Whether you’re a Canadian baseball fan or just a Guardians fan, you’re likely far from pleased with Guardians’ starter Cal Quantrill‘s World Baseball Classic pool play performance against Great Britain on Sunday.
Quantrill, Canada’s lone Major League level starting pitcher after Nick Pivetta dropped out of the tournament, was expected to be the team’s ace and to get them off on the right foot against a Great Britain team devoid of much MLB talent. But unfortunately, there is no way around saying it. Quantrill was awful as Canada’s opening starter of the tournament. He allowed three earned runs and left the bases loaded with two outs as he did not escape the first inning. Disaster was avoided when Phillipe Aumont entered the game and brought the rally to an end, but Quantrill was neither effective for his short stint nor able to pitch deep into the ballgame.
His greatest flaw in the outing appeared to be his command. Quantrill allowed four walks in just 2/3 of an inning. Conversely, Quantrill had allowed just five first-inning walks in the 32 starts he made for the Guardians in all of 2022. He threw 37 pitches, 20 of which were balls and was consistently leaving pitches up and away outside of the strike zone. A cavalcade of minor leaguers and non-affiliated ballplayers were strewn about the British lineup were able to cut the plate in half and sit on the outside pitch. That allowed Britain to also have three base hits in the inning including RBI singles by Nick Ward and Darnell Sweeney, both unaffiliated ballplayers in 2022 (though Sweeney played 39 games in the Majors between 2015 and 2018).
Ironically, the two outs that Quantrill was able to procure came against Britain’s most notable players. Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson grounded out sharply to second baseman Edouard Julien (on a ball that may have even gotten through if the shift ban was in place for WBC action) for the first out of the inning. Additionally, Quantrill looked like he may right himself when with men on the corners and one out he struck out Mariners’ top prospect catcher Harry Ford on three pitches. Quantrill wasn’t able to recreate the at-bat against the lesser talent that followed.
Also troubling from the outing was how Great Britain was able to wreak havoc on the base paths against an all-Guardians battery. The British stole three bases in the inning off of Quantrill and Guardians prospect catcher Bo Naylor including a double steal of second base and home that came in the at-bat following Ford’s strikeout and gave the Brits an early 1-0 lead. Great Britain attempted another two steals in the inning that were nullified by foul balls. In both cases, runners got great jumps. Strategically, the blokes from across the pond are built to run and knew they wanted to come out and do so, but the fact they were able to do it so easily is troubling.
Naylor’s effect on the situation is hard to pin down, but his inability both to control the run game or settle down Quantrill can speak to the kind of season he may need before ascending to the Major Leagues. Perhaps prophetically, the Guardians optioned Naylor to their Triple-A roster upon his departure to join his Canadian teammates for the WBC.
Great Britain would go on to steal five bases in six attempts against Naylor over the course of the entire game, with the first inning being far and away the worst showing. To his credit, he did draw three walks and score a run in what ended up being an 18-8 drubbing that our neighbors north of the border put on the Brits in the highest-scoring WBC game in the Classic’s history.
As for what Sunday’s outcome really means, it depends on your perspective. If you’re a Canadian baseball fan hoping to see your country go deep in the WBC, you can’t feel great about your chances after your best starter struggled against the consensus weakest team in Pool C. Quantrill’s early exit didn’t demolish Canada’s bullpen as much as it could have as the natives of the Great White North were still able to Mercy Rule the British in seven innings. Still, they will still have a tough road against a pool that contains the US, Colombia and Mexico.
If you’re just a Guardians fan, I wouldn’t be too troubled. This would be only Quantrill’s third appearance of the spring season combining his Cactus League play with the WBC. He had not shown an issue with walks in his first two appearances and while he was clearly trying to rev things up for the heightened competition, he is also still trying to prepare for the regular season. The early adrenaline boost may have just knocked his mechanics out of whack.
For Naylor, any flaws he may have shown are exactly what he can go down to Columbus and work on. 2023’s rule changes make being able to control the running game even more important at the catching position than it been in the past. Naylor is only 23 and all the experience he can get calling games and managing pitchers on the field far outweighs what he would gain backing up Mike Zunino in the Majors.
Technically, Quantrill didn’t hit the 50-pitch mark so he could return to pitch as soon as Tuesday for Canada. Such a decision is super unlikely to happen though because Guardians manager Terry Francona is only a short drive from Phoenix and would probably suplex Canadian manager Ernie Whitt on the spot and take Quantrill back to Guardians camp if Quantrill were to pitch on short rest. Quantrill’s realistic next opportunity to pitch for Canada is if they were to advance to the quarterfinals.
Naylor should continue to see action in the WBC as Canada’s catcher. I would expect him to play in at least one if not more of Canada’s pool play games.