Carlos Verde is a student at Carleton University in the first year of the school’s journalism program. He has covered football, baseball, hockey, and soccer for a wide variety of television, radio, online, and print mediums, and aspires to be a sports broadcaster in the not-so-distant future. Carlos currently provides coverage of all Ottawa sports teams for LWOS.
I’ll be the first to admit it.
When I heard the news that Ottawa was getting another independent baseball team, I was skeptical. Even as the team’s logo and branding was unveiled, I was still a little weary of the idea that professional baseball was making a return to Ottawa.
Forgive me for questioning the viability of a professional ball club in Ottawa, but the city’s recent baseball history has left many baseball observers like myself somewhat pessimistic about the future of America’s pastime in Canada’s capital.
Enter Miles Wolff, commissioner of the Can-Am League. Founded in 2005, Wolff’s league has already explored the Ottawa market back in the 2008 with the short-lived Rapidz franchise. However Wolff, a front office icon in independent baseball, has decided to give Ottawa Stadium and the city one more chance.
At first, many baseball fans smirked, even laughed when they heard about the latest bid to bring professional baseball back to Ottawa. This is, after all, the same market that heard very loud rumours back in 2012 about baseball great Nolan Ryan and his family planning a return of affiliated baseball to Ottawa.
Yet here we stand, less than six months away from the slated first pitch – May 22nd, 2015 – and the Ottawa franchise looks to be as solid as can be expected for an expansion indy ball team. The ball club will be steered by former Major Leaguer Hal Lanier, a man with plenty of experience managing in independent leagues. Lanier, 72, has spent the bulk of the last nineteen years managing in independent baseball after a relatively successful 3-year stint as manager of the Houston Astros in the late-80’s.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the work-in-progress that is an indy league expansion team’s off-season roster:
Ottawa Champions Baseball Club
Tim Alberts, 1b/of – An interesting acquisition from the Fort Worth Cats of the United League, Alberts is something of a rarity in indy ball in that he has never played a registered inning outside of independent baseball. His baseball-reference page states his rookie season as 2008, when he debuted at age 21 with the Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier League. A career .299 hitter in seven season of indy ball, the former Niagara University Purple Eagle struggled last season, hitting .225 with Fargo-Moorhead and .156 with Fort Worth. While he’s no doubt done great things in the past – most notably hitting .319 with 14 homers for Amarillo in 2012 – it remains to be seen whether or not last season was an outlier or a sign of struggles to come for the son of former Toronto Blue Jay Butch Alberts.
Ryan Lashley, if – Another one of those quirky signings that just pops up in independent baseball, Lashley joins the Champions after a quality season with Fort Worth in which he hit .369 while driving in 45 RBI in just 53 games. A product of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida – an NCAA DII-winning program back in 2009 – Lashley can play second, third, and short. However, he did struggle defensively at shortstop in 2014 (.891 fielding %), and will more likely be used as a utility guy who fills in gaps when starters go down with injuries.
Sebastien Boucher, of – The club’s largest signing to date, Boucher represents the team’s commitment to fielding a competitive team. A perennial all-star with the Quebec Capitales, Boucher has hit above .300 in each of the last five seasons, and brings over 400 games of affiliated baseball experience to the nation’s capital. The 33 year-old is coming off of the best season of his career in 2014, one in which he led the Can-Am circuit with a .366 batting average, along with an otherworldly .457 on-base percentage.
Nick Purdy, rp – A lanky reliever out of Ajax, Ontario, Purdy joins the Champions from fellow Can-Am club Trois-Rivieres, where he’s posted a respectable 3.56 ERA in two seasons of work. Drafted in both the 2007 and 2008 MLB Amateur Drafts by the Seattle Mariners (50th) and Kansas City Royals (36th) respectively, the 6’5 Purdy hilariously took an extra year of high school to atone for a failed gym class. While he may have slept through one too many classes in his senior year, the guy can hurl a baseball, having hit the mid-90s on the radar gun at various points in his career.
Brad Orosey, sp – An undersized starter out of Texas Lutheran University, Orosey is the all-time American Southwest Conference strikeout leader. While his first two seasons in indy ball weren’t all that kind to him – he had a 4.95 ERA with Alpine in 2012, 7.25 ERA with multiple teams in 2013 – Orosey seemed to figure out how to pitch at the professional level in 2014, making eleven starts for Rio Grande Valley and posting a 2.06 ERA with an impressive 1.04 WHIP. If he can build on his 2014 performance, he could develop into a nice front of the rotation starter for Lanier’s expansion team.
Alex Nuñez, if – Most likely a utility-type player for Lanier’s team, Nuñez brings vast experience in both the lower levels of affiliated ball (four seasons split between the Phillies and Nationals organizations) and indy ball (seven seasons, six of which were spent in the Can-Am League). A career .313 hitter in independent leagues, Nuñez hit .323 last year after taking 2013 off in its entirety. He also knows how to win, having been a member of the ’09 and ’10 championship-winning Quebec Capitales.
While the roster is clearly still in its infancy, it looks decent for an expansion team. The league wants the Ottawa market to do well, and they know that to succeed in this particular market, there has to be a competitive product on the field.
They’ve done well with the appointment of Lanier as manager. The 72 year-old has a lifetime .541 winning percentage as manager across a myriad of levels (1274-1079), and if you average out his indy ball winning percentage (.543) over the Champions’ 100-game schedule, you could expect an average Hal Lanier team to finish 54-46. Not bad.
Sebastien Boucher is arguably the best contact hitter in the entire league, and his bat alone will provide some excitement in the nation’s capital this summer. On the mound, Brad Orosey especially looks to be an intriguing hurler with plenty of unexplored potential at the pro level.
It’s going to be nice having professional baseball back in Ottawa. It would be incredible if the team could catch fire, challenge for the league pennant, and grab the attention of the city.
If you build a winner, they will come
Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to follow me on twitter- @Carlos77Verde.
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