Baseball Canada is aiming to use the core of last year’s Pan American Games championship squad as the basis for a provisional 28-man roster due Aug. 2 for its World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in September.
Pitchers such as Andrew Albers of North Battlefield, Sask. (Minnesota), Shawn Hill of Georgetown, Ont. (Toronto), Scott Richmond of North Vancouver (Toronto) and Kyle Lotzkar of Delta, B.C. (Cincinnati), catchers Cole Armstrong of Surrey, B.C. (Miami) and Chris Robinson of Dorchester, Ont. (Baltimore), infielders Jimmy Van Ostrand of Richmond, B.C. (Washington), Shawn Bowman of Port Moody, B.C. (Miami), Jonathan Malo of Joliette, Que. (Mets), Skyler Stromsmoe of Bow Island, Alta. (San Francisco), and outfielders Tim Smith of Toronto (Atlanta), Brock Kjeldgaard of Edmonton (Milwaukee) are among those to win gold last year that director of national teams Greg Hamilton is hoping to bring back for the crucial four-team event.
Others on his wish list include outfielders Adam Loewen of Surrey (Mets), Rene Tosoni of Coquitlam, B.C. (Twins), and Nick Weglarz of Stephensville, Ont. (Cleveland) plus starter James Paxton of Ladner, B.C. (Seattle) and reliever Trystan Magnuson of Vancouver (Toronto), but the participation of several players is uncertain since they may earn September call ups from their big-league clubs.
Already, Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Jimmy Henderson of Calgary, a pitcher Hamilton was looking to use for the Sept. 20-24 event in Regensburg, Germany, has been promoted to the majors, while Hill, Richmond, Loewen, Tosoni and Weglarz are among those likely to get strong consideration when rosters expand.
Forty-man roster players will be eligible for the four Classic qualifying tournaments after organizers initially ruled them out.
That’s made the already tricky task of developing a roster even harder for Hamilton, as he tries to line up the best eligible players while at the same time keeping a secondary group ready just in case.
“That’s what we’re going to do, go with the guys at the top and if we’re forced to replace than replace,” Hamilton explained. “Positionally, we’re in pretty good shape, pitching-wise we’re certainly up in the air a little bit simply because of Sept. 1 and potential usage issues on a couple of guys.
“We have a whole pile of question marks.”
The qualifier is not an easy sell, since the whole tournament is a risky proposition for Canada, which will be competing against host Germany, the Czech Republic and Britain for one berth to the third edition of the Classic.
While the Canadians should advance easily, it’s worth remembering that the national team ended up in this bind thanks to a still painful upset loss to Italy in Toronto that eliminated it from the ’09 event.
All it takes is for one opposition pitcher to have a very good day, or one Canadian hurler to have a bad day, and disaster may strike again.
On top of that, many of the Canadians in the qualifier aren’t likely to crack the Classic squad should the national team advance, meaning they’d be playing to qualify their big-league brethren, taking on all the risk of wearing the failure with little personal incentive.
There is unease all around with Canada’s spot, as the World Baseball Classic itself would be significantly diminished if stars like Joey Votto, Brett Lawrie, Justin Morneau, John Axford and Russ Martin were left on the sidelines for a squad of mostly naturalized and unknown Germans, Brits or Czechs.
Ernie Whitt returns to manage the Canadian squad with Larry Walker serving as hitting and first base coach, Denis Boucher as pitching coach, Tim Leiper as third base coach, and Hamilton.