You can forgive Vancouver Canadians’ fans for being a bit spoiled.
The team won three consecutive Northwest League titles after they swtiched affiliation to the Blue Jays in 2011, and just missed a fourth in 2014.
2015 and 2016 were lean, sub .500 seasons for the short-season club, and there were some grumblings that the Blue Jays were not sending top prospects to the Lower Mainland despite setting Northwest League attendance records both seasons.
2017 saw the team smash their own gate record once again, drawing an incredible average of over 6300 fans per game as the team returned to the post season, and won their fifth NWL crown in front of a boisterous home crowd. More importantly for fans of the big club, according to Baseball America, five top prospects played at The Nat this season.
SS Logan Warmoth led the group, placing 6th on BA’s list. The first of two first round picks the Blue Jays had last June, the 22nd overall pick did not disappoint, looking very much like a future big leaguer, despite some initial concerns about his eventual position:
Most believe Warmoth has the range and athleticism to stick at shortstop, with more than enough arm strength to handle the position, while others view him as more of an offensive second baseman. At the plate, Warmoth often looks to pull the ball, as most of his power is to his pull-side. But Vancouver manager Rich Miller said Warmoth did a better job of covering the outside part of the plate and hitting the ball to all fields as the season progressed. He’s smart hitter with a quick bat and has shown the aptitude to make adjustments.
Warmoth does not have one outstanding tool; you need to watch a larger body of his work to truly appreciate his skills. In viewing him over a half dozen games this year, he showed that he makes a lot of solid contact. His reactions to batted balls are good, although he seemed to lack that explosive first step to allow him to get to balls faster. He may not profile as a first division player, but it’s easy to envision Warmoth as a big leaguer one day, and he adds to the Blue Jays’ depth at Short Stop.
The next Canadian to appear on the list was C Riley Adams at #11. The June 2017 3rd rounder is an intriguing prospect. Compared to Matt Wieters because of his 6’4″ frame, Adams is an athletic prospect who can be termed raw behind the plate. His blocking and receiving skills are still a work in progress, but he made progress this summer. His work with 1st rounder Nate Pearson in the C’s final home game showed an observer that his pitch framing is a part of his skill set most in need of work, although in fairness to Adams, he did not work with many Pitchers with Pearson’s velo as a collegian.
At the plate, Adams has some holes in his swing that make for some swing-and-miss, but BA feels he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat. Adams is rawer than Warmoth, and may not move through the system as quickly, but he too has the look of a future MLBer.
Two C’s checked in at the bottom of the list. SS Kevin Vicuna, a 2014 IFA who was more noted for his glove, hit reasonably well at Vancouver (.280/.333/.307) and in a late-season promotion to Lansing , was ranked at 19. At 20th was OF Reggie Pruitt, a 2015 24th rounder whose draft stock had fallen to his commitment to Vanderbilt. Pruitt has struggled at the plate through his first three minor league seasons, but began to make more consistent contact in the second half. A burner on the bases and a ballhawk in the Outfield, Pruitt led the NWL in steals. His ability to make more contact (26% K rate this year) will determine his future.
One name was absent from the list, and that was RHP Pearson, who did not have enough innings to qualify. Pearson and his triple digit fastball were no match for NWL hitters, and had he qualified, he may have been one of the top three prospects. Pearson is a legit top-of-the-rotation arm, depending on the development of his secondary pitches to complement his overwhelming heat.
While we’re talking about the C’s, here are a couple of final thoughts…
–much was made in the aftermath of the C’s final game about the Blue Jays letting Manager Rich Miller go. Miller has been a loyal employee, stepping in to take over the reigns when Manager John Schneider had to take a leave of absence during the C’s first championship run in 2011. Miller, a baseball lifer who has been in the game for 44 years, did not see the firing coming. I made several attempts to reach Rich (I wanted to talk about his time managing a young Catcher by the name of John Gibbons in the Sally League in the early 80s as well as the title this year), and he was willing to speak, but after several missed emails/calls, it was obvious that he was done with the matter and ready to move on. Turnover is a fact of life in minor league baseball, and the Blue Jays are no exception, frequently turning over some or all of their staffs at each affiliate from one year to the next. Miller seems to have done a favour to the organization by stepping in during the 2011 season, and he really enjoyed his role as a senior adviser between Managing gigs. It’s not so much a shame that he would not be returning after winning a title; it’s more unfortunate that he was let go by the organization after doing so. Miller is a savvy baseball man, and he still wants to work – it’s highly likely another organization will pick him up.
-Blue Jays fans have gained quite a bit of notoriety for taking over Safeco Field when their team pays their annual visit to the Mariners. While it’s quite a site to see, I would suggest that for any Jays’ fan’s bucket list, a trip to Nat Bailey to see the C’s should be on it. The Nat is a quaint old ballpark, and while it pales to some other state-of-the-art facilities elsewhere in the Blue Jays system, there is no other atmosphere that compares to it. And unlike Toronto, Vancouver is a relative urban oasis. A short drive in just about any direction puts you in the wilderness. Stanley Park, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain (the Grouse Grind climb is a must for Mrs C and I every time we visit, but is not for the faint of heat) all beckon.