Inside the Clubhouse: Blue Jays High-A affiliate wins Northwest League championship

The Blue Jays' High-A affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians, won its fifth Northwest League championship over the weekend. We spoke to a handful of players to capture the magic this team carried throughout the season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays' High-A affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians, successfully won the Northwest League championship on Saturday night, defeating the Everett AquaSox (Mariners) three games to one. This is the club's fifth championship since its inception in 2000, with the previous victories coming in 2011 and 2012 (with John Schneider as their manager), 2013 and 2017.

The 2023 season was carried by many different faces on the Canadians and the clubhouse chemistry was immaculate, as described by a handful of its players. Cade Doughty, Josh Kasevich, Alex De Jesus, Michael Turconi and Dasan Brown all stepped up on offense, each taking considerable steps forward in their development. On the pitching side of things, Conor Larkin, Ryan Boyer, Hunter Gregory, Adam Macko and Ian Churchill all emerged as significant strikeout threats on the mound.

As is the case with all successful ballclubs making a deep postseason run, this Canadians squad had multiple heroes throughout each of the four games it took to knock Everett out. In the first, Macko stepped up, going five innings with five strikeouts while allowing just one hit. Churchill, who was dominant all year in the regular season, threw 2.2 shutout innings of his own with four punchouts.

Macko, the Slovakian southpaw that came over in the Erik Swanson trade last offseason, just wrapped up his first in the Blue Jays organization, ending on the highest note possible. "It was a really fun year with these guys through the ups and downs", he says. "We remained the same fun group of guys who just get after it for each other every day, and the way we were able to come out on top of some really close games shows how much we trusted in one another."

Game two saw the Canadians implode a bit, ultimately falling to the AquaSox in 10-0 fashion; but another pitching clinic by Gregory (four innings, six strikeouts, one hit, no runs) and Churchill (2.1 innings, three strikeouts, two hits, no runs) resulted in a 1-0 Vancouver victory in game three before the club won 10-2 in the fourth and final game of the series.

Macko, 22, is far from the only one on this club to speak highly of his teammates, coaching staff, and everyone else who contributed to this team going all the way. The list goes on and on of players who will forever look back on the 2023 season as a special one.

"The feeling that I was a part of a winning clubhouse culture hit me as soon as I walked in the door", says Churchill, one of the most underrated relief pitching prospects in the Blue Jays. "The Canadians faced challenges whenever their impact players got promoted to Double-A, but they were built different than other minor league teams. All of the players put winning, having fun and comraderie above personal accolades."

"This team was a great one", says Devereaux Harrison, the game two starter for Vancouver. "We all got along very well and it was a great atmosphere. We all were rooting for each other and were all super tight. We just really enjoy hanging out with each other and showing up to work every day".

Infielder Ryan McCarty, who split his season between Single-A Dunedin and Vancouver, took big steps in his development this season. According to him, he owes a large amount of that to the people he surrounded himself with on the Canadians.

"The positivity from not only the players but the staff is incredible. Everyone always goes the extra mile. In such a challenging sport, the real difference-maker is that we all care about each other more than we care about ourselves," he says.

Naswell Paulino, a lefty whose only game action in the championship series came in the final inning of game two, agrees wholeheartedly. "Since day one, our team set the tone for big things", he says. "We knew we had some unfinished business from last year."

That they did. In 2022, the Canadians made it all the way to the championship series but were swept three games to none against the Eugene Emeralds (San Francisco Giants), seeing their postseason hopes end just as quickly as they began.

"No matter what, a family is stronger when they're all together working towards the same mission," Paulino finishes.

Then there's Patrick Gallagher, who made just 14 minor league appearances this year, three of them coming for the Canadians. Gallagher was a part of the club's postseason roster but ultimately was forced to sit out with an illness that completely took him out of action. He didn't spend very long in Vancouver, but his teammates did more than enough to leave a lasting impression.

"Every single guy on this roster truly wanted each of their teammates to thrive and succeed when they went out to play", he says. "I've never been a part of such a quality group of guys and incredible players. Nobody had an ego and we all locked in when we had to. We all had a blast playing the game we love every day. I am honored to have been a part of this team for a short time, it's something I will never forget or take for granted."

Congratulations to all of the young up-and-comers on the Canadians that banded together and came through when it mattered most. The Toronto Blue Jays farm system will forever be slept on and not get enough props for the talent from top to bottom, but these guys are legit. Remember their names.