By John Manuel
October 29, 2003
The last Olympic qualifying tournament for the Americas was perhaps Canada’s finest hour in international competition, and its most difficult.
Managed by former Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, Canada was the host nation in the 1999 Pan American Games and had the best record in the tournament, with victories over the U.S. and Cuba. But a 3-2 semifinal loss to Cuba kept Canada home for the Olympics.
Several members of that team return to lead Team Canada into the 2003 Olympic qualifier in Panama, led by Whitt, who will again manage the team. His lineup also has an interesting mix of young and old talent that should threaten for one of the two Olympic berths at stake, if the team’s pitching can hold up.
Two lefthanded-hitting power prospects lead the team–Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Devil Rays catcher Pete LaForest. Both appeared in the major leagues this season, and Morneau will be one of the best prospects in the tournament. He’s also one of four 2003 New Britain Rock Cats in the event (three are on Team USA).
They anchor a lineup that, like TeamUSA, leans to the left heavily. Third baseman Todd Betts, who hit .300 in Japan this year, is a veteran bat and was on the ’99 Pan Am club. He’s joined in the infielder by shortstop Kevin Nicholson and either veteran Stubby Clapp (Braves) or 21-year-old Hyung Cho (Mariners), who might start as one of the few righthanded bats on the team. The team also lost outfielder Jayson Bay (Pirates) when he was promoted to the big leagues in August. He would have given the team a crucial righthanded bat. Canada has 15 hitters on the roster and just four righthanded hitters, including Nicholson, who switch-hits.
Almost as significant is who Canada didn’t get, especially on the mound. Among those the team tried to get but didn’t for one reason or another include Canada’s best arms such as Jeff Francis, Aaron Myette, Eric Cyr, Eric Bedard and Adam Loewen. Cyr and Bedard are recovering from arm surgeries while Loewen was shut down by the Orioles as a precaution.
As a result, Canada’s chances of qualifying rest with an uninspiring group of pitchers including former big league all-star Jason Dickson, who was shelled by Team USA in an exhibition game Saturday; righthanders Brett Gray and Mike Meyers; and perhaps the staff’s best prospect, 22-year-old Shawn Hill (Expos). Canada’s staff also has just two lefthanded pitchers in former Dodgers farmhand Phil Devey and former Rockies prospect Mike Kusiewicz.
|Phil Devey||LHP||L-L||6-0||175||26||Atlantic League|
|Jason Dickson||RHP||L-R||6-0||195||30||Atlantic League|
|John Ogiltree||RHP||R-R||6-6||225||25||Blue Jays|
|Pete Laforest||C||L-R||6-2||222||25||Devil Rays|
|Todd Betts||3B/1B||L-R||6-0||200||30||Yakult (Japan)|
|Matt Logan||1B||L-R||6-3||220||24||Blue Jays|
|Ryan Radmanovich||OF||L-R||6-2||200||32||Atlantic League|