The Vancouver Canadians are arguably the hottest team in the CBL right now. They’ve been 1st in all major team rankings in the Frontier League a lot of the season so far and have given themselves a nice 12 1/2 game lead in the division over San Diego. They are on pace for 109 wins, which would be the 2nd most in CBL history behind the 2019 Syracuse Orange who had 113 wins. The Canadians could easily continue this hot streak and surpass the 113 wins. They could also get cold and end up winning less than 100. Either way, it will be interesting to see how this team does in the 2nd half of the season.
We interviewed some of the Canadian players before their series with Connecticut and asked them some questions regarding the team’s season and some of their individual seasons.
When you started the season, did you think that the Canadians would be ahead in the division by 12 1/2 games? Would you have pictured yourself being 1st in BA, 2nd in HRs, 1st in RBIs, 1st in OPS and 2nd in batter WAR? The list keeps going. Is there anything that you would attribute this success to?
Keller: I definitely didn’t think we’d have such a big lead in the division. San Diego was great last year and I thought we’d be fighting them for 1st. They’ve still been great but our team has been playing great. I wouldn’t have pictured myself in the top of all those categories but I worked hard this offseason and wanted to be in contention for the batting title. I’ve been working with our hitting coach Kevin Long and watching video every series. I guess that answers the last question. I’d say this success comes from preparing for each series and knowing what the pitcher brings to me.
You’ve had great success against 2 San Diego pitchers Lyndon Burt (5 hits, 2 HRs, .625 avg) and Kevin Gausman (9 hits, 3 HRs, .391 avg) and have had less success against 2 ex Canadians pitchers Nick Kingham (20 AB, 2 hits) and Bob Nelson (10 ABs, 0 hits). Is there anything about those matchups that make you more or less successful?
Keller: I’d use the excuse that Nelson and Kingham found out my weaknesses when we played together but they were on the team long before I made my debut. I actually don’t know what makes me perform well or bad against any of them. Lyndon is a lefty and I think it makes it easier for me to see the ball and get some contact. Gausman I’ve just seen really well and I feel I can time it good against him. As for Kingham and Nelson, Kingham I’ve just had a hard time with his pitches. He’s got great movement and control on them. Nelson I seem to ground out a lot. I’ve gotten on top of his changeup quite a few times and I haven’t had any hits.
Who’s been the most influential mentor for you on this organization? Is there anyone who took you under their wing since your debut a couple years ago?
Keller: I’d have to say it was 2 teammates who took me under their wing and have really shown me how to handle my first years in the majors. Cees (Boudewijn) and George (Springer) have been great and have been around in the batting cage when I’m taking practice to help me. They’ve really helped with my power swing, which I think is why I’m hitting for more power in the CBL than I did in the minors. Cees has an incredible swing and still manages to cover the plate and strikes out less than most contact hitters. George can crush the ball hard and I enjoy watching him take batting practice. The sound of the ball coming off his bat is unlike any I’ve heard.
How did it feel when you got the call that you were going back to the original team that drafted you? You have been unstoppable and you are on pace for over 156 innings and 160 strikeouts in a role mostly as a reliever. How do you like the new role pitching multiple innings in tight games? You’ve been having great success in this role.
Brown: It was exciting because I played with Bob (Jones) and Antonio (Camacho) in high A Winnipeg in 2018/2019 before I got traded. Bob and I were good friends and Antonio and I were roommates for the end of the season in 2018 after I got called up to Winnipeg. It’s really cool to come back and play with those guys on the major league team. As for my role, I’m just happy to contribute to this team. I’ll pitch in the bullpen or start games, whatever the team needs. I did enjoy my 5 starts this season going 3-0 but John Russell (Vancouver Manager) told me he needed me to hold the lead or keep us in the game when it was a really important game. He said since our rotation is so strong, having me in the bullpen is a bonus and that opportunities to start later this season or next year are coming. I’m just happy to contribute and whenever I need to start, I’ll be ready.
There is word that you’ve been offered a 5-year extension worth over 35 million. Is there any truth to this? Have you enjoyed Vancouver so much you’d like to stay long term?
Brown: (Laughs) The city has been great. The fans are supportive and have gotten me pumped up when I’m coming from the bullpen to pitch. As for the offer, I can’t disclose anything regarding having or not having extensions talks but I would definitely be open to an extension that extends past my last arbitration year.
You’re 4 home runs away from passing your career high and were not even at the halfway point of the season. You are on pace to set career highs in most offensive categories and you’re having one of your best seasons defensively. Is there anything that has helped you break out this year?
Morgan: I’ve gotten a lot of tips from Cees (Boudewijn), George (Springer) and Ronnie (Sellers). Ronnie has really helped me with being more patient and getting more contact. I’ve gotten a career high in walks and it’s not even midseason (laughs). Cees and George along with Kevin Long have really helped my power stroke. I know Griffin (Keller) has been working with them in the cage and Kevin Long has been a great influence on all of us. He’s been pushing us to not only hit for power but get the ball in play instead of striking out. Also, been surrounded by great talent in the lineup also makes it tough for pitchers to pitch around you, so I feel I’m getting a lot more pitches to hit than before.
You’ve had a lot of 3 hit games this season, what helps you during those games to stay zoned in?
Morgan: Some games I just get so into the zone that I forget I’m surrounded by thousands of people. I focus in so it’s just me and the pitcher and I try to get good contact.
You’re on pace for 26 wins and a 1.78 ERA, which would be career highs for you. Your strikeouts per 9 innings is down but your WHIP and BABIP are career lows. Your groundout percentage is a career high.Would you say that you are pitching to get weak contact more than trying to strike out every batter? Did you change your philosophy or has it just been a coincidence?
Fernandez: Some of it has been a change of philosophy and some has been a bit of coincidence. I know I’ve been known to be more reliant on his stuff than his control. In spring training, I talked with pitching coach Bob Kreamer about controlling my pitches more and locating better. I wanted to cut down of walks, while not totally giving up what has made me successful in the past. My walks haven’t gone down at all but I guess in a related result to controlling my pitches more, my WHIP and BABIP have gone done. Better placement of pitches has seemed to make hitters have a harder time getting good contact and have been hitting the ball on the ground a lot, which results in my high groundout percentage. I also have to mention that Pedro Severino has been a great game caller and has helped me pitch a quality games every time I’m out there.
You’re about to turn 31 next month and just started your first year of a 4 year, 108 million dollar contract. Do you think you see yourself staying in Vancouver for the rest of your career? Also, your set to make 30 million this year, which is almost 3 times as much as your biggest salary in past years. Did you do anything extravagant to celebrate the new contract?
Fernandez: I would like to stay in Vancouver for the remainder of my contract. I wanted an extension here and was grateful that management felt mutual about it. If things continue to be great here in Vancouver, I would have no doubts that I would finish my career here. I’ve won the championship once already and I want to win another. If the opportunity to win another wasn’t high at the end of this contract, I’d still probably want to finish my career here. Vancouver has done so much for me and my family and we have made a life here that would make me want to stay here for years even after my career is over. As for celebrating the contract, I took the team out for dinner at one of the top restaurants here in Vancouver when we came in from Spring Training. I also bought a house for my mother up here, since she wanted to move to Canada. She didn’t want me to buy her one but after I signed this contract, I insisted she move here which is what she wanted anyways.
After the interviews, I ran into GM Courcelles near the locker room. He was coming to talk to the players and talk to some of the coaching staff about the upcoming series when the locker room erupted with applause. I asked him afterward if he could comment on being the first GM in the CBL to reach 700 wins and being the GM with highest win percentage with at least 500 games as general manager. I also asked him if he thinks he can be the first GM to 1000 wins in the CBL. If this pace keeps up, he could reach that number in a couple seasons. This was what he told me.
GM Dan Courcelles
Courcelles: I didn’t expect anyone to do notice it. Getting an applause from the team was unbelievable. I owe it to them, they play the games and have been the reason for my success. I owe it to every player who’s played for us in Canadians history. As for the 1000 wins, I think there are a lot of GMs with wins close to me. Trey, Imran and Tim are all in the 600s for wins and all have great teams. It’s anyone’s guess to who will get there first. I’d be honoured to reach 1000 wins at all, nevermind first. Although winning the championship is the ultimate goal and I’d love to win another or 2 before my time as a GM is up.