While the Cincinnati Reds’ first baseman has been coy about this year’s World Baseball Classic, Team Canada has not.
The Cincinnati Reds’ perennial MVP candidate and the National League’s best first baseman, Joey Votto, has been coy about his playing status on Team Canada for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Former Toronto Blue Jays’ catcher and current Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt has made it known that he is building the team around Joey Votto. Whitt has alluded to batting Votto third and either have him play first or DH.
Votto played in the 2009 World Baseball Classic for Team Canada. He was four of five with a home run against the United States. He also had an inner ear infection during the year, but he made it back in time to play the Toronto Blue Jays in the regular season.
After the 2009 WBC, Votto returned to the team again in 2013. By then he had signed his historic contract extension with the Reds and been voted the face of MLB by the fans. Votto was, and has been since, the face of Canadian baseball in MLB.
The only other player announcement made for a guaranteed player is former Minnesota Twin and Colorado Rockie, Justin Morneau. Morneau has also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox. As a left-handed batting first baseman, he will cover the opposite position that Votto does not.
There are 15 other MLB players that will back Votto and Morneau as they try to get past the first round.
Team Canada has some areas of strengths and some of weaknesses. They lack experience in starting pitching, but they only need to get past the first round for the first time. It will likely be the offense that gets them there.
The biggest strength on the team after first base is catcher. The Canadians have a pair of legitmate MLB back-stops in Toronto Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin and veteran George Kottaras. Russell Martin has made the All-Star game and been on multiple playoff teams. Martin has also eluded to playing for Team Canada this go around.
The hit or miss prospect for Team Canada could be James Paxton. He pitched for the University of Kentucky, just 90 minutes south of Cincinnati, before he made it to the big leagues. As a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners he has been just above .500, but would likely be the ace for the Canadians.
The other big man for Team Canada is outfielder Michael Saunders. He moved to the Toronto Blue jays and had a breakout year in 2016. As another left-handed hitter, Saunders’ ascension can create problems for right-handed starters.
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Votto has repeatedly said how much he loves Canada. He has a core of 16 other players to help him carry the team past the first round. If he can do that, maybe he can carry the Cincinnati Reds back to respectability in 2017, too.