2009 Vancouver Canadians Preview

The Northwest League is officially underway and the Oakland A's Northwest League affiliate - the Vancouver Canadians - are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2008 campaign. Jeremy Knight previews the C's.

Disappointment is a word that can sum up the Vancouver Canadians 2008 season. In the playoff hunt mid-season, the team had to re-adjust after a dismal start, mixed in with a poor August.

Only eight members of that team return, yet some of the returnees are ones that helped guide the C's to win five of their last six games in '08.

Starting at the top of the rotation, Joselito Adames (ah-dah-maize) will get the nod on Opening Day, in front of an expected sold-out crowd at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Adames has yet to make a statement in the A's system, after a 7.34 ERA in the AZL and DSL last summer, before making one relief appearance with the Stockton Ports on June 6th. Because the C's staff is so high on him, it'll be interesting to see how Adames translates that confidence on the mound tonight, as he faces the Everett Aquasox.

Ronny Morla is a name familiar to A's minor league fans, as the big right-hander (one of 15 RHP's for the Opening Day Lineup, plus one LHP) returns to Canada for a repeat of a stellar season last year. Morla went 2-6 with an ERA just under 5.00, but at Spring Training he looked fantastic, and after leading the NWL in strikeouts last year, he is definitely looking for a repeat performance.

Speaking of familiar faces, Hector Garcia returns to the 'Pitchers Paradise,' after stunning fans last year with his 97mph Fastball. Garcia had an ERA of 4.38 as a starter and 4.63 in relief, so it'll be interesting to see which role he possesses this year.

Chad Lee is back for his third Canadian stint, after being a 4th round pick back in 2006. Lee was in Vancouver that year, as well as last year, where he struggled before being sent to Arizona. Lee is a solid pitching prospect for the A's, and is a fan favorite in Vancouver.

Last year's closer and NWL all-star Jose Guzman is back after a DL stint in Kane County. Guzman had 15 saves with the C's last year, a club record, and is looking to build on his 2.25 ERA this year. Guzman is a treat to watch, as he continues to excite baseball fans far and wide.

A trio of 2009 draftees find themselves in Vancouver just a week after being selected by the A's in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Paul Smyth of the University of Kansas, Daniel Straily of Marshall and Nathan Long of UT-Arlington will all begin their pro careers in Vancouver, much to the pleasure of baseball fans who enjoy watching players kick off their careers for the C's.

2008 free agent signing Juston Street also finds himself in Vancouver, and he is looking to build off of a great season down in the AZL. His teammate from last season, Bo Schultz is from Northwestern, and he was picked up as an NDFA last summer by the A's. Schultz has been preliminarily named Vancouver's closer.

To round out the pitching staff is 2006 draftee Kyle Christensen who is just 20 years of age, and remains a top prospect with the A's despite injury troubles, Jorge Arrioja who didn't pitch last year, and stands at a mere 155 pounds, as well as Jonathan Joseph, the AZL A's closer last year, Ricardo Penalba of Panama, Pedro Vidal and Julio Ramos, the lone lefty on the staff.

This year's pitching staff is led by Craig Lefferts, who returns to Vancouver after a pair of different injuries kept him out of coaching in 2007 and 2008.

Behind the plate Vancouver has the experienced Gabriel Ortiz, who has spent this year in Midland to this point hitting .280, and Rodney Rutherford who has switched from 3B to C this season. Rutherford was in Vancouver last year, and Ortiz was in Arizona.

Infielders are always key to a good ballclub, and this year's corps features one of, if not the best, prospect on the C's, as well as one of the best infielders in the system, Nino Leyja.

Leyja is a 2B/SS who features power, a phenomenal average, good awareness on the base paths and a keen eye at the plate. Nino, as a 17-year-old last year, hit .315, with 12 doubles, six triples and 25 RBI. He struck out just 31 times in 165 at-bats, and swiped 10 bags. He is only 18, and remains one of the best players on this Vancouver team heading into the season.

Leyja will split time up the middle with Leo Gil and Marcos Luis, both who are returning from good seasons in Vancouver. Luis hit .250 during an injury-filled season, and Gil hit .208 as a late-season call-up.

Ryne Jernigan is also back up north, having finished last year with the AZL A's, hitting .333. Jernigan is great up the middle, and his bat has a little pop on it as well. Look for him to do great things with the C's in his second go-around.

Wilfredo Sosa rounds out the IFs, and is likely to open at 1B. Sosa hit .200 last year in Arizona, with eight extra-base hits in 31 games.

The three main OFs that lead the AZL A's last year find themselves in Vancouver, fighting with two '09 draft picks for playing time.

Rashun Dixon leads the corps, after hitting eight dingers for the AZL A's, as a 17-year-old. Dixon features raw power, speed and a natural ability to hit for average as well. His 10 triples led the league last year.

Along with Dixon is Tyreace House, who had an OPS of .651 last year, hitting .263. His 12 stolen bases ranked first on the club.

Jose Crisostomo completes the trio, and the southpaw features a great bat as well, hitting .308 with an OPS of .795 last year.

Conner Crumbliss, a 5'8'' OF who hits for average, and Kent Walton out of BYU complete the outfield corps.

This year's Opening Day roster features not too many draft picks, who are still working out passport issues in Phoenix, but even with the club assembled now, the C's have a good shot to win some games. Once they get more top picks, they could be light's out.

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