Everybody is banking on better days in spring. But the Victoria HarbourCats are preparing to be ready if the Canada-U.S. border remains closed long term. The first three players signed Monday for the 2021 West Coast League baseball season are locals, highlighted by Canadian junior national team players Noah Takacs and Josh Walker.
“We are proud of our Island players, going back to Nick Pivetta [now of the MLB Boston Red Sox],” said HarbourCats GM and managing partner Jim Swanson.
There is the added bonus that it will prove beneficial if the border is not re-opened by the start of the season in late May or early June. As unlikely as that seems, leagues with cross-border teams still need to factor that into the equation. An all-Canadian format would be feasible, if it came to that, with the addition of WCL franchises in Nanaimo, Kamloops and Edmonton joining the existing. HarbourCats and Kelowna Owls in 2021. The other 10 WCL teams are in Washington state and Oregon.
“It’s crossed everybody’s minds that availability of American players could be limited,” said Swanson.
“Now that we have five Canadian teams, it would be a bonus for each of them to find Canadian players, with local ones even more of a plus.”
The WCL is a collegiate league featuring players in summer ball from top NCAA Div. 1 conferences, such as the Pac-12. Five WCL alumni were selected in June’s pandemic-abbreviated five-round MLB draft. Former WCL players have been drafted in the first round in each of the past four years. Ninety alumni or then-current WCL players were selected in the 2019 MLB draft and 73 in 2018.
The HarbourCats had played in the WCL for seven seasons before the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“Our goal has been to win games and develop players regardless of passports or postal codes,” said Swanson.
But the pandemic has reshaped everybody’s calculations, at least for 2021.
“We will benefit by having Canadians on the roster because we do not know what will happen with the border situation,” said Swanson.
Takacs, meanwhile, is a major signing regardless of nationality or hometown. The six-foot-three, 200-pound hurler is a pro prospect and currently an NCAA Div. 1 freshman with Sacramento State. The Oak Bay High grad, who came out of the Victoria Eagles and PISE baseball programs, has been part of the national junior team program. “Takacs has a raw, power arm that will really benefit from the move to college,” said Swanson.
“His is going to grow, with strength, into his body. He has a chance to be special down the road.”
Also signed Monday by the HarbourCats was outfielder Walker from the Victoria Mariners program, who was also on the Canadian junior team roster and is with Sacramento State. The Lambrick Park graduate played six games as a freshman with the Hornets in the spring before the 2020 NCAA season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“Walker is a strong left-side hitter,” said Swanson.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound lefty hurler Eric Luchies, the third Island signee, is out of St. Andrew’s Secondary and the Eagles program and is a freshman with Lower Columbia College. He is a pitcher who can also hit with power.
“These are quality local players who will be pushed harder than ever before when they join our program next summer,” said HarbourCats assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Curtis Pelletier
“We are seeing great talent coming out of the Mariners and Eagles programs.”