By IAN WILSON
Alberta made its mark on the Canadian Baseball Network’s All-Canadian rosters from top to bottom.
The CBN annual list of top college baseball pitchers and hitters, released recently, included more than a dozen players who were raised, rostered or trained in Wild Rose Country.
The 2022 College Player of the Year is none other than first baseman Matt Coutney, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 10th round of the MLB Draft this year. Coutney – a member of the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) in 2017-18 – set a record at Old Dominion University (ODU) by smacking 27 home runs. The Wetaskiwin product was named the Conference U.S.A. Player of the Year and received 41 first-place votes from the CBN’s 52 voters.
“Matt’s work ethic and leadership skill set was so evident from the first time he stepped on campus,” Mike Marron, the pitching coach at ODU, told reporter Rod Black.
“He just worked so hard. Was so good with his teammates. His care level was through the roof.”
Coutney described the past year to CBN as “a blur but a real good blur.”
He added that sharing his achievements with his father was one of the highlights.
“One of the best days I had, was when I was close to breaking the home run record and my dad was in the stands. I got two that day. One to tie. One to break and I wasn’t even thinking about the record, but it was so great my dad was there. So special. My family has done so much for me,” said Coutney.
He becomes the first Albertan since Jesse Sawyer in 2009 to be named the CBN College Player of the Year.
Grant, a graduate of Vauxhall Academy, was excellent at Canisius College. In his 54 games with the Golden Griffins he had a .398 batting average, 10 homers and 53 RBI.
Nicoll, who hit .329 in 36 games for the Lethbridge Bulls this summer, was a star infielder for Southern Arkansas University. The Langley, British Columbia slugger launched 14 homers and produced 84 RBI for the Muleriders in 60 contests.
Grant is a versatile player who can suit up behind the plate, pick balls out of the dirt between the bases and patrol the outfield. The Chestermere, Alberta native was a member of the Sylvan Lake Gulls in 2021, before joining the Swift Current 57’s this summer. The WCBL All-Star played south of the border for Bismarck State College, where he posted 10 homers, 73 RBI and a .462 batting average through 44 games. More recently, Grant signed on to play for Bellevue University in Nebraska.
Poole is a product of the Calgary Bucks program who suited up in 30 games for the Edmonton Riverhawks of the West Coast League this summer. In his 59 appearances with Cloud County, Poole posted a .516 on-base percentage, swiped 18 bags and delivered 23 home runs.
Coming out of the bullpen on the top team is reliever Matt Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, who closed out the 2022 WCBL Championship for the Okotoks Dawgs, racked up 85 Ks in 53 innings and posted a 1.87 earned run average (ERA) for the Central Arizona Vaqueros, who won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series title this year.
The All-Canadian Second Team went to the Dawgs.
Zdunich played for the Moose Jaw Miller-Express in 2019 before returning to Okotoks for the 2021-22 WCBL seasons. In 59 games with the Reinhardt University Eagles this year, the High River hitter went yard 17 times and posted a .512 on-base percentage.
Cazorla suited up in 91 games for the Dawgs over the last two summers, including eight playoff games. During that time, he hit .351 with 47 stolen bases and 12 triples. While playing for Bossier Parish Community College, Cazorla batted .392 with 45 RBI in 52 games.
Valero, meanwhile, appeared in 39 games for Sacramento State and clubbed 13 homers and 38 RBI in 2022.
Joining the outfielders from Okotoks is middle infielder Ricardo Sanchez, who won WCBL titles with the Dawgs in 2019 and 2022. With the Barton Cougars, Sanchez set single-season records for doubles (35) and RBI (90).
First baseman Nolan Machibroda didn’t play for the Dawgs, but he did impress the Okotoks crowd at Seaman Stadium when he won the Home Run Derby at the 2022 WCBL All-Star Game. The Saskatoon product, who handled first base duties for the Weyburn Beavers, was also a prolific homer hitter with Cumberland University, where he punched out 17 round trippers in 47 games.
The Okotoks Dawgs also added a pair of players to the CBN’s third team.
Backstop Gavin Logan, a member of the 2019 WCBL championship squad and an Arizona Diamondbacks draft pick, had an excellent season with Oregon State University (OSU). The Oyen, Alberta native hit .281 with 36 RBI in 45 games for the Beavers.
First baseman Nash Crowell, a Dawgs Academy grad, played with Grant at Bismarck State College this year. In 44 games with the Mystics, the Nova Scotian swatted seven long balls, generated 74 RBI and registered a robust .458 batting average.
The infield also includes second baseman Garrett Takamatsu, who suited up for the Fort McMurray Giants in 2017. He played 50 games for Central Oklahoma and belted 18 homers and 64 RBI.
In the outfield, Caleb Feuerstake was a .398 hitter through 52 games at McPherson College. The Waterdown, Ontario slugger appeared in 42 games for the Edmonton Prospects this summer, where he registered a .362 batting average and 19 stolen bases.
A handful of Alberta athletes also received enough votes to be included in the list of honourable mentions.
Ty Penner (Lethbridge), Connor Crowson (Okotoks), Cleary Simpson (Elnora), Michael Clapperton (Calgary), Tyrese Johnson (Calgary), Will Gardner (St. Albert) and Braydon Cust (Edmonton) were all included, as were several WCBL players like Noah Or (Lethbridge Bulls) and Jonathan Henry (Regina Red Sox).
The CBN selections were made by 52 voters. Of those, 19 were coaches, 12 were writers, 11 were scouts, eight were baseball executives and one was a former player. The voters represent eight different Canadian provinces and nine U.S. states.