Ten Prospects Impressing In The World Baseball Classic
The World Baseball Classic represents an opportunity for baseball’s biggest stars to showcase their talents on an international stage. It is also a chance for rising prospects to show they can compete against major leaguers in games that count.
Prospects showcased their abilities around the world during pool play at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Some, like Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick, were well-known prospects who played starring roles to help their teams advance. Others, like Cardinals righthander Guillermo Zuniga, used the WBC to establish themselves as prospects to watch moving forward. And one, new Tigers righthander Duque Hebbert, used it to get signed to his first professional contract.
Here are 10 prospects who impressed in the WBC during pool play. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
All statistics are through the end of pool play.
Javier Assad, RHP, Cubs
Assad followed Patrick Sandoval in Mexico’s opening game against Team USA and shut down the star-studded American lineup with three scoreless innings of relief. The Cubs No. 20 prospect retired Pete Alonso, Kyle Tucker, Tim Anderson, Will Smith, Jeff McNeil and Mookie Betts in order to start the outing. After surrendering a single to Mike Trout, he retired Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Alonso for a second time to complete his dominant showing. Assad retired nine of the 10 batters he faced and struck out Alonso swinging twice, first on a 97 mph fastball and again on a 96 mph fastball.
Harry Ford, C, Mariners
Team: Great Britain
The Mariners No. 1 prospect went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts to start the tournament, but he heated up in a big way once he settled in. Ford went 4-for-7 with a double, two homers, four RBIs and three runs scored to close out pool play and became the youngest player to ever homer in the WBC at 20 years old. He notably doubled and walked against veteran righthander Taijuan Walker in Great Britain’s final game. Ford finished the tournament batting .308/.400/.846 and, in the process, became a baseball idol in England.
Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers
The Brewers’ No. 2 prospect hit .389 (7 for 18) with three doubles and four RBIs in pool play to help lift Italy to an improbable quarterfinals berth. Frelick stole third base and scored the winning run in extra innings in Italy’s tournament-opening victory against Cuba, drilled a go-ahead two-run double in its second game against Taiwan, went 2-for-4 with a double against Panama and, in a must-win game against the Netherlands, went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs out of the leadoff spot to carry Italy to victory. Frelick’s seven hits tied for the second-most in the WBC through pool play.
Duque Hebbert, RHP, Tigers
Hebbert, a 5-foot-9 righthander, entered the WBC without a team and left it with a professional contract. The 21-year-old struck out Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Rafael Devers in the ninth innings of Nicaragua’s 6-1 loss to the Dominican Republic. Tigers scout Luis Molina was in attendance and signed Hebbert on the spot after the game. Hebbert features an 89-90 mph sinker, a twirling 79-81 mph slider and an 83-85 mph changeup that is his main weapon. He got Soto to swing over back-to-back changeups for his first strikeout, struck out Rodriguez reaching for a slider in the next at-bat and struck out Devers swinging over a changeup to end the inning. He also got Manny Machado to swing and miss at a slider before Machado roped a two-out double, the only hit Hebbert allowed against the heart of the Dominican order.
Edouard Julien, OF, Twins
Julien emerged as Canada’s top offensive threat from the leadoff spot in the order, hitting .538 (7-for-13) with two doubles, two home runs and five runs scored. He showed his exceptional on-base skills by reaching base in 12 of 18 plate appearances (.667 OBP) and was also Canada’s leading home run hitter. He led off Canada’s rout of Great Britain with a 401-foot home run that left his bat at 110.1 mph and added another 388-foot home run against Mexico that left his bat at 109 mph.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Pirates
Team: Dominican Republic
Ortiz was the only prospect named to the star-studded Dominican roster and showed why in his debut appearance against Israel. The Pirates No. 4 prospect pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts in relief and showed some of the best pure stuff in the tournament. His fastball sat 97-100 mph, his 87-89 mph slider got swings and misses from both lefties and righties and his firm, fading 90-91 mph changeup proved impossible to square up. He blew through all six batters he faced and allowed only one ball in play hit harder than 70 mph.
Jose Ramos, OF, Dodgers
Ramos, the Dodgers No. 23 prospect, hit .313 (5-for-16) with a homer and five runs scored to help Panama go 2-2 in Pool A, the first WBC wins in Panama’s history. Ramos singled and scored Panama’s only run in a loss to the pool-favorite Netherlands, went 2-for-4 against quarterfinalist Cuba and hit a 428-foot home run against Italy to lead Panama to victory in its finale. He also showed off defensive chops in center field, making a long running catch and slamming into the wall against Cuba and throwing out Yadir Drake at the plate with room to spare on a pristine throw.
Miguel Romero, RHP, Athletics
Romero appeared in three of Cuba’s four games out of the bullpen and dominated opposing batters. He pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, allowed four hits, walked none and struck out a tournament-high 10 batters to help lift Cuba to the quarterfinals. He confounded hitters with the extensive movement on his four-pitch mix and got swings and misses on all of his offerings, namely his upper-80s sinker and cutter. He gave Cuba needed length as well, tossing three scoreless innings to pick up the win against Panama and pitching 2.2 scoreless innings against Taiwan. Romero has yet to pitch above Triple-A, but his strikeout victims during pool play included major leaguers Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Christian Bethancourt and Jonathan Arauz.
Chavez Young, OF, Pirates
Team: Great Britain
Arguably no player was more dynamic or entertaining than Young during pool play. The 25-year-old Bahamian tied a WBC record with five stolen bases, including a steal of home against Canada, drove in the game-tying two-run single against Colombia, made multiple impressive catches in right field and repeatedly showed off his game-changing arm strength. He made a long throw to third base against Colombia to prevent runners from advancing in a crucial spot and threw out Jonathan Aranda trying to stretch a single into a double from the right-field corner against Mexico. Overall, Young hit .308 with a .471 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot for Great Britain and electrified both teammates and fans with his infectious energy.
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP, Cardinals
The Cardinals No. 30 prospect entered in the ninth inning of Colombia’s opening game against Mexico and pitched two scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts to lift Colombia to a 5-4 upset victory. Zuniga overwhelmed hitters with an explosive 99-102 mph fastball and, despite having never pitched above Double-A, dominated the big leaguers in Mexico’s lineup. He struck out Alex Verdugo swinging through three straight fastballs—all 100-102 mph—to strand the winning win in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth. In the 10th, he struck out Joey Meneses swinging through a 100 mph fastball and froze Isaac Paredes looking at an 89 mph slider to close out the game and secure the win. In case there were any lingering doubts about his ability, Zuñiga struck out Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt swinging over sliders and got Nolan Arenado to ground out weakly for another scoreless inning against Team USA.