Things are looking up for baseball fans in this city.
For the first time since 2011, the Capital region will play host to multiple high-level baseball clubs. Dr. Randy Gregg’s Edmonton Riverhawks will join the Edmonton Prospects as the city’s two summer collegiate teams.
2021 will be the 15th season in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) for the Prospects, while the Riverhawks will begin their inaugural season in the West Coast League (WCL) on June 1st. As the team prepares for Opening Day, let’s take a look at the WCL and what we can expect from the upcoming season.
Who plays in the WCL?
The West Coast League, just like the WCBL, is a wood-bat summer collegiate league. The college baseball season ends in spring, so players need somewhere to play during the summer months. You will see college-age players from Canada and the United States compete. Of the 16 players the Riverhawks have signed to play in 2021 they come from six different provinces and states.
Who are Edmonton’s competition?
The Riverhawks are one of three expansion teams joining the WCL in 2021, bringing the total number of teams to 15. Where the WCBL features teams in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the WCL has one team (Edmonton) based in Alberta, four in British Columbia, seven in Washington and three in Oregon.
The divisional alignment has not yet been announced for the upcoming season, but a likely scenario would be to see three divisions of five teams each, including an all-Canadian division. If this were to be the case, Edmonton’s division rivals would be:
- Kamloops NorthPaws (2021 expansion team)
- Kelowna Falcons
- Nanaimo NightOwls (2021 expansion team)
- Victoria HabourCats (2019 Finalists)
The other team of note is the Corvallis Knights. Based out of Corvallis, Oregon (home of the Oregon State Beavers), the Knights are in the middle of a dynasty, winning the league championship each of the past four years.
How does the season work?
In 2019, the WCL played a 54-game split season schedule. This means that the season was broken into 27-game halves, and in each division the best team in each half advanced to the playoffs. If one team has the best record in both halves (like the Corvallis Knights in 2019), then the team with the next best record over all 54-games advanced. With three new teams and the possibility of a brand-new division, it’s likely that the playoffs get expanded from four teams.
All we know about 2021 so far is that the Riverhawks will play 54 games from June to the beginning of August. You can find their schedule here.
Will I recognize any of these guys?
Most likely not. Not yet, anyway. But you will recognize some of the people who have played in this league.
Mitch Haniger, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners and an American League All-Star in 2018, played for the Corvallis Knights in 2010. Adley Rustschmann, the first overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, also suited up for the Knights. How about James Paxton – the Big Maple himself. You know, the guy that pitched a no-hitter against our very own Blue Jays? He took the mound for the Kelowna Falcons in 2007. And let’s not forget 2020 Pitching Triple Crown winner Shane Bieber, who pitched for the Cowlitz Black Bears in 2014.
Get acquainted with some of the players in this league, because you will be hearing their names for years to come.
How is this any different than the WCBL?
It may seem that the Prospects and Riverhawks serve the same function: elite-level summer collegiate baseball. But I believe that each club has something unique to offer for the local baseball fan.
Obviously, there’s the fact that the Prospects will be playing out of Spruce Grove for the foreseeable future. Fans on the west end of the city will naturally flock westward because the ballpark is closer. I live closer to RE/MAX Field, but I can definitely see myself making the trip over to Spruce Grove Metro Ballpark because like I said, these teams each have their own niche.
I am of the opinion that the quality of play in the WCL will be higher than its Canadian counterpart. The West Coast league has demonstrated a knack for attracting elite talent that the WCBL just hasn’t yet. If you want to see players who might reach the Major Leagues one day, the Riverhawks are your best bet.
So what do the Prospects have to offer? They are the best option if you want to watch elite Canadian talent. They’ll have a few Americans and even Australians, but the majority of players will be Canucks, largely because all twelve teams are located north of the 49th parallel.
But if you’re anything like me and just enjoy the live baseball experience, you have to be ecstatic that there is 27 more games per season happening in the River Valley.