vancouver Canadians Roster
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.