WCBL: Giants Season Preview

by Giants Insider

Courtesy of Ian Wilson, Alberta Dugout Stories (www.albertadugoutstories.ca)

The Fort McMurray Giants have turned the corner.

After entering the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) as an expansion franchise in 2016, the northern Alberta squad experienced their first .500 season in 2019.

Since then, the Giants have qualified for the postseason in consecutive seasons. Fort McMurray suffered a pair of first-round sweeps in both of those playoffs – one at the hands of the Sylvan Lake Gulls, followed by another courtesy of the Okotoks Dawgs last summer.

A playoff victory remains on the franchise firsts list for the Giants, but the team has shown enough in the regular season recently that they have found a way to punch their ticket for meaningful games in August.

Will this be the year that fans at Legacy Dodge Field get to witness a WCBL postseason triumph for the home team?


Seeking to level up the Giants is Joe Ellison, who returns for his second summer as head coach.

Ellison’s experience includes working as the recruiting coordinator at McPherson College, a program that claimed its first Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) championship in 2023.

He also spent 13 years with the Ontario Blue Jays, where he held several titles, including pitching coach, pitching coordinator, recruiting coordinator, director of baseball operations and general manager.

The Mississauga, Ontario product has helped the Fort McMurray Giants improve several aspects of their game, both on the field and away from the diamond. Ellison was integral to the team’s recent website redesign and actively promotes the club on its social media channels.

The skipper welcomes three new people to his coaching staff, including Nathan Robl, Alex Escobar and Nico Saldias.

Robl comes from McPherson College, where he was a player before becoming a coach with the Bulldogs in 2021. Most recently, he worked as the hitting coach and catching coordinator for the team. He will serve as the hitting coach for the Giants.

Escobar is the new pitching coach after he was a starting pitcher for the Giants last summer. During his eight starts, the Californian went 1-3 with a 3.60 earned run average (ERA) and 44 strikeouts in 55 innings. He also played for three seasons at McPherson College.

Saldias has been tasked with bench coach duties. The Ontario Blue Jays alum pitched in the Expedition League and the Northwoods League, which are both summer collegiate circuits.


Returning right-handed pitchers include Rob Schmidt and Bryn Biemiller.

Schmidt is an Arizona arm who worked as a reliever for the Giants last summer, going 1-1 with a save and 17 Ks in 20-plus WCBL innings. He had a 4.79 earned run average (ERA) in his 17 appearances.

Biemiller split time as a starter and bullpen arm in 2023. The Newmarket, Ontario pitcher went 2-3 with a 4.63 ERA and 26 strikeouts over 33 innings for Fort McMurray.

Ethian Mayuk got a taste of the Western Canadian Baseball League last year. The Fort Mac righty picked up one strikeout in his two innings, a lone appearance against the Brook Bombers in August.

The righthanders who are pitching for the Giants for the first time include Matt Sargeant, an Ontario freshman at North Dakota State University; Keith Manby, a freshman at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops; Jakob Brandenberger of Oklahoma; Trevor Syer, an Ontario freshman at Saint Xavier University in Chicago; Broc Selstrom, a senior at McPherson College; and 6-foot-5 Ryan Wells, a sophomore who is also originally from Ontario.

Two righty hurlers join the Giants out of the New Mexico Military Institute – Texan Jason Maldonado and Chan Yoon of Seoul, South Korea.

Southpaws who are making the return trip to Fort McMurray include Matt Whitney and John Shields.

Whitney went 2-1 for the Giants with a 1.69 ERA and 32 Ks in his 26.2 innings in 2023. The Floridian also held the Okotoks Dawgs scoreless for five innings in his only playoff appearance.

Shields is a Calgarian who went 1-0 with 29 Ks in his 11 appearances and 25 WCBL innings last summer.

Michael Szpak is a local lefty who attends Father Mercredi High School in Fort McMurray. His classmate, Riley Burns, is another southpaw who pitched in 11 contests for the Giants in 2023. Burns had a save and 16 strikeouts in his 24.1 innings.

Lefties who are new to the club include Liam Watt, an Ontario sophomore at LSU – Eunice and freshman Phoenix Johnson, who attends Lassen Community College.


Set to mask up behind the dish are Adam Thuss, David Benitez, Benicio Diaz and Braden Iannetti.

Diaz is a 6-foot-3 sophomore at New Mexico Military Institute. In 34 games with the Broncos, the Ontario native had 22 runs, 22 runs batted in (RBI) and a .305 batting average in 2023-24.

Thuss is also from Ontario – at Kellogg Community College, the freshman has five homers, 21 RBI and a .432 on-base percentage during his 31 games this season.

Benitez is a freshman from Monterrey, Mexico who is on the roster of the Texas A&M International University Dustdevils, a NCAA Division 2 program.

The local backstop is Iannetti, a Father Mercredi High School product who grew up playing in the Fort McMurray Minor Baseball Association (FMMBA).


Jayden Shafer, a senior from Oklahoma Baptist University, travels north for another summer of infield fun in Fort McMurray. He played in 44 games for the Giants in 2023 and scored 24 runs while manufacturing 14 RBI.

Sophomore Cruz Oxford cracks the roster after two seasons with Kansas Wesleyan University, where the sports management major from Peoria, Arizona has a .345 batting average, .460 on-base percentage, 11 homers and 69 RBI in 79 games.

Texan Peyton McDowall is a senior attending the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma. The 6-foot-4 infielder has suited up in 103 games for the Drovers and was named an All-American last year. He’s been a beast at the plate, blasting 30 homers, smacking 33 doubles, collecting 131 RBI while recording a .375 batting average along the way.

Joining the club from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is Mack Mitchell of Toronto. The junior played 23 games for the Cougars this year and registered 19 hits and 21 runs over 82 at bats.

Giants fans will get to see Manny being Manny this summer – Manny Alberto, that is. Alberto hails from Aurora, Ontario and has put up solid numbers with the Three Rivers College Raiders in 2023-24. In 56 games, the freshman infielder has a .349 batting average, .451 on-base percentage, 54 runs, 17 stolen bases and 37 RBI.

Another Ontario product with the Giants is Corey Morro, a sophomore at Chattanooga State Community College. He comes from a baseball family that has ties to the WCBL. His brother, Kyle, was an assistant coach with the Giants and Medicine Hat Mavericks, as well as the head coach of the Brooks Bombers. Another one of his brothers, Conner, also suited up for the Bombers.

Sophomore Darcy Barry is an import from the land down under. At North Iowa Area Community College, the Australian has collected 61 hits in 83 games with the Trojans.

Ethan Pittman is a FMMBA product who played in five games with the Giants in 2023. He’ll be looking for more at bats this year.


Central Arizona College outfielder Max Stagg was excellent for the Giants last summer. The Adelaide, Australia freshman had a .277 batting average, 38 runs and 27 RBI in 55 games.

Texan Michael Buckley was also a player to watch in 2023. He had a .312 batting average, 32 runs and a dozen stolen bases in his 48 games with Fort McMurray. Buckley is a senior at Oklahoma Christian University.

They’ll be joined by newcomer Jaden Wiley, a junior playing at Oklahoma Baptist University. In 23 games this season, the Wichita, Kansas native has a .329 batting average, 19 runs and 17 RBI.

Lincoln Fugle is another FMMBA product. The high schooler got into two games with the Giants last year and he’ll look to get more playing time this summer.

Several players on the roster are listed as both infielders and outfielders. They include returning players Gage Ninness and Joe Finder, as well as newcomer Jun Ho Son.

Ninness played 15 games for Fort Mac in 2023, while Finder suited up in 49 WCBL contests (.291 batting average, 30 runs, 35 RBI).

Son is from Seoul, South Korea and he attends New Mexico Military Institute, where he has 33 runs, 30 RBI and a .320 batting average through 44 games.

Home Ballpark: Legacy Dodge Field at Shell Place

Home Opener: 7:05 p.m., Friday, May 24th vs. Edmonton Prospects

2023 Regular Season Results: Fourth place in West Division with 30 wins & 26 losses

2023 Playoff Results: Swept in first round by Okotoks Dawgs

Mascot: Stomper