World Baseball Classic
Slideshow: International stars to watch
The 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC) features many of the game’s star players. But if the 2009 WBC will be anything like the inaugural version in 2006, fans will also get to see many potential future MLB stars in action shine on a big stage.
After all, the Most Valuable Player of the first WBC was Daisuke Matsuzaka, who would help the Red Sox win the World Series one year later in his rookie MLB season. Netherlands pitcher Shairon Martis tossed a no-hitter in the ’06 WBC and made his MLB debut in 2008. And who can forget the Cuban National Team, led by Yulieski Gourriel, who was an All-Tournament selection for dazzling fans with his clutch hitting.
So here’s a look at 10 players that will participate in the 2009 WBC that fans could soon see donning an MLB jersey in “The Show.”
1. Yu Darvish, RHP, Japan
In 2006, Matsuzaka went 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA leading his country to the WBC title. The most likely follow up is Darvish, a flamboyant right-hander who has been a darling in Japan since dazzling at the summer Koshien high school tournament as a teenager by throwing a no-hitter. The 6’5” Darvish has a 48-19 record and 2.33 career ERA over four pro seasons in Japan.
2. Norichika Aoki, OF, Japan
Aoki grew up admiring Ichiro Suzuki, and his statistics indicate he might be the second coming. Aoki has compiled more than 190 hits in each of his first four seasons in Japan and last year batted .347, his highest average to date. He reached 500 career hits in 30 fewer games than Ichiro Suzuki. In addition to hitting to all fields, Aoki has good speed, bats left-handed and can lead off. Like Ichiro.
3. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Japan
In 2008, Iwakuma had a career year, going 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA for a fifth-place team in a six-team league, becoming the first Japanese pitcher to win 21 games in more than 20 years. He captured the Sawamura Award (Japan’s version of the Cy Young Award) for his efforts, besting Darvish, went 16-4 in ’08 with a 1.88 ERA. Could he still Darvish’s thunder in the ’09 WBC? Stay tuned.
4. Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP, Japan
5. Luke Hughes, INF/OF, Australia
The Perth native and Twins prospect played in the 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game and finished last season with a .309 average between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. He also roped in the Venezuelan Winter League this past winter.
The mates from Down Under haven’t had an everyday MLB position player since Dave Nilsson, who was a 1999 MLB All-Star with Milwaukee. Hughes was signed by Twins longtime Australian super scout Howie Norsetter, who also inked Rays reliever Grant Balfour to his first MLB contract.
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