Tanner Kirwer has a knack for getting an unexpected call.
Working his off-season job for a pipelining company, the Sherwood Park native was on his lunch break when he received a text message from a former teammate, congratulating him on being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Rule 5 Draft.
“I was extremely confused at first because I didn’t even know the draft was going on,” Kirwer said. “That’s when my agent called and filled me in on what happened.”
Kirwer was one of four Canadians to be changing addresses following the December 8 draft – including fellow Albertan Erik Sabrowski, who was taken by the Cleveland Guardians after spending a few seasons in the San Diego Padres farm system.
It was a bittersweet pill to swallow for the speedy outfielder, who has been in the Toronto Blue Jays system since they drafted him in the 20th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
“There were a lot of emotions going through my head because it caught me off-guard,” he said. “But when it all settled down, I was thrilled that the Mariners believed in me and wanted me to join their organization.”
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
It wasn’t the first time Kirwer, a Tournament-12 alum, has had to make an unexpected change of plans.
On the third day of the 2017 draft, he was expecting to get selected somewhere between the 20th and 25th rounds.
As the day progressed, he decided he needed to do something to take his mind off the draft, so he enlisted his girlfriend’s brother to go to the driving range to knock around a few golf balls.
On the way to the range, his agent called to say the New York Yankees were likely going to take him with their 20th round selection.
They stopped to start watching the draft, then got another phone call a few minutes later, with Kirwer’s agent saying it was actually the Blue Jays who picked him.
“It was definitely crazy,” Kirwer recalled. “You think you’re going to the Yankees – which would have been completely fine with me as the Yankees are a great organization – but to get drafted by your favourite team growing up is definitely special.”
THE EARLY YEARS
The Jays are the only team Kirwer has known professionally so far.
Coming out of the draft, he played in 25 games for the Bluefield Blue Jays in the Appalachian League, and felt he was just starting to find his stride when he was hit in the face by a fastball, leading to a lengthy stint on the injured list.
“The next year, I wanted to make a name for myself in the organization,” the 6-foot, 180-pound speedster said. “Coming off that injury and not having the best year, I wanted to put my name on the map.”
The Niagara University product did exactly that, hitting .280 with four home runs, 22 runs batted in and stealing 28 bases on his way to being named to the Northwest League’s all-star game.
In 2019, he split the year between the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts and Rookie League Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, collecting a .254 batting average with a homer, 13 RBI and 20 steals.
Coming out of the 2019 season, Kirwer had set goals of boosting his power production while continuing to show off his speed.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to those plans, but the 2014 Baseball Alberta 18U ‘AAA’ Player of the Year kept working on things so he wouldn’t miss a beat when play resumed.
BACK ON TRACK
Kirwer was back in the friendly confines of Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver to start the 2021 season and put up some impressive numbers.
He hit .285 with six home runs, 17 runs batted in and 25 stolen bases in just 36 games before getting called up to the New Hampshire Fishercats.
While the former Edmonton Prospects outfielder was ecstatic about the opportunity to move up, he also faced some adversity as he sported a .208 average with five round-trippers, 16 RBI and 18 swipes.
“I learned a lot moving up as the pitching got better as well as the teams I was playing against,” he said. “It took me a while to adjust to that next level but I ended up putting together a season that I was happy about.”
Through the trials and tribulations of professional baseball, Kirwer has maintained a positive outlook.
“It’s definitely a process,” Kirwer told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast in 2019. “You need a lot of patience, especially when you’re going through a hard time if you’re not playing well or if you get hurt.”
While being injured was frustrating, he admits he had to remind himself about what he was doing it for and that he didn’t want to take a step back in his development.
“I’ve learned that you have to be really determined to go out there every day, even if you’re just going into rehab,” Kirwer said. “You have to go into each day trying to get better, even if you’re not on the field.”
WEST COAST DREAMS
It’s that mindset that will serve Kirwer well heading into his new organization.
The Mariners are no strangers to having Canadians in their farm system, including Matt Brash, Ben Onyshko and Stony Plain’s Adam Macko.
“This is my first time changing organizations, so I don’t know what to fully expect about the new situation,” Kirwer said. “But I’m excited to meet all the new people there and hopefully make a good impression with my new team.”
As the Blue Jays had a ton of young talent in front of him, Kirwer is hoping the change of scenery will allow him to move closer to his dream.
“I’m going to continue to keep playing the game hard and hopefully keep making steps closer to the big leagues,” he said.
Maybe Kirwer will get another call in an unexpected place sooner rather than later.
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