Blue Jays: Matt Hague, The IL MVP, and the Canadian Connection

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Matt Hague, 3B for the Buffalo Bisons, was named 2015 International League Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.  A well-deserved honour – he lead the IL in batting average at .347  (33 points better than any other hitter), hits (172 – 24 more than second place) and on-base percentage (.425 – 42 points higher).  Matt, as you may recall, was claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh by the Blue Jays in August, 2014 and is expected to be called up to the parent club within the next few days to help with the pennant push.

But Matt is not the only IL MVP with Canadian connections.  As it turns out, each of the previous five winner also have a tie to Canadian baseball.

2014 winner – Steven Souza

Jul 24, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) reacts at bat at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Souza was claimed by the Washington Expos … err … Nationals in the third round of the 2007 mlb amateur draft.  He won the IL MVP playing for the Syracuse Chiefs, who had been the Blue Jays’ AAA affiliate for 30 years (1978-2008).  Souza’s only direct Blue Jays link is that his first home run in the AL – and possibly the longest HR of his career – came in April 2015 against Daniel Norris.  When asked after the game about the distance that the hit travelled, Norris said “I think it went 700 feet”.  It was actually 463 feet, and was at that point of the season the longest HR hit in 2015.

2013 winner – Chris Colabello

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Chris won the IL MVP with the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.  Chris’ .352/.427/.639 line resulted in an OPS of 1.066 – the highest (qualifying) figure recorded in the IL in the last decade.  Chris struggled in his 2013 callup to the Twins, with a disappointing 76 wRC+, but looked to have turned the corner in early 2014, when he hit for a 134 wRC+ in April and broke the Twins’ record for RBI’s in April previously held by Hall of Famer

Kirby Puckett

.  But Chris

sustained an injury

to his thumb on April 23.  He tried to play through the pain, with disastrous results (his wRC+ in May was -2).  He finished the season with a wRC+ of 85 and was claimed off waivers by the Jays on December 8.  And the rest, as they say, is history!

2012 winner – Mauro Gómez

Mauro signed as an international free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2003.  Granted free agency in 2009, he signed with the Atlanta Braves.  When he became a free agent again in 2011, he signed with the Boston Red Box, where he won his IL MVP award with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2012.  After playing 37 games for the parent BoSox in 2012, he was designated for assignment in March, 2013.  He was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays, and assigned to the Buffalo Bisons, where he played one season without ever being called up to the parent Jays.  He was designated for assignment on September 3, 2013 and is now playing for the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan.

2011 winner – Russ Canzler

Mar 15, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Russ Canzler (68) works out prior to the spring training game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Russ was drafted in the 30th round of the 2004 mlb amateur draft.  He became a free agent in 2011, without ever having played a game with the parent Cubs, and signed with Tampa.  Assigned to their AAA affiliate, the Durham Bulls (of “Bull Durham” fame)  Canzler went on to win the IL MVP with a  .314/.401/.530 line.  Canzler was traded to Cleveland in 2012 and spent the year between AAA and mlb.  He was designated for assignment on December 19, which started a remarkable game of waiver ping-pong.  He was claimed by the Jays on December 21, then reclaimed by Cleveland on Jan 2, then claimed by the Yankees on January 4, then claimed by Baltimore on February 5. So Canzler was officially a member of the Jays organization for a grand total of 13 days, without playing a game for the Jays or any of their affiliates.

2010 winner – Dan Johnson

Jul 27, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Dan Johnson (30) catches a pop up against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Dan has won not one but two minor league MVP awards:  with the Pacific Coast League in 2004 and the International League in 2010.  He is one of the most colourful players to have never held a full-time mlb starting job, not only because of his red hair and beard (which earned him the nickname “The Great Pumpkin”, presumably because “La Grande Orange” was taken) but also for his walk-off home run on Wild Card Wednesday.  Dan has played for several teams in his career, drafted by Oakland but subsequently playing with Tampa, the Yokohama Baystars of the Japanese league, the White Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Reds, Astros and Cardinals.  And the Pumpkin played one season in the Jays organization in 2014, where he started with the Bisons and came up to the Jays for 15 games as an injury replacement for Adam Lind.

The bottom line?  Many of the links above are pretty tenuous, and could well be just chance.  But I wonder if part of the explanation might be Alex’s philosophy of looking for undervalued assets with strong baseball pedigrees?  Taking a chance on a Matt Hague or Chris Colabello – or a Johan Santana, or Joba Chamberlain, or Tiago da Silva – can be a low-cost, high-upside lottery ticket.  And while most lottery tickets do not win, it only takes one Bautista (or perhaps Colabello?) to make the entire investment worthwhile.

Next: Blue Jays, Baseball and the Elusive Hustle

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