7 International Prospects to Pay Attention to at the World Baseball Classic
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In the most recent installment of the international World Baseball Classic, held in 2009, a 22-year-old right-hander named Yu Darvish helped pitch the Japanese team all the way to the championship.
Clearly, the Texas Rangers liked what they saw from him, and gave him a six-year, $56 million contract (plus the more than $51 million posting fee) prior to the 2012 season. Darvish didn't disappoint in his first Major League season, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting, making the All-Star team and garnering some Cy Young Award votes as well.
This year's WBC tournament begins this weekend, and once again, scouts and talent evaluators alike will be looking at young, international prospects that can make an impact on Major League Baseball (some are already signed to Major League clubs, but still have prospect status, having never reached the Major Leagues).
So who's going to be the next Yu? Here is a look at some interesting names to keep an eye on.
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Masahiro Tanka is a 24-year-old righty who has been classified as "the best pitcher in Japan" and "a national hero since his high school days." (h/t Yahoo! Sports) He made a couple of brief relief appearances in the '09 WBC, but has been a dominant starter in the Japanese leagues.
In 2012, Tanaka went 10-4 with a minuscule 1.87 ERA. And in 2011, he struck out 241 batters, which would have placed him third best in the Major Leagues that season. In '07, he was named the Rookie of the Year in the Pacific League.
With Darvish opting not to pitch in the classic this year, Tanaka instantly becomes the ace of the Japanese rotation, and if he has the dominant performance many expect from him, he could find his way into the Major Leagues, much like his predecessor.
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Andre Rienzo is a 24-year-old right-hander currently pitching in the Chicago White Sox organization. After signing on in 2007, Rienzo reached Double-A in 2012 (he pitched one game at Triple-A as well) for the first time. He owns a 3.30 ERA and 471 strikeouts over six professional seasons in the minor leagues.
In 2013, he will represent Brazil in the WBC. But hopefully for him and the Brazilians, his performance will be better than his lone spring training appearance against the Giants (three hits, five earned runs and a wild pitch, all without recording an out).
But he did have a strong 2012 campaign, pitching in three levels of the Sox farm system. He struck out 113 batters in 103 innings, finishing with a nice 2.53 ERA in 18 starts.
Odrisamer Despaigne is a 24-year-old right-hander out of Cuba. This will be his first World Baseball Classic, but he has appeared in seven Serie Nacional seasons, pitching for the Industriales. In the '07-'08 season, he recorded 10 saves in 34 appearances, sporting a 3.78 ERA.
At 24 years of age, Despaigne will soon lose "prospect" status in the eyes of Major League scouts. But a solid WBC would certainly make him someone to keep a close eye on.
Like Despaigne, Jose Abreu is a 24-year-old out of Cuba, who will be making his first WBC appearance in 2013. This kid has tremendous power and has already been deemed the "Cuban Barry Bonds." (h/t VivaelBirdos.com)
In 2010-2011 season, Abreu put up one of the greatest Cuban seasons ever. He hit a robust .453 with 33 home runs and 93 RBI. He missed a little over 20 games with a shoulder injury, and thus missed out on the Triple Crown by just six RBI (he lead the league in batting average and tied with current A's outfielder Yoennis Cespedes in home runs). He finished the season trailing Cespedes by six RBI, but he did secure the league's MVP honors that year.
Abreu stands a chance at really impressing in this year's tournament, and talent evaluators will no doubt be watching steadily.
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In August 2008, the Baltimore Orioles signed Jonathan Schoop as a non-drafted free agent at the ripe young age of 16. Ever since, he has been toiling around in the Orioles' minor league system, putting together a decent resume. In four professional seasons, Schoop owns a .266 batting average and a .336 OBP. He hit 14 home runs for Double-A Bowie in 2012.
This spring, the 21-year-old will play alongside his countrymen, including Andruw Jones, as he represents the Netherlands in this year's World Baseball Classic. Schoop has spent much of his career as a middle infielder, and if he puts together a solid tournament, he could warrant a call-up in 2013, especially given the current uncertainty of the Orioles' infield.
Playing for the Chinese Taipei team is 19-year-old Jen-Ho Tseng, a right-hander who features a 95-mph fastball. As a high schooler, he pitched for the Taiwan national team. He made six appearances in the 2012 World Junior Championship and went 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA, collecting 22 strikeouts to just two walks in 21 1/3 innings.
One of the highlights in all of the WBC teams is a young prospect named Xander Bogaerts. The 20-year-old is currently property of the Boston Red Sox, and has three minor league seasons under his belt. He is leaving spring training to meet up with his teammates in Taiwan, as the Netherlands team prepares to do battle in this year's Classic.
Bogaerts is the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America entering the 2013 season. He split the 2012 campaign between High-A and Double-A, combining for a .307 batting average with 20 home runs.
The young shortstop may not be long for big-league action, as the Sox are in need of a long-term solution at the position. He'll get to showcase his skills in front of the world, however, as he embarks on his first World Baseball Classic tournament.