World Baseball Classic: 20 Players to Watch
The fifth installment of the World Baseball Classic will begin when Cuba takes on The Netherlands at 11 pm ET on Tuesday, March 7. Of course, it will be noon on Wednesday, March 8 in Taiwan where they are playing. Both squads are in Pool A. The WBC has expanded this year to 20 teams, up from the traditional 16. There are four Pools with five teams apiece. The initial set of games will have every team play the other four teams in their Pool. The top two teams in each Pool will advance to an eight-team bracket which will be single elimination until a winner is crowned in Miami.
As usual, there are quite a few Major League Baseball stars in the tournament. The USA team is made up strictly of major leaguers and the Dominican squad boasts the same, albeit with a couple of players who remain free agents. We all know the big names, but along with those guys, there are quite a few looking to make a name for themselves. There are also a few who will be heading to the minors this season after the tournament is over. Let's take a look at 20 players you could see making an impact in the majors over the next few years.
Kai-Wei Teng - Chinese Taipei
The right-hander is a large man at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. However, he doesn't blow away hitters with overpowering stuff as his fastball sits in the low 90s. Teng spent last year at Double-A Richmond for the San Francisco Giants. His 5.22 ERA and 85 walks in 136.1 innings don't look great, but the big starter also struck out 169 using a solid mix of four pitches. If he improves his command, Teng could be a fourth or fifth starter and eat innings at the major league level.
Tsung-Che Cheng - Chinese Taipei
Cheng spent his 2022 season at Bradenton in A-ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He slashed a respectable .270/.376/.418 and swiped 33 bags. He also chipped in six home runs. Not bad for a 21-year-old listed at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds. Cheng played shortstop mostly and looked smooth in the field with quick feet and good hands.
Jaydenn Estanista - Netherlands
Spending time as both a starter and a reliever in Rookie Ball for the Philadelphia Phillies last year, Estanista impressed allowing just 14 hits in 31.1 innings while striking out 35. He will likely begin the year in A-Ball to fine-tune his arsenal. He already sits mid-90s with his fastball. Estanista could be a quick riser with the development of his secondary pitches.
Joe LaSorsa - Italy
LaSorsa went from Advanced-A to Double-A last year for the Tampa Bay Rays. The southpaw was great with a 2.33 ERA and an 87/10 K/BB rate over 73.1 innings. He also saved eight games and has the frame to handle multiple innings as the Rays had him throw his 73.1 innings in just 40 appearances.
Jose Ramos - Panama
The 22-year-old has some serious power. He blasted 25 homers across two levels last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramos slashed a respectable .249/.339/.479 as well with 97 RBIs. The 31 percent strikeout rate is a bit concerning, but the raw power is absolutely there.
Masataka Yoshida - Japan
Many eyes will be on Yoshida. Although Japanese baseball fans have known him for years, American fans will be getting a preview of the outfielder before he hits the field for the Boston Red Sox at the end of March. Yoshida slashed .336/.449/.559 with 21 homers and an 82/42 BB/K rate for Orix in 2022.
Jung-Hoo Lee - Korea
The 2022 KBO MVP may be posted next year which means he could be coming to a ballpark near you in 2024. To earn that MVP award, the 24-year-old centerfielder slashed .349/.421/.575 with career highs in homers (23) and RBIs (113).
Kyle Glogoski - Australia
The New Zealand native was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched for the Phillies last season mostly at Advanced-A. While he was at Jersey Shore, Glogoski had a solid 2.77 ERA with a 75/20 K/BB rate over 65 innings. He did start 12 games, but the right-hander projects as a relief pitcher.
Willie Escala - Czech Republic
Escala went undrafted in 2022 after playing shortstop for Miami (OH). In his senior year, he slashed .275/.336/.401 with 18 stolen bases. This is a perfect showcase for Escala to show his talent and jump on with a major league team as either a shortstop or utility player.
Harry Ford - Great Britain
The 12th overall pick from 2021 is ready to show his skills in front of the world against top competition. He was at Single-A Modesto for the Seattle Mariners last season and produced. He slashed .274/.425/.439 with 11 HRs and 23 SBs. He is looking like a first-round pick so far. Let's see if he speeds up his clock with a great performance at the World Baseball Classic.
Edouard Julien - Canada
The 18th-round pick by the Minnesota Twins was actually born in Quebec. Last year at Double-A Wichita, the infielder slashed .300/.441/.490 with 17 homers and 19 swipes. The 23-year-old may not see the majors this season, but Julien is one of the best hitters in the Twins' organization.
Owen Caissie - Canada
Caissie is a big prospect for the Chicago Cubs as he sits 13th in the organization according to MLB.com. The 20-year-old outfielder slashed an underwhelming .254//.349/402 with 11 HRs and 11 SBs at Advanced-A. However, he is on track to make the majors in a couple of years. This tournament will be a great chance for Caissie to show his skills and speed up that time.
Jordan Diaz - Colombia
Diaz had a 15-game stint with Oakland last season after tearing up the minors. Between two levels before his call-up, the second baseman slashed .326/.366/.515 with 19 home runs. Although he doesn't walk a lot (5.3 percent), he also doesn't strike out a ton either (14.4 percent). Diaz has a knack for finding the barrel and has good power.
Jonathan Aranda - Mexico
Aranda made it to the Rays last year and struggled a bit in his 32 games in the majors. However, the youngster doesn't have anything else to prove in the minors. In 2022, Aranda slashed .318/.394/.521 with 18 homers in 104 games at Triple-A while keeping his strikeout rate at a respectable 21.5 percent. He should make the roster out of spring training as a solid utility guy.
Anthony Maldonado - Puerto Rico
The right-hander had a good 2022. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Maldonado had a 3.03 ERA with an 86/20 K/BB rate over 62.1 innings. He may start the season in the minors, but a good showing in the World Baseball Classic could get him a spot in the Miami Marlins bullpen.
Dominic Hamel - Puerto Rico
The New York Mets saw something in Hamel despite an unimpressive final year at Dallas Baptist University. They took the right-hander in the third round in 2021 and he showed excellent potential after his first full season of professional ball last year. Between A-Ball and Advanced-A, Hamel was 10-3 with a 3.25 ERA and 145 K's in 119 innings. With another full season of refining his four-pitch repertoire, Hamel should have a shot at the rotation in 2024.
Colton Gordon - Israel
Gordon's stock dropped before the 2021 Draft as he had Tommy John Surgery just two months prior. The Houston Astros saw enough promise to take him in the eighth round. He returned last year and cruised through three minor league stops. The southpaw had a 2.35 ERA and a sparkling 78/8 K/BB rate in 53.2 innings. He has impeccable command and could move up quickly, possibly battling for a rotation spot in 2024.
Zack Gelof - Israel
Gelof was a complete player last year in the minors. The former second-round pick of the Oakland A's slashed .270/.352/.463 with 18 HRs and 10 SBs between Double-A and Triple-A. Gelof has also moved to second base almost exclusively to give him some added versatility. While the A's are in no rush to get him to the big club, expect Gelof to fight for a spot in 2024.
Matt Mervis - Israel
Mervis seemingly came out of nowhere last year for the Chicago Cubs organization. After going undrafted in 2020 and having a disappointing season in 2021, the power-hitting first baseman slashed .309/.379/.606 with 40 doubles and 36 home runs. While he will likely start the year in Triple-A, Mervis could see time in Chicago at some point this year.
Carlos Rodriguez - Nicaragua
The Milwaukee Brewers' prospect will be looking to build off of a solid 2022 season. Across two levels, the right-hander had a 3.01 ERA with a 129/40 K/BB rate in 107.2 innings. He is only 21 but has already made velo gains and shows a nasty changeup. Continuing development of a promising slider could set up Rodriguez to be a mid-rotation piece for the Brewers in a few years.
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