Baseball Canada announced yesterday, to no one’s surprise, that Ernie Whitt would be at the helm for Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Hitting Coach Larry Walker and Pitching Coach Denis Boucher will also return, along with third base coach Tim Leiper. Paul Quantrill and Stubby Clapp are the new additions.
Whitt will have an even more talented roster for the spring edition of the Classic. It is quite likely that only one starter from the qualifying round will remain in the lineup. Tyson Gillies, who was 7-for-14 as the leadoff hitter in September, will likely continue to play center field, though at the No. 9 position.
The top five batters in the lineup will all be MLB stars. Third baseman Brett Lawrie is a possibility to lead off, and he could be followed by Russell Martin (C). Joey Votto (1B), Justin Morneau (DH), and Jason Bay (LF) would bat 3-4-5. Michael Saunders would follow the big bats and play right field.
The seventh and eighth hitters as currently structured would be the shortstop and second baseman. In September, Canada’s middle infielders combined to hit .174 and, even with full major league rosters available would still be the team’s weak spot.
This is why an announcement by Martin this past weekend might prove so beneficial for Canada. In an interview with David Waldstein of the New York Times, Martin disclosed his discussion with Greg Hamilton, the director of national teams for Canada, to play shortstop for the red-and-white.
Martin has never played shortstop in the majors, but has played the equivalent of 8-9 games at second and third base in the past five years. That is, by no means, a large amount, but Martin noted that he had also taken extensive infield practice the past two years with the New York Yankees.
While the arrangement might somewhat weaken Canada defensively at catcher and shortstop (or 2B, should Martin end up there), it would allow a minor league infielder to be replaced in the lineup. The likely starter at the backstop would be George Kottaras.
Kottaras offer solid power and league average defence behind the dish. He does not have the arm that Martin does, and has thrown out only 16 per cent of runners in his career (compared to 30 per cent for Martin). This is offset by fairly good plate discipline and plenty of extra base hits. His career average is only .220, but a .320 on-base percentage and .412 slugging percentage make up for the lack of singles.
Hamilton and Whitt will have to consider their options defensively and at-the-plate, but Martin’s willingness to move around the diamond can only help a Canadian team desperate for a better showing at the WBC than in 2009. A full preview of the team, including the always hard-to-pinpoint pitching staff, will come closer to the March tournament. Thanks to the Canadian Baseball Network for a lineup projection.
Stay tuned to Extra Innings for more World Baseball Classic coverage.