WCBL Award Winners Announced

By IAN WILSON

The top players in the Western Canadian Baseball League have been honoured by the WCBL.

Award winners from the 2023 season include the regular season Most Valuable Player (MVP), the Most Outstanding Canadian, the Most Outstanding Pitcher, the Rookie of the Year, the Coach of the Year, the top players from each WCBL team, as well as the postseason MVP.

Jonah Weisner of the Sylvan Lake Gulls claimed WCBL MVP honours after posting a .392 batting average through 56 games and 217 at bats. The product of Mission, British Columbia led the league in runs batted in (RBI) with 49, while scoring 44 runs, clubbing five homers and stealing 23 bases. Weisner had a .979 fielding percentage at shortstop for the Gulls and was also named the team MVP for Sylvan Lake.

“The gratitude I have for the people I met this summer is relentless. There’s so many I want to thank for without them, this achievement would’ve never been possible. First, Coach Chatwood and his coaching staff. Jason was a huge piece to the successes I had this summer with the effort he and his coaching staff put into the team and myself individually. Jason made me rediscover my offensive and defensive identities, which gave me the confidence I needed to compete at the highest level,” said Weisner after being informed of winning the award.

“Second, my teammates … the trust and bonds built throughout the season was paramount to any success that was accumulated, not only individually but also as a unit. Pushing each other daily is what drove me and so many others to pursue excellence and for that I’m grateful. I owe a tremendous thank you to the front office, as well as training staff for taking care of me throughout the season. The ability for them to make sure my needs were met, and more, is a direct representation as to why and how the Gulls produce elite-level athletes. To the fans and community of Sylvan Lake, coming to play for you guys was more than easy. The commitment and energy that was brought at home, as well as on the road, made playing that much more special. I will never forget the experience Gulls Stadium brought on a daily basis.”

Weisner also thanked his billet family and his own family for their trust, kindness and support.

“The summer of 2023 playing in the WCBL will always be remembered as a ‘prove it year’ for me. I think it’s safe to say that winning league MVP has done just that,” he added.

After the WCBL season, Weisner realized his dream of becoming a professional baseball player when he signed with the Quebec Capitales, the champions of the Frontier League. He has re-signed with the team for the 2024 season.

MOST OUTSTANDING CANADIAN

Dawson Tweet was named the Most Outstanding Canadian, as well as the MVP of the Miller Express, for his historic campaign. In his second season with the Moose Jaw Miller Express, Tweet led the WCBL in batting average (.411), runs (61) and hits (90). The Russell, Manitoba native also established a new record by hitting safely in 36 consecutive games this summer. Tweet played all over the diamond in 2023 and his 16 doubles and five triples were tied for the league lead in those statistical categories. He also finished fifth in stolen bases with 22.

“This is truly an amazing honour. The WCBL is a fantastic league with many great competitors,” said the versatile utility player.

“Individual accolades come from team success, so I really owe it to my awesome teammates, coaches and board members of the Moose Jaw Miller Express. Also, a big thank you to my family, friends, and outstanding fans of the Millers!”

MOST OUTSTANDING PITCHER

For the second straight season, the best arm in the WCBL belongs to a member of the Sylvan Lake Gulls pitching staff. Calgarian Ty Boudreau earned the title of Most Outstanding Pitcher after going 5-1 with the lowest earned run average (ERA) in the league at just 1.54 through 15 games and 46.2 innings. Boudreau – who split time as a starting pitcher and a reliever – also racked up 52 Ks and four saves. In addition to claiming this league award, he was also named the Pitcher of the Year by Sylvan Lake.

The righthander has pitched three seasons for the Gulls. In that time he has assembled a record of 17-6, collected eight saves, put together a 2.39 ERA, and piled up 195 strikeouts in 177.1 regular and postseason WCBL innings.

He beat out teammate Josh Tucker, whose 70 strikeouts were tops in the league for a second straight summer. Tucker – the winner of the Most Outstanding Pitcher award last year – set a single-season record for Ks in the WCBL in 2022 when he punched out 91 batters.

“I believe I can compete at any level,” Boudreau said in an interview with Red Deer Advocate reporter Ian Gustafson earlier this year.

Boudreau also acknowledged the fans in Sylvan Lake and the boost they give to players on the Gulls.

“Two thousand fans every night yelling and screaming and just enjoying it. It makes it enjoyable for us because we can entertain the fans a little bit. They’re here every night rain or shine. It’s the best fans in the WCBL,” he said.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Outfielder Eric Rataczak was another dual award winner, earning WCBL Rookie of the Year and Brooks Bombers MVP accolades.

“It’s absolutely an honour to be recognized. I’d really like to thank the Bombers organization and the town of Brooks. They gave me a chance when a lot of others wouldn’t and showed me true small-town hospitality,” said Rataczak, who represented the southern Alberta club in the 2023 WCBL All-Star Game as a Home Run Derby participant.

“I also want to thank my parents for their unconditional love and support in all of my baseball ventures. Lastly, thank you to the fans at each and every game. It is so much fun to play for you all and I hope I was able to make your days at the ballpark enjoyable.”

Rataczak – who hails from Circle Pines, Minnesota – tormented league pitchers in his 50 WCBL games this summer, finishing second in home runs (11) and RBI (48) while batting .358.

PLAYOFF MVP

Infielder Brendan Luther was named the top postseason player for a second consecutive summer after the Okotoks Dawgs won their seventh league championship in August. A product of Mississauga, Ontario, Luther was chosen the MVP of the Okotoks Dawgs this year, too.

“I think the postseason brings out the best in every player, so to be recognized as the WCBL Playoff MVP, as well as the Dawgs MVP, it’s a great honour,” said the Bellevue University shortstop.

“The support I received from my family, teammates and the organization really helped me push my game to the next level and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help.”

Luther took home the 2022 WCBL Playoff MVP award after batting .448 and scoring 11 runs in seven games. He won postseason MVP honours yet again this year after hitting .344 and collecting another 10 RBI while playing sound defence at shortstop. In his 32 playoff at bats this summer, the lefty hitter knocked out three clutch homers and scored six runs, prompting “MVP” chants and earning him the nickname “Mr. August.”

COACH OF THE YEAR

Nothing seemed to come easy for the Medicine Hat Mavericks this season, but Kevin Mitchell didn’t allow for any excuses for his ball club. After skipper Mark Goodman left the Mavs to pursue a professional opportunity in late June, Mitchell went from serving as pitching coach to head coach.

The on-field result was a 30-26 record for Medicine Hat in the regular season, good for second place in the East Division. In the postseason, the Mavericks defeated the Regina Red Sox and Moose Jaw Miller Express on their way to the WCBL Championship Series against the Okotoks Dawgs, a team they went the distance with in the best-of-three series before falling just short in the final game of the playoffs.

“I loved every second of it, it went by faster than I would have liked, but I think that’s a sign of how engaged we all are. When you’re really locked in, days go by and before you know it, you’re at the end of the year. I’m very grateful to Greg (Morrison) and the entire Mavs organization for the trust he had in me and the support throughout. It was an up and down summer for sure, with more highs than lows without a doubt,” Mitchell told Medicine Hat News reporter James Tubb after the season.

Morrison, the owner and general manager of the Mavs, has already decided to bring Mitchell back for the 2024 WCBL season.

“Mitch was a great leader last summer,” said Morrison in a team announcement.

“The players and I respect him, the community loves him. I’m looking forward to having him back representing the Mavs!”

Added Mitchell of his return to Alberta: “I am honoured and excited to be coming back to the ‘Hat next summer. The organization and our amazing fans make Medicine Hat an incredible place to play and coach some great baseball. We will build on the success we had this season and work to finish the job next year, bringing a championship back to the ‘Hat!”

TEAM MVP AWARDS

In addition to Weisner, Tweet, Rataczak and Luther winning most valuable player nods from their respective clubs, other top players have been named by each WCBL team.

The Mavericks announced Brody Gardner as their team MVP. The outfielder from North Carolina had a .352 batting average over 54 games and 236 at bats, while recording 41 runs, 36 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Gardner beat out Medicine Hat’s Top Pitcher award winner, Dylan Esquival, who went 6-2 with a 3.54 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, as well as Top Canadian Tyler Vanneste (.286 batting average, 32 runs, 21 RBI in 44 games) and the team’s 2023 Unsung Hero, Brady Bean (.313 batting average, 46 runs, 35 RBI, 6 homers, 21 stolen bases in 55 games).

Torrin Vaselenak, who led the WCBL in home runs with 12, earned MVP honours from the Lethbridge Bulls. In addition to his dozen dingers, the corner infielder had a .288 batting average, 13 stolen bases, 39 runs and 35 RBI in 50 games. The Coaldale, Alberta product beat out the following Lethbridge Bulls to win the award: Rookie of the Year Jack Kalisky (23 runs, 16 RBI in 35 games); Canadian Rookie Cardel Dick (21 runs, 18 RBI in 42 games); Community Star Kalem Haney (.294 batting average, 40 runs, 24 stolen bases in 54 games); Top Hitter Mikey McGinnis (.321 batting average, 20 runs in 35 games); Relief Pitcher Award Winner Brad Goodwin (2.07 ERA, 19 Ks in 30.1 innings); and Top Pitcher Max Benton (5-1 record, 3.35 ERA, 41 Ks in 61.2 innings). In addition, the Bulls named outfielders Carlin Dick and Josh Kabayama as Gold Glove winners for the team.

The Regina Red Sox made second baseman Justin Simard their MVP. The Californian hit .332 with 29 runs and 10 stolen bases through 51 games and was also Regina’s nominee for the WCBL Rookie of the Year award. Lefty pitcher Zane Pollon – of Wilcox, Saskatchewan – was the Red Sox nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian honours. Pollon went 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 57 Ks in 58.2 innings and 16 outings on the mound.

Catcher Jordan Bach was selected as the top player with the Fort McMurray Giants in 2023. The Ladner, British Columbia slugger had a batting average of .346, 33 runs and 26 RBI over 48 contests. Bach was also picked by the fans as the Hitter of the Year for Fort McMurray, while Logan Knight (1.08 ERA, 42 Ks in 41.2 innings) earned Pitcher of the Year accolades from boosters of the Giants.

Other team MVPs include outfielder Justin Barnes (.342 batting average, three homers, 28 runs, 23 RBI in 46 games) of the Swift Current 57’s and Luke Zimmer of the Weyburn Beavers. Zimmer was a workhorse for the Beavers, posting a win-loss record of 3-4 with a 3.20 ERA and 54 strikeouts over 64.2 innings and 14 appearances.

Meanwhile, several WCBL teams recognized players with other individual awards earlier this year.

The Sylvan Lake Gulls honoured pitcher Steven Hospital (Gulls Culture of Excellence Award); catcher Ben Prediger (Defensive Player of the Year); and two-way player Tyler McWillie (Gulls Legacy Player Award).

Individual award winners with the Okotoks Dawgs include Graham Brunner (Pitcher of the Year); infielder Trent Lenihan (Rookie of the Year); corner infielder Connor Crowson (Top Canadian); Seth Thompson (Reliever of the Year); catcher Caleb Lumbard (True Grit Award).