They were stars in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) and this year they’ve shown what they are capable of at the major-league level.
The alumni of our summer collegiate circuit who have performed at baseball’s highest level this season include Andrelton Simmons, Marco Gonzales, Andrew Kittredge, Jacob Webb, Josh Taylor, Jose Rojas, Hunter Owen, Alejo Lopez, John Axford and Andrew Albers.
Andrelton Simmons is the defensive specialist of the bunch, having won four Gold Glove Awards since he broke into Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2012, as well as a Rawlings Platinum Glove Award, which is presented annually to the best defensive player of the year in both the American League and the National League. The sure-handed shortstop – who has played for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins – wore No. 42 for the Yorkton Cardinals in 2009, back when the WCBL went by the name of the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL). Simmons was an All-Star infielder, who also came out of the bullpen during his time in Yorkton.
Marco Gonzales was another two-way threat in the WMBL, where he was an effective hitter and a dominant pitcher. The Colorado product suited up for the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets in 2011, a team that was coached by his father, Frank. Gonzales also received All-Star honours and after he left Western Canada, he developed into a dependable starting pitcher with the Seattle Mariners. The lefty has been the Opening Day starter for the Mariners for three straight seasons.
Swingman Andrew Kittredge also played in the WMBL in 2011, and his versatility as a starter and a reliever was on display as a member of the Okotoks Dawgs. The right-hander made his MLB debut in 2017 with the Tampa Bay Rays, a squad that has used him as a starting pitcher and a bullpen force through the years. He suited up in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game as a member of the American League team after posting outstanding numbers this season.
Another bullpen pitcher familiar to WCBL fans is Jacob Webb, who played two summers for the Medicine Hat Mavericks in 2012 and 2013. During those seasons, Webb made 38 appearances and pitched 57.1 innings, accumulating 62 strikeouts, a 3.92 earned run average (ERA), a pair of saves and a 1-3 record. The righty made his first appearance for the Atlanta Braves in 2019, where he continues to serve as a relief pitcher.
Six-foot-five southpaw Josh Taylor showed off some filthy stuff with the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets in 2013. Through five starts for the Yellow Jackets that summer, Taylor logged 36.2 innings and went 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA and 43 Ks. After signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014, Taylor played in the minor leagues in the Arizona Diamondbacks system before he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox. He made his MLB debut for Boston in 2019 and he remains a key bullpen piece in Beantown this year.
Middle infielder Alejo Lopez – a graduate of Dawgs Academy who played six games for the Okotoks Dawgs at Seaman Stadium in July of 2014 – received the call to The Show earlier this year. In 23 at bats for the Dawgs, Lopez recorded seven hits, which was good for a .304 batting average, along with three runs and a stolen base. The Mexico City-born athlete has been a hitting dynamo since being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, putting barrels to balls with regularity as he rose through the minor league ranks. That trend continued when he slapped a hit during the first pitch of his MLB debut in June. Lopez was recently named a September call up for the Reds, as well.
Infielder and outfielder Jose Rojas was named the 2015 Rookie of the Year after he won the WMBL batting title with a .366 average. The Californian played 37 games for Swift Current and he hit five homers and stole 11 bases in 151 at bats. Rojas saw his first MLB action with the Los Angeles Angels this year. He posted four homers, 19 runs, 10 RBI and two stolen bases with the Halos before he was sent down to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees.
Another Swift Current alum to make his MLB debut this summer was outfielder Hunter Owen, who appeared in three games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in May. Owen was a key part of a Swift Current team that made it to the WMBL championship series in 2014. As an infielder at the time, the Indiana product played 45 regular season and playoff games in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He batted .331 in 163 at bats, scored 34 runs, produced 36 RBI, swiped eight bags and swatted four long balls.
BACK IN THE BIGS
While 2021 has welcomed the premiere of a number of our players in the major leagues, it has also provided for a couple of compelling comeback stories involving former WCBL players.
John Axford, who pitched for the Melville Millionaires in 2006, played 10 years of MLB ball between 2009 and 2018. When the 38-year-old began this year as a TV broadcaster for Toronto Blue Jays games, it seemed to signal the end of his days on the mound. But a strong showing for Team Canada during Olympic qualifying competition brought renewed interest in Axford. The Blue Jays signed the right-handed reliever and then dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers, the team he recorded 106 saves for over a five-year span. Unfortunately, the “Ax Man” suffered a significant injury in his only appearance for the Brew Crew.
Andrew Albers, meanwhile, also put in a lot of work to make it back to the MLB. The 35-year-old starting pitcher from North Battleford, Saskatchewan was a member of the 2004 Saskatoon Yellow Jackets before he debuted with the Minnesota Twins in 2013. After he played with Marco Gonzales and the Seattle Mariners in 2017, Albers headed overseas to suit up for the Orix Buffaloes in the Japanese Pacific League. He stayed in Japan for three seasons. Like Axford, Albers took advantage of the opportunity that Team Canada provided him this year … and the Twins took notice. Since rejoining Minnesota in August, the southpaw has posted a 1-o record with a 0.96 earned run average and 6 Ks through 9.1 innings of work.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-9&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NrZWxldG9uX2xvYWRpbmdfMTMzOTgiOnsiYnVja2V0IjoiY3RhIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH0sInRmd19zcGFjZV9jYXJkIjp7ImJ1Y2tldCI6Im9mZiIsInZlcnNpb24iOm51bGx9fQ%3D%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1431440685496995845&lang=en&origin=http%3A%2F%2Fwesterncanadianbaseballleague.ca%2Fnews%2Fin-the-show%2F&sessionId=d6be4eb9725ff9e866f5d9b0669039785ca0f052&siteScreenName=wcbleague&theme=light&widgetsVersion=2582c61%3A1645036219416&width=500px
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