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Cuba's Jose Abreu might be the best hitter in this year's World Baseball Classic.
The 2013 World Baseball Classic starts March 2, with round robin pool play getting the party started for the 16-team international tournament won by Japan in both 2006 and ’09. The championship round runs from March 17-19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Until then, many of the world’s top players will be going head-to-head from Tokyo to Miami.
Here’s a rundown of the top 20 MLB prospects playing in the WBC this time around.
Top 10 WBC Prime Prospects
These twentysomethings are players who are either working their way up an MLB farm system or making big enough waves internationally that they could make the jump to the bigs sooner rather than later.
Player, Pos., Country
Ht., Wt., Team, Age
1. Jose Abreu, 1B, Cuba
6-2, 258, Cienfuegos, 26
Cuban NL: .394, 35 HR, 99 RBI, 1.379 OPS
The Cuban slugger’s combination of plate discipline and power have drawn comparisons to both Miguel Cabrera and Barry Bonds. If his 2011-12 season wasn’t awesome enough, his age 24 year in 2010-11 produced a .453 average, 33 HR and a 1.583 OPS. Abreu has been hyped as the “best offensive weapon on the planet.”
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Netherlands
6-3, 185, Boston Red Sox, 20
A-AA: .307, 20 HR, 81 RBI, .896 OPS
The Red Sox top prospect is the most exciting shortstop the farm system has seen since Hanley Ramirez. The X-man leads a loaded Dutch lineup that also includes Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Schoop as well as veteran Andruw Jones.
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Canada
6-6, 225, Pittsburgh Pirates, 21
A-AA: 9–8, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 116-142 K-IP
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon is one of the Pirates’ co-aces of the future, along with 2011 No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole.
4. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Japan
6-2, 205, Rakuten, 24
JPPL: 10–4, 1.87 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 169-173 K-IP
Now that Yu Darvish is stateside, Tanaka is the ace of the Land of the Rising Sun. His 2012 season was a down year compared to 2011, when Tanaka went 19–5 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.875 WHIP and 241 strikeouts in 226.1 innings.
5. Alfredo Despaigne, OF, Cuba
5-8, 214, Granma, 26
Cuban NL: .326, 36 HR, 105 RBI
Another Cuban power hitter, the diminutive Despaigne homered off Stephen Strasburg in the 2008 Olympics and has twice set the HR record in Cuba — with 32 in 2008-09 and then 36 jacks in 2011-12, breaking the record held by last year’s AL Rookie of the Year runner up Yoenis Cespedes.
6. Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Netherlands
6-1, 195, Baltimore Orioles, 21
AA: .245, 14 HR, 56 RBI, .710 OPS
Schoop can scoop anywhere in the infield, providing dynamic defense from short, second or third. That versatility will come in handy for Holland.
7. Andre Rienzo, RHP, Brazil
6-3, 190, Chicago White Sox, 24
A-AA-AAA: 7–3, 2.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 113-103.1 K-IP
The ace of Barry Larkin’s Brazilian beisbol club has pitched well since being suspended 50 games for a positive PED test.
8. Jose Berrios, RHP, Puerto Rico
6-0, 187, Minnesota Twins, 18
RK: 3–0, 1.17 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 49-30.2 K-IP
A teenage Puerto Rican prodigy who is mature for his age, Berrios those BBs over the plate.
9. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Japan
6-0, 161, Hiroshima, 24
JPCL: 14–7, 1.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 171-206.1 K-IP
Japan’s other ace, Maeda has a three-quarter delivery and excellent command of the strike zone.
10. Hayato Sakamoto, SS, Japan
6-1, 176, Yomiuri, 24
JPCL: .311, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 16 SB, .815 OPS
Bigger and stronger than Kaz Matsui, Japan’s best shortstop has downplayed his interest in MLB.
Next 10 WBC Prospects
Not quite in their prime, these prospects are either too old, too young or unlikely to defect or post.
11. Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Canada
6-7, 260, Philadelphia Phillies, 24
Potential closer of the future pitched 14.2 innings with a 3.68 ERA for the Phils last season.
12. Yulieski Gourriel, 3B, Cuba
6-0, 196, Sancti Spiritus, 28
Son of former National Team star, Lourdes, has been called the “Cuban Derek Jeter” but is unlikely to defect.
13. Frederich Cepeda, OF-DH, Cuba
5-10, 201, Sancti Spiritus, 32
One of the Cuban mainstays, Cepeda hit .500 with three HRs in 6 games and 24 AB in the 2009 WBC.
14. Alexei Bell, OF, Cuba
5-8, 187, Santiago, 29
Another usual suspect on Cuba’s National Team, Bell was the first player to hit 30 HR and 100 RBI in Cuba.
15. Seung-Yeop Lee, 1B, Korea
6-0, 210, Samsung, 36
“The Lion King” has still got it, crushing for .307, 21 HR, 85 RBI and a .966 OPS in Korea last season.
16. Shinnosuke Abe, C, Japan
5-11, 214, Yomiuri, 33
The big-hitting backstop mashed .340, 27 HR, 104 RBI and a .994 OPS in Japan last season.
17. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, Chinese Taipei
6-1, 198, Sanmin Senior High School, 18
Wanting to sign with an MLB team as soon as he can, Tseng’s game will be on display at the WBC.
18. Erisbel “Barbaro” Arruebarruena, SS, Cuba
6-0, 198, Cienfuegos, 22
A slick-fielding newbie to Team Cuba, “Barbaro” is a mystery man who could have baseball abuzz soon enough.
19. Tae-Kyun Kim, 1B, Korea
6-0, 220, Chiba Lotte, 30
A big hitter who shined in the 2009 WBC but has slipped of late, jumping from Korea to Japan professionally.
20. Kang Jung-Ho, SS, Korea
6-0, 180, Hyundai, 25
One of Korea’s rising stars for many years, Jung-Ho has come into his own and should shine in the WBC.
WBC Hall of Fame Five
These WBC alums were relative unknowns who have since evolved into high-paid MLB stars.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Japan
6-5, 216, Texas Rangers, 26
MLB: 16–9, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 221-191.1 K-IP
Served as the lights out closer on Japan’s second straight WBC championship team.
Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cuba
6-4, 205, Cincinnati Reds, 25
MLB: 5–5, 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 38 SV, 122-71.2 K-IP
An erratic yet charismatic lefty for Cuba was one of the top closer’s in MLB last year.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Cuba
5-10, 210, Oakland A’s, 27
MLB: .292, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, .861 OPS
A five-tool quick-twitch outfielder who carried the A’s to a longshot playoff berth.
Norichika Aoki, OF, Japan
5-9, 176, Milwaukee Brewers, 31
MLB: .288, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 30 SB
Japan’s best outfielder since Ichiro has not been a star but has been serviceable.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Korea
6-2, 255, Los Angeles Dodgers, 25
The rising MLB rookie was a horse for Korea’s gold medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.