By Julian Guilarte
World Baseball Network
Freddie Freeman will once again be Canada’s best player and leader at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Canada will face an uphill battle to advance out of pool D against the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Great Britain.
For Freeman, playing for Canada is about pride and honoring the memory of his late mother. She was born in Toronto and died in 2000 from melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Freeman had a rough showing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, batting average of .182 and 1 RBI. Canada was blown out and lost all three games they played. Can Freeman help make their story different this time around?
“This is a way to keep her memory alive. It’s just a way of honoring her so people can talk about her and talk about her family. This is just a cool way to let people know about Rosemary Freeman,” Freeman said in a video tweeted by the World Baseball Classic.
Freeman was an Atlanta Brave until they decided to not re-sign him last off-season and Freeman signed with his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He got off to a slow start, but at the end of the year, his typical numbers were there. He hit 21 home runs, drove in 100 runs and even stole 13 bases. His batting average was .305, the 7th time in his career he batted over .300.
He’s a career .298 hitter with 292 home runs and an OPS of .895, and Freeman is on a Hall of Fame trajectory with a WAR of 50.4 via FanGraphs. The 33-year-old Freeman has played for 13 years, won an MVP, a Gold Glove, and the World Series with the Braves in 2021.
With Canada, he’ll lead an inexperienced infield. The most notable infielder behind him is 26-year-old Milwaukee Brewers infielder Abraham Toro, who has 26 home runs in 824 at-bats. Otto Lopez is also in the infield, but has just nine career at-bats for the Toronto Blue Jays.The biggest bat on the roster next to Freeman is Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neil. The 27-year-old O’Neil has 66 home runs and an OPS of .788 in five seasons. O’Neil had a down year in 2022, with 14 home runs and an OPS of .700. He’ll hope that he can use this tournament as a way to jumpstart is 2023 season. Guardians catching prospect Bo Naylor brother of Guardians outfielder Josh Naylor is the 64th-ranked prospect in MLB’s top 100.
The pitching staff for Canada is anchored by Red Sox starting pitcher Nick Pivetta. Guardians starting pitcher Cal Quantrill, son of long-time major leaguer Paul Quantrill, will back him up. Mariners reliever Matt Brash is the only other current MLB pitcher. Former big leaguer 40-year-old John Axford will also be in the bullpen for Canada. Axford had an 11-year career and was most notable with the Brewers as their closer from 2010-12. He has 144 career saves, and has undergone Tommy John surgery twice and will make his return to the mound for the first time since 2021.
Canada will have some notable coaches with former catcher Russel Martin, Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Walker and Paul Quantrill.
Martin played 14 seasons, mainly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he also spent four years with the Toronto Blue Jays and played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees. Martin had 191 home runs and an OPS of .746.
Walker was inducted into Cooperstown in 2021. He went in as a Colorado Rockie and also spent six years with the Montreal Expos. He retired with the Cardinals with a career total of 383 home runs and an OPS of .965.
Quantill pitched 14 seasons and is the father of Cal. Canada will be managed by Ernie Whitt, a big league catcher who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Freddie Freeman will have to be his MVP self, for Canada to have any chance of advancing out of Pool D.
Canada will open the World Baseball Classic on March 11 against Great Britain at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.