The World Baseball Classic is almost upon us, so how does Team Canada stack up against the other 16 teams in the tournament?  Lets take a look.


There are some real questions surrounding this springs edition of Team Canada, mostly in the starting pitching ranks.  Team Manager Ernie Whitt is rumored  to be starting Shawn Hill in the first game, followed by Chris Leroux in the second.  Jameson Taillon is another starting option, the 6-foot-6 pitcher is a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and was ranked Baseball America’s 23rd best prospect in 2013.


If the starters can hand over a lead to the more experienced relievers Canada should be alright.  With the likes of Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford in the bullpen there is a solid core of relievers that should be able to lighten the pressure on the starters. The recent loss to the team of  Jesse Crain to an injury he recieved at White Sox camp is also a huge blow to the reliver corps.


Behind the plate Canada has seen one of the bigger story lines of the spring develop.  Veteran catcher Russell Martin made it known that he would only play for Canada if he could play at shortstop, when his ridiculous request was rejected he decided to decline the invitation to play for his country. In his absence minor-leaguers Chris Robinson and John Suomi will platoon at the catcher position.


The outfield looks like it will include Michael Saunders of the Seattle Mariners and a few decent minor leaguers including Tyson Gillies.


The middle of the infield is another huge question mark, minor leaguer Cale Iorg is expected to get the nod at shortstop and Philadelphia Phillie minor leaguer Pete Orr is probable at second base.


By far the strength of Canada’s team is the corner infield positions.  Recently 2010 National League MVP slugger Joey Votto confirmed his participation in the tournament, a relief to all surrounding the team.  Votto is by far the biggest name star Canada has on its roster not to mention that the Cincinnati Reds first baseman is one of the best hitters in the game.


Young Blue Jays star and fan favourite Brett Lawrie should man the other corner playing third base.  Lawrie is one of the most excitable young players in the game and his hard work and loud personality should endear him to fans across the country.


“It’s going to be a great push,” said Lawrie. “Not only for myself, but I know for the rest of the guys on my team and a great push for the Blue Jays because it’s going to get Canada excited about baseball.”


The team’s leader is no doubt Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.


Canada’s camp opened on Monday morning in Arizona with pictures followed by a lite afternoon workout.  Morneau then had a team BBQ at his local home followed by a game of street hockey.   It was just a matter of Canadians being Canadians, and this team is one close group of players.


“It’s the same cast of characters as it’s been for national tournaments of years past, which makes it a close-knit group,” Morneau said. “That helps us stay calm during pressure situations, and hopefully, it will help us win some close ballgames in the World Baseball Classic.”


Whitt emphasised the need to not get to far ahead of themselves.


“We have to win our first game. We have to win our second game. Those are our priorities at this time,” he said. “Whatever it takes to do it, that’s what we are going to do.”


Canada is in Pool D, and open the tournament against Italy on Friday afternoon in what should be a winnable game, but they can’t forget that a surprise upset by the Italians ended their last WBC.


“You learn from your losses,” Whitt said of the 2009 loss. “I think I learned a little bit and so did our whole staff.”


Saturday they play Mexico in what will be an important game because Sunday they will face the powerhouse Americans to close out the round robin portion of the Classic.  Canada has yet to make it out of the first round of the WBC but the prospects look good for the 2013 team to break new ground.


 Upsets are not uncommon at the international tournament as Canada well knows, with their loss to Italy in 09 and a Canadian victory in ’06 over the U.S. as reminders this team will rely on their experience.


“I feel like we have a lot more guys now that have been through professional baseball,” said Lawrie. “It’s different because our pitching and what-not last time was a different boat. Now we have a lot of guys that have been around the game and that’s important because we understand what professional baseball is about and this tournament is about.”


Lawrie called the 2013 edition of Team Canada is “a little more special” than four years ago.


And with some decent pitching there is a chance that this could be a very special tournament for Team Canada.




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