The tarp is about to be lifted off another season in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League with a trio of doubleheaders scheduled this coming Sunday (May 15th.) The University of Winnipeg Wesmen Baseball Program has helped many league players train year round, aiding greatly to the continuing development of junior aged players in this province.
The Altona Bisons won the league title in 2015, and in doing so, became the fourth different champion in as many years. And for the second time in as many seasons, a new team has been added with the A & W Brandon Marlins coming on board as the 8th member of the MJBL following the addition of the St. James A’s in 2015.
League President Jamie Bettens provided a preview of each of the eight teams heading into the 2016 campaign.
MJBL TEAM PREVIEWS
The 2015 MJBL Champion Altona Bisons had 6 players graduate from their championship team of 2015. They will be a much younger squad, but returning pitchers Brent Wiebe, Josh Friesen and Nathan Smith will give them a core of veterans to lead the club for 2016. Jorden Wall, Nick Kehler and Matt Klassen are returning veterans who will be in the starting line-up on opening day. Liam Giesbrecht, Jayden Bergen and Caleb Rempel are three young prospects the Bisons expect will take starting roles when they are available. Dan Giesbrecht returns to take on the head coaching duties and defend the MJBL crown.
The St. Boniface Legionaires look to build on a strong 2015 baseball season as they approach the summer of 2016. The strength and development of its AAA Bonivital Midget program will once again infuse the team with a core of new rookies to take over for the All-Star caliber of graduating players from previous seasons. Returning to St. Boniface this year are starting pitchers Zach Campbell and Garrett Virtue. They are the anchors of another strong Legionaire pitching staff with hopes for a long playoff run once again this season.
The Carillon Junior Sultans look to build on a successful 2015 as they have a number of players from the back to back Junior AA Champion Rednex. Returning top players Nic Grenier, former Wesmen Jared Esau, and junior college player Troy Blad will form a solid core for a lineup that will compete every night. 5 first year players are expected to crack the lineup all from the Carillon region. This is proof that the game is growing province wide.
The Pembina Valley Orioles, despite a solid playoff run in 2015, had a sub .500 regular season that they look to improve upon in 2016. With a solid core of returning players, and an exciting crop of young talent from all over the Pembina Valley entering the program, the O’s are looking forward to a competitive year built around solid defense and good team speed. Mike Wilson takes over the program from long time head coach Brent Laverty, who won league championships with the squad in 2013 (including a Western Canadian Championship) and 2014. Mike brings with him a wealth of baseball experience, having coached championship teams at all levels out of British Columbia, and hopes to keep the high standard of winning alive and well with the Orioles organization. in 2016 and beyond.
The Winnipeg South Chiefs, 2015 Western Canada Junior Champions, enter 2016 with an exciting mix of veterans and rookies. The key returning player is 2015 MVP Drake Pilat, a catcher/first baseman who wields a potent bat. Returning to the pitching staff are two players in their last year – hard throwing Jason Kirkland and lefty Eric Swanson. The team will be bolstered by four first year players from the 2015 18U provincial champion Chiefs. Six members of the team also play for the University of Winnipeg team.
St James A’s are back in for their 2nd year in the MJBL and look to take another step forward in the process. Added to their veteran core will be 6 players that graduated from the AAA midget league. St James has 4 players with ties to the U of W Wesmen Baseball program (Cole Armstrong, Mat Schneider, Jarrett Hogue, and Chase Palka) and a few more that played with the Manitoba provincial team in the past years. The A’s are no longer the new team on the block and look to compete with the top teams all season long.
The Elmwood Giants are excited for the upcoming season as the influx of young talent with college experience will set the stage for some exciting games at Koskie Field this summer. Colten Boudreau (Salem U – West Virginia), Aiden Brook, Brendan Perron, Jackson Dartnell (U of Winnipeg), Evan Funk (Merced College-California) and Braedon Rybak (Ridgewater College – Minnesota). Brady Kulyk anchors a core of veterans that look to continue the success fans of the Giants have become used to year after year.