The preliminary rosters for the second World Baseball Classic were released tonight. While most of the mainstream coverage will focus on the Major League players on the lists (and for all the provisional rosters, click here), here at Baseball America, we’re scouring the lists for prospects (what else would you expect?). Keep in mind that these 45-man rosters are just provisional and that when the final, 28-man rosters are released on Feb. 24, not all of these guys will make the cut. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime, though . . .
The Aussie squad features four prospects of note. Twins righthander Bradley Tippett, 20, spent last most of last season with Rookie-level Elizabethton of the Appalachian League. Over 91 innings between there and Beloit in the Midwest League, Tippett went 10-4, 2.87 with 78 strikeouts and 14 walks, relying mostly on a plus changeup and excellent command. . . Tippett’s organization mate, third baseman Luke Hughes, also earned a spot on the country’s provisional roster. A Futures Game player in 2008, Hughes split his season between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester, hitting .309/.369/.524 over 391 at-bats between the two stops. Hughes has continued to hit this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League, posting a .298/.348/.423 line over 104 at-bats. . . A third prospect on the Australian team is Red Sox outfielder Mitch Dening. Dening, 20, spent his season with short-season Lowell in the New York-Penn League. Playing mainly center field, Dening hit an impressive .321/.375/.471 with 13 doubles, seven triples and three home runs, earning a spot in the league’s mid-season all-star game and on Baseball America’s short-season all-star list at the end of the year . . . While Hughes figures to anchor the lineup as perhaps Australia’s best power hitter, righthander Drew Naylor could be one of its top starters. The Phillies farmhand sports an average fastball and plus curveball, and went 8-10, 3.86 with 156 strikeouts in 165 innings between two A-ball stops last year.
While the United States team is comprised entirely of current major leaguers, Canada’s team features more prospects than any other. Big Mariners righthander Phillippe Aumont and Reds righthander Kyle Lotzkar are on the team’s list of pitchers. Aumont, who ranked third on our Mariners prospect list this year, went 4-4, 2.75 last year for low Class A Wisconsin. Over 56 innings, Aumont struck out 50 and walked 19. Lotzkar was the Reds’ supplemental first-round selection in 2007 (53rd overall). Last year, pitching for low Class A Dayton, Lotzkar went 2-3, 3.58 over 38 innings while striking out 50 and walking 24. However, both pitchers missed time last year with elbow injuries (a fracture for Lotzkar and soreness for Aumont), so it’s unlikely either will be allowed to pitch for their country. . . Most of the prospects on Canada’s provisional roster are catchers, starting with Milwaukee’s Brett Lawrie. Lawrie was the 16th overall selection in last year’s draft out of high school in Langley, B.C. The team’s roster also lists Boston’s George Kottaras and the White Sox’s Cole Armstrong, but all the backstops face an uphill battle to getting on the final roster, as they’re up against Dodgers all-star Russell Martin and former big leaguer Pete LaForest. . . The other position players on Canada’s list are Tigers shortstop Cale Iorg and Indians outfielder Nick Weglarz. Iorg spent last year in the Florida State League as a 22-year-old and hit a modest .251/.329/.405, ranking as the third-best Tigers prospect. He was born in Toronto in 1985, when his father Garth was having a career year with the Blue Jays, but grew up in Tennessee and attended Alabama for a year. Weglarz, 20, spent the season with high Class A Kinston and hit an impressive .272/.396/.432, ranking as the third-best Indians prospect. He also anchored Canada’s lineup in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Team Italy has four players that could be considered prospects, but only one of them was actually born in the country. The rules for team eligibility are obviously loose (one grandparent needs to have lived in the motherland, as it were). Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi is the prospect actually from Italy. Liddi ranked as the Mariners’ 29th-best prospect in last year’s handbook, but fell out of favor this year after another disappointing season (.244/.313/.360) while repeating a level at Wisconsin. . . The other two prospects on the roster are Cardinals righthander Adam Ottavino (born in New York) and Orioles third baseman Mike Costanzo (born in Philadelphia). Like Liddi, Ottavino also had a disappointing season. After a successful season in 2007, Ottavino made the jump to Double-A last year and struggled a bit. Over 115 innings, he went 3-7, 5.23 with 96 strikeouts and 52 walks . . . Costanzo, 24, spent 2008 with Triple-A Norfolk and hit .261/.333/.395 over 483 at-bats . . . Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, 22, born in Venezuela, went 0-for-5 in his big league debut in 2008 and missed much of the year after being injured in a spring-training homeplate collision. He’s more noted for his defensive ability but has shown an ability to make consistent contact, posting .282/.384/.388 career numbers in the minors.
The Netherlands’ roster has some interesting names, starting with Mariners outfielder Greg Halman. The 21-year-old spent 2008 between High Class A High Desert and Double-A West Tenn, hitting .272/.326/.528 over 492 at-bats, ending up as the Mariners’ top prospect. . . Nationals righthander Shairon Martis is the rare prospect that is also a WBC veteran. Martis, a 21-year-old from Curacao, may be best known for throwing a seven-inning no-hitter against Panama in the inaugural event. Martis pitched at three different levels in 2008, jumping from Double-A to the majors. Over his two stops in the minor leagues, he pitched 116 innings, going 5-6, 3.64 with 99 strikeouts and 45 walks before appearing in five games with the big club in September. Another Nats farmhand on the roster is speedy center fielder Roger Bernardina . . . While playing for the University of Maine, first baseman Curt Smith put up some gaudy numbers. As a senior last year, the Curacao native hit .403/.498/.722 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Despite the eye-popping numbers, Smith is undersized and limited defensively and the Cardinals were able to select him in the 39th round. After signing, Smith spent the summer split between Rookie-level Johnson City (Appalachian League) before getting an end-of-season promotion to low Class A Quad Cities in the Midwest League. Between the two stops, Smith continued to hit, posting a .353/.388/.538 line with 18 doubles and eight home runs over 238 at-bats . . . The Dutch Olympic team badly missed Hainley Statia, another Curacao product and Angels farmhand who is a fine defender at shortstop. He was injured and didn’t make the trip to Beijing.
While Panama is not known for producing baseball talent like Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, there are three prospects on the team’s provisional roster. Cardinals righthander Arquimedes Nieto has been progressing slowly through the system, but has impressed at each stop thus far. Making his stateside debut in 2008, the 6-foot, 175-pound 19-year-old appeared in 15 games, making nine starts for the eventual New York-Penn champions, Batavia. Over 58 innings, Nieto went 6-1, 2.95 with 42 strikeouts and 18 walks. . . Another young pitcher on the list is Braves righthander Randall Delgado. Like Nieto, Delgado made his debut in the U.S. last year, but was one year younger at 18. Pitching for Rookie-level Danville of the Appalachian League, Delgado went 3-8, 3.13 with 81 strikeouts and 30 walks over 69 innings. The 6-foot-3, 165 pound Delgado features a low-90s fastball and ranked as the Appalachian League’s sixth-best prospect this year. . . The only positional prospect on the roster is San Diego outfielder Luis Durango. With exceptional hand-eye coordination and above-average speed, Durango has been a hit machine thus far in his minor league career. In 2007, he won the short-season Northwest League batting title after hitting .367/.422/.460. He followed that up this year by hitting .328/.415/.392 between low Class A Fort Wayne and high Class A Lake Elsinore.
While the Dominican Republic’s roster doesn’t include any minor leaguers, Venezuela’s provisional roster is pretty loaded. The team features guys that barely lost their rookie eligibility this year like Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and Giants catcher Pablo Sandoval. Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra is on the list as well. Coming off an excellent winter campaign, Parra has hit at every level and last year was no exception. The 21-year-old split last season between high Class A Visalia and Double-A mobile, putting up a combined line of .286/.358/.416. Another position player on Venezuela’s roster that has been making a lot of noise this winter is third baseman Jesus Guzman. Twins lefthander (and fourth-best prospect) Jose Mijares could come out of the bullpen for the team. Phillies righthander Carlos Carrasco and Rangers catcher Max Ramirez made the list as well; Carrasco is the Phillies’ top pitching prospect and ranks No. 2 overall, while Ramirez ranks 10th in a loaded Texas list.
Red Sox outfielder and Futures Game star Che-Hsuan Lin headlines the prospects for Chinese Taipei. Lin spent 2008 with the Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League, hitting .249/.342/.359 as a 19-year-old. The team also features 26-year-old lefthander Fu-Te Ni, whom the Tigers recently signed.
Four players that aren’t affiliated with any major league teams that will surely draw a lot of interest include three Cubans, led by infielder Yulieski Gourriel, and Japanese righthander Yu Darvish. The 24-year-old Gourriel played second base for Cuba in the 2006 Classic, hitting .273/.342/.515, helping the team finish second in the tournament. Cuba has other emerging talent as well. Outfielder Alexei Bell was the Olympics’ best player, flashing a Kirby Puckett physique and Kirby-like bat speed while hitting .500 with nine extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in nine games in Beijing. Another of the intriguing, young Cubans is lefthander Aroldis Chapman, who didn’t make the 2008 Olympic roster but is reputed to be among Cuba’s hardest throwers, having pushed the upper-90s with his fastball. He’s officially listed as being 21. . . In 2006, American baseball fans got a sneak peak at Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka. This time, the hype will center around 22-year-old righthander Yu Darvish. As a member of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish has dominated Japan’s Pacific League. Over his first four seasons, Darvish is 48-19, 2.33 with 585 strikeouts and 214 walks over 652 innings.
Contributing: John Manuel