TORONTO — John Axford, Russell Martin, Mike Saunders and Jesse Crain are among the players named to Canada’s 23-man provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic, while Joey Votto, Ryan Dempster and Jason Bay are among the notable absences.
Justin Morneau and Brett Lawrie were the first players announced last month and 21 more players were added to the list Saturday ahead of Baseball Canada’s annual awards banquet. A list of 24 players is due Jan. 16, but changes can still be made afterwards. The final roster will consist of 28 players.
Votto, the superstar first baseman from Toronto who signed a $225-million, 10-year extension with the Cincinnati Reds last spring, is expected to play in the Classic but must first sort through some insurance issues related to his contract and the knee injury he suffered during the 2012 season.
Dempster, the Gibsons, B.C., right-hander who recently signed a $26.5-million, two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, didn’t play in the past two Classics and his presence would significantly boost the team’s chances of advancing out of Pool D in the first round. The United States, Mexico and Italy are also in the group.
Bay, the left-fielder from Trail, B.C., who recently signed with the Seattle Mariners after being bought out by the New York Mets, represented Canada at the past two events but will instead be focused on getting his career back on track.
Also missing from the list are Scott Diamond, the Minnesota Twins left-hander from Guelph, Ont., who recently underwent surgery, and Rich Harden, the veteran righty who’s missed the past two Classics because of injury. He’s trying to win a job with the Twins this spring.
Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers closer from Port Dover, Ont., gives manager Ernie Whitt a rock to base a solid bullpen around. Brewers teammate Jimmy Henderson of Calgary, Toronto-born Crain of the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies flamethrower Philippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., and Aldergrove, B.C., native Scott Mathieson of the Yomiuiri Giants of Japan can help bridge the gap to Axford.
Martin, the new Pittsburgh Pirates catcher from Chelsea, Que., returns to backstop the staff along with backup Chris Robinson of Dorchester, Ont., a farmhand in the Baltimore Orioles system.
Morneau, the first baseman from New Westminster, B.C., and Lawrie, the Blue Jays third baseman from Langley, B.C., will handle the infield corners with Philadelphia Phillies utilityman Pete Orr of Richmond Hill, Ont., Milwaukee Brewers infielder Taylor Green of Comox, B.C., and Toronto-born Cale Iorg, an infielder in the Detroit Tigers system, options up the middle.
Saunders, the Seattle Mariners centre-fielder from Victoria, will anchor an outfield that includes New York Mets farmhand Adam Loewen of Surrey, B.C., Phillies prospect Tyson Gillies of Vancouver, and Toronto’s Tim Smith of the Atlanta Braves organization.
Candidates for the rotation include Pirates righty Chris Leroux of Mississauga, Ont., Shawn Hill of Georgetown, Ont., a non-roster invitee of the Tigers, Minnesota Twins farmhand Andrew Albers of North Battleford, Sask., and Regina’s Dustin Molleken of Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters.
Trystan Magnuson of Vancouver, a righty in the Blue Jays system, first baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand of Richmond, B.C., a Nationals system player, and Quebec Capitales shortstop Jonathan Malo of Joliette, Que., were also named to the team.
Whitt returns to manage the Classic squad for a third time. Larry Walker will serve as hitting and first base coach, Tim Leiper will be third base coach, Stubby Clapp will also work as a hitting coach, Denis Boucher is back as pitching coach while Paul Quantrill of Port Hope, B.C., the bullpen coach.