Hometown talent set to make waves during 2021 MLB season
By Zac Worden, Sports Editor
With the 2021 MLB season fast approaching, teams across the league are finding out which players are going to make the opening 26-man rosters for opening day on April 1.
Despite the Blue Jays starting — and most likely ending — their season in Florida, baseball fans north of the border might feel a bit distant from the sport for a second straight season.
For those who may not be big Blue Jays fans but love supporting Canadian talent, here are 10 Canadians to watch this MLB season.
1. Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves, Calgary, Alta
Coming off a torn Achilles tendon back in 2020, Soroka won’t be ready for opening day, but the 2019 all-star has been throwing since January. Whenever the Calgary native is able to suit up again for the Braves, he will look to reclaim his spot as one of the best pitchers under 25-years-old in the world.
2. James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, Delta, B.C.
“Big Maple” is returning to Seattle, where he spent the first six years of his MLB career. After spending the past two seasons in the Bronx pitching for the New York Yankees, Paxton will join a left-handed heavy rotation with the Mariners as they look to break the longest active playoff drought in the MLB.
3. Jameson Taillon, New York Yankees, Lakeland, Florida (Dual Citizen)
With one Canadian leaving the rotation, the Yankees traded for a replacement in Taillon. The 6’5 right-hander was born to Canadian parents, holds dual citizenship and suited up for Team Canada during the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto, ON
One of the most decorated Canadian baseball players of all time, Votto is on the backstretch of his career. The 2010 National League MVP will need to rediscover his all-star form for the Reds to sniff out the playoffs in a loaded National League.
5. Cal Quantrill, Cleveland Indians, Port Hope, ON
Quantrill was traded to Cleveland by the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade in 2020. In his 32 innings of work during the 2020 season, he posted a 2.25 ERA between San Diego and Cleveland, but only started in three games all year. He looks unlikely to earn a starting spot in Cleveland’s rotation, but will play a key role out of the bullpen. Whatever role Quantrill plays in 2021, he’s going to have to prove that his 2020 season was more than just luck.
6. Nick Pivetta, Boston Red Sox, Victoria, B.C.
Acquired by the Red Sox at the 2020 trade deadline, Pivetta has breakout candidate written all over him heading into 2021. The 28-year-old has been a high-potential-low-results player for years now, but upon arriving in Boston in 2021, the Red Sox had a plan to have Pivetta tweak his mechanics. The results? 10 innings pitched with 13 strikeouts and only two runs given up. Look for Pivetta to make some noise for the Red Sox in 2021.
7. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves, Fountain Valley, California (Dual Citizen)
Now, this list is in no particular order, but number seven feels like it might be too far down to list the reigning National League MVP. Freeman is one of the best hitters in baseball and is showing no signs of slowing down heading into this season at age 31. Another dual citizen thanks to having Canadian parents, Freeman and the Braves will be looking to avenge their loss in the National League Championship Series and advance to the World Series.
8. Josh Naylor, Cleveland Indians, Mississauga, ON
At only 23 years old, Naylor broke onto the scene during Cleveland’s playoff series with the Yankees in 2020. In the two games, he had five hits in seven at-bats, including three doubles and a home run. Naylor was also a part of the trade that brought Quantrill to Cleveland. Like his fellow Canadian, Naylor will need to prove himself early in 2021 to show that he belongs in Cleveland’s everyday lineup.
9. Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals, Burnaby, B.C.
Despite a tough year at the plate for O’Neill, he appeared in 50 of the Cardinals’ 60 regular-season games, in large part because of his glove. He won his first career gold glove for his work in the outfield, leading all National League left-fielders with nine defensive runs saved. He should get a lot of playing time in 2021 with the NL Central favourite Cardinals, as long as he holds his own with the bat.
10. Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays, Markham, ON
Romano has been with the Blue Jays for the past two seasons, proving to be one of their best bullpen arms before getting hurt in 2020. The Markham native had a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings pitched in 2020. He only walked five hitters and struck out 21. Romano will be another pitcher that will have to prove that his success in 2020 can be sustained across a 162-game regular season.