Paxton, Deglan lead 6 Canucks to Arizona Fall ball
* C Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) former No. 1 pick of the Texas Rangers from the Langley Blaze is headed to the Arizona Fall League and who knows possibly Canada’s roster for the World Baseball Classic qualifier this month in Germany ….
By Todd Devlin
Six Canadians — headlined by left-handed pitcher James Paxton (Ladner, BC) and catcher Kellin Deglan (Langley, BC) — will head to the desert this fall to compete alongside some of the game’s top prospects when the Arizona Fall League’s 20th anniversary season gets underway in early October.
Joining Paxton and Deglan in the six-team league will be fellow Canadians LHP Jay Johnson (Sussex Corner, NB), RHP Nick Bucci (Sarnia, Ont.), C Lars Davis (Grande Prairie, Alta.) and OF Brock Kjeldgaard (London, Ont.).
Considered an elite finishing school for the game’s top up-and-coming players, this year’s Arizona Fall League will feature, among other top prospects, speedster Billy Hamilton, the new minor league record holder in stolen bases with 155 and counting.
Including Deglan, 33 former first-round draft picks are on AFL rosters this year. The 20-year-old catcher, who went 22nd overall in 2010 to the Texas Rangers, is the highest-drafted Canadian in the bunch.
“It feels good to be rewarded with the opportunity, and I’m going to go out there and compete,” said the BC native, who will suit up for the Surprise Saguaros. “I’ve worked hard this year, so it means a lot to me.”
In 91 games at Class-A Hickory, Deglan has batted .237 with 25 doubles, 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. The catcher has yet to put up sparkling stats at the minor league level, but he showed better power numbers in his second year in pro ball.
“I changed my swing at the end of the first half and carried it over to the second half,” he said. “I added a leg kick and started standing tall in the box again. It has definitely helped me generate more power.”
Deglan says he’ll be looking to continue that trend in the fall league, while also improving his plate discipline.
“I want to control the strike zone better and get myself into more hitters’ counts,” he said. “I could have had a lot more walks this year and a lot less strikeouts if I didn’t chase so much.”
One pitcher he’ll have to face in the AFL is Paxton, another prospect from north of the border. Of the Canadians heading to the desert, the 23-year-old lefty is the most major-league ready. Despite spending a portion of the 2012 season on the disabled list, Paxton went 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 104 strikeouts over 100 1/3 innings in 21 starts at Double-A Jackson. He was a Futures Game selection last year and a fourth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2010.
Joining Paxton on the Peoria Javelinas pitching staff will be Johnson, a fellow left-hander and the second-youngest Canadian in the group. In his second year in the minors, the 21-year-old has struck out 30 in 28 2/3 innings out of the bullpen at Double-A Reading.
“It’s really an honour and a great opportunity to continue to progress and advance in my career,” Johnson said of his AFL selection. “And I feel privileged to have the opportunity to play with and against some of the prospects coming in the league.”
Bucci will be looking to make up for lost time in the AFL, as the right-hander lost much of the 2012 season due to injury. In August, though, the 22-year-old returned and has gone 2-2 with a 1.90 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings in five starts at Class-A Brevard County (Brewers). He will suit up for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
Davis, a 26-year-old catcher in the Colorado Rockies system, will play for the Salt River Rafters. He has enjoyed a strong sixth season in the minors in 2012, hitting .280 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 88 games at Double-A Tulsa, where he leads all Texas League catchers in fielding percentage and was named a league all-star.
Kjeldgaard will also be heading to the AFL, although he’ll serve as a member of the taxi squad for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, playing only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The 26-year-old former pitcher missed more than two months this year with a broken thumb, and struggled when healthy. He’ll be using the Arizona Fall League to catch up on some lost at-bats and return to the form he showed during a breakout year in 2011, in which he finished with 24 home runs, 76 RBIs and an .850 OPS in 126 games split between Class-A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville.
“It’s been a tough year, especially coming in with high expectations, but I’m looking at [the AFL] and the World Baseball Classic qualifier to showcase what I can do on the field,” Kjeldgaard said. “And it’s an honour to be able to go down there and play at such a high level with great players.”
All six Canadians join an impressive list of Canucks who have previously suited up in the Arizona Fall League, including current big-leaguers Joey Votto, Russell Martin, Erik Bedard, Jesse Crain, Taylor Green, Mike Nickeas and Phillipe Aumont.
Last year, only two Canadians participated in the fall league — Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC), who regularly shared an outfield with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions, and catcher Michael Blanke (Granby, Que.), who was on the taxi squad of the Mesa Solar Sox.
The 20th anniversary season will open on Tuesday, Oct. 9 and conclude on Saturday, Nov. 17 with the league championship game slated to be held at Scottsdale Stadium.