2013 World Baseball Classic: Grades for the Biggest Stars at the Halfway Point

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Grades for the Biggest Stars at the Halfway Point

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    The 2013 World Baseball Classic has produced some exciting moments thus far. From bench-clearing brawls to record team performances, the global tournament has certainly not been short of thrilling entertainment.

    At the halfway point, there have been both surprises and disappointments. Chinese Taipei and Korea are now sitting at home, wondering why their talent wasn't enough to take them further. Venezuela too is headed home despite its star-studded batting order.

    Cuba once again suffered a second-round defeat, this time at the hands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

    Some of baseball's brightest stars have shined on the international stage, while others have fizzled.

    Here are grades for some of the world's best players at the midway point of the WBC.

Chien-Ming Wang: Chinese Taipei

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    Chien-Ming Wang participated in the World Baseball Classic for the first time this year. Considering he's still searching for employment with a major league team, it's safe to say that the WBC was an audition of sorts for Wang.

    Based on his performance, he could be fielding calls from interested teams.

    Wang started and won the first game for Chinese Taipei in Pool B, tossing six scoreless innings to defeat Australia 4-1.

    Wang followed up with another strong outing against Japan in Round 2, hurling another six scoreless innings. It wasn't quite enough, however, as Japan got to Chinese Taipei's bullpen in a 4-3 extra-inning victory.

    Wang's line for the WBC is 12 innings pitched, 10 hits, no runs, one walk, three strikeouts.

    That qualifies as an excellent tryout.

    Final WBC Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 1 BB, 3 K

    Grade: A

Alfredo Despaigne: Cuba

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    Cuban outfielder Alfredo Despaigne is no stranger to the international baseball stage.

    At the Summer Olympics in 2008, Despaigne helped lead Cuba to a silver medal, hitting .382 with three home runs and 12 RBI in nine games.

    In the Cuban National Series in 2011-2012, Despaigne hit 36 homers to break the single-season home run record and won his third MVP Award.

    Heading into Monday morning's elimination game against the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Round 2, Despaigne again shined under pressure, hitting .438 with three homers and eight RBI.

    However, Despaigne was held hitless by the Dutch in Cuba's 7-6 loss.

    Final WBC Stats: .389 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 1.466 OPS

    Grade: A-

Tae-Kyun Kim: Korea

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    South Korea was considered a favorite heading into the 2013 World Baseball Classic and for good reason. It finished third in the inaugural WBC in 2006 and lost to Japan in the finals in 2009.

    However, this year Korea simply didn't have enough offensively. Despite finishing with a 2-1 record in Pool B, Korea was sent home after scoring just nine runs in its three games.

    One of its biggest offensive weapons, first baseman Tae-Kyun Kim, was largely expect to help lead the charge for Korea. However, Kim was just 2-for-6 in the tournament with no extra-base hits.

    As a team, Korea hit just .237 in the WBC with only four extra-base hits, squandering run-scoring opportunities along the way. Kim was certainly not alone in his failure to produce, but much more was expected from one of the team's most experienced international stars.

    Final WBC Stats: .333 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .667 OPS

    Grade: C-

Seung-Yuop Lee: Korea

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    With almost 500 career home runs during his career in Asia, Korean first baseman Seung-Yuop Lee was also considered to be a key offensive contributor for his national team heading into the 2013 WBC.

    Lee, who was instrumental in leading Korea to a gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, was one of Korea's most productive hitters in the WBC, hitting .400 (4-for-10) with three of his team's four total extra-base hits.

    Lee certainly did his part in trying to propel Korea into second-round action, but his efforts alone simply weren't enough to carry Korea past the first round.

    Final WBC Stats: .400 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1.100 OPS

    Grade: B+

Andrelton Simmons: Kingdom of the Netherlands

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    When Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons made the decision to play for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 2013 WBC, it was suggested that Simmons might be better off staying in Braves camp to prepare for his second major league season.

    But Braves general manager Frank Wren signed off on Simmons' participation in the WBC.

    Via Mark Bowman of MLB.com:

    But Wren and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez have supported Simmons' decision to play in the Classic. Their belief was that the competitive atmosphere would prove much more beneficial to the 22-year-old shortstop than the more casual elements that surround the exhibition games he would have been playing in Florida.

    Turns out that Wren may have been right.

    Simmons has been on fire in the tournament, delivering the key blast that allowed the Netherlands to climb back into a 6-6 tie with Cuba on Monday to move on to the semifinals in San Francisco.

    Simmons has come up with key hits throughout the tournament and has played nearly flawless defense to help spark his underdog team.

    Current WBC Stats: .370 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.104 OPS

    Grade: A

Miguel Cabrera: Venezuela

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    Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera looked like he was going to rip apart the competition leading up his participation in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela.

    Cabrera went a combined 6-for-8 in two exhibition games against major league teams leading up to the first round of play in the WBC. With three home runs and seven RBI in those contests, Cabrera seemed like he was primed for action.

    However, in the first two games played by Venezuela, both losses, Cabrera was completely neutralized, collecting just one single in seven at-bats. With both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic keeping Cabrera from producing, Venezuela's game against Spain on Sunday was irrelevant.

    Cabrera was 3-for-5 on Sunday against Spain with his first home run of the tournament. But it was in a game that had no meaning.

    However, for a team that boasted a star-studded cast in its batting order, Venezuela will go home hanging their heads in shame. And Cabrera will head back to Tigers camp wondering why he couldn't come up big when it mattered.

    Final WBC Stats: .333 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1.012 OPS

    Grade: C

Kenta Maeda: Japan

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    At just 24 years of age, Kenta Maeda has already developed into one of the best pitchers in Japan's Central League.

    In the past three seasons for the Hiroshima Carp, Maeda has posted a 39-27 record, a 2.07 ERA and a WHIP hovering around 1.00.

    Without a major league player on Japan's roster, many were unsure just how good the team would be heading into this year's WBC as the two-time defending champion.

    Backed by great performances such as Maeda's, they have answered in resounding fashion.

    Japan has already secured a berth in the WBC semifinals in San Francisco, and Maeda has had a lot to do with Japan getting there.

    Maeda has delivered two flawless performances, allowing just one hit in five innings against China in the first round and again against the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Sunday at the Tokyo Dome.

    Maeda was masterful against the Dutch, striking out nine batters while his teammates battered the Netherlands' pitching staff for six home runs on their way to a 16-4 victory and a trip to San Francisco.

    Maeda will be well rested and primed to deliver once again for his Japanese team next week.

    Current WBC Stats: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.30 WHIP, 15 K, 1 BB

    Grade: A+

Pablo Sandoval: Venezuela

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    Just over four months after helping to lead his San Francisco Giants to a World Series title and winning the MVP Award in the process, third baseman Pablo Sandoval was hoping to help his native Venezuela achieve success in the WBC.

    Sandoval totaled two hits in his first two games in the first round, both of them run-scoring doubles. But it wasn't nearly enough to help Venezuela avoid elimination. Those would be Sandoval's only two hits in the all-important first two games.

    Sandoval went 2-for-4 with a home run against Spain on Sunday, ending his WBC experience with a .308 average. But he'll nonetheless go home disappointed.

    Final WBC Stats: .308 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1.049 OPS

    Grade: B

Anibal Sanchez: Venezeula

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    Detroit Tigers postseason hero Anibal Sanchez would have loved to have walked away from the WBC with fond memories.

    Those remembrances, however, will be short and not so sweet.

    Sanchez started the first game for Venezuela in Pool C play against the Dominican Republic. It was apparent from the start that Sachez left his A-game back in spring training.

    Sanchez allowed three runs on three hits, walking one and and committing a throwing error on an attempted sacrifice bunt. Sanchez pitched to just seven batters before the rains came in Puerto Rico, ending his horrific night.

    Sanchez put Venezuela behind the eight-ball right away, and it was unable to recover, losing the all-important first game 9-3.

    Final WBC Stats: 0-1, 54.00 ERA, 12.00 WHIP, 1 K, 1 BB

    Grade: F

Adrian Gonzalez: Mexico

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    Easily the star position player for Mexico, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez did his part in trying to help his native country advance to the second round in the WBC.

    Gonzalez hit a two-run home run off Team USA starter R.A. Dickey in the third inning of their game on Friday, helping propel Mexico to a 5-2 victory and stay alive in its efforts to reach the second round.

    Mexico fell short against Canada on Saturday, 10-3. Gonzalez was held hitless by Canada's pitching staff, collecting just one walk.

    Gonzalez ended up hitting .429 for the tournament, certainly not falling short in his efforts, but it was still not enough to help Mexico to move on.

    Final WBC Stats: .429 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1.571 OPS

    Grade: B+

Anthony Rizzo: Italy

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    First baseman Anthony Rizzo showed off his talents in his first season with the Chicago Cubs last season. He's now trying to do the same on the international stage.

    Rizzo contributed three RBI and a .273 average for Italy in its first three games. Rizzo is one of the few major league stars on the Italian roster, but he was actually out-shined by several non-MLB performers.

    Rizzo was held hitless by the Dominicans on Tuesday but did score a run after being walked in the first inning.

    Current WBC Stats: .214 BA, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .632 OPS

    Grade: C

Masahiro Tanaka: Japan

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    For the past several years, Masahiro Tanaka has been a star pitcher for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League, with a sub-2.00 ERA for the past two seasons.

    In fact, C.J. Nitkowski of ESPN.com wrote last week that Tanaka could be the next great Japanese pitcher to make the transition to Major League Baseball.

    Tanaka's incredible two-inning relief performance against Cuba in Round 1 of Pool A play stands as one reason why.

    Tanaka gave up a run on three hits in his two innings of work, but he also struck out six Cuban hitters. Tanaka has struck out 12 batters in seven innings thus far and will likely be a key to Japan's hopes in the upcoming semifinals in San Francisco.

    Current WBC Stats: 0-0, 2.57 ERA, 4.43 WHIP, 12 K, 0 BB

    Grade: B+

R.A. Dickey: United States

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    Last year's National League Cy Young Award winner was the featured pitcher for a talented Team USA. However, he simply didn't get it done in his debut on the international stage.

    R.A. Dickey started Game 1 in Pool D play against Mexico. It was fairly obvious from the start that Dickey's famed knuckleball simply wasn't knuckling very well.

    For much of his outing, Dickey's signature pitch floated without much movement, leading to four runs on six hits through four innings, including Adrian Gonzalez's two-run home run that gave Mexico a 4-0 lead in the third inning.

    Dickey will get a chance for redemption when he faces off against a vaunted Dominican Republic lineup on Thursday.

    Current WBC Stats: 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 2 K, 0 BB

    Grade: D+

Sergio Romo: Mexico

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    San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sergio Romo earned the right to close last year with his outstanding performance late in the regular season and during the playoffs.

    Romo's efforts helped lead his Giants to a World Series title, and he was hoping to help his native Mexico in the WBC as well.

    Unfortunately, his efforts in the WBC fell short of his postseason exploits.

    Romo took the mound for Mexico in the top of the ninth inning with his team clinging to a 5-4 lead. Romo allowed two runs on three hits as Italy surged ahead and upset Mexico, 6-5.

    Romo picked up a save against Team USA on Friday night, but the blown save on Thursday night put Mexico in a catch-up situation it eventually couldn't overcome.

    Final WBC Stats: 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 1 SV, 1.50 WHIP, 1 K, 0 BB

    Grade: D+

Yuliesky Gourriel: Cuba

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    Third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel is one of the most experienced players on the Cuban team in terms of international competition. He has participated in tournaments around the world since 2002, including the 2006 and 2009 WBC.

    Gourriel once again represented Cuba in the 2013 WBC, and he was relatively quiet for much of the tournament. He doubled twice and singled in Cuba's 7-6 loss to the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Monday with two RBI.

    Final WBC Stats: .280 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .788 OPS

    Grade: B

Yovani Gallardo: Mexico

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    In his only appearance for Mexico in the 2013 WBC, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo came up big when he needed to.

    Gallardo held the vaunted Team USA lineup to just one run on two hits in 3.1 innings, walking one and striking out four.

    While Mexico wasn't able to move on, Gallardo was able to keep his team in the mix despite a crushing loss to Italy in Game 1 of the first round.

    Final WBC Stats: 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 4 K, 1 BB

    Grade: A

Justin Morneau: Canada

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    After having his career literally put on hold while he recovered from concussion symptoms, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau appeared to finally get back to a semblance of normalcy in the second half last season.

    Morneau hit .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBI for the Twins in 2012. While not quite as productive as his best years in the late 2000s, it certainly looked like Morneau was on his way back.

    For Canada in the 2013 WBC, Morneau clearly showed that he's ready to get back to that level once again.

    While Canada was unable to move past the first round, Morneau did all he could to help. His efforts will no doubt give him tremendous confidence as he prepares for the upcoming MLB season.

    Final WBC Stats: .636 BA, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1.601 OPS

    Grade: A

Joey Votto: Canada

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    While Canada hit a healthy .304 in the first round of the WBC, first baseman Joey Votto was relatively quiet.

    Votto collected just two hits during Pool D play. It was clear that opposing pitchers were wary of pitching to Votto, walking him five times. But overall, his potent bat was neutralized.

    Final WBC Stats: .222 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .777 OPS

    Grade: C

Hanley Ramirez: Dominican Republic

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    With former teammate Jose Reyes manning the shortstop position, Hanley Ramirez moved back to third base for the Dominican Republic in the 2013 WBC.

    Ramirez delivered a crushing solo shot off Venezuelan pitcher Jhoulys Chacin in the fifth inning in the first round. Ramirez also hit a sacrifice fly to score Erick Aybar with the tying run in the seventh inning in Tuesday's second-round game with Italy.

    However, Ramirez has been quiet otherwise, collecting just one other single in his four games thus far.

    Current WBC Stats: .182 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .866 OPS

    Grade: C

Jose Reyes: Dominican Republic

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    Shortstop Jose Reyes has thus far served as a nice spark plug at the top of the order for the Dominican Republic in the 2013 WBC.

    Reyes got the Dominicans on the board against Italy in Tuesday's second-round matchup. With Italy off to an early 4-0 lead, Reyes blasted a solo shot off Italy starting pitcher Tiago da Silva to open the third inning.

    Reyes also started the seventh inning rally with a single, and he would later score on a bases-loaded walk to Edwin Encarnacion.

    Current WBC Stats: .316, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .824 OPS

    Grade: B+

Giancarlo Stanton: Miami Marlins

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    Many baseball fans have been patiently waiting for Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton to unleash his power in the 2013 WBC.

    They're still waiting.

    Stanton was hitless in the first two games of Pool D play, prompting Team USA manager Joe Torre to sit Stanton and start Ben Zobrist in his place for the deciding third game against Canada. Considering that Zobrist was 3-for-5 with a run scored in that game, it was a wise decision.

    Stanton bounced back on Tuesday with a nice effort, going 2-for-3 with a walk against Puerto Rico and making a splendid over-the-shoulder catch to rob Mike Aviles of extra bases in the fourth inning.

    Current WBC Stats: .200 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .585 OPS

    Grade: C-

Yadier Molina: Puerto Rico

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    St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has yet to collect an RBI or hit anything other than a single in the 2013 WBC. But it's clear that he's the unquestioned leader for Puerto Rico.

    Molina skillfully guided the Puerto Rican pitching staff to two early victories in the first round, giving them a berth in the second round in Miami.

    Molina's bat has been relatively quiet, however. He was just 1-for-4 with a single in Tuesday's loss to Team USA.

    Current WBC Stats: .273 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .606 OPS

    Grade: B-

Carlos Beltran: Puerto Rico

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    St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran is another star who has been fairly quiet in the WBC thus far. In fact, Puerto Rico is only hitting .234 as a team with 12 runs scored in four games leading up to its do-or-die game with Italy on Wednesday night.

    It was Beltran's RBI double that helped fuel Puerto Rico in its first-round win over Spain. Thus far, it's Beltran's only RBI in the tournament.

    Current WBC Stats: .267 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .779 OPS

    Grade: B-

Robinson Cano: Dominican Republic

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    There's been absolutely nothing quiet about the performance of Robinson Cano in this WBC for the Dominican Republic.

    Cano came out charging at the start of first round play and hasn't slowed down since. He collected three hits and three RBI against Venezuela in the first game of Pool C play, he followed up with three more hits and an RBI against Spain and then capped off the first round with another three hits—including a home run—against Puerto Rico.

    Cano wasn't finished there, however. He was 3-for-4 with a solo home run against Italy on Tuesday to help put the Dominican Republic into the winners' bracket.

    As of right now, Cano is absolutely one of the contenders for the 2013 WBC MVP Award.

    Current WBC Stats: .632 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.789 OPS

    Grade: A+

Fernando Rodney: Dominican Republic

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    Following his magical 2012 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, closer Fernando Rodney is picking up right where he left off in the 2013 WBC.

    Rodney has yet to allow a hit in the tournament, appearing in all four games thus far for the Dominicans.

    On Tuesday, with the Dominican Republic holding a slim 5-4 lead over Italy, Rodney entered in the ninth inning and promptly struck out Mike Costanzo. After walking pinch hitter Tyler LaTorre, Rodney got Drew Butera to hit into a game-ending double play to send the Dominicans into the winners' bracket to face Team USA on Thursday.

    It's been business as usual thus far for Rodney.

    Current WBC Stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 SV, 0.90 WHIP, 3 K, 3 BB

    Grade: A-

Ryan Braun: Team USA

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    Team USA left fielder Ryan Braun hasn't provided his normal production in his team's first four games, but they'll certainly take what he's given thus far.

    Braun has delivered six hits in the four games and scored four runs. While the Team USA bats have somewhat struggled with runners in scoring position and with just one home run altogether, Braun has been an on-base machine with a .421 OBP.

    Current WBC Stats: .353 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .833 OPS

    Grade: B

David Wright: Team USA

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    David Wright was a key performer for Team USA in 2009 and was determined to come back and help his country once again.

    It's safe to say he's done that and a whole lot more.

    After delivering the walk-off hit in the ninth inning of their second-round game with Puerto Rico to propel Team USA to the semifinals of the 2009 WBC, Wright has again been the force that has helped fuel the Americans.

    Wright's grand-slam home run in the third inning against Italy in Game 2 of the first round helped wake up a slumbering Team USA offense.

    His five RBI against Puerto Rico on Tuesday night again propelled Team USA, this time into the winner's bracket to face the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

    Wright has been directly involved with 58 percent of the total run production for Team USA, driving in 10 and scoring four times.

    Wright has certainly earned the nickname Captain America.

    Current WBC Stats: .438 BA, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 1.276 OPS

    Grade: A+

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.