Having been previously drafted twice by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after graduating from Toronto’s Chaminade College School in 2003 and again in 2004 while attending Florida’s Gulf Coast Community College, the third time was the charm for the Baltimore Orioles as their 18th round 2007 draft pick John Mariotti. He signed on the dotted line and began his pro ball career after leading the nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers to Big South Conference prominence and compiling an impressive 13-2 career record.
The six-foot-one right hander made his professional debut in 2007 with Orioles’ Short-Season Single-A Aberdeen and posted a 2-2 record with a 1.46 ERA. He spent his entire 2008 campaign at Single-A Delmarva. Mariotti began the 2009 season at Single-A Advanced Frederick and moved up to Double-A Bowie, where he started 13 games and compiled a 3.44 ERA. The Orioles’ farmhand was back at Frederick in 2010, when he made 41 appearances out of the bullpen and chalked up three saves. The Woodbridge, Ontario MiLB expat was a welcome addition to the 2011 Québec Capitales‘ starting pitching rotation. Mariotti went 11-1 in the regular season with 2.74 ERA in 108.1 innings of work before going undefeated in the postseason with a 1.98 ERA. The Philadelphia Phillies came calling for Mariotti as he was signed to a minor league contract and invited to 2012 Spring Training. The hype was short-lived, and he retreated to comfy Les Capitales de Québec, where he tallied a 10-1 record in 98.1 innings with a 4.03 ERA in 2012.
Under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri, pitching coach Bill Holmberg, hitting coach Mike Piazza, third base coach Alberto D’Auria and first base coach Claudio Vecchi, Team Italy remained undefeated (9-0) in the 2012 European Championship by outscoring opponents 45-4 during the first five games of Pool A competition and then continued with their winning ways by outscoring others 18-6 in the remaining four games of the medal round. By defeating the Netherlands twice back-to-back on their home turf during the final two days of the 2012 European Championship, Team Italy demonstrated its resilience against a squad which was the biggest surprise of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Remember the Dutch defeated the Dominican Republic twice and moved on to the second round of play.
Let’s put the Italian victory over the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championship into perspective. By the Dutch winning the 2011 World Cup after upsetting a talented Cuban team in the finals, does that make Italy the new elite class of European baseball and the spoiler in the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic? With John Mariotti’s winning spirit, Italy has got a real shot.
Detroit’s Octavio Dotel usually wrecks havoc on right-handed hitters like Canadian-born Marcus Knecht, but on April Fools in a 2012 Jays Spring Training game Toronto’s 2010 third-round draft pick had the last laugh by blasting his first Grapefruit League home run off the veteran Dominican bullpen specialist. Originally selected in the 23rd round of the 2008 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after making Langley, British Columbia’s Brett Lawrie their first-round pick, former Brewers scouting director and current Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik thought that a common denominator of Canadian blood would add up to two of the country’s finest prospects crossing the border together as one into Wisconsin. Mathematicians would agree that the strategy was logical since Knecht was Lawrie’s teammate on the Canadian Junior National Team, and the Brewers believed that Lawrie might be able to influence Knecht to sign with Milwaukee. Lawrie signed with the Brewers for a $1.7 million signing bonus before going to play for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games and eventually became a Blue Jay in a late 2010 trade for pitcher Shaun Marcum (who recently became a free agent and expressed interest in returning to the Blue Jays if the team is interested in having him back). Unlike Lawrie, Knecht instead passed on the offer to play professionally in the Brewers organization in favor of perfecting his game in U.S. collegiate ball while continuing to represent his country on Team Canada in international baseball competitions worldwide. After playing on Team Canada in the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships in Edmonton and being named to the Tournament All-Star Team, Knecht was a major contributing member of the bronze medal- winning 2010 Baseball World Cup team and the gold medal-winning 2011 Pan American Games squad. Transferring from Oklahoma State University, where he struggled to get at-bats as a freshman, to Connors State College was instrumental for Knecht to develop in an everyday role in 2010. The results were off-the-charts as Knecht hit .453 with 23 homers, 20 steals and a .540 on-base percentage. He was selected in the third-round of the 2010 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays after being followed by ex-Jays’ scouting director and current assistant GM Andrew Tinnish.Accepting a $250,000 signing bonus, Knecht signed on-the-spot with Toronto and went straight to work in launching his pro career with Short-Season Single-A affiliate Auburn Doubledays (now affiliated with the Washington Nationals). After being voted the Canadian Baseball Network Player of the Year in 2010, the six-foot-one North York, Toronto native outfielder was promoted in 2011 to Single-A Lansing, where he posted a .273 average with a team-leading 16 home runs and 86 RBI for the Lugnuts. Knecht’s offensive power was noticed early on, and he was named a 2011 Midwest League Eastern Division All-Star. After impressing Jays skipper John Farrell (now with the Boston Red Sox) with his powerful bat and quick feet on the field during 2012 Blue Jays Spring Training, Knecht was assigned to Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays. It was May Day everyday for opposing pitchers who could not stop the red-hot Knecht during the month of May, when he rattled off 28 hits (including 7 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs) accounting for 22 RBI.
The 22-year-old is hoping to continue with his offensive prowess and defensive excellence as a member of the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. Second only to last season’s ABL Champion Perth Heat in team offense and pitching, the Canberra Cavalry narrowly missed the ABL playoffs. With the injection of Knecht’s “Can Do” attitude, Canberra will be charging right out of the gate for a 2013 playoff berth.
Like Sex and the City starlett Kim Cattrall, Carter Bell grew up in the small Vancouver Island, BC city of Courtenay. Opting out of the A-Rod spotlight method with the usual Hollywood fanfare and paparazzi, the 22-year-old Bell chose a lower profile means of pursuing his professional baseball career under the radar by playing for the Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League.
Following the same path as Milwaukee Brewers’ infielder Taylor Green, the six-foot-one Canadian third baseman played high school baseball for the Parksville Royals of the British Columbia Premier Baseball League. Upon graduation, Bell was a 22nd-round selection by the San Francisco Giants in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft but did not sign in favor
of accepting a scholarship to play ball for the Oregon State Beavers.
MLB noticed Bell early on when he donned a Team Canada uniform for the first-time at age 17. Representing his country in far away competitions held in Mexico, Japan as well as on his home turf, the BC All-Star chose the 2006 and 2007 NCAA National Champ Oregon State University baseball program to further develop his craft. The decision was sound as he was selected in the 29th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft and signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks following his junior year at OSU.Hitting .270 in 41 games with eight doubles, two triples, one home run and 17 RBI, Bell’s pro debut with the 2011 Single-A Short Season Yakima Bears catapulted him to Single-A Advanced Visalia Rawhide in 2012. In Cal League play, he batted .259 in 81 games with 11 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 36 RBI. The road leading Down Under to the Perth Heat originated back in Oregon, where Bell played for former Perth Heat manager and long-standing Corvallis Knights skipper Brooke Knight after his first year at OSU. In his limited 10 games of 2009 West Coast League action, Bell hit .303 (10-33) with three RBI before suffering a season-ending concussion. Brooke Knight credits his best friend since his college days in playing ball together at Oregon State University, Mike Thurman, for pointing him in right direction just north of the border to find the Victoria-born Carter Bell, who rapidly rose to prominence in the Comox Valley Baseball Association and BC Premier Baseball League before playing as a teenager for Team Canada. Speaking on the eve before departing to Australia to assist new Perth Heat skipper Steve Fish in preparing the reigning Australian Champions for next month’s Asia Series against its foreign counterparts from Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea, Knight explained how Canadian import Carter Bell landed Down Under: “To his credit, Carter took the initiative to call me and express his initial desire to play for the Perth Heat. He still considers it a privilege to take on this challenge. I told him it was the perfect winter league for him to get his body ready for spring because the ABL offers something that cannot be found anywhere else. The atmosphere and structure keeps players healthy because the league emphasizes safety first by limiting play to four games a week, which allows you to rest your body and properly heal.”
Knight also read Bell the disclaimer and warned him of the Aussie side effects: “I told him that Australia was culturally different as well and when it gets hot in December one can get homesick real fast and start crying out for girlfriends.” Knight feels blessed to have had the opportunity to coach such fine players as Carter Bell in Perth and Corvallis. “With guidance, I have luckily ended up with the right kids. Carter is a solid player. I’m just waiting for him to breakout. He’s got gap power and can hit the ball well the other way (to the opposite field). His power numbers will bump up as they did for import Adam Melker, a St. Louis Cardinals prospect.” Adam was Carter’s teammate on Brooke Knight’s 2009 Corvallis Knights. They will reunite under Knight’s leadership on the Perth Heat in the upcoming 2012 Asia Series on November 8-11 in Busan, South Korea. Melker hit 10 home runs for Double-A Springfield in 2012 as compared to none in 2011. Knight believes in Carter Bell. “He’s got a chance to make a difference. Carter has good range and can play the corners, not to mention he’s a Team Canada All-Star Shortstop.”