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Canadian MLB players to watch in 2024


A pair of Canadian-born players, second baseman Edouard Julien and reliever Jordan Balazovic, made their Major League Baseball debuts in 2023, both with the Minnesota Twins.

Julien finished seventh in American League Rookie of the Year voting, and may be looked upon to carry Canadian baseball forward with some of our best-known names in the twilight of their careers.

With players at all stages of their careers, as well as a glut of talent that TSN's Scott Mitchell has highlighted coming through the pipeline, the Canadian baseball machine continues to hum along.

Four Canadians - outfielder Larry Walker, third baseman Justin Morneau, first basemen Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman - have earned MVP awards in MLB history, and a pair - Fergie Jenkins and Eric Gagne - have won the Cy Young award for best pitcher.

Which players are poised to add their names to either list this season?

With the start of a new baseball season two days away, looks at some of Canada’s biggest stars to see where they’re at heading into the 2024 season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

First base, Toronto Blue Jays

Hometown: Montreal

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto Blue Jays

Since making his debut in 2019 with the Toronto Blue Jays as the top prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, the slugging righty and Montreal native Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has worked to fit that billing and to fill the shoes of his father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr.

He was everything the Blue Jays and Canadian baseball fans hoped he could be in 2021. He finished second in American League MVP voting after hitting .311 with a league-leading 48 home runs. His on base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.002 led the American League, and was a number his father surpassed in only three seasons of his storied career.

However, those numbers trailed off in 2022 – the average dipped to .274, the OPS to .818, and home runs to 32. They dipped even further last season, as Guerrero hit .264 with a .788 OPS and 26 home runs.

His OPS+, which assigns a number to a player's offensive production relative to other hitters in the majors where 100 is exactly league average, went from 167 in 2021, to 133 in 2022, down to 117 last season.

A lot of his peripheral numbers were improved last season compared to 2022, but the overall production was down. His average exit velocity stayed well above average at 92.1 mph, his launch angle went up from 4.3 degrees to 10.5 - still below average for a power hitter, but improving. His strikeout rate was in the top 10 per cent of players at 14.7 per cent.

Guerrero enters the year at age 25, which is still young, but as free agency approaches at the end of the 2025 campaign, he will need to return to 2021 form sooner rather than later.

Freddie Freeman

First base, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hometown: Villa Park, Calif.

Freddie Freeman

Freeman, who was born in California to Canadian parents and still represents Canada in international baseball competition, is one of four Canadians to win an MVP award.

Entering his fourth season with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 34, Freeman is a reliable piece at the top of one of the most dangerous lineups in the league.

A season ago, he hit .331 with 29 HR and 102 runs batted in, as well as a league-leading 59 doubles, earning him a third-place finish in National League MVP voting.

He's finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in the NL each of the past six seasons, including when he won the award in 2020 with the Atlanta Braves.

Freeman's name is plastered all over the top of the leaderboards for Canadian players in MLB history. His 321 HRs rank third, 1,143 RBI third, and 936 walks taken second among Canadian players.

With the addition of superstar Shohei Ohtani, as well as top pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Dodgers are primed to compete for the World Series title, and Freeman figures to be at the heart of their success. 

Joey Votto

First base/DH, Toronto Blue Jays

Hometown: Toronto

Toronto Blue Jays

Votto, the elder statesman in Canadian baseball in the majors, enters this season with nothing guaranteed.

He will be outside of the Cincinnati Reds organization for the first time in his career, and will instead attempt to play for his hometown Blue Jays – if he can crack the roster after an extended stint with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, that is.

Votto was a six-time All-Star with the Reds and won the NL MVP in 2010, but his time there came to an end when his 10-year, $225 million deal expired a season ago. After hitting a combined .204 the past two seasons in 156 games, Votto was not given a spot on the Blue Jays opening-day roster.

"I am excited about the opportunity to work my way back to the Major Leagues," Votto told reporters in March. "It's even sweeter to attempt this while wearing the uniform of my hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays."

Votto is the all-time leader in game played (2,056), All-Star appearances (six) and walks (1,365) among Canadian-born players. He trails only Hall of Famer Larry Walker in a number of other categories, including home runs, hits and OPS.

Edouard Julien

Second base, Minnesota Twins

Hometown: Quebec City

Edouard Julien Minnesota Twins

Julien did not break camp with the Twins last season, but made his debut on April 12 against the Chicago White Sox.

From then on, the 24-year-old appeared in 109 games, hitting .263 with an .839 OPS and 16 HR. He finished seventh in AL Rookie of the Year voting after making 75 starts at second base, and appeared in all six postseason games for Minnesota.

Julien is known for his impressive patience at the plate, but it can sometimes get him into trouble. Per FanGraphs, his chase rate (rate at which he swung at pitches outside of the zone) of 17.2 per cent last season was the best in the majors – impressive for a rookie.

His walk rate of 15.7 per cent was good for fifth best in the majors, but there were times he took a few pitches too many – as shown by a 31.7 per cent strikeout rate.

As FanGraphs' Davy Andrews pointed out, Julien's biggest goal as a full-time starter in the majors this season will be figuring out left-handed pitching. The lefty had an OPS+ of 151 against righties in 2023, but had a ghastly OPS+ of 22 against lefties. That means he produces just 22 per cent relative to a league-average hitter against left-handed pitchers.

Julien's patience and versatility earned him a spot in the Twins' lineup this season, and they are strong favourites to take home the AL Central crown once again.

Josh Naylor, Bo Naylor

First base/Catcher, Cleveland Guardians

Hometown: Mississauga

Josh Naylor Bo Naylor Cleveland Guardians

Brothers Josh and Bo Naylor grew up together in Mississauga, Ont. They went to the same high school, represented Team Canada in multiple international tournaments and were both drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft.

Josh finally put it all together for the Cleveland Guardians last season, showing off the potential that pushed the San Diego Padres to select him 12th overall in 2015. He earned MVP votes after hitting .308 with 17 HR and 97 RBI in 121 games, primarily as a first baseman.

His performance earned him the 2023 Tip O’Neill Award, given to the most outstanding Canadian player in baseball each year.

“Being on the same list as all those previous winners is an honour and what makes receiving this award even more special. The fact I was even nominated was an honour, knowing who this award represents.” said Josh.

Bo, the younger by three years, got his first taste of big-league action in 2022, three years after his brother made his MLB debut. He played in 67 games a year ago as a catcher and designated hitter, finishing with a .237 batting average and 11 HR.

Both brothers bring a good eye to the plate: Josh's 13.7 per cent strikeout rate a season ago was among the best in the majors for full-time players, while Bo's walk rate of 13.0 per cent is firmly above the MLB average of 8.4.

It's all worked out for the Naylor brothers to this point. “We’re best friends,” Josh told’s Mandy Bell. “It’s been a perfect scenario.”

There is a third Naylor brother, Myles, who was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the 2023 MLB June Amateur Draft. The 19-year-old got his start in Single-A with the Stockton Ports last year, where he hit .208.

Jordan Romano

Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays

Hometown: Markham, Ont.

Jordan Romano Toronto Blue Jays

Romano maintained the status quo in 2023: The towering 6-foot-5 closer posted his fourth straight season with an ERA under 3.00 for the Blue Jays, finished in the top three in saves in the AL for the second straight year with 36, and made his second consecutive All-Star game.

His ERA was up a tick last year, from 2.11 in his elite 2022 season to 2.90 last year, but his hard-hit rate against was above average, his strikeout rate was very strong again, and his fastball velocity ranked in the top 10 per cent of the majors.

One thing Romano has always had since making his debut in the majors is health. The 30-year-old righty has pitched in at least 59 games each of the past three seasons, and his 95 saves since the beginning of the 2021 campaign rank fourth in the majors, but he is slated to open the 2024 campaign on the injured list with a minor elbow problem.

Romano won the 2022 Tip O'Neill Award, and was a finalist for the award last year. Assuming he gets back on the field quickly after a delayed start to the season, there's no reason to expect any different from the closer this year.

Michael Soroka

Pitcher, Chicago White Sox

Hometown: Calgary

Michael Soroka Chicago White Sox

Soroka made his return to the majors last season after a lengthy absence due to injury problems.

A torn Achilles robbed Soroka of his 2020 campaign, and he re-tore it in 2021. He was unable to get on the field in 2022 either, developing elbow soreness that put him back on the shelf.

He made his long-awaited return to the mound on May 29 against the Oakland Athletics, and the results were not encouraging - four runs allowed in six innings, two walks and three strikeouts. 

Soroka went on to pitch in seven games for the Braves - once out of the bullpen - as he never quite found his footing. He finished with a 6.40 ERA in 32.1 innings with 29 strikeouts.

Now 26 years old, he signed with the Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $3 million contract this offseason.

Somewhere buried beneath all of the injuries, surgeries and rehab of the past few seasons is a pitcher who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, sixth in NL Cy Young voting and was an All-Star in 2019. Now he has to prove it with the White Sox.

Tyler O'Neill

Outfielder, Boston Red Sox

Hometown: Burnaby, B.C.

Tyler O'Neill Boston Red Sox

Another year, another season significantly marred by injuries for O'Neill. The outfielder appeared in just 72 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, missing time with a sprained ankle and a back strain.

On top of the injuries, O'Neill clashed publicly with Cardinals skipper Oliver Marmol early in the season following a play in which he was thrown out at the plate in an eventual loss.  

After O'Neill, now 28, spent time on the bench following that incident, prognosticators wondered if his time in St. Louis was coming to an end.

He played out the rest of the season with the Cardinals, but was shipped to the Boston Red Sox in December. The two-time Gold Glove winner will need to stay on the field this season after another tough campaign that ended with him hitting .231 with nine home runs.

His last healthy season was 2021, when he broke out in a huge way, hitting .286 with 34 home runs and finishing eighth in NL MVP voting.

Nick Pivetta

Pitcher, Boston Red Sox

Hometown: Victoria, B.C.

Nick Pivetta Boston Red Sox

It was an unusual season for Pivetta in 2023, as he bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen in his fourth season with the Red Sox, finishing with a 4.04 ERA in 142.2 innings across 38 games (16 starts).

Now 31, Pivetta's fastball is still in the upper tier of pitches in the majors, clocking in at just under 95 mph on average. His strikeout rate of 31.2 per cent ranked in the top seven per cent in the majors last year.

The biggest question for this season is how the Red Sox will use him. When Pivetta was pulled from the starting rotation after a game on May 16 against the Seattle Mariners in which he allowed four runs in 5.1 innings, his ERA sat at 6.30.

He returned to the rotation to close out the year, and was very strong, allowing seven earned runs in his final five starts, dropping his ERA on the year from 4.54 to 4.04 in that stretch.

“Going through last year, there’s a lot of facets of the game and to help a team compete and win,” Pivetta said to NESN's Tim Crowley in January. “That’s my biggest goal, whatever it happens to be. Everybody knows I prefer to start. I prefer to win, at the end of the day.”

Pivetta is slated to be a fixture in the rotation after the Red Sox' top pitching acquisition of the off-season, Lucas Giolito, had elbow surgery before the season started.

James Paxton

Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hometown: Ladner, B.C.

James Paxton Los Angeles Dodgers

Paxton finally got back on the field in 2023, after injuries cost him basically three full seasons from 2020-22.

In that time, 'Big Maple' pitched just 21.2 innings in six starts due to Tommy John surgery in 2021 and a lat tear in 2022.

In 2023 with Boston, the results were encouraging. He made 19 starts after a hamstring injury delayed his season debut, but finished with a 4.50 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 96.0 innings.

He was especially brilliant in June, when his 1.74 ERA in five starts earned him AL Pitcher of the Month honours. However, he struggled down the stretch, and knee inflammation ended his season after Sept. 1.

“It had been like two-and-half years since I pitched [meaningful] innings in the big leagues, and I felt like I kind of reached a point where my body was just a little burned out,” Paxton told the LA Times in January after he agreed to sign with the Dodgers.

The 6-foot-4 Paxton still features a dangerous fastball that ranked in the top 30 per cent in the majors in velocity, but will need to stay on the field to put it to use.