Vancouver Notebook: First Half Review

With half of the Northwest League short-season in the books, Jeremy Knight takes a closer look at the progress of the Vancouver Canadians.

The Vancouver Canadians have had a typical start to the 2008 Northwest League season, filled with ups-and-downs, as well as heartbreaking losses and Disney movie finishes. There have been injuries, homeruns, triples, stolen bases, strikeouts and a few rookie mistakes, but the Canadians, are not only a good group of guys, but a good group of ballplayers.

This team has potential, and being only three games back of first place with 34 games to go, they could make it to the post-season. They play first-place Salem-Keizer nine times from now until the end of the season, including six games at home. The three on the road are in Salem to close out the season, and the whole NWL West Division could come down to that season-ending series.

Position Player Review

Let's start out with the good. And looking on a stat sheet, browsing either casually or otherwise, the name Jason Christian will stand out at you. Christian is one of those players who is always making the 'clutch play' or the 'key out' on defense or even the 'game-changing hit.' He is batting .313 with an OPS of 913 and 63 total bases, which is 16 total bases ahead of Jeremy Barfield, who is second on the team in that category. Christian has been able to find gaps effectively, and also has been able to read pitches out of pitchers' hands, which has allowed him to walk a team-leading 29 times, and hit three home-runs, good enough for second on the club, as well as knocking in 18 runs, once again good enough for 2nd in the clubhouse.

Among the other categories the Michigan-draftee leads the team offensively are in at-bats, runs scored, doubles, stolen bases and hits, as well as games played. The one downside has been his 14 errors, but he hasn't committed one lately, and is becoming one of the better fielders on the team. Thus far, Jason Christian is demonstrating that he is an all-around good ballplayer.

Another middle infielder, Marcos Luis, has been slowed down by an injured ankle, but is hitting a solid .300 with only nine strikeouts in 70 at-bats. Luis has only two errors all season and has three stolen bases.

Returning Canadian Dusty Napoleon, who had a brief stint in Kane County this year, is batting .281 and has emerged as a first base prospect after starting his career as a catcher. Napoleon has just two errors and a whopping 24 walks to go along with his .805 OPS. Dusty has appeared in 31 games, all of which at first base, and is quickly becoming a fan-favorite at the dish.

Outfielder David Thomas is making an impact, batting .271 with no errors in the field. Thomas has had six extra-base hits and has stolen four bases, which is good enough for 3rd on the team. Infielder Francisco Tirado has made a few mistakes in his first season in Canada, including 13 errors and an 0-15 start to the season, but Tirado is now one of the most exciting players to watch at Nat Bailey Stadium. 'Tornado' is batting .260 and, in his last 8 games, he has three walks and two doubles.

Reigning NWL HBP King JD Pruitt is back with the Canadians, but has been more careful about taking pitches to the body. Unfortunately, Pruitt has been injured twice, once early in the year, and once just a few days ago, when he suffered a concussion after being knocked unconscious when he was hit below his batting helmet. Pruitt has appeared in 21 games, mostly as a lead-off hitter, with two home-runs, including a grand-slam, 23 walks and an OPS of 925, good enough for the team lead. JD should be ready to play by next Wednesday in Spokane.

Jeremy Barfield, who has baseball in his blood, is hitting a respectable .256 with one home-run, which was - according to a C's teammate - a bomb. Barfield is a fan-favorite, and one of the top C's players to watch this summer.

A guy who was under the radar at this time last year, Mike Lissman, is now the top power-hitter on the team. Lissman, who began the year at Kane County, has five homeruns on the season, four of which have come in his last nine games. It's safe to say he's on a hot streak. For the season, he has a slugging percentage of .481. Lissman is a guy to watch, if you're into the long-bombs. And, hey, he's won the College World Series twice, so he's used to winning.

Jareck West emerged as a top player during the team's first series of the season. He has cooled off a bit, but is still playing well. His OPS is at 626 and he has 3 triples, 5 doubles and 22 walks. He leads the team with 6 SB, tied with Jason Christian, and the OF has no errors in the field.

Other Position Players:

Mitchell LeVier is hitting .236 with three doubles and a triple, but has struck out 29 times.

Dante Love, the team's everyday catcher, is batting .168 with a pair of errors, two homeruns and 15 RBI.

Julio Rivera has played in 12 games, and has a double, an RBI, 13 strikeouts and a BA of .162.

3B Rodney Rutherford has struggled early on in his pro career, batting .145 in 23 games, with 10 hits in 69 at-bats.

ON THE HILL:

The Canadians pitching staff has been near excellent throughout this season, with the likes of Carlos Hernandez, Daniel Thomas, Mike Hart, Jose Guzman and Shawn Haviland excelling for the C's.

Ronny Morla, the team's Opening Day starter, has pitched better than his stats show. He's 1-3 with an ERA of 4.57, but in nine starts, he's allowed just 19 walks and has struck out a team-leading 43 batters. Morla has a WHIP of 1.50 and has some of the nastiest stuff in the Northwest League.

Carlos Hernandez, who is now with Kane County, was perfect with the C's, going 2-0 with an ERA of 1.82. Carlos gave up just eight earned runs through 40 innings, striking out 38 batters while collecting a WHIP of 0.98.

Pedro Figueroa is 0-3 with an ERA of 4.25 and has been able to strike-out 38 batters. Figgy is a music-lover who is in his second year as a Canadian. This time through the league, he is learning how to locate his pitches better. It'll be interesting to see how he does during the final stretch of the season.

Ryne Tacker hasn't been enjoying the success teammate Carlos Hernandez has had this year, but he has been getting better as the season goes on, although that improvement has been stalled by an injury for now. The fourth starter in the rotation, Tacker is 0-5 with an ERA of 9.31.

Shawn Haviland, one of the club's new starters, is 1-1 with an ERA of 1.78. In 11 games, and two starts, Haviland has given up just five earned runs. Haviland has an average of just over a strikeout an inning and has not hit a batter this season. The Harvard grad is one of just three C's pitchers who can say that.

Jose Guzman is the Canadians' closer. In 23 innings, he has nine saves with an ERA of 0.39. Guzman, who was a starter last season, has 24 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.00. He has finished 13 games.

Fabian Gomez, who has one of the top pick-off moves in the league, is having a good season as the club's left-handed middle reliever. Gomez is 3-2 with an ERA of 5.16. He has 15 strikeouts and has had just a few bad outings. In his previous outing, he gave up six runs in an inning, and in one a few days earlier, he gave up three runs in 0.2 innings. Other than that, Fabian has been un-hittable.

Edgar Tejeda opened the season with eight strikeouts in three innings, but since then, he has struggled. He has given-up 12 earned runs in 20 innings and has 27 strikeouts.

Trey Barham, a lefty out of the Virginia Military Institute, is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA heading into the series against Salem-Keizer, which starts on Thursday evning. Barham will move into the rotation to replace an injured Ryne Tacker, on Friday, and is hoping to continue his good season, which includes 14 strikeouts and just six walks.

Matt Fitts, who pitched twice at Nat Bailey Stadium this season in college, has been one of the top right-handers in the bullpen. He has an ERA of 2.45 and has given up just five earned runs through 18 innings.

Ben Hornbeck, a lefty out of Kansas State, has struggled at times and shined the rest of the time. In 11 games, his ERA is at 5.63, and he has 20 strikeouts in 16 innings.

A pitcher who has really shocked the Nat Bailey faithful is Mike Hart, who has no win-loss record, but has an ERA of 1.93. In nine games, he's given up just three runs, and in his most recent relief appearance, coming in with bases loaded with none-out, he needed just six pitches to pick up three outs without allowing a hit. Hart will start Thursday night in his first start as a professional.

All I can say about Daniel Thomas can be summed up in one word, "heat." This guy can throw 97 MPH consistently, and I mean consistently. In his first game of the year, 96 MPH was a let-down. A late addition to the team, he has given up just two hits in 3.2 innings and he has yet to allow a run.

Other Pitchers:

Hector Garcia, starter turned reliever, is 1-3 with an ERA of 4.25. He has averaged more than a strikeout per inning and has walked 23 batters.

"Smalls", Kenny Smalley, has pitched well in his first few appearances as a Vancouver Canadian, with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings.

Looking Ahead

The 2008 version of the Vancouver Canadians opened the year 2-8, but have since improved dramatically and sit just three games back of first-place Salem-Keizer and two games behind 2nd-place Eugene. Vancouver is two games up on Everett.

After a three-game home-set against Salem-Keizer, the C's hit the road for eight games which will take them through Everett and Spokane, before coming home for eight games with the Volcanoes and the Boise Hawks.



Writer's Bio
Jeremy Knight is known as Canada's wonderkid of sports reporting. He covers CFL football, college baseball and minor league hockey for The Roadkill Sports Blog, and pro baseball for Notes From The Nat and Scout.com.



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