Boise Hawks slugger Canela earning his place in lineup

Undrafted Danny Canela is thriving for Boise after year of independent ball.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJuly 11, 2014 

Boise Hawks catcher Mark Zagunis is tagged out by Hillsboro Hops second baseman Pedro Ruiz while trying to steal second Thursday at Memorial Stadium. The Hawks wrapped up a three-game series against Hillsboro with a 9-3 loss to the Hops.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Hitting .308 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 23 games as the Boise Hawks' primary cleanup hitter, it's hard to imagine labeling Danny Canela as "lazy."

But that's a term Canela admits he's heard, and one his former 300-pound frame would often generate upon first glance.

After shedding 50 pounds in the offseason, the 23-year-old has done all he can to shed that label, too.

"That's the last thing I want associated with my name," Canela said. "I've already had to do a lot just to get to this point, and I want the organization to be happy having me here."

Just to get to this point, Canela has needed to put in a ton of work. Undrafted after his junior and senior years of college, he played last summer with the River City (Mo.) Rascals of the independent Frontier League.

Making a little less than $700 a month, subsisting on peanut butter and jelly and free fruit provided by a teammate's dad, Canela hit .360 and hit 12 home runs in 63 games for the Rascals.

"It was the bottom of the baseball barrel," Canela said. "It was a great group of guys who just love to play. You kind of have to have that if you're playing in a league like that."

But Canela was hovering around 300 pounds, a lot to carry at 5-foot-11. He ran 9 miles a day for three months leading up to spring training after being signed by the Cubs in October based on his impressive showing in independent ball.

"This is probably my last chance to play professionally, and I know there's not a lot of margin for error as a guy who is 23 and undrafted, so that really pushes me," Canela said.

Hawks manager Gary Van Tol has praised Canela's willingness to learn to play first base after spending most of his life as a catcher, along with his 10 walks (second on the team) to 16 strikeouts (fewest among Hawks with more than 20 games played).

"You realize pretty quickly he's doing everything he can to make the most of that opportunity," Van Tol said.

Before he traveled to such exotic locales as Normal, Ill., and North Franklin Township, Pa., in the Frontier League, Canela hit .315 at North Carolina State over three seasons. Being away from home for the first time, the weight slowly was put on and his grades slipped. He was not among the 1,238 players taken in the MLB Draft after his junior year, when he led the Wolfpack with a .348 average.

In the next few months, he dealt with a hematoma and academic struggles. A few practices were skipped, and Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent took away Canela's locker, telling him he needed to earn it back.

"It was maybe going to be my last year playing, I didn't want to trust my senior year to him, so we decided to part ways," Canela said. "I didn't know if I'd play again."

Canela wasn't done. He transferred to NAIA power Lee (Tenn.) for his senior year, but had to get A's in six classes before being eligible. He did it, and he hit .335 in his lone season with the Flames. Again, he went undrafted. That, however, turned out to be the push he needed, realizing his baseball career was dangerously close to ending.

In 2009, he was taken in the 37th round by the Detroit Tigers out of high school in Miami and offered $250,000 before opting to attend college.

"If I signed right out of high school, I'd probably be out of the game by now," Canela said. "My mentality wasn't right. Even though I didn't imagine it, this route has been the best for me."

Undrafted twice with a year in pro baseball's lowest rungs, Canela has thought a few times his career was nearly done. Whether or not this is truly it, he's not taking any chances.

"It's been really hard, but I'm so happy for this shot and I'm doing everything I can to prove I deserve it," Canela said.

HILLSBORO 9, BOISE 3

The Hawks couldn't take advantage of their chance to tie the Hops atop the Northwest League's South Division on Thursday.

In a game where the two teams combined for 30 hits, the Hops tied a league season-high with 19 of them to earn the win.

Jeffrey Baez, Mark Zagunis and Alex Tomasovich had two hits apiece for Boise (14-13).

Steve Nyisztor was 5-for-5 in his second game for Hillsboro (16-11).

The Hawks hit the road for three games at Eugene, beginning Friday night at 8:05 p.m. MT.

NOTE: Hawks reliever Jasvir Rakkar was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday as the Cubs took on Omaha. Rakkar gave up 11 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings this season for the Hawks after being sent to Boise from Class-A Daytona on June 22.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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