World Baseball Classic
Slideshow: International stars to watch
6. Che-Hsuan Lin, OF, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)
Lin, a Red Sox prospect, hit a 2-run homer at the 2008 MLB All-Star Futures Game, earning game MVP honors. An outstanding defensive outfielder, he also stole 33 bases in 91 games for Greenville in the Single-A South Atlantic League a year ago, although he hit just .249. Still, Lin won’t turn 20 years old until September.
7. Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Canada
The Seattle Mariners' 11th overall selection in the 2007 MLB draft, the right-handed hurler went 4-4 with a 2.75 last year for Single-A Wisconsin. Over 56 innings, Aumont struck out 50 and walked 19. Unlike most Canadian athletes, Aumont didn’t grow up aspiring to be a puckhead. There was some debate as to whether the Mariners would discourage him from pitching, but participating on the world stage will only help his development.
8. Gerardo Parra, OF, Venezuela
It’s unclear just how much playing time Parra might see in the WBC with four other MLB-experienced outfielders on the roster, but there’s no denying his talent. And the experience of being around future MLB players can’t hurt the 21-year-old Diamondbacks prospect. Last year, Parra’s numbers didn’t drop off much, even as he made the jump from High-A (where he hit .301) to Double-A (where he batted .275). Another Venezuelan prospect, Rangers catch Max Ramirez, may see limited playing time also.
9. Alessandro Maestri, RHP, Italy
The last Italian-born player to suit up in MLB was Reno Bertoia. That was 1962. But last year Maestri made his second consecutive Minor League All-Star team, going 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA, and earning a call-up to Double-A. He did get bounced around in limited duty at Double-A, allowing eight runs on 14 hits over 11 innings of work, but his future appears bright. A Cubs prospect, it’s likely his route to MLB would be as a reliever.
10. Luis Durango, OF, Panama
A switch-hitter with good speed, Durango has quietly crept up the Padres Minor Leagues, posting a .335 career average over five seasons, including two batting crowns. Last year, he batted .305 at Single-A Fort Wayne before being called up to High-A Lake Elsinore where he proceeded to bat .431 in 17 games.
*Final, very important note: The Cuban Connection: Cuba has a number of players who scouts believe could play in MLB. But because of the island nation’s communist leanings, any player there must first find a way to flee the country, which is no easy decision or task because he risks leaving his family behind possibly forever, not to mention losing his life aboard a boat or dingy raft in the middle of the ocean. And then forget about representing their country ever again, a fate that Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, Kendry Morales, Alexei Ramirez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Yunel Escobar, among others, know all too well.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
For example, Yadel Marti, who was a 2006 WBC All-Tournament Selection, defected in late December 2008 to the Dominican Republic. Marti pitched 12 2/3 scoreless innings in the ’06 WBC, going 1-0 and earning two saves. Marti has yet to sign with an MLB team.
Young Cubans to watch in the ’09 WBC, besides Gourriel, include left-hander fireballer Aroldis Chapman and slugging outfielders Alfredo Despaigne and Yoennis Céspedes.
Joe Connor is a freelance writer who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He’s the author of “A Fan’s Guide To The World Baseball Classic,” which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.
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