The Vancouver Canadians return to Nat Bailey this summer after a two-year absence, and the Toronto Blue Jays have done their best to make sure they’re coming back competitive.
Four of the top 12 Toronto prospects, according to mlb.com, and six of the top 30 have been assigned to the Canadians, the Jays’ high-A Northwest League affiliate. That includes No. 5-ranked Leo Jimenez, a 20-year-old middle infielder from Panama who is thought of highly enough in the Jays’ system that he already has a spot on their 40-man roster.
The C’s got into town this week, play an exhibition against the UBC Thunderbirds on Wednesday (6:30 p.m.) at The Nat and then start the Northwest League season Friday with a visit to the Spokane Indians.
Vancouver’s home-opener is April 19, with the Eugene Emeralds providing the opposition.
The C’s played last season based out of Hillsboro, Ore., due to border restrictions brought about by COVID-19. All of minor league baseball was wiped out in 2020 by the pandemic, meaning the C’s haven’t played a game at The Nat since Aug. 30, 2019.
Vancouver Canadians vs. Spokane Indians
6:35 p.m., Avista Stadium. Radio: Sportsnet 650
“I think we’ve got all we need,” C’s manager Brent Lavallee, a North Delta native who watched games at The Nat growing up, says of his 30-player squad. “We couldn’t have asked for much more. “We’re a good offensive team. Defensively, I like where we are at. On the mound, we’ve got some big names. We’re primed and ready to go. It could be a pretty special team”
Jimenez will bat leadoff or second and split time between shortstop and second base, according to Lavallee. The 5-foot-11, 160 pound, right handed hitter batted .316, with one homer and 19 RBIs, for the low-A Dunedin Blue Jays last season in 54 games. He showed off a knowledge of the strike zone beyond his years, walking 51 times while striking out just 35.
“Anything you want to see you’ll see it from him,” Lavallee said of Jimenez. “He’ll run. He’ll pick it. He’ll hit. He’ll get on-base. Leader. Can’t say enough about him.”
Other marquee prospects on the C’s include right-hander Sem Robberse (No. 7 on Toronto’s mlb.com list); right-hander Adam Kloffenstein (No. 11); infielder Miguel Hiraldo (No. 12); right-hander Chad Dallas (No. 22); and right-hander Trent Palmer (No. 23).
Kloffenstein was a part of the 2019 C’s team, making him among the six players on the roster who have played at The Nat previously. Others include the team’s two Canadian-born players, right-handers Will McAffer (North Vancouver); and Alex Nolan (Burlington, Ont.).
“I’m sure my whole family will be out for a lot of the games,” said McAffer, a former North Shore Twins’ standout who played for the C’s in 2018. “I’ve got friends already asking for tickets.”
McAffer hadn’t met Lavallee before this run with the C’s but they did have baseball folk in common.
“It’s nice having some familiar faces, guys I have either heard about or met growing up. It’s nice having that connection. And I’m sure he’s going to get a kick out of managing in his hometown,” McAffer said.
The C’s were a short-season, single A team when they were at The Nat in 2019. Minor league baseball was completely revamped before last season, with 43 teams losing their affiliations in a bid to cut costs and streamline the develop process for big-league clubs. The C’s, as a part of the change, were bumped up two levels, going to high-A.
Lavallee says that the high-A games are cleaner and crisper. The players are generally older and more experienced. In 2019, the average age for a position player in the C’s league was 20.8, while a pitcher was 21.3. Last year, it was 22.9 for a position player and 23.2 for a pitcher.
“The players know what to expect,” he said. “It’s a mature player compared to what people are used to seeing here.”
The C’s had the fifth-best record in the six-team Northwest League last season, coming in at 55-64. Fifteen players on the current roster spent time with the squad last season.
The Toronto Blue Jays hired Lavallee in December 2019 out of Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he had spent 15 years as a player, assistant coach and then head coach. Lavallee was initially named the C’s manager for the 2020 season that was eventually cancelled. He managed the Jays’ Florida complex league team last summer.
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