By George Farelli
Canadian Baseball Network
This is sort of old hat for Tyler O’Neill.
And it is no surprise for Vladimir Guerrero.
Yet, it is new for the two to be linked in the same sentence ... as co-winners of Randy Echlin Memorial honour, emblematic of the Canadian Baseball Network’s top offensive Canadian minor leaguer for the 2017 season.
O’Neill, 22, (Maple Ridge, BC) has won this award on his own the two previous years. So, in three seasons he has gone deep 87 times including before and after a mid-season deadline deal which saw him move from the Seattle Mariners to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He spent the 2017 season between triple-A Tacoma and triple-A Memphis, combining to hit .245 with 31 homers, 95 RBIs and an OPS of .820.
Guerrero, 18, (Montreal, Que.) was ESPN’s prospect of the year for 2017 and is currently No. 3 on Jim Callis’ top 100 Prospects on MLB.Pipeline. He may not be able to play the full season next year as he will probably have to take a few days to visit upstate New York in July as his father, also named Vladimir, will likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The former Montreal Expos slugger was 15 only votes shy last January.
Our co-winner Guerrero was born March 16, 1999 in Montreal, 21 days before his father went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs as the Expos, behind Dustin Hermanson, thumped the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-2 on opening day. The opener set the tone for a 42-homer, 131-RBI season in which he hit .316 with an .978 OPS.
There was some disagreement among voters whether Guerrero, whose father is from Dominican Republic and Vlad Jr. spent most of his childhood there, should be eligible for the award.
“Well, he was born in Montreal, in fact the final negotiations were done in French between the GM (Alex Anthopoulos) and the mother,” said one scout who voted. “That is Canadian enough for me.”
Nine voters were polled with O’Neill (four first-place votes) and Guerrero (three) ending in a dead heat. Brett Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) of the class-A Stockton Ports had the other two first-place votes.
The Echlin was one of four awards for the Canadian Baseball Network 10th annual end-of-season honours.
RHP Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) edged LHP Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) to win Canadian minor league pitcher of the year. Soroka went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA for the double-A Mississippi Braves. Albers spent most of the season with the triple-A Gwinnett Braves, going 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA. Albers moved to the Mariners and went 5-1 in six starts with a 3.51 ERA.
Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) was voted the top hitter in indy ball and foreign lands. After starting in the San Diego Padres organization with triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, his contract was purchased by SK Wyverns in the KBO. Whether he was in Texas or Korea, Romak went deep, combining to hit 42 homers and drive in 89 runs.
That total established a single-season record for a Canadian minor leaguers, surpassing the previous high of 37 by Morry Abbott (Duncan, BC), who played for 1939 class-B Tacoma Tigers.
RP Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) earned the top pitcher in indy ball or foreign lands. With the Yomiuri Giants, he was 4-4 with a 2.24 ERA and two saves in 59 games. He struck out 79 in 68 1/3 innings, walking only 18.
Canadian Baseball Network co-offensive Canadian player of the year in the minors, Randy Echlin award _ Vladimir Guerrero (Montreal, Que.).
Former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos (Montreal, Que.) gave Guerrero, a free-agent, the second largest signing bonus in franchise history at $3.9 million US in 2015. Only SS Adeiny Hechavarria, a 2010 free agent who signed for $4 million, received more.
Blue Jays scouts Dana Brown, Perry Minasian, Tony LaCava, Ismael Cruz and Andrew Tinnish (Ottawa, Ont.) all went to the Dominican to see Guerrero. Yet, when it came time for a summer visit -- in the midst of a Chikungunya mosquito virus scare -- most scouts didn`t want to return. Anthopoulos headed to Home Depot, bought mosquito repellent belt clips and off he and Tinnish went. Anthopoulos went again on New Year’s Day and a final trip to talk bonus with Guerrero’s mother over lunch at her house. The two spoke French.
Guerrero spent 2016 playing 22 games in the rookie-class Gulf Coast League with nine doubles, two triples, four homers, a .427 average and a 1.182 OPS in 22 games.
This summer, between class-A Dunedin (40 games) and class-A Lansing (70 games), he had 28 doubles, 13 homers, 76 RBIs and a .910 OPS.
One scout said this summer that Guerrero was the third best prospect in the minors behind Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox and Ronald Acuna, who is in the Atlanta Braves system. Meanwhile a scouting director said Guerrero was not the best son of an ex major leaguer on the Dunedin roster. He chose INF Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, former Colorado Rockies slugger.
Guerrero was among the Canuck leaders leading in runs scored, hits (second), RBIs (second), average (third), home runs (seventh) and games played (seventh).
Canadian Baseball Network co-offensive Canadian player of the year in the minors, Randy Echlin award _ OF Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC).
Drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft by Mariners scout Wayne Norton (Port Moody, BC) from the Langley Blaze, he received $650,000 US signing bonus.
Only 22, O’Neill has been honoured before earning the two previous Canadian Baseball Network’s Echlin awards and the way he is going there might be a Tip O’Neill award somewhere down the line.
How O’Neill has fared as the best or (co-best) Canuck minor league slugger the last three years:
_ At class-A Bakersfield, he hit .260 with 21 doubles, two triples, 32 homers, 87 RBIs and an .874 OPS in 106 games. He missed three weeks as he helped Canada win gold at the Pan Am Games in Ajax.
_ At double-A Jackson, he finished up with a .292 average, 26 doubles, four triples, 24 homers, 102 RBIs and a .882 OPS in 130 games.
_ With triple-A Tacoma and triple-A Memphis, he hit .246 with 26 doubles, three triples, 31 homers, 95 RBIs and an .820 OPS. He spent the first 93 games of the season with Tacoma before the deal which re-united him with manager Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.), who coached third on the Pan Am team.
Seattle gave up O’Neill for LHP Marco Gonzales, 25, a former No. 1 pick (19th over-all) from Gonzaga University by the Cards in the 2013 draft. Gonzalez made seven starts over parts of three seasons with St. Louis posting a 4-2 record with a 5.53 ERA covering 40 2/3 innings. With Seattle, Gonzalez was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 games. He walked 11 and struck out 30 in 36 2/3 innings.
O’Neill led in home runs and RBIs while sitting among the top Canadians in runs (third), games (second) and hits (seventh).
Canadian Baseball Network pitcher of the year _ RHP Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.).
Soroka, 20, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round (28th overall) after pitching for the Calgary PBF Redbirds and Canadian Junior National Team for coaches Jim Lawson, Chris Reitsma and Greg Hamilton.
Scouted by Bret Evert from the Braves, Soroka received a bonus of $1,974,700. He spent the 2015 season between rookie-class Gulf Coast Florida Coast Braves and rookie-class Danville. He went 0-2 with a 3.18 in 10 games with five walks and 37 strikeouts in 34 games.
His first full year at age 18 he was 9-9 with a 3.02 ERA in 25 games -- making 24 starts -- for class-A Rome. He walked 32 and struck out 125 in 143 innings. And this year he was 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA at double-A Mississippi despite the fact he was five years younger than the average age in the Southern League. He walked 34 and fanned 126 in 153 2/3 innings.
Soroka ranked among the best Canadians leading in innings pitched, was second in wins strikeouts and WHIP, as well as ERA (fourth) and games (seventh),
Canadian Baseball Network offensive player of the year, foreign or independent ball _ Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) SK Wyverns, Korea Baseaball Organization.
Romak, 32, was the top Canadian drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by scout Lonnie Goldberg from the London Badgers. He has 27 games major league experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting this season at triple-A El Paso in the San Diego Padres system.
Former Blue Jays farmhand Mike Crouse (Port Moody, BC) and Jordan Lennerton (Langley, BC) were runners-up. With New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League, Crouse had 18 doubles, eight triples, 20 homers, 68 RBIs, a .338 batting average and a .790 OPS in 133 games. Playing with the Quebec Capitales in the Can Am League, Lennerton batted .328 with 21 doubles, 14 homers, 82 RBIs and a .949 OPS in 99 games.
In 2016, Romak went to the Far East for the first time playing 30 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan. He hit .113 and was homerless in 85 plate appearances. This season he started off with 11 homers in 102 plate appearances at El Paso before heading to Korea.
With SK he had 19 doubles, 31 homers, 64 RBIs and an .898 OPS. Romak led in home runs was second in games played, third in RBIs, fourth in runs scored and sixth in hits while in Korea.
Romak being honoured gives some credibility and recognition to the excellent season Romak enjoyed. Despite starting the season in the Padres organization with their triple-A affiliate El Paso Chihuahuas, and then having his contract purchased by SK Wyverns in the KBO, necessitating a move to Korea, his performance in both situations was very consistent for the entire season.
Combined with El Paso and SK he had 27 doubles, one triple, 42 homers, 89 RBIs and a .959 OPS in 127 games.
Canadian Baseball Network top pitcher of the year, foreign or independent ball _ Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) Yomiuri Giants.
Drafted in the 17th round by Philadelphia Phillies in 2002 from the Langley Blaze he made his debut with the Phillies June 17, 2006. His father Doug Mathieson started the successful Blaze program. The right-hander underwent two Tommy John surgeries before heading to Japan after the 2011 season.
Now he is a fixture in the Yomirui bullpen. The Giants have won Japan Central League regular season three times and the Japan Series championship once with Mathieson. The Yomirui franchise in Nippon Professional Baseball compares to the New York Yankees, winning 22 titles.
Karl Gelinas (Iberville, Que.) of the Capitales finished second ending a string of four straight honours. This year he was 9-3 with 3.27 ERA in 20 starts, walking 25 and fanning 91 in 129 1/3 innings.
Mathieson had the lowest ERA, most appearances and lowest WHIP, was second in saves, fourth in strikeouts, was seventh in innings pitched and wins.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
(Starting in 2011 the award was named after the The Honourable Mr. Justice Randall Echlin, former head of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame selection committee, a lifelong fan of the game and a man with a baseball-shaped heart the size of a box of new Rawlings.)
2008 _ Tim Smith (Toronto, Ont.) Rangers.
2009 _ Tyson Gillies (Langley, BC) Mariners.
2010 _ Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) Brewers.
2011 _ Taylor Green (Comox, BC) Brewers and Brett Lawrie (Langley, BC) Jays.
2012 _ Oscar Taveras (Montreal, Que.) Cardinals.
2013 _ Sean Jamieson (Simcoe, Ont.) Diamondbacks.
2014 _ Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) Blue Jays.
2015 _ Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) Mariners.
2016 _ Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) Mariners.
2017 _ Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) Mariners/Cardinals and Vladimir Guerrero (Montreal, Que.) Blue Jays.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
2008 _ Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) Braves.
2009 _ James Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) Brewers and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) Brewers.
2010 _ Scott Mathieson (Langley, BC) Phillies.
2011 _ Mark Hardy (Campbell River, BC) Padres..
2012 _ James Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) Brewers.
2013 _ Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) Twins
2014 _ Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) Nationals.
2015 _ Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC) Phillies and Shane Dawson (Drayton Valley, Alta.) Blue Jays.
2016 _ Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Tex.) Pirates and Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC), Phillies.
2017 _ Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) Braves.
Affliated award winners from
Organizations: Brewers 5, Blue Jays 4, Mariners 4, Phillies 3, Braves 2, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Padres, Pirates, Rangers, Nationals and Twins one each.
Provinces: BC 12, Ontario 5, Alberta 4, Quebec 2 and Saskatchewan one each.
INDEPENDENT/FOREIGN LEAGUE PLAYERS
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
2008 — Drew Miller (Medicine Hat, Alta.) Calgary Vipers.
2009 — Pete LaForest (Hull, Que.) Quebec Capitales and Colin Moro (Calgary, Alta.) Calgary Vipers.
2010 - Drew Miller (Medicine Hat, Alta.) Calgary Vipers.
2011 – Matt Rogelstad (Port Moody, BC) Edmonton Capitals.
2012 – Sebastien Boucher (Ottawa, Ont.) Quebec Capitales.
2013 – Jonathan Malo (Laval, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2014 - Sebastien Boucher (Ottawa, Ont.) Quebec Capitales.
2015 - Jim Adduci (Burnaby, BC) Lotte Giants, Korea.
2016 - Carter Bell, (Courtenay, BC) Joliet Slammers.
2017 - Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) SK Wyverns/triple-A El Paso.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
2008 — Michel Simard (Charlesbourg, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2009 — Aaron Wideman (Mississauga, Ont.) New Jersey Jackals.
2010 – Aaron Cotter (Kitimat, BC) Sioux Falls Pheasants.
2011 – John Mariotti (Toronto, Ont.) Quebec Capitales
2012 – Jeff Duda (Surrey, BC) Quebec Capitales.
2013 – Karl Gelinas (Iberville, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2014 – Karl Gelinas (Iberville, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2015 – Karl Gelinas (Iberville, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2016 – Karl Gelinas (Iberville, Que.) Quebec Capitales.
2017 - RHP Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) Yomiuri Giants
Indy foreign lands winners from
Provinces: Quebec 8, BC 6, Ontario 4 and Alberta 2.
Major leaguers in bold.