Chad Lee and the C's start the season tonight.
The Vancouver Canadians will open up their ninth season in the Northwest League Tuesday night in front of an expected sellout crowd. They will face the Tri-City Dust Devils in the opener of a five-game set. The C's have 11 returning players, and 12 new faces as of Tuesday afternoon. Jeremy Knight previews the C's Opening Day roster.
All players are expected to have an immediate impact for the Vancouver Canadians, and none more so than RHP Ronny Morla.
The 6'4, 180lbs hurler who throws very fast from Hato Mayor, Dominican Republic, is the Canadians Opening Day starter, as named by Manager Rick Magnante. Morla threw for both the DSL Athletics and the AZL Athletics last season, and in a combined 17 games, 10 starts, he was 5-2 with an ERA of 3.49. He struck out 58 batters in 67 innings. OaklandClubhouse.com named Morla one of its "Breakout Candidates" during spring training.
Also expected to make impacts are returning hurlers Inoel Deaza, Pedro Figueroa and Fabian Gomez. Deaza is back for his third year as a Canadian, after having limited success in Kane County last year, despite dominating in the Northwest League. 'Figgy' was 2-2 with an ERA of 4.30 in 17 games (including 7 starts) last year, and held batters to an average of .252. Fabian Gomez struggled as a minor league rookie, going 2-1 with an ERA of 8.44. His arm was really bothering him last season, which is why he was held back from Kane County. He is rumored to be headed to the C's starting rotation this season.
LHP Carlos Hernandez returns to Vancouver, after being hammered up north last season in two appearances. He was later sent down to the AZL Athletics -- where he found more success -- after giving up 6 hits and 4 runs in 2.1 innings last year with the C's. Edgar Tejeda also finds himself in Canada for Opening Day for the second straight year. He pitched in one of the C's first games of the season last year, but gave up too many hits in just five innings. He was sent down to Phoenix for some fine-tuning and did pretty well, striking out 28 in 24 innings.
RHP Hector Garcia makes his first trip to Vancouver, after a 2007 season split between the Dominican League and the Arizona League. He pitched a combined 20 games, giving up 27 runs in 38 innings, striking out 36 and walking 26. Juan Villegas was a teammate of Garcia last year in Arizona, working his way to an ERA of 3.50, in 13 games (5 starts). He struck out as many batters as he gave up hits to, and in 46 innings gave up 18 earned runs.
Whenever RHP Ryne Tacker appears for the C's, it'll be just his second pro appearance, and it will certainly be better than his first in Kane County (he gave up 3 runs in an inning earlier this year). Making his pro appearance is Shawn Haviland, a 6'2 righty from Farmington, Connecticut, and draft pick out of Harvard. Look for him to have an immediate impact.
2006 fourth round pick Chad Lee pitched in Vancouver two years ago, and hasn't pitched since. He developed an injury last season in Spring Training, and missed the entire 2007 campaign. If he doesn't do poorly with the C's, it'd be shocking to see him in Vancouver for too long.
Behind the plate, at least for now, will be the duo of Juan Nunez and Julio Rivera for the C's. Nunez, a 20 year old from Bani in the DR, has played for both the Stockton Ports and Arizona Athletics in the last two years. Combined, he's hit .115 with just 14 hits in 93 at-bats. This year in Stockton, he managed one lone hit in 24 at-bats.
Rivera returns to Vancouver from Extended Spring Training, after a year in Vancouver last year. He struggled for playing time, with both Dusty Napoleon and Dante Love sharing the playing time with him. He should be the everyday catcher until a guy such as A's 2008 third round pick Petey Paramore comes to town.
In the infield, there are five guys who will see work. At first, it'll be Dan Wentzell. A former OF, apparently he's been converted to playing 1B and will, because there isn't another guy who can play the #3 position on the C's current roster.
Up the middle, it'll be Carlos Arrieche, Walter Correa, Marcos Luis and Francisco Tirado patrolling 2nd base, SS and 3rd base. Tirado hit .338 with the AZL A's last year. AZL A's teammate Marcos Luis also excelled last season, batting .298 with a home-run and 31 RBI to go along with 14 doubles and just 22 strikeouts in 168 at-bats. Correa returns to Vancouver after a year where he struggled, as does Arrieche, who spent a few weeks with the C's, before getting sent down to the AZL last season.
The OF may be Vancouver's strongest area this season, with Jeremy Barfield (son of Jesse and brother of Josh), Mitchell LeVier, Lorenzo Macias (another returning Canadian), J.D. Pruitt (who demolished the NWL HBP record last year) and Jareck West all on the roster.
From a brief glance, this team looks pretty good. The team boasts a solid combination of speed and good contact hitters, while on the hill, it is a mix of power pitching, and strike-out pitchers.
For a complete list of the C's roster, please click here.
Jeremy Knight is known as Canada's wonderkid of sports reporting. He covers CFL football, college baseball and minor league hockey for The Roadkill Sports Blog, and pro baseball for Notes From The Nat and Scout.com.