ORLANDO, Fla.--Though just two ended up playing for the title, it was the inclusion of big leaguers that made the World Baseball Classic such an enormous event. However, like international baseball events of the past, prospects still got a chance to shine.
|The Classic featured more talent than any baseball tournament ever, and much of it had yet to reach the major leagues. Baseball America's never-ending search for prospects prompted us to talk with scouts about what players they saw in the WBC who would feel right at home in our Prospect Handbook. We set a 25-year-old age limit in order to steer clear of established big leaguers such as Japan's Daisuke Matsuzaka, a true No. 1 starter with seven years of service time in the Japan Leagues.|
|1.||Yulieski Gourriel, 2b, Cuba|
Gourriel lived up to his pre-tournament billing, showing five above-average, present, major league tools. "If he were available," one scout said, "he might get $20 million just to sign right now. He's in the top 15 major league second basemen right now, and he's 21.
|2.||Francisco Liriano, lhp, Dominican Republic (Twins)|
Liriano, 22, wasn't as sharp with his command as he could be, but his fastball sat at 93-94 mph, complemented by an 87 mph slider and plus changeup.
|3.||Adam Loewen, lhp, Canada (Orioles)|
An atypical performance for the hard-throwing but raw Loewen, 21: He topped out in the upper 80s and fought his command in 3 2/3 innings--only it came against an atypical lineup, Team USA's collection of all-stars.
|4.||Chin-Lung Hu, ss, Taiwan (Dodgers)|
The 22-year-old ranks 10th in a deep Dodgers system.
|5.||Brad Harman, ss, Australia (Phillies)|
The 20-year-old is the Phillies' No. 9 prospect.
|6.||Tony Giarratano, ss, Italy (Tigers)|
The 23-year-old is the Tigers' No. 8 prospect.
|7.||Frederich Cepeda, of, Cuba|
Cepeda, 25, has a fourth-outfielder profile because he has no above-average tool, but he showed a knack for getting big hits or making big plays. "You can't discount what's inside their heads and in their hearts," one scout said of Cuba's players.
|8.||Munenori Kawasaki, ss, Japan (Fukuoka)|
The defense played by Asian teams impressed fans and scouts alike, and Kawasaki made just 11 errors in 133 games in 2004 for the Hawks. He's an 80 runner (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) and handles the bat, though he lacks power.
|9.||Shairon Martis, rhp, Netherlands (Giants)|
Martis showed solid-average stuff and above-average pitchability for a teenager in his seven-inning no-hitter against Panama. A scout who saw it cautioned that Panama played with little energy in the game.
|10.||Yadier Pedroso, rhp, Cuba|
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound 19-year-old showed three average pitches, including a true late-breaking curve that can be a strikeout pitch.
Three prospects who raised their profile as much as anyone at the Classic were Italy's Tony Giarratano, Australia's Brad Harman and Taiwan's Chin-Lung Hu. Though their three teams went a combined 2-7, it was by no means the fault of this shortstop trio.
Australia was only able to muster nine hits in their three games; Harman, a Phillies farmhand, had three of them. That included one of their two extra-base hits, a double off of the Dominican's Francisco Liriano. The 20-year-old Harman hit .303-11-58 a low Class A Lakewood last season, a season made more impressive considering how raw he is.
"Compared to the American kids of the same age, he has probably played in a quarter of the games," one international scout said. "He needs to work on seeing better quality pitches. He needs to work on seeing and hitting the breaking ball. Growing up in Australia he didn't (face) the guys he saw at the Classic."
Scouts question whether Harman has the range to stick at shortstop, and a move to second might be in his future. But at the Classic he showed enough at shortstop that a move is not imminent.
Giarratano, on the other hand, has always been known for his excellent defense. He showed his plus range and arm at the Classic while also proving to be a spark plug atop Italy's lineup. The 23-year-old was 3-for-10 with three walks and showed an excellent batting eye and bat control as he consistently fouled off tough pitches and worked deep counts. The Tulane product, a 2003 third-round pick, will likely never hit for much power, but he has maintained a .370 on-base percentage throughout his minor league career and reached the big leagues in 2005; he could return for good in 2006.
Hu was the prospect most American viewers never got to see as his Pool A games were played in Japan. The Dodgers shortstop has remarkable hands and range, but there are questions about his bat due to his slight frame; the 22-year-old is just 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds. His bat was working at the Classic though as he went 5-for-12 with two doubles after hitting .313-8-56 at high Class A Vero Beach.
"I know he hit .300 in the Florida State League, but the bat is going to be the key with him I think," said the scout. "He already speaks English and he's learned Spanish, so he is a pretty intelligent kid. That is an effort to come over to a country and learn English, and then all of a sudden learn Spanish too."
• MLB officials were pleased with the television ratings on ESPN's networks for the Classic. The March 20 final attracted 1.8 percent of all cable viewers; according to the Wall Street Journal, ESPN reported an average of 1.4 million viewers for live games, and the Team USA/Mexico second-round game drew 2.5 million-nearly double ESPN's average audience for NBA games. Television ratings in Japan were far higher, with 36 percent of the country catching the semifinal against Korea according to Japanese media reports.
• Overall attendance finished at 737,112 spectators for 39 games, an average of 18,900.