TORONTO – A third consecutive Northwest League title for the Vancouver Canadians made the single-A club the first affiliate in Toronto Blue Jays history to win three straight championships, a bright spot in the club’s farm system this season.
Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and Blue Jays director of minor-league operations Charlie Wilson were on hand Monday at Nat Bailey Stadium as the Canadians beat the Boise Hawks 5-0, with Tom Robson of Ladner, B.C., allowing just three hits over 6.1 innings, and L.B. Dantzler and Ian Parmley each knocking in two runs.
That triggered some “sparkling cider” celebrations, as manager Clayton McCullough described them Tuesday, as he prepared for his flight back home to Palm Beach, Fla. Blue Jays media relations staff said the Canadians’ three-peat was an organizational first.
“(Robson) was the best he’s been all year,” McCullough said from Vancouver. “We probably played as well in the last week as we did at any point during the second half of the season. I’m certainly happy we played the way we did at the right time.
“It was tough for us to get in, we needed some help from a couple of other teams in the division. Once we got in, everybody’s 0-0 and no matter what your average is, we had just as good a chance to win as everybody else.”
The Canadians, who have won titles in each of their three seasons as a Blue Jays affiliate, finished the regular season 39-37, but knocked off Everett in the first round before defeating Boise in the best of three.
While only a handful of the team’s best prospects passed through Vancouver this season, Robson and shortstop Dickie Thon are among those to make some important progress with the Canadians.
Robson, a 20-year-old chosen in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, went 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA in seven starts for Vancouver after going 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in six games for rookie-league Bluefield. More impressive may be his collective 3.48 groundout-to-flyout ratio and .196 opponents average.
“He’s a big kid, throws the ball downhill and it’s tough for opponents to hit the ball in the air against him,” said McCullough. He’d have games with eight, nine, 10 groundball outs, pitching with a fastball in the low 90s with good angle. (Monday) he had his breaking ball and changeup both working, which at times have been a bit inconsistent. He’s had to rely on his fastball and live off that, which is great because he knows that’s how he can go deep into games, getting outs early with your fastball.
“He had a lot of things on his plate (Monday) and the way he handled it, emotionally and everything, the poise he had on the mound, was really impressive for a 20-year-old kid who hasn’t really been playing that long.”
Thon, a 21-year-old fifth-rounder in 2010, was batting .280/.370/.378 in 45 games when an ankle surgery ended his season.
“Dickie was having a great year, he made the all-star team and he was swinging the bat his last 10 or 12 games better than he had all year,” said McCullough. “It’s unfortunate he twisted his ankle at home in August, he tried to get himself back for the playoffs, he wanted to play and be a part of it, he’s a winning type kid, he gave it a go and he reinjured his ankle with about two weeks left to play, so he was down.
“I feel bad Dickie wasn’t able to be there on the field when we won it, but he knows how important he was to us.”
First baseman Dantzler, a 13th-round pick in 2013, paced the offence with an .889 OPS, 20 doubles, league-leading nine homers and 35 RBIs. He was named the Northwest League’s player of the year, remaining in the lineup despite a broken bone in his foot.
“For a lot of stretches he was kind of our threat there,” said McCullough.
The season was an eventful one for McCullough, who was with the Blue Jays as an extra coach until early June when the Canadians’ season started, and returned to Vancouver to win his second straight championship as the manager there.
“Personally for me, I don’t know if I could ask for anything more,” he said. “The opportunity I got from Alex (Anthopoulos) and (John Gibbons) to come and do that for a few months was incredible for me. Then to come back to Vancouver, it energizes you every year to get the new players who come in, they’re all excited to play, and to cap it off like this, winning that final game, it’s special.”