Frontier League

Frontier League East Division: Five Pitchers to Watch

Frontier League East Division: Five Pitchers to Watch

A year ago, the East Division of the Frontier League was the division of champions, and the Quebec Capitales are ready for their title defense to begin.

May 10, 2023 by Briar Napier
Frontier League East Division: Five Pitchers to Watch

A year ago, the East Division of the Frontier League was the division of champions.

The Quebec Capitales – who joined the Frontier after its former league, the Can-Am League, was absorbed by it in 2019 – secured the title, becoming the first non-American team to win the championship in the Frontier, since the London Werewolves did so in 1999. 

The Capitales did so off of the back of an elite pitching staff, finishing with the Frontier’s lowest team ERA (3.47) of the 2022 campaign by a significant margin.

They’re back and looking to stick to what works in 2023, so that means that the rest of the East better come prepared with beefier, better staffs.

Of course, Quebec wasn’t the only rotation that made waves in the East a year ago, and with many top-tier names returning for their division rivals, the champs are going to be in for a fight most weeks. 

Some rotations that struggled on the mound have made waves with new add-ons, too, potentially giving the Capitales new problems to worry about.

The grind of the Frontier League season begins very soon, and the aces who come out of the woodwork to thrive will be worth their weight in gold when the summer heat arrives and the pressure of a postseason push amps up.

Here’s a look at five pitchers to check out this year in the East Division of the Frontier League, which gets going this week, with many games broadcast live on FloBaseball.

Zac Westcott, RHP, Ottawa Titans

An indy ball veteran, having jumped into the scene right out of college in 2015, Westcott has been around this wrinkle of the game for a long time, but he recently found his stride with a pair of Frontier League teams. 

He had a career year with the now-defunct Southern Illinois Miners in 2021, going 14-3 with a 3.51 ERA. 

When the Miners ceased operations, Westcott set his sights north for the Titans for 2022, and he handled the adjustment to Canadian soil just fine, going 11-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings.

He was one of three Ottawa hurlers sent by the club to the Frontier League All-Star Game, following his contribution to the club’s electric start to 2023, in which it won 23 of its first 30 games. 

The Titans (who made a postseason run to the Division Series) are expected to be one of the league’s top teams once again, retuning nearly 70% of their roster from a year ago.

Westcott should be their top arm, even as he plays this season at age 31, owing to his experience in both the independent scene and his knowledge of the Frontier League and how to win on the mound within it.

Dwayne Marshall, RHP, Tri-City ValleyCats

The ValleyCats needed to make a splash in the offseason by bringing in a proven name to help out the rotation, and they found that in Marshall. 

Tri-City’s pitching staff was among the weakest in the Frontier League in 2022, finishing with one of the highest team ERAs (5.84) and missing out on qualifying for the playoffs. 

In comes Marshall, a two-year fixture of the Sussex County Miners’ rotation, in an attempt to save the day. 

The 25-year-old right-hander from New Jersey was an All-Star last season, going 11-3 with a 2.67 ERA – the second-lowest in the league behind former Quebec Capitales stud Miguel Cienfuegos, now with the San Diego Padres’ organization – with 111 Ks in 118 innings, throwing his main masterpiece outing July 3 against the New Jersey Jackals. It was a complete-game victory, where he allowed just one earned run. 

Still at an age where he has plenty of room to grow, Marshall will be tasked with repeating (or even surpassing) his elite level of production with a new team, one that’s still trying to find its footing in the Frontier League, after joining the organization following the New York-Penn League’s closing in 2020.

Codie Paiva, RHP, Quebec Capitales

Paiva has a massive job on his hands this season, as he’ll likely be thrust into the role of the main man on the mound for the defending-champion Capitales, but prior history suggests the Hawaiian and former draft pick of the Miami Marlins is more than up to the task. 

Though he was a very good pitcher in his own right last year for Quebec – going 9-3 with 114 strikeouts in 118 innings, while toting a 3.14 ERA, a top-5 mark in the Frontier League – Paiva played more of a complementary role to the team’s ace in Cienfuegos, the league’s Pitcher of the Year, who routinely picked apart lineups with a 1.79 ERA, by far the lowest of any individual hurler in the league. 

With Cienfuegos now off to the minors, Paiva returns with increased responsibility, as the rest of the Frontier League chases the Capitales and tries to stop them from repeating, but his experience (now entering his third season with Quebec) should be a key part in the team’s push back to the first-place trophy.

Paiva has made 40 starts in the Frontier League, one of the highest numbers of any player over his two-year span in the league.

Jesen Therrien, RHP, Trois-Rivières Aigles

Therrien is an example of the magic of independent baseball – players who have reached the pinnacle of their sport, meshed with up-and-comers and those who may have fallen through the cracks looking for a shot, doing battle on a diamond nearly every night. 

The Montrealer, drafted by the New York Mets in 2010 out of college ball in his native Quebec, grinded his way through the minors for seven years, before making his major-league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017.

He made 15 appearances, pitching 18 1/3 innings during his shot at the big time.

Then misfortune struck.

Therrien had to undergo Tommy John surgery a few months after his MLB debut in July 2017, forcing him to miss the entire 2018 season. Then, he didn’t play a game in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system after signing a two-year deal with the club in late 2017. 

Inactive from baseball for the past four years, here Therrien is at age 30 looking to jump-start his career in his home province with the Aigles. 

The 6-foot-3 right-hander was solid in the minors, going 16-13 with a 3.25 ERA during his many stops around numerous levels, making independent baseball after years away a new challenge. 

If he hasn’t lost too much of his touch and adjusts well, Therrien could make for a game-changing addition to the Trois-Rivières staff.

Osman Gutierrez, RHP, Trois-Rivières Aigles

Yes, the Aigles get two spots on this list, but it’s for good reason. 

One of the more intriguing staffs in the Frontier League because of the addition of Therrien, Gutierrez, meanwhile, brings the returning firepower to the rotation and is bringing some particularly noteworthy experience back with him to Canada this summer. 

Called the Aigles’ “best pitcher” from last year by manager Matthew Rusch after Gutierrez went 5-5 with 93 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings of work, the former Toronto Blue Jays and Marlins prospect will return to Trois-Rivières off the back of being named to Nicaragua’s squad for the recent World Baseball Classic, representing his country (which qualified for the first time) in the uber-popular international baseball tournament that returned this year after a six-year absence. 

Gutierrez, part of a staff that included major-leaguers Jonathan Loaisiga (New York Yankees) and Erasmo Ramirez (Washington Nationals), made two appearances in relief in Pool D play, as Nicaragua was eliminated, though he will be looking to parlay that into breaking through into the Aigles’ starting rotation for the 2023 Frontier League season. 

At 28 years old, Gutierrez’s prime should be arriving, too.

Trois-Rivières needs that breakout year from him (as well as elsewhere on the staff) after finishing 15th of 16 teams in the league in team ERA a year ago (6.56).