World Baseball Classic 2013: Must-Watch Players in Weekend's Opening Games

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

World Baseball Classic 2013: Must-Watch Players in Weekend's Opening Games

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    The third World Baseball Classic kicks off this weekend, with Pool A and Pool B beginning play in Japan and Taiwan, respectively.

    Pool A is made up of Brazil, China, Cuba and Japan, while Pool B features Australia, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Netherlands.

    Here is a look at one player to watch for each of those eight teams, as they look to make a name for themselves on the international stage.

Brazil (Pool A)

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    SP Andre Rienzo

    The underdog Brazil team was dealt a blow when Yan Gomes backed out to focus on his pursuit of a spot on the Indians' 25-man roster, but they still have a decent collection of minor league talent.

    Rienzo is the best of the bunch, as he enters the 2013 season as the White Sox No. 7 prospect according to Baseball America.

    Last season, he went 7-3 with a 2.53 ERA and 9.8 K/9 as he opened the season in High Single-A and finished it with 6.2 shutout innings in his lone Triple-A start.


    Weekend Games

    3/2: Japan vs. Brazil, 5 A.M. (EST)

    3/3: Cuba vs. Brazil, 10:30 P.M. (EST)

China (Pool A)

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    3B Ray Chang

    Team China is just 1-5 all-time in the WBC, and they will have an uphill battle to improve on that showing this time around.

    The 29-year-old Chang is the only player on the roster currently on a big league team, as he has hit .272/.346/.379 in eight minor league seasons and is currently part of the Twins' organization.

    Chang went 5-for-11 with a home run and two RBI in the 2009 WBC, as he was the lone bright spot in the team's lineup.


    Weekend Games

    3/3: China @ Japan, 5 A.M. (EST)

Cuba (Pool A)

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    OF Alfredo Despaigne

    Team Cuba has a pair of dangerous sluggers in Despaigne and Jose Dariel Abreu, but we'll give the nod to Despaigne here as the player to watch.

    The 26-year-old reclaimed the Cuban League single-season home run record last year after previously holding it and then watching Yoenis Cespedes break it in 2010-11.

    When all was said and done, he finished the season hitting .326/.479/.695 with 36 home runs and 105 RBI in 95 games to capture his third MVP award.


    Weekend Games

    3/3: Cuba vs. Brazil, 10:30 P.M. (EST)

Japan (Pool A)

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    SP Masahiro Tanaka 

    The best pitcher in Japan last season while pitching for the Rakuten Eagles, the 24-year-old Tanaka went 19-5 with a 1.27 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 226.1 innings of work.

    After Daisuke Matsuzaka won tournament MVP in 2005 and 2009, Tanaka will assume the role of staff ace for the Japan team and be counted on to make a similar impact.


    Weekend Games

    3/2: Japan vs. Brazil, 5 A.M. (EST)

    3/3: China @ Japan, 5 A.M. (EST)

Australia (Pool B)

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    OF David Kandilas

    The 22-year-old Kandilas spent last season in Single-A for the Rockies, and he could have a solid future ahead of him if he continues to develop.

    He hit .266/.360/.403 and stole 19 bases over 278 at-bats in 2012, and he'll be counted on as a table-setter for an Australian lineup that features former major league prospects Chris Snelling and Justin Huber, among others.

    He may be a ways from contributing at the big league level, but he could help boost his prospect stock with a strong showing in the WBC.


    Weekend Games

    3/1: Australia @ Chinese Taipei, 11:30 PM (EST)

Chinese Taipei (Pool B)

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    1B Cheng-Min Peng

    The 34-year-old Peng is the biggest star on the Taipei roster, as he's hit .348/.452/.535 with 151 home runs and 179 steals in 12 seasons in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

    He hit a record .391 in 2008, and has topped the .300 mark in every season in the league as he has been a consistent force for the Brother Elephants.

    Despite the fact they're lacking in known major league talent, the Chinese Taipei team is a talented group and has a real chance at making it out of their pool.

    Weekend Games

    3/1: Australia @ Chinese Taipei, 11:30 PM (EST)

    3/3: Netherlands @ Chinese Taipei, 1:30 AM (EST) 

Korea (Pool B)

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    OF Hyun-Soo Kim

    The 25-year-old Kim is arguably the top hitter in the Korean Baseball Organization right now, and he made a solid impact in the WBC last time around.

    He went 11-for-28 with three doubles and four RBI to make the All-WBC team, and he'll be counted on to drive the offense once again.

    Also back for Korea is first baseman Tae-Kyun Kim (10-for-29, 3 HR, 11 RBI, All-WBC team) and five-time KBO MVP Seung-Yuop Lee who has 483 career home runs during his pro career.


    Weekend Games

    3/2: Korea @ Netherlands, 6:30 AM (EST)

Netherlands (Pool B)

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    SS Xander Bogaerts

    The No. 8 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, Bogaerts will be one of the most talked about players in the WBC.

    The 20-year-old hit .307/.373/.523 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI between High Single-A and Double-A last season, and he could make an impact in Boston by next year.

    He joins Andrelton Simmons (ATL) and Jonathan Schoop (BAL) in an impressive young infield that could be enough to propel the Netherlands out of pool play.


    Weekend Games

    3/2: Korea @ Netherlands, 6:30 AM (EST)

    3/3: Netherlands @ Chinese Taipei, 1:30 AM (EST)