Blue Jays MiLB: Vancouver Canadians first half recap

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 10: A baseball sits on the field before the game between the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 10: A baseball sits on the field before the game between the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canadians failed to win the first half of the northwest league season due to a severely slow start. However, heading into the second half the C’s are on a roll and look primed to push for the postseason.

A season of two halves. That’s the mantra the Vancouver Canadians have had to tell themselves for nearly all of the first half of their 2019 Northwest League campaign. The C’s began the season with promise and excitement, but all of that soon was forgotten as the team sputtered to the worst start in franchise history.

Fortunately, the NWL playoff format is based on two halves, with the winner of each half getting a playoff spot. This allows the C’s to put their dismal first half behind them, and make a run for the second half qualification spot.

Coming into the year, the Canadians had more turnover than they had in years past, with the notable returnees being two of their heavy hitters. Both Yorman Rodriguez and McGregory Contreras returned to Vancouver after a very successful season in 2017. However, despite their return, the support around them was not as strong as it has been in past- and they were unable to bear the burden of offensive responsibilities themselves.

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The rest of the roster was mostly getting their first taste of professional baseball coming off of college seasons, and their freshness was evident.

Many of the C’s losses came early in the season and were from simple errors compounded with a non-existent offence. It was not until a 16-9 win over the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Giants) did Vancouver’s fortunes begin to change.

The most highly sought after prospect on the opening day roster was Adam Kloffesntein, the Blue Jays’ sixth-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. Like the rest of the team, he struggled initially, but as he gained professional experience his play has improved.

Before the blistering offensive breakout, the Canadians had a record of 5-17. After? Well, they went on a run of 9-6. Much better.

There were many factors which came together for the improvement. The players realized their hitting potential, the pitchers became calmer, and possibly the most important of them all, they just played for fun. After being eliminated from first-half contention, the C’s game became more relaxed and began to do the basic things right, ending with a better product.

While the first half was lost early and was a mostly losing affair, there were a handful of bright spots and some players who were a step above the rest.

The aforementioned Kloffenstein was one of the players who struggled out of the gate, and some of his stats, including walks and strike percentage, got worse through his first five outings. However, in his last three performances he has improved on every statistic, finally being credited with his first professional win on July 15th against the Tri-City Dust Devils (Padres).

Kloffenstein was not the only pitcher to do well in the first half, there were five or six who earned praise for their performances. One of whom is Canadian himself. Alex Nolan, a Burlington, Ontario native and the only Canadian player on the roster, introduced himself to professional baseball with a bang. The former Brock University Badger earned himself a 2.86 ERA through 28.1 innings. Being Canadian, he had a spotlight on him from the moment he arrived, and he delivered. Both him and Kloffenstein got their first professional wins on consecutive days, as the Canadians completed their first of two series sweeps over the Dust-Devils.

Other than those two, who garnered the most interest on the mound, there were also the unforgettable performances of Grant Towsend, who had two showings with over eight strikeouts. His most dominant outing came away from Nat Bailey stadium while the C’s were visiting the Hillsboro Hops (AZ Diamondbacks). That day he pitched six innings of one-hit baseball, the best performance of any pitcher thus far this year.

So what went wrong if the pitching was so good? Well, it wasn’t all rosy for the C’s pitcher as those were the three brightest spots of a 21 man pitching staff, many of whom were astoundingly dismal in their time on the mound. With their last run of games in which the team was winning significantly more than they were losing, the final statistics improved.

After their run of good games, Vancouver finished in the middle of the pack in many categories, including their collective ERA, which was a 4.23. While the front of the pitching staff was the most apparent bright spot, the bullpen pulled things together and finally started to contribute to the well-being of the team’s performances.

As far as things went behind the plate, the C’s again were slow coming out of the gate. As was a prominent theme throughout the whole team performance, the offence was non-existent until the big win over Salem-Keizer.

Headlining the offensive output was veteran Yorman Rodriguez. Finishing the first half with a .362 batting average, he led the entire northwest league in that category. While the Canadians were in Salem-Keizer, they were helped by the addition of Vanderbilt University catcher Philip Clarke. The 2019 ninth-round pick was unable to join the C’s to start the season, being committed to a college world series run with the Commodores. He hit a home run on his debut and has not allowed down. Clarke added another heavy-hitting bat to the roster, kickstarting the Canadians offense.

Most of the names mentioned so far will be recognized by Blue Jays fans, however, there were some unknown qualities that showed well throughout the first half. Shortstop Trevor Schwecke has been vital for the Canadians on both sides of the game. The leadoff spot has been split more often than not between Tanner Morris and Cameron Eden, who are third and fourth on the team in hits.

Of course in the minor leagues, the roster is fluid throughout the season. And that was evident again for the Canadians. Only one player from the opening day roster found his way up in the organization, that being sidearmer Andy McGuire.

It was very interesting watching McGuire throughout the first half, as his pitching style is extremely unique. There are three things which stand out to me. First of all, is his form. The 2018 pick not only throws sidearm, but he tucks his knee right into his chest before exploding for the pitch. He throws mid 90’s, but certainly not in a traditional sense. Another characteristic he has is his lighting quick transition from each pitch. Canadians broadcaster Rob Fai described how it can be hard to keep score when McGuire is pitching since he is so quick. In a world where the pace of play is an issue, McGuire’s style is a welcome characteristic. The other link to Lansing was the demotion of Mike Pascoe, who joined the C’s to re-invigorate the pitching staff.

While there was only one upward move, the connections to the rookie-level Bluefield Blue Jays were much more abundant. Luis De Los Santos was brought up early in the season and has settled into the C’s roster. Meanwhile, his ex-Bluefield teammate Ryan Sloniger only got a quick look in Vancouver before being sent back down. Davis Schnider also finds himself in Bluefield, after struggling immensely at the Single-A level.

The first half offered up many games that C’s fans will want to forget quickly, but there were also nights that were unforgettable. Believe it or not, the most memorable contest was the last game of the half. On the verge of completing their second sweep of the season over the Tri-City Dust Devils (Padres), the Canadians were losing 3-0 through 7.5 innings, but pulled together a miraculous final two, sending the game into the tenth where De Los Santos’ walk-off single completed the comeback.

Next. Kloffenstein makes his debut. dark

The Canadians now have a fresh start, and enter the second half in red hot form. Vancouver’s record in their last 12 is 9-3, and the team has started to show what they are really made of. The confidence that was lacking at the start of the season is there now, setting the C’s up for a playoff hunt in the second half.