The Ottawa Champions have placed four exhibition games on the Spring Training schedule as the 2016 winners of the Can-Am League prepare for their May 18 home opener with the Trois-Rivieres Aigles at Rcgt Park. Ottawa will go up against the St. Jerome Royals of the Quebec Senior League on May 12 in a special school day 11 a.m. start at RCGT Park. A day later, the Champions will travel to St. Jean-sur-Richelieu for a tilt with the town’s club that’s also in the highly competitive QSL. On Mother’s Day May 14, Ottawa squares off against the NCBL All-Stars at RCGT Park and then the champs wrap up the exhibition schedule on May 16 with a game versus the Can-Am League’s Quebec Capitales.

Ranks as a team strength

The Champions and their third-year manager Hal Lanier are heading into the 2017 season with a starting pitching staff that ranks as a team strength. The big three returning starters include all-star workhorse RHP Austin Chrismon who dominated while posting an 8-4 won-loss record and a sharp 2.39 ERA over the course of 135.1 innings. Chrismon will be joined by fellow all-star RHP Daniel Cordero and his 10-4 won-loss line and solid 3.79 ERA in 116.1 innings. LHP Yean Carlos Gil gives the club balance on the bump as he went 8-6 with a respectable 3.46 ERA in 111.2 innings. The club’s fourth starter will be RHP Steve Borkowski who racked up two crucial wins during the club’s championship playoff run.

Expected to close out games will be new acquisition RHP Victor Beriguete and being looked upon as a swingman is, first-year hurler LHP Patrick Peterson.

Raked at a .261 clip

Offensively, the ballclub is expecting more big things from slugger OF/1B Kenny Bryant. The left-handed swinger raked at a .261 clip while pounding out a club-leading 11 home runs and 69 RBIs to earn the team MVP award.

In the field, Bryant is likely to see more time at first base. CF/DH/hitting coach Sebastien Boucher set a ton of Can-Am League records in 2016. Boucher holds Can-Am League marks for hits, RBIs, career runs scored and most walks in a season. The lefty swinger hit a crisp .291 with eight home runs and 55 RBIs during 2016 and got white hot in the playoffs when he posted a .371 average while driving in four runs and scoring nine runs himself.

In left field, the durable Matt Helms gives the club a consistent bat and superior defense. He batted .247 with four home runs and 40 RBIs while appearing in 98 of the team’s 100 games. 2B Albert Cartwright is up for setting the table again from the top of the batting order. Cartwright banged out a .292 average that was over .300 for most of the season. Cartwright homered three times, chased home 34 runs and stole a team-leading 26 bases. He clubbed three more round trippers in the playoffs.

Bringing speed to the lineup

He’ll be joined in bringing speed to the lineup by late-season acquisition OF Adron Chambers. At shortstop, slick fielding Daniel Bick comes back from an injury-filled campaign.

When healthy, Bick gives the club’s pitchers above average defense, and he is sure to hit better than the .205 clip he put up in 2016. Behind the plate, C Danny Grauer batted only .196, but he did smoke several clutch long balls that were among the five he hit in the season, and he drilled another pivotal tater in a playoff win. Grauer’s real value to the Champions is his ability to work well with the pitching staff and coax them through the rough spots. Ottawa’s major offseason signing was OF Steve Brown who played with the Aigles in 2016 when he hit .276 with eight homers and 41 RBI.