Jimmy V O back in the swing in Nationals system
* Jimmy VanOstrand (Richmond, BC), hero of the gold medal game as Canada defeated Team USA on his two-run double get a high five from Tim Smith (Toronto, Ont.) was busy with the Harrisburg Senators as the 2011 gold medal winners were inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys ….
By Todd Devlin
Jimmy VanOstrand is back in business.
Pushed out of affiliated ball for the first month and a half of the 2012 season, the 27-year-old is now back in the minor leagues and swinging a hot bat for the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
“I’m happy to be part of this team and have the opportunity to showcase my abilities,” said VanOstrand, who spent the first portion of the season playing in the independent Atlantic League after being released by the Houston Astros in April.
But despite the setback, his sights have now been returned to moving up the minor league rungs with the hope of eventually cracking a big-league roster.
Since joining the Senators in late May, the Richmond, BC native has batted .338 and posted a .405 on-base percentage, four home runs and 12 RBIs in 23 games while playing left field and both corner infield spots. And like that, it appears the man who delivered baseball gold for Team Canada at the Pan American Games last fall now has his professional career back on track. It was a trip to remember for Canada winners of the bronze in the World Cup and gold in the Pan-Am.
“I’m working hard and smart and continuing to develop,” VanOstrand said. I’m focused on enjoying the opportunities I’ve been blessed with and we’ll see where it takes me.”
The fresh start is a welcome turnaround for the 27-year-old, whose career was stalled in the spring when he was given his walking papers by the Astros despite coming off his best year as a pro (his .306 average in 2011 was fourth-best in the Texas League).
Left to scramble for a job, he landed with the Sugar Land Skeeters, an Indy League team managed by former big-leaguer Gary Gaetti. In 27 games there, he hit a team-best .368 with 20 RBIs and caught the eye of Doug Harris, the Director of Player Development for the Washington Nationals.
“We had an immediate need and were fortunate that a player with [VanOstrand’s] ability and makeup was available,” said Harris, who had also seen the Canadian play several times during spring training. “And we knew he was a quality individual that would fit in well with what we are trying to accomplish.”
The potential has always been there for VanOstrand. It wasn’t long ago that he was seemingly on track towards the big leagues with the Astros. An eighth-round draft pick in 2006, he earned mid-season all-star nods in each of his first two full seasons in the minors, and in 2007 he was chosen to participate in the MLB Futures Game in San Francisco along with fellow Canadians Joey Votto and Michael Saunders. In his lone at-bat in that contest, he launched a solo homer off left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
But a down year in 2010 set him back in the Houston organization, and he ended up returning to Double-A Corpus Christi for a third straight year in 2011. Still, he rebounded nicely, posting a career-best .306 average and a .382 on-base percentage last year. And then he played the hero during Team Canada’s 2-1 gold-medal win over the United States at the Pan Am Games last fall, delivering both runs with a sixth inning double that led Canada to its first-ever championship at a major international event.
VanOstrand wasn’t in attendance, though, when the 2011 National Team was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys, Ont. Instead, he was be in New Hampshire for a four-game set against the Fisher Cats, where he will be looking to continue impressing the decision-makers in his new organization.
Harris has already taken notice of VanOstrand’s play.
“Jimmy has done some things well for us in the short time he’s been here,” he said. “We are very pleased with what we’ve seen, and we also feel like he has some untapped potential offensively.”
In particular, more consistent power numbers are what both Harris and VanOstrand acknowledge would increase the Canadian’s chances at moving to the next level. He set career highs in home runs (16) and RBIs (71) in 2009, but hasn’t been steady in those departments.
“I think that’s the next boost that I need,” VanOstrand said. “If I can develop my power numbers a little more to go along with consistently hitting for a high average … I’ve got the ability to do it, it’s just figuring out a way to be consistent with it.”
As it is, VanOstrand has already shown improvement in several facets of his game over the last few years.
“He has also broadened his defensive skills, playing all four corner positions,” said Harris. “All of these things enhance his value as a player. And that, coupled with his performance [at Harrisburg], puts him in consideration for greater opportunity if that presents itself down the road.”
One of the most important lessons VanOstrand has learned, though, during his seven-year career in the minors is that there are no guarantees in the baseball business.
“The reason I’m still playing is to try and get to the big leagues, but I’m not involved in the decision process about who goes where,” he said. “It’s out of my control, so I don’t give it too much thought.”
But VanOstrand says he does have control over his own development as a player, and that’s where his focus lies.
“I think each year I’ve been able to get better in some part of my game,” he said. “So I’m looking to keep on doing that. I’m focused on my job, which is coming to the park ready to perform every single day.”