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News » Canadians look to leave WBC misery behind as season begins

Canadians look to leave WBC misery behind as season begins

Canadians look to leave WBC misery behind as season begins
The World Baseball Classic certainly didn't go to plan for Canada and the frustration of the national team's shocking two-and-out elimination last month still lingers.

A bad day in a knockout game led to a 6-2 loss against lowly Italy at the tournament, leaving players shaking their heads and casual fans wondering about the state of the sport in this country.

The start of the 2009 big-league season should allow both groups to turn the page, as the Canadians once again remind everyone of their proper place within the game.

"If you look at the level of player that's coming out of the country and will continue to come out of the country, there's a high-level of player there,'' said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams. "You've got to win sometime in this equation, I get that.

"But one of the most valuable things we can do is continue to develop a greater number of quality players.''

That trend, continues apace.

While Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Russell Martin, Joey Votto, Matt Stairs, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Francis and Erik Bedard continue to headline the Canadian talent in the majors, there's a new wave of big-time talent coming.

Top prospects like Mike Saunders of Victoria (Seattle), Nick Weglarz of Stevensville, Ont. (Cleveland), Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que. (Seattle) and Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C. (Milwaukee) top a list of youngsters likely to make an impact in the coming years, and each has all-star potential.

Weglarz, Aumont and Lawrie each played for Canada at the Classic while Saunders starred for the Olympic team.

Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., meanwhile, won a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation, George Kottaras of Markham, Ont., is breaking camp with the Boston Red Sox as the backup catcher, while fellow backstop Cole Armstrong of Surrey, B.C. (White Sox) and left-hander Dave Davidson of Thorold, Ont. (Pittsburgh) are on the cusp. Further away are Scott Diamond of Guelph (Atlanta), Chris Leroux of Mississauga (Florida) and Kyle Lotzkar of Tsawwassen, B.C. (Cincinnati).

A Canadian may also be taken in the first round of the Baseball draft for the third straight year, as University of Kentucky left-hander James Paxton of Ladner, B.C., is drawing a lot attention these days.

Clearly, these are heady times in terms of depth of talent for Canadian Baseball. Yet that may not be enough of a soothing balm to ease the sting from the failure at the Classic.

After the loss to Italy, a glum Morneau said, "it's one of those things that will probably stick with us for a while,'' and Votto, looking stunned, added "it's going to take time to recover.''

The ideal tonic would be big performances on the field in '09 and there's a lot of promise there.

Morneau, the first baseman from New Westminster, B.C., was second in balloting for AL MVP honours last year and will once again be counted on to help carry the Minnesota Twins offence.

Bay is heading into his first full season with the Boston Red Sox after coming over in the three-team Manny Ramirez trade last year. The left-fielder from Trail, B.C., will be a free agent in the fall, making this a big year for him.

Martin, a two-time all-star from Chelsea, Que., with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is quickly becoming one of the top catchers in the game and is a key player for the NL West champions.

Votto, the first baseman from Toronto, heads into his second season as one of the franchise cornerstones the Cincinnati Reds are building upon.

Stairs, the veteran from Fredericton, shows no signs of slowing down as a fourth outfielder and bat off the bench for the Philadelphia Phillies. His game-winning homer in Game 4 of the NLCS last year made him a cult hero in Philly.

Dempster, the right-hander from Gibsons, B.C., caught a boatload of flak after refusing to play for Canada at the Classic but his focus is solely on helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. They'll need him to repeat a stellar 2008 to do it.

The same goes for fellow Cub Harden, the right-hander from Victoria who is trying to pitch through a shoulder injury this season.

The Colorado Rockies weren't as fortunate with Francis, the ace lefty from North Delta, B.C., who is likely to miss all of 2009 after surgery on his shoulder.

Bedard, meanwhile, is set to return to the Seattle Mariners after undergoing shoulder surgery last September. The lefty from Navan, Ont., like Harden and Bay, will be a free agent after the season. Shawn Hill of Georgetown, Ont., released by Washington this spring, gets a new start with the San Diego Padres, with his first outing expected to come April 10 against visiting San Francisco. Perhaps he'll finally find good health on the West Coast.

Former NL Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne is also looking to recover from injury.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 2, 2009

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