Happy Canada Day to all!
For most Americans, Canada is the wilderness to our north, a place of moose and mounties. But in more recent times, Canada has also been a hotbed of baseball talent, giving us a Hall of Famer pitcher in Ferguson Jenkins and some great sluggers, like Larry Walker.
Today, Canadian ballplayers are some of the headliners on MVP ballots, Cy Young races, and could one day see Hall of Fame consideration. Who is the most talented Canadian major leaguer today? Here are the top 10.
The 10th spot on this list came down to two players: Brewers catcher George Kottaras and Cardinals swingman Blake Hawksworth.
Hawksworth is a 27-year-old pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2003, he was named the Cardinals' top prospect by Baseball America, but injuries delayed his major league career.
He made his major league debut on June 6, 2009, pitching two innings, giving up four runs on three hits including a home run, walking one, and striking out one. He showed excellent command of his pitches. The Cardinals believe Hawksworth has finally arrived, and could join their rotation over the next few years.
Right now, he simply doesn't have the service time to compete with the others on this list.
Jeff Francis is alright as a pitcher. He pitches in the thin air of Colorado. However, he has not fulfilled expectations. Since being drafted ninth overall in 2002, he has severely disappointed the Rockies faithful with his 4.74 ERA and lack of consistent playing time.
His best season was in 2007, during Colorado's magical run to the National League pennant. He posted a 17-9 record and his 4.16 ERA and 215.1 innings pitched were career highs. That year, he became the first Canadian ever to pitch in the World Series.
Like many of his Rockies teammates, Francis struggled to replicate his 2007 success during the 2008 season. He finished that season with an 5.01 ERA and a 4-10 record.
His season ended when he underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery, which also caused him to decline the invitation to play for Team Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and to miss the entire 2009 season.
Francis has returned this season, but is still struggling to find consistency.
Erik Bedard is best known for his years with the Baltimore Orioles, where he was the uncontested staff ace. In his time there, the lefthander had one of the best curveballs in baseball.
His best season in Baltimore was in 2007, when he set the franchise record for strikeouts per nine innings and finished fifth in American League Cy Young Award voting, with a WHIP of 1.088.
Shortly after his magical 2007 season, Bedard was sent to the Seattle Mariners in a 5-for-1 deal, with Baltimore acquiring Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Kameron Mickolio, Chris Tillman, and Tony Butler.
After the trade, things began to go downhill for Seattle. Bedard finished with a 6-4 record in a injury-shortened season for the 2008 Mariners, the first team with a $100 million dollar payroll to lose 100 games. In 2009, he again missed time due to injury, finishing with a record of 5-3, but lowering his ERA from 3.67 to 2.82.
Bedard has yet to pitch in the 2010 season, and is currently rehabbing in the minor leagues from a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
As a pitcher, "Glass Arm" Harden is not a nickname with which you want to be stuck. In his eight-year career, Harden has been known for two things: striking out an enormous amount of hitters, and being injured.
But when he is healthy, he is on. He leads all pitchers with a .789 winning percentage since 2008.
Harden made his major league debut on July 21, 2003, against the Kansas City Royals. He held the Royals to only one run on four hits in seven innings, earning a no decision. Through Harden's first five starts, he had a 3-1 record, with an ERA of 1.69.
On June 8, 2008, he became the 38th pitcher to strike out three batters on nine pitches. This was done in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Rich Harden is one of the true strikeout artists of our time. If only he could stay on the field.
He is currently on the disabled list for the Texas Rangers.
Russell Martin has been training his whole life to play professional baseball. His father used to play the saxophone in Montreal subway stations to help pay for his baseball training. As the main catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, all his hard work is starting to pay off.
He graduated from Polyvalente Édouard-Montpetit High School, which was the same high school attended by fellow Canadian and former Dodgers star and teammate Éric Gagné.
Martin has an above-average batting average, and excellent speed for a catcher, breaking the Dodgers' all-time single season steals record for that position. In 2007, Martin was elected to the All-Star Game, becoming the first ever Canadian catcher to start the Midsummer Classic.
In 2008, he was once again named to the National League squad. Martin's 10 innings caught in the 15-inning game are tied for fourth place all time among All-Star catchers in a single game.
He had his weakest offensive season in 2009. He missed the All-Star Game and finished with a
Canada is not known for its pitching. Besides Fergie Jenkins, the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers Hall of Famer, most Canadian-born major leaguers are sluggers of the Matt Stairs or Larry Walker variety. Currently, though, Ryan Dempster is the best Canadian pitcher in the majors.
Dempster, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers and came up with the Florida Marlins, is best known for his recent years with the Chicago Cubs, where he started out as a closer.
Dempster is widely known for his laid-back, humorous attitude, strange glove-twitching before his delivery, and is said to be a positive contribution to a team's clubhouse. Dempster's fun and easy-going personality was especially evident when, in comments to an Arizona newspaper in 2007, Dempster stated that if his career as a closer began to tumble, he would pursue ninja training.
Dempster didn't have to worry about donning the traditional shinobi-shozoku, as he was quite successful, saving 87 games for the Cubs from 2004-2007.
In 2008, Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood switched roles, with Dempster moving into the third spot in the rotation. In his first season as a starter for Chicago, he was perhaps even more successful than as a closer, going 17–6 , with a 2.96 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 201.2 innings. He finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting.
Dempster is a two-time National League All-Star and won the Tip O'Neill Award in 2000 as a member of the Marlins. He was named one of the 99 "Good Guys" in professional sports by The Sporting News.
In the World Baseball Classic, Joey Votto went 4-for-5 with a home run against the United States. He clearly knows where his allegiances lie.
As the best player on the Cincinnati Reds, Joseph Daniel Votto knows how to get it done. He won the Ernie Lombardi Award, awarded to the best player in Cincinnati, in 2008. He looks to be on his way to another in 2010.
Votto is hitting .308 with 47 RBI and 15 homers in 2010, including a grand slam off of Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves on May 20. It looks like Votto will be starting the All-Star Game at DH this year in Anaheim.
Joey is the most promising player on this list; at the young age of 26, Votto has a career average of .310 with 70 home runs. With his sweet swing, he could one day be the greatest first baseman in Reds history. He's doing Canada proud!
Matt Stairs is known for being everywhere, sort of like the Forrest Gump of baseball. He currently holds the record for teams played for, in a tie with Mike Morgan.
Stairs is the only player on this list to have played for the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays, a pretty impressive feat that for the time being, cannot be equaled.
Along with Larry Walker, Stairs is one of two Canadians to have hit over 250 home runs, and he currently leads all active players with 19 pinch-hit homers.
His best seasons came with the Oakland Athletics, where he once set the major league record for RBI in an inning (since broken). In 1999, Stairs hit .258 with 38 homers and 102 RBI, good for 17th in MVP voting.
Stairs was also quite good in 2007, posting a career high in average and leading the Blue Jays in slugging percentage. He currently plays for the San Diego Padres, his 12th team.
Jason Bay can mash. He came into the league in 2003 with the San Diego Padres, and a year later, he found himself winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Since then, Bay has been nothing if not consistent. His career average of .279 is good, and his 191 career long shots are good enough for fourth all-time by a Canadian born player.
His best season came in 2005, when he hit 32 home runs with a career-high 21 steals and .306 batting average. He made the All-Star team that year, but finished 12th in MVP voting for the National League.
After being traded there during the 2008 season, Bay spent all of 2009 with the Boston Red Sox. He set career highs with 36 home runs and 119 RBI. He currently plays for the New York Mets.
Justin Morneau is largely overlooked in the Twins lineup, with the looming presence of Joe Mauer. However, he is the best Canadian in the majors today.
The 2006 AL MVP, Morneau could one day be the best Canadian hitter ever to play baseball, a title currently held by Larry Walker. Morneau has won the Tip O'Neill Award, given to the best Canadian major leaguer by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, twice.
In 2008, he lost the MVP Award to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, despite better power numbers and a similar on-base percentage.
Although he has a long way to go to catch Larry Walker's nine titles, the slugging Twins first baseman looks well on his way to another this year, and a possible second MVP award. He even has an outside shot at the Triple Crown.