Biggest Breakout Stars from the 2013 World Baseball Classic
By loose definition, a breakout player is one that has a season-long performance that really stands out. A performance that we have never before seen the likes of from a particular player.
In 2012, the Padres' Chase Headley belted 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBI. Headley had a total of 36 home runs and 204 RBIs in five seasons with the Padres.
Of course, rookies can also have breakout performances. Just look at the Angels' Mike Trout in 2012. His remarkable campaign was as good as many major league veterans can hope for, let alone the fact that he was a 20-year-old rookie. A 30-30 season, which didn't even start until the end of April, was more than enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors in the American League.
As the latest rendition of the World Baseball Classic comes to an end, this is a chance to look back at some standout performances from players that come from all over the world. Some of these players currently belong to major league organizations, while others could be on the horizon given their success in this year's tournament.
And while major leaguers David Wright, Robinson Cano and Justin Morneau had brilliant showings in the Classic, we will not consider them "breakout" because their prowess has already been established in their MLB careers. Thus, there won't be any players from Team USA or Team Dominican Republic on this list.
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For the most part, pitching dominated the tournament. Six of the top seven teams in ERA made it out of the first round of the tournament, where offense was key, thanks to the run-differential tiebreaker.
Included in those six teams was team Cuba, featuring Danny Betancourt, a 5'11" right-hander, who was absolutely brilliant in his two WBC appearances. The 31-year-old was pitching in his second tournament, but his 2009 performance was nothing compared to this year's.
In '09, Betancourt pitched just 1.1 innings, and really had no affect on Cuba's outcome. But in 2013, Betancourt was on fire. He made two starts (both victories), allowing just four hits and no runs. He walked three and recorded 11 punchouts.
Betancourt has no MLB affiliation. But he may have opened up some eyes with his two dominating starts in this year's WBC.
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Outfielder Michael Saunders is entering his fifth season as a member of the Seattle Mariners. He debuted with the M's in the middle of the 2009 season, and since then has accumulated 31 home runs (19 of which came in 2012). His lifetime batting average is an abysmal .220 as a career part-time player.
He put together a decent 2012 campaign, achieving career highs in every offensive category. He even managed to steal 21 bases and had 125 hits. But never have we seen the kind of production he had with Team Canada in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
Pitchers just could not retire the 26-year-old. He went 8-11 with a home run, three doubles and seven RBI. In average terms, he slashed .727/.769/1.273.
He only appeared in three games, as Canada had a quick exit from the tournament, the first that Saunders has been a part of. But if his club was able to go on, who knows what more we could have seen from Saunders.
Now back in Mariners camp, Saunders has reverted back to his old ways so far this spring. He's hitting just .161 with a couple of home runs. He is slugging .419, but the Mariners will be counting on Saunders to provide more singles and a higher on-base percentage to give the big thunder in the lineup some RBI chances.
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Right-hander Kenta Maeda shined brightly for Team Japan, the two-time defending WBC champions. The soon-to-be 25-year-old made three starts for Japan.
Maeda was the hard-luck loser in Japan's first ever elimination on Sunday. He pitched five solid innings, allowing just one earned run, striking out three. But his offense was unable to get anything on Puerto Rico's starter Mario Santiago.
Overall, Maeada pitched 15 innings over his three starts, allowing just one earned run on six hits. He walked just three struck out 18. This was Maeda's first appearance in the WBC, but he threw like a seasoned veteran.
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Right-hander Fernando Cabrera is a seven-year major league veteran, and is currently in spring training camp with his fourth MLB team. However, perhaps if he had put up more outings like what we have seen from him in the WBC, he would have stuck around with his original MLB club.
Cabrera was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1999, and he made his big league debut in '04 as a 22-year-old. But, despite a relatively successful minor league career, Cabrera has been unable to have any sustained success in the major leagues.
He has a lifetime ERA of 5.24, and has never made more than 51 appearances in any one season (2006). He hasn't appeared in the Major Leagues since making one appearance in 2010. He spent the 2012 season pitching for the New York Mets' Triple-A team.
The 2013 World Baseball Classic was Cabrera's third tournament. He has pitched for the Cuban National team each year, and has done so with success.
In fact, overall, in 8.2 tournament innings pitched, Cabrera has not allowed a single run, and has given up just three hits. He saved three games for Puerto Rico in 2013, including their semi-finals win against Team Japan.
Cabrera latched on with the Angels this offseason, signing a minor league contract in January. But manager Mike Scioscia has been impressed with what he has seen from Cabrera.
And though it's a small sample size of four games (two innings), it has been enough to catch his skipper's attention.
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I recently wrote about Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu being someone to watch for in this year's WBC. And Abreu did not disappoint.
In the six games that Cuba played, Abreu smashed three home runs among his nine hits. He drove in nine runs and accumulated 19 total bases.
This was the 24-year-old's first taste of the World Baseball Classic, and you can be sure it will not be his last. With a .760 slugging percentage, Abreu was an absolute offensive force for Team Cuba, which was eliminated by Team Netherlands in the second round.
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Don't be fooled by the numbers in Diegomar Markwell's stat line. The 6'2" left-hander participated in his third World Baseball Classic, as a member of the Kingdom of Netherlands' ballclub.
In 2006, Markwell had a tough time. He made one start that tournament and couldn't make it out of the fourth inning. In 2009, Markwell only made two relief appearances, totaling 1 1/3 innings. But in 2013, the 32-year-old put his talents on display, as the Dutch team made it all the way to the semi-finals.
Before running into an extremely hot Dominican team, Markwell looked completely in control over his first two starts against Korea and Cuba. In those two starts, he allowed just one earned run over 10 innings pitched. He had good movement on all of his pitches, and was very impressive.
Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Netherlands team, they were slotted against the Dominican Republic team in the semifinals on Monday night. Markwell got the start, and kept the DR off-balance for a while. But he ran into trouble in the fifth, and the bullpen couldn't get him out of it. He pitched 4.2 innings, giving up four earned runs.
Still, Markwell was sharp for the better part of this tournament, and had a significant turn-around from his previous two WBC tournaments.
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If it weren't for his 4.2 inning relief appearance in Tuesday night's WBC Finale, Hiram Burgos may not have made this list. Before his Puerto Rican club took on the Dominican Republic for the championship, Burgos had pitched in two games, totaling 8.1 innings.
But after started Giancarlo Alvarado looked uncomfortable, giving up two runs in the first inning, manager Edwin Rodriguez decided he had seen enough, and sent Burgos in to start the second.
And Burgos shut down the powerful Dominican lineup for a good portion of the game. He allowed one earned run in the 4.2 innings (the run came in his last inning), struck out five and walked one.
Burgos was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009, and has yet to see any Major League action. But over the course of his four minor league seasons, the right-hander 396 strikeouts and 3.61 ERA. He reached Triple-A for the first time in 2012, where he struck out 35 batters in 46 innings pitched.
He has a lot of promise with four quality pitches in his arsenal. With his performance in the WBC, there's a good chance we may see Burgos pitching in Milwaukee at some point in 2013.