Alberta’s 2022 Pro Connections

By JOE McFARLAND

The excitement is palpable.

After a long, cold winter coupled with an ever-evolving labour dispute, baseball fans can rejoice in knowing that Major League Baseball is back. And with it, Minor League Baseball.

Scouring the rosters of every team, there is no shortage of Alberta connections to cheer for heading into the 2022 season. Here’s a brief summary of some of the names we are all familiar with, thanks to being born here, training here, or playing here in the Western Canadian Baseball League:

Mike Soroka – Atlanta Braves
The biggest name on the list is obviously Calgary’s Mike Soroka. The young phenom has been battling injuries the past couple of seasons after a breakout rookie campaign in 2019. He and the Braves are hopeful he will be back on the bump this season, and in a recent interview, said he’s on track to potentially get there at the mid-season mark. We have our fingers crossed for the All-Star and Cy Young candidate.

Andrew Kittredge – Tampa Bay Rays
Maybe one of the biggest surprises of the 2021 season was the emergence of Andrew Kittredge. One of the most consistent arms in the Tampa Bay arsenal, the Okotoks Dawgs alum was named to the MLB All-Star Game, and finished the season with a 9-3 record with eight saves and a 1.88 ERA. Whether starting, coming out of the bullpen or closing, the 32-year-old is aiming to give hitters headaches again in 2022.

Marco Gonzales – Seattle Mariners
The Mariners loaded up during the off-season, and if Marco Gonzales can stay healthy, might create one of the best 1-2 punches in the league alongside newcomer Robbie Ray. The former Saskatoon Yellow Jacket had a solid 2021 after coming back from injury, posting a 10-6 record and a 3.96 ERA in 25 starts.

Andrelton Simmons – Chicago Cubs
After a solid run with the Los Angeles Angels, Simmons has been on the move the last couple of seasons. He hit .223 with three home runs and 31 runs batted in for the Minnesota Twins last season, and is now hoping to be a difference-maker for the Chicago Cubs. The Gold Glove shortstop and Yorkton Cardinals grad will unfortunately start the season on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.

Jose Rojas – Los Angeles Angels
A utility infielder, Jose Rojas made his MLB debut in 2021, finishing up with a .208 batting average with six home runs and 15 RBI in 61 games. Not wanting to make any more stops in the minors, the Swift Current 57s alum performed well in spring training by hitting .444 with three dingers and eight RBI in 17 games.

Josh Taylor – Boston Red Sox
Another Swift Current alum, Josh Taylor has made 121 appearances with the Boston Red Sox over the last three seasons, including 61 during the 2021 season, where he posted a 3.40 ERA along with one save. Taylor is starting the season on the injured list with a back injury, but he says his arm feels good, which the Red Sox will need in a tough AL East.

Alejo Lopez – Cincinnati Reds
It didn’t take long for Alejo Lopez to work his way back onto the Cincinnati Reds’ roster. Midway through Spring Training, the Dawgs Academy and Okotoks Dawgs product was sent down to the club’s Triple-A affiliate after mustering just one hit in ten at-bats. He made his MLB debut in 2021, hitting .261 in 14 games, so there was some speculation he wouldn’t be with Louisville for very long, especially as the Reds are clearly in a rebuilding mode. And that turned out to be true, as Lopez was recalled when Daniel Duarte was placed on the injured list.

Jacob Webb – Reno Aces (Triple-A) Arizona Diamondbacks
Just as we were about to publish this story, we came across the news that former Medicine Hat Mavericks hurler Jacob Webb was on the move. After spending the last few seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Webb was picked up on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks and sent down to their Triple-A affiliate in Reno. Webb made 78 relief appearances for the Braves over the past three seasons, posting a 9-4 record with a 2.47 ERA. He also pitched in 38 games for the Mavericks in 2012-2013.

Hunter Owen – Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A) – Pittsburgh Pirates
Another Swift Current alum, Hunter Owen also made his MLB debut in 2021, going hitless in three games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 28-year-old got off to a slow start in Spring Training by hitting .179, but showed some power with three home runs in 30 plate appearances. The Pirates don’t seem afraid to bring their young players into the mix, which might be a good thing for Owen in 2022.

Erik Sabrowski – Columbus Clippers (Triple-A) – Cleveland Guardians
While he’s officially listed on the MiLB website as being with the Clippers, Erik Sabrowski will be on the shelf this season as he undergoes a second Tommy John surgery. The hard-throwing Alberta product and Edmonton Prospects grad was a force in Fort Wayne in 2021, going 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in eight games, striking out 41 batters in 29 innings. He was picked up by the Guardians in this winter’s Rule 5 Draft.

Rob Zastryzny – Syracuse Mets (Triple-A) – New York Mets
Born in Edmonton but moving away with his parents at a young age, Rob Zastryzny is hoping to get back to the big leagues for the first time since 2018. After being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2013, the southpaw was able to make 18 appearances with the Cubs over three seasons before heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins farm systems over the last couple of years. He signed a minor league deal with the Mets during the offseason.

Kyle Kubat – Charlotte Knights (Triple-A) – Chicago White Sox
A minor league veteran, Kyle Kubat has had many stops during the course of his career. Originally with Kansas City, he joined the White Sox in 2017 and has steadily rose up their depth charts, splitting the 2021 season between Charlotte and the Birmingham Barons. The Okotoks Dawgs alum made one Spring Training appearance with the White Sox this year, going “three-up, three-down” in both innings he pitched, whiffing one batter.

Curtis Taylor – Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A) – Washington Nationals
The native of Port Coquitlam, BC native was a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, and has moved around a bit to start his professional career, first to Tampa Bay before spending the 2021 season in Toronto’s farm system. The Edmonton Prospects alum and UBC grad was taken by the Nationals in last winter’s Rule 5 Draft, but will unfortunately start the season on the seven-game injured list.

Andrew Albers – Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A) – Seattle Mariners
The veteran on this list with 13 years in professional baseball including 31 MLB games over five seasons, North Battleford, Saskatchewan’s Andrew Albers continues to fight for a big-league job. The former Saskatoon Yellow Jacket made five appearances for the Minnesota Twins in 2021, posting a 1-2 record with a 7.58 ERA. After signing a minor league with the Mariners in the offseason, Albers was left off the opening day rosters for all of their affiliates, but according to Canadian baseball writer Kevin Glew, “I’m told not to read anything into this.” It might be that Albers is recovering from an injury, and will be assigned somewhere in short order.

Matt Lloyd – Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A) – Cincinnati Reds
The Dawgs Academy and Okotoks Dawgs product spent most of Spring Training with the main Reds squad, even getting into three games and striking out in his lone plate appearance. He will start the season in Chattanooga, where he hit .235 with seven home runs and 14 RBI in 32 games last season. As mentioned, the Reds are rebuilding, meaning there will likely be plenty of movement with all of their minor league rosters, meaning Lloyd might get to move up sooner rather than later.

Tanner Kirwer – Arkansas Travelers (Double-A) – Seattle Mariners
Like Sabrowski, Tanner Kirwer found a new home during the Rule 5 Draft this winter, moving from the Toronto Blue Jays organization to Seattle. The 26-year-old Sherwood Park native bounced between High-A and Double-A in 2021, posting a .243 batting average with 11 home runs, 33 RBI and 43 stolen bases. The Mariners may like his speed enough to bring him up quickly.

Jordan Procyshen – Frisco RoughRiders (Double-A) – Texas Rangers
It’s been quite the journey for Calgary’s Jordan Procyshen. From being drafted by Boston in 2014 to moving onto the Los Angeles Dodgers and now the Texas Rangers organizations, the Dawgs Academy grad also found his new wife and became a father. Procyshen will be looking to improve on the numbers he posted with the RoughRiders last season, where he hit .197 with five home runs and 20 RBI in 49 games.

Ben Onyshko – Arkansas Travelers (Double-A) – Seattle Mariners
A lot of buzz has followed the Seattle Mariners pitching prospects, including Matt Brash, Ben Onyshko and Adam Macko (see later). Onyshko, a Vauxhall Academy product, was drafted by the Mariners in 2018 and has quickly risen up the depth charts, even getting into some Triple-A action with the Tacoma Rainiers in 2021. He made one appearance in Spring Training, facing three batters and striking out one while earning a save.

Kody Funderburk – Wichita Wind Surge (Double-A) – Minnesota Twins
It’s been a while since Kody Funderburk suited up in the Western Canadian Baseball League as a member of the Edmonton Prospects and then the Okotoks Dawgs. The 25-year-old was drafted by the Twins in the 15th round of the 2018 MLLB Draft, and has spent the past few seasons rising up their depth chart, slowly but surely working his way up to Double-A to start this season. He also had one appearance in Spring Training for the Twins, allowing two runs on three hits in one inning of work.

Greg Cullen – Bowie Baysox (Double-A) – Baltimore Orioles
Originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves, Greg Cullen stock rose quite quickly as he moved from Danville to Rome, where he was a South Atlantic League All-Star in 2019. The following year, the Okotoks Dawgs product was traded alongside AJ Graffanino to Baltimore to complete the deal they made for pitcher Tommy Milone. He split the 2021 season between three teams, including Bowie, hitting .259 with three home runs and 10 RBI. He also spent time in the Arizona Fall League to tune up for the coming season. Cullen is unfortunately starting the season on the seven-day injured list.

Travis Kuhn – Arkansas Travelers (Double-A) – Seattle Mariners
Joining Onyshko on the Travelers’ roster to start the season is Travis Kuhn. The righthander was taken by Seattle in the 19th round of the 2019 MLB Draft, and spent last season bouncing between a handful of teams between Single-A and Triple-A. Back in 2016, Kuhn went 2-0 with six saves and a 0.81 ERA in 19 games for the Moose Jaw Miller Express, striking out 29 batters in just 22 innings pitched.

Damiano Palmegiani – Dunedin Blue Jays (Single-A) – Toronto Blue Jays
Drafted for a second time by the Blue Jays in 2021 after a great spring at the College of Southern Nevada, Damiano Palmegiani had an outstanding start to his professional career. The Vauxhall Academy of Baseball product hit .333 with two home runs and nine RBI in 17 games in the Florida Complex League in the summer. He drew into the Blue Jays lineup for one game during Spring Training, and will stay on the east coast to start the summer.

Garrett Hawkins – Lake Elsinore Storm (Single-A) – San Diego Padres
Many were intrigued by the selection of Saskatchewan’s Garrett Hawkins by the Padres in 2021, after UBC had to cancel their season. He was an unknown commodity who impressed with Trenton of the MLB Draft League, going 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 32 strikeouts in six starts.  It paid off for the Padres, who saw the former Swift Current 57s star going 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 27 strikeouts in seven starts for their Arizona Complex League squad during the summer.

Ben Thompson – Augusta GreenJackets (Single-A) – Atlanta Braves
A 28th round pick of the Braves in 2019, Ben Thompson finally put in a full season of professional baseball in 2021. He went 3-1 with a 7.11 ERA in 30 relief appearances with Augusta, striking out 61 batters in 50+ innings of work. The Auckland, New Zealand native and Dawgs Academy product is hoping to continue his upward momentum this summer.

Matt Warkentin – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Single-A) – Chicago Cubs
An Ontario native, Matt Warkentin made his Western Canada debut as a member of the Lethbridge Bulls in 2016, hitting .175 with two homers and seven RBI in 13 games, adding two hits in one playoff game. The University of San Francisco and Xavier University alum signed a minor league contract with the Cubs in 2021, hitting .198 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 28 games while splitting time between High-A and Single-A.

Logan Hofmann – Greensboro Grasshoppers (High-A) – Pittsburgh Pirates
There is a lot of analytics interest in Saskatoon’s Logan Hofmann, who has turned a few heads since being drafted by the Pirates in 2020. With the Single-A Bradenton Marauders in 2021, the 22-year-old went 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA, striking out 103 batters in 82+ innings. While scouts aren’t blown away by his velocity, they are interested in his spin and command.

Alex Nolan – Vancouver Canadians (High-A) – Toronto Blue Jays
The former Fort McMurray Giants hurler has been an intriguing prospect since signing on with the Blue Jays in 2019. He made his debut with the Canadians that season, going 1-3 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 outings. He split the 2021 season between Vancouver and Dunedin, posting a combined 3-6 record with a 6.75 ERA. The Burlington, Ontario native has been applauded for his mental toughness, and his patience will be needed as the Jays loaded up for a World Series run this summer.

Tristan Peters – Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (High-A) – Milwaukee Brewers
One thing was made perfectly clear during Tristan Peters’ first appearance in professional baseball: he has speed. After being drafted in the seventh-round of the 2021 MLB Draft, the Dawgs Academy and Okotoks Dawgs outfielder was sent to the Brewers Blue squad of the Arizona Complex League, where he swiped six bases in 13 games. He also hit .239 with a home run and six RBI, earning himself a promotion to start the 2022 season.

Edgar Barclay – Hudson Valley Renegades (High-A) – New York Yankees
A 15th round pick of the Bronx Bombers in 2019, Edgar Barclay enters his third season of professional baseball making some noise. Thought of as having one of the best changeups in the Yankees’ system, the former Edmonton Prospects lefthander left hitters scratching their heads in 2021, posting a combined 4-4 record with a 3.49 ERA in 29 appearances at High-A and Single-A, striking out 112 batters in 77+ innings of work.

Tanner Jesson-Dalton – South Bend Cubs (High-A) – Chicago Cubs
A 17th-round pick of the Cubs in 2019, Tanner Jesson-Dalton is rehabbing from a shoulder injury, so didn’t make the South Bend opening day lineup. He tells Alberta Dugout Stories that he’s still a couple of weeks away from getting back on the mound, so he’s not exactly certain where he will land first. The Prairie Baseball Academy product is listed on the MiLB website as being in South Bend, where he went 2-3 with one save and a 7.61 ERA in 26 relief appearances in 2021.

Matt Merrill – Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A) – Washington Nationals
A 37th-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2017, Matt Merrill had a brief stop with the Okotoks Dawgs in 2019, registering a 3.00 ERA in two games where he pitched in six innings, striking out eight. The Nationals signed him as a free agent in 2020 and have seen him play at a number of levels. In Single-A in 2021, he was a strikeout machine with 71 Ks in just 46+ innings for the Fredericksburg Nationals.

Sean Chandler – Hickory Crawdads (High-A) – Texas Rangers
On their way to a Western Major Baseball League (now WCBL) title in 2017, the Swift Current 57s leaned on a tall righthander by the name of Sean Chandler to come out of the bullpen. He went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in 13 appearances that season, then didn’t allow a run in three appearances (two wins) during the playoffs. A year later, he was drafted in the sixth-round by the Texas Rangers, where he has spent the past couple of seasons. With Hickory last season, Chandler went 3-3 with a save and a 4.91 ERA in 29 appearances.

Chandler Casey – Asheville Tourists (High-A) – Houston Astros
Coming in as a highly touted NCAA arm from Lubbock Christian, Chandler Casey was dialed in during his short tenure with the Weyburn Beavers in 2018. He went 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA in four games for the WCBL squad, striking out eight in six-plus innings of work. The next year, the Astros made the reliever their 26th round selection, sending him to their Gulf Coast League affiliate. With Asheville in 2021, he went 4-2 with three saves and a 5.60 ERA in 27 outings.

Adam Macko – Everett AquaSox (Low-A) – Seattle Mariners
He doesn’t just want to play professional baseball or make it to Major League Baseball, Adam Macko has said consistently he wants to be a Hall of Famer. Not only does the Vauxhall Academy grad expect great things out of himself, others see the same potential. And despite selling off several pieces of their future to win soon, the Mariners have kept the Stony Plain native around, after he posted a 2-2 record with a 4.59 ERA in nine starts at Modesto last season. He also whiffed 56 batters in just 33+ innings on the bump.

Evan Elliott – ACL Rangers (Rookie) – Texas Rangers
The Toronto native was set to join Prairie Baseball Academy when he was taken in the 15th round of the 2021 MLB Draft by the Rangers, who saw him head to their ACL squad and strikeout seven hitters in just three innings of relief work. He made one appearance during Spring Training and managed to get the out from the one hitter he faced.

LaRon Smith – FCL Twins (Rookie) – Minnesota Twins
It’s been a bumpy road for Dawgs Academy grad LaRon Smith. After being drafted by the Twins in the 25th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, the Spruce Grove native has dealt with injury troubles. But the team has remained patient with him, believing he can make gains as a catcher. In 2021, Smith hit .171 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 28 games with the Florida Complex League.

Max Hewitt – Extended Spring Training – Los Angeles Dodgers
A highly touted catcher out of Oklahoma State, catcher Max Hewitt made a splash when he showed up with the Fort McMurray Giants in 2019. The league all-star hit .317 with two home runs, 29 RBI and seven stolen bases in Alberta’s north, before continuing his post-secondary career. Upon graduation, the Ontario product signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and attended Spring Training with the team. Hewitt tells Alberta Dugout Stories that he remains with the Dodgers in Extended Spring Training, waiting for a roster spot to open up with one of their affiliates.

One name you won’t see on this list is Cole MacLaren. The Dawgs Academy and University of Pittsburgh standout was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 2019 and had some success, getting as high as the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. However, MacLaren confirms he has retired from baseball after what he called a “pretty frustrating season.” He says he is back working and coaching at home in Prince Edward Island.

Another question mark still lingers as the season gets underway. Former Melville Millionaires hurler John Axford became a free agent during the offseason after making it back to the big leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 39-year-old is still listed as a free agent, with no word yet on if retirement is on the horizon for the former Melville Millionaires star.

We also know of many coaches and trainers like Jim Henderson and Brett Platts who are working for MLB teams, as are many connections to the Pioneer League and Pacific Coast League days here in our province. Stay tuned, as we may soon dive into the coaching ranks as well!

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2 thoughts on “Alberta’s 2022 Pro Connections

  1. 2 other WCBL connections are 2 umpires, both from Regina Sk and both worked in the old WMBL, Stu Schuerwater (MLB) and Kevin Mandzuk (Double A Eastern League) .

    1. Hi Kelly!
      You are absolutely correct! We were actually contemplating a coaches & umpires post in the weeks ahead, as there are plenty of connections there as well, like the two you mentioned. It’s quite amazing to see all the connections to Alberta and Western Canada!

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