Three Canadian Players to Watch This Upcoming MLB Season

Matt Brash and James Paxton are two Canadian big leaguers to watch this season, while Tyler Black is a top prospect close to an MLB debut.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 26: Matt Brash #47 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after a strikeout during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at T-Mobile Park on September 26, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Last year, 17 Canadian-born players suited up in the big leagues for numerous Major League teams. This included Edouard Julien and Jordan Balazovic, who each made their MLB debuts during the 2023 campaign with the Minnesota Twins.

Heading into a new season, there is a good chance that the 17-mark set last season will be eclipsed given the number of talented Canadians already at the big league level and those looking to crack the Major League ranks.

MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list contains two Canadians while there is also a handful of Canucks suiting up in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues that could get a shot next season, depending on how the year unfolds.

Some players are still looking for an opportunity to play (Joey Votto) while other Canadians are looking for a new start, such as Jared Young after he was claimed off of waivers this past winter by the St. Louis Cardinals.

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With all this in mind, let’s take a look at three Canadian players that baseball fans across the league should keep an eye on heading into the new year.

Matt Brash (RHP) – Seattle Mariners

A fourth-round pick to the San Diego Padres in 2019, right-hander Matt Brash had to contend with quite a bit of adversity early in his pro career.

He had a cup of coffee in the lower levels following the draft, but the COVID-19 pandemic saw him sit on the sidelines in 2020 and also saw him get traded to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Taylor Williams.

From 2021 to 2022, he bull-rushed his way to the big leagues through the Mariners farm system, eventually making 39 appearances for the Mariners (five starts) and finishing with a 4.44 ERA through 50 2/3 innings with an 11 K/9 in 2022.

The following season, the Kingston, Ontario product spent the entire year in the bullpen and led the league in appearances (78) while collecting four saves en route to a 3.06 ERA. He raised his K/9 to 13.6 and saw his walks drop to 3.7 as well, with Brash working as a late-inning reliever ahead of Mariners closers Paul Sewald and Andrés Muñoz.

He earned the “Filthiest Slider of the Year Award” from Rob ‘PitchingNinja’ Freidman (and narrowly lost Filthiest Pitch of the Year) and sat in the 98th percentile in K% (34.7) because of his offspeed pitch, which produced a +15 run value and a 48.5 whiff percentage. To round out his arsenal, he possesses a high-90s fastball, a curveball, sinker, cutter, and changeup.

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While Muñoz will likely be the Mariners’ closer this season, Brash is quickly establishing himself as one of the game’s more dependable strikeout relievers who is surely taking notice at the big league stage.

James Paxton (LHP) – Los Angeles Dodgers

Following his 10th season in the big leagues, Ladner, B.C. product James Paxton was a free agent after appearing in 19 games for the Boston Red Sox.

The left-hander had a bounce-back campaign after missing almost two full seasons dealing with Tommy John surgery and a subsequent lat tear, posting a 4.50 ERA through 96 innings that was marred by a rough stretch to end the year (16 earned runs through his last three starts).

Injuries still plagued the veteran starter last campaign, a notion that has unfortunately followed Paxton for most of his career.

Since making his big league debut in 2013, the former Mariners starter has eclipsed the 25+ starting mark twice and his season-high innings pitched mark stands at 160 1/3 (2018), as various injuries to his lat, middle finger, forearm, pectoral, and also required back surgery to repair a herniated disk and removed a peridiscal cyst as week.

For the 2024 campaign, Paxton landed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a surprising move, considering the Dodgers rotation is heavily stacked even with newcomer Shohei Ohtani not slated to pitch in 2024.

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Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Bobby Miller, and Emmet Sheehan are all in the mix for the rotation, while the club will get Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw back sometime this season as they still rehab their respective injuries.

It was a stacked rotation group before the Canadian deemed “Big Maple” joined the rankings. To add even more intrigue, Paxton’s contract was revised from $11 million to $7 million (based on the various bonuses) and the reason provided was an “unspecified health concern“.

Looking ahead, at 35 years old, the southpaw is looking to put injury concerns behind him once and for all and likely trying to win a ring out west as he enters the later stages of his career.

When healthy, Paxton has been dominant at times, one of the reasons he owns a career 3.69 ERA through 850 2/3 innings with a 9.9 K/9. A strong spring should see Paxton land a spot in the Dodgers rotation but he will be in tough company to do so and will have to stay healthy as well.

Tyler Black (INF) – Milwaukee Brewers

The highest-ranked Canadian on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list heading into the new season is Milwaukee Brewers infielder Tyler Black, who ranks at #46 (and one spot ahead of countryman Cubs outfielder Owen Caissie for the top honor).

The Toronto, Ontario product mashed the ball at Wright State, one of the reasons the Brewers used their 33rd overall selection on him during the 2021 MLB Draft.

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Since turning pro, Black has continued to put the barrel to the ball, with the left-handed batter finding a solid rhythm in High-A ball through his first full campaign to the tune of a .281/.406/.424 slash line with 21 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs with a .831 OPS.

A mid-season injury limited him to just 64 games on the year, with the Brewers deciding to test Black in the Arizona Fall League. He passed with an impressive 10 RBIs through 17 games with a .279 average and .413 OBP.

Last season, Black took his batting ability a step further, sporting a .284/.417/.513 slash line through 123 games split between Double-A and Triple-A Nashville. He posted a .930 OPS collectively and punched a career-high 18 home runs with 25 doubles and 12 triples along with 55 stolen bases.

Black’s efforts earned him co-Minor League Player of the Year honors with Jackson Chourio within the Brewers system and he finished the campaign leading all Milwaukee prospects in runs (105), extra-base hits (55) and stolen bases while ranking second in OPS, hits (128), and walks (88).

The Canadian spent most of last season at third base with a bit of first base mixed in between as he continues to find a home on the field. He posted a .938 fielding percentage through 831 2/3 innings at the hot corner last season.

Heading into the new season, Black isn’t on the Brewers 40-man roster but is in big league camp getting his feet wet with the roster mainstays. He will likely start the season back in Nashville but his plus speed and power bat will be one to keep an eye on, as the 23-year-old could easily be the first Canadian rookie to debut in 2024.

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