Dodgers’ Freeman leads Canada into World Baseball Classic

TORONTO – Canada augmented a core led by Freddie Freeman, Tyler O’Neill, Cal Quantrill and Nick Pivetta with a handful of veterans and young prospects, after being forced by injuries and club considerations to dig deep into its talent pool.

Freeman, the all-star Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman, and O’Neill, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger, will anchor a lineup that will also include breakthrough Guardians catching prospect Bo Naylor, on-the-cusp Twins talent Edouard Julien, Brewers infielder Abraham Toro, Blue Jays depth utility-man Otto Lopez and Cubs outfielder Jared Young.

One of Quantrill, the gutsy Guardians starter, or Pivetta, the Red Sox rotation pillar, is expected to start Canada’s March 12 must-win opener against Great Britain to springboard their chances of advancing. Rob Zastryzny of the Pirates and Noah Skirrow in the Phillies system are likely to be the other two starters.

Mariners fireballer Matt Brash will be the closer in a still-to-be-sorted bullpen set to include John Axford, Adam Loewen, Scott Mathieson, Andrew Albers and Phillippe Aumont, experienced big-league veterans either recently out of the game or working to stay in it, plus a handful of solid arms working their way to the majors including Trevor Brigden (Rays) and Curtis Taylor (Cubs).

The veterans will help insulate a 30-man group that also includes highly touted but low minors prospects like Owen Caissie (Cubs), Denzel Clarke (Athletics) and Mitch Bratt (Rangers), each of whom was in A-ball last year.

While they might have been on the team just for the growth experience regardless, they now have a more of a pathway to playing time after Canada’s options for the tournament were again whittled down by the combination of health concerns, insurance issues and club considerations.

Reds superstar Joey Votto, Atlanta ace Mike Soroka and Guardians slugger Josh Naylor are all coming off injuries, and might have been rejected by the tournament’s insurer even if they had the blessing of their clubs.

Jameson Taillon, who pitched for Canada at the 2013 tournament, is no doubt compelled to remain in camp after signing a $68-million, four-year deal with the Cubs. All-star closer Jordan Romano, Blue Jays teammate Zach Pop, Cubs reliever Rowan Wick and Marlins infielder Charles Leblanc, meanwhile, each had their own personal club concerns, part of the inherent push-and-pull on players in the tournament.

All of that means the Canadians, managed once again by Ernie Whitt, will need to be smart about how they map out their run in Pool C alongside the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Britain.

The top two teams advance to the single-game elimination quarter-finals and in the previous four editions of the Classic, Canada failed to advance beyond the first round, a piece missing from Whitt’s impressive national team resume.

“The honour of representing Canada and managing these players is something that means a great deal to me,” Whitt said in a statement from Baseball Canada unveiling the roster. “There’s nothing better than international baseball and the intensity of the World Baseball Classic.

“I know our team will be ready to compete once the tournament begins next month”

The full roster:

Catchers (3) – Bo Naylor, Kellin Deglan, Andrew Yerzy

Infielders (5) – Freddie Freeman, Edouard Julien, Otto Lopez, Abraham Toro, Damiano Palmegiani

Outfielders (5) – Tyler O’Neill, Jared Young, Jacob Robson, Owen Caissie, Denzel Clarke

Starting Pitchers (4) – Cal Quantrill, Nick Pivetta, Rob Zastryzny, Noah Skirrow

Relief Pitchers (13) – Matt Brash (CL), John Axford, Adam Loewen, Scott Mathieson, Andrew Albers, Phillippe Aumont, R.J. Freure, Trevor Brigden, Curtis Taylor, Cade Smith, Indigo Diaz, Evan Rutckyj, Mitch Bratt


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