Soroka, Paxton head list of candidates for Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award

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St. Marys, Ont. – One had one of the best rookie seasons ever by a Canadian pitcher at the major league level, while the other set a career-high with 15 wins, including 10 in a row at the end of the regular season.

Yes, Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) and James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) enjoyed outstanding major league seasons in 2019. But so, too, did Montreal-born slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who made his much anticipated big league debut – and hard-throwing right-hander Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.). And four other Canadians – Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.), Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) and Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) – also made their major league debuts this season.

And while those Canadians were starring in North America, Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) was belting 29 home runs and setting career-highs in doubles (28) and walks (73) in 137 games with the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns.

Meanwhile, Kelsey Lalor was starring for the Canadian Women’s National Team. The Red Deer, Alta., native went 9-for-16 (.563 batting average) to help Canada secure a bronze medal at the 2019 COPABE Women’s Baseball Pre Worlds tournament in August.

So in a year with so many highlights, how do you choose which Canadian stood out the most?

That’s the dilemma the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame faces, and they would like your input to determine Canada’s top performer as they prepare to choose their 2019 James “Tip” O’Neill Award winner. This honour is given out annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.

The Hall encourages you to vote for the players you think are worthy of this award by noon E.T. on Wednesday, November 20. You can e-mail your top three choices (please be clear on your first, second and third selections) to baseball@baseballhalloffame.ca or you can vote on the Hall’s website at www.baseballhalloffame.ca.

Fan votes will be one of the criteria the Hall will take into account when selecting the winner, which will be announced on December 4.

Here’s a summary of the prime contenders (and their 2019 accomplishments) in alphabetical order. (The Hall also welcomes write-in votes for players not on this list):

Jim Adduci (Burnaby, B.C.)

The 34-year-old first baseman/outfielder batted .301 with 108 hits – including 12 home runs – in 105 games for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs this season. For his efforts, he was named the first baseman on Minor League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs’ Organization All-Star Team. He also played two games with the big league Cubs.

Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.)

This 6-foot-7 right-hander posted an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 18 starts for the independent Can Am League’s Ottawa Champions. For his performance, he was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year. Aumont also picked up wins in both of his starts for the silver medal-winning Canadian national team at the Pan Am Games in July, tossing a combined 13 shutouts innings against Argentina and Nicaragua. His dominance on the international stage continued when he threw eight scoreless innings for Canada in their 3-0 win over Cuba in the opening game of the WSBC Premier12 tournament earlier this month.

Jordan Balazovic (Mississauga, Ont.)

In 19 combined appearances – including 18 starts – between class-A and class-A Advanced in the Minnesota Twins’ organization, this 6-foot-5 right-hander collected eight wins and recorded a 2.69 ERA while striking out 129 batters in 93-2/3 innings. For his efforts, he was selected to participate in the 2019 Futures Game. He was also part of the pitching staff of the Canadian national team that won silver at the Pan Am Games in July.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.)

This 20-year-old slugger made his much anticipated major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on April 26. He proceeded to play in 123 games and hit .272 with 15 home runs, 26 doubles and 69 RBIs. Among American League rookies, he was first in games (123), hits (126) and doubles (26), second in at bats (464) and third in RBIs (69) and walks (46). During the season, he was named the American League Player of the Week twice (May 19 and August 4) and finished second in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game. Guerrero Jr. also led all Canadian major leaguers in RBIs and was named to Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team.

Kelsey Lalor (Red Deer, Alta.)

This left-handed hitting outfielder went 9-for-16 (.563 batting average) – including a double and a home run – to help Canada’s national squad secure a bronze medal at the 2019 COPABE Women’s Baseball Pre Worlds tournament in Mexico in August. In that competition, she also scored eight runs, recorded eight walks and finished with an .813 slugging percentage.

Russell Martin (East York, Ont.)

After being dealt by the Toronto Blue Jays back to the Los Angeles Dodgers in January, this 36-year-old catcher would post a .337 on-base percentage and belt six home runs in 83 games. He added a home run, a double and four RBIs in the Dodgers’ 10-4 win in Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the eventual World Champion Washington Nationals. Martin also showed off his arm by tossing four scoreless innings in four regular season pitching appearances.

Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)

A first-round pick of the Miami Marlins in 2015, Naylor made his big league debut with the San Diego Padres on May 24. The 22-year-old slugger proceeded to bat .249 with eight home runs, 15 doubles and 32 RBIs in 94 big league contests. The left-handed hitting Canuck finished in the top 15 among National League rookies in walks, games and doubles. He also hit .314 with 10 home runs, while posting a .547 slugging percentage, in 54 Triple-A games.

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Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.)

This muscular 24-year-old split the season between the St. Louis Cardinals and the club’s Triple-A and Double-A affiliates. In 60 big league contests, he batted .262 and clubbed five home runs, while his combined minor league numbers (between Double-A and Triple-A) included 13 home runs and a .509 slugging percentage in 47 games.

James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.)

After being traded to the New York Yankees in November 2018, Paxton proceeded to register a career-best 15 wins – including 10 in a row at the end of the season. In total, in 150 2/3 innings across 29 starts, the 2018 Tip O’Neill Award winner went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and struck out 186 batters. In the playoffs, the hard-throwing southpaw outpitched Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, allowing just one run in six innings, while striking out nine, to record his first post-season win.

Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.)

Selected in the first round by the Padres in the 2016 MLB draft, Quantrill made his big league debut with the club on May 1. In 23 big league appearances – including 18 starts – he went 6-8 with a 5.16 ERA and had 89 strikeouts in 103 innings. He was at his best in July when he registered two wins and posted a 1.69 ERA in four starts. The 24-year-old right-hander finished sixth among National League rookies in wins and eighth in starts and innings pitched.

Jamie Romak (London, Ont.)

This right-handed hitting slugger enjoyed his third successful season with the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization. He batted .276 with 29 home runs (tied for second in the KBO) and 95 RBIs in 137 games, while setting career-highs in doubles (28) and walks (73). Romak also had 86 runs, a .508 slugging percentage and an .882 OPS.

Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.)

Mike Soroka Atlanta

In one of the greatest rookie seasons ever by a Canadian pitcher, this 22-year-old right-hander went 13-4 and posted a 2.68 ERA while striking out 142 in 174-2/3 innings, for the Atlanta Braves. His ERA ranked third in the National League, while his road ERA (1.35) was the best in the circuit. Among National League rookie hurlers, he had the best ERA, was third in wins and fourth in games started, innings pitched and strikeouts. For his efforts, Soroka finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the Cy Young Award voting. He also earned a win in Game 3 of the Braves’ National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals when he limited the Cards to one run on two hits, while striking out seven, in seven innings.

Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.)

After batting a combined .324 with 17 home runs and a .527 slugging percentage in 114 games in Double-A and Triple-A in the Houston Astros’ organization, this switch-hitting Canadian made his big league debut on August 22. In 25 games for the American League pennant winners, he batted .218 with two home runs. One of his homers was a two-run shot at Rogers Centre that accounted for the only two runs in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Blue Jays on September 1. His minor league efforts earned him Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year honours.

Joey Votto

Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.)

This veteran Cincinnati Reds first baseman continued his excellent major league career by leading all Canadian big leaguers in games (142), hits (137), doubles (32) and walks (76). In all, he batted .261, posted a .357 on-base percentage and had 15 home runs in 2019. His best month was June when he registered a .390 on-base percentage, a .506 slugging percentage and an .896 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 24 games.

Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.)

This hard-throwing right-hander developed into a go-to reliever for the Chicago Cubs in 2019. In 31 big league appearances, he recorded a 2.43 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 33-1/3 innings. He was most effective in the season’s final month when he posted a 0.90 ERA in nine appearances. Wick was also dominant in Triple-A, registering a 1.80 ERA in 27 games, while striking out 44 batters in 35 innings.

Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) and Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) also appeared in the big leagues in 2019, while Scott Mathieson (Vancouver, B.C.) continued to serve as a reliable reliever in his final season with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League. He announced his retirement from professional baseball at the end of the season.

The Hall’s Tip O’Neill Award is named after Woodstock, Ont., native James “Tip” O’Neill, who was one of Major League Baseball’s first legitimate stars. With the American Association’s St. Louis Browns in 1887, O’Neill set big league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases, while compiling a major league record .492 batting average. Walks were counted as hits in 1887, but if O’Neill’s average was calculated by today’s standards, it would be .435, the second-highest in big league history to Hugh Duffy who hit .440 in 1894.

Past winners of the James “Tip” O’Neill Award:

1984 – Terry Puhl
1985 – Dave Shipanoff
1986 – Rob Ducey
1987 – Larry Walker
1988 – Kevin Reimer
1989 – Steve Wilson
1990 – Larry Walker
1991 – Daniel Brabant
1992 – Larry Walker
1993 – Rob Butler
1994 – Larry Walker
1995 – Larry Walker
1996 – Jason Dickson
1997 – Larry Walker
1998 – Larry Walker
1999 – Jeff Zimmerman
2000 – Ryan Dempster
2001 – Corey Koskie
2001 – Larry Walker
2002 – Eric Gagné
2002 – Larry Walker
2003 – Eric Gagné
2004 – Jason Bay
2005 – Jason Bay
2006 – Justin Morneau
2007 – Russell Martin
2008 – Justin Morneau
2009 – Jason Bay
2010 – Joey Votto
2011 – Joey Votto
2011 – John Axford
2012 – Joey Votto
2013 – Joey Votto
2014 – Justin Morneau
2015 – Joey Votto
2016 – Joey Votto
2017 – Joey Votto
2018 – James Paxton