SEE ALSO: World Baseball Classic Schedule
SEE ALSO: WBC Archive
The World Baseball Classic has long been an event for the best players in the world to introduce themselves to U.S. audiences, more often than not using it as a springboard to major league stardom down the road. Whether it was Daisuke Matsuzaka and Alexei Ramirez in 2006, Yu Darvish, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes in 2009, or Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu and Jung Ho Kang in 2013, international players of many stripes have gone on to sign major league contracts after showing what they can do in the WBC.
This year, however, doesn’t figure to work out quite like that. While there are a few intriguing prospects at the top, the unsigned crop of international talent this year is arguably the worst it has been since the WBC began in 2006.
The ankle injury sustained by Japanese ace Shohei Otani had a lot to do with that. So has the flood of defections from Cuba by the country’s top youth players in recent years. Even an increased scouting presence in Korea, Taiwan and other Asian and Latin American nations means that now, more than ever, the world’s best players are largely all already in affiliated ball, with fewer top unsigned prospects left to showcase themselves in the WBC.
Nonetheless, there are some foreign players worth watching in this year’s WBC, with a strong possibility at least a few will find their way to major league rosters down the road.
1. Victor Mesa • of, Cuba • Age: 20. B-T: R-R.
The son of Victor Mesa, the former Cuban baseball star who used to manage the Cuban national team, Mesa is the most exciting young prospect in Cuba. A 20-year-old coming off a breakthrough Serie Nacional season in which he hit .354/.399/.539 in 70 games, Mesa is a plus-plus runner who led the league with 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts and plays outstanding defense in center field with a strong arm. He would be a high first-round pick if he were in the draft.