WBC Breakout Players

Ezra Shaw

Seven players who made a name for themselves in the just-concluded World Baseball Classic.

I like the World Baseball Classic. I like it a lot. Passionate, hard-fought baseball featuring top players from around the world played in March? I don't really get what's not to like. Sure, it has its flaws, but so does just about every aspect of major-league baseball. While it wouldn't be baseball if there wasn't something to complain about, I prefer to focus on the positives. One of my favorite things about the World Baseball Classic is that it provides a showcase for players I might not get to see or appreciate the same way during the regular season. It's great to see Robinson Cano ride a hot streak (he hit .469/.514/.781 for the victorious Dominican team and won MVP for the tournament) or David Wright earn a new nickname (he hit .438/.526/.750 in 19 plate appearances without striking out, drove in a tournament-best ten runs and was dubbed "Captain America" by MLB Network play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian), but it's an even rarer treat to see a previously anonymous player hold his own against those players. Here, then, is a look at some of the names to remember from the five teams (not including the all-star Team USA) that won at least one game in Round 2 of this year's tournament.

Saumuel Deduno, RHP, Dominican Republic
Deduno has appeared in the major leagues in each of the last three seasons and made 15 starts for the Twins last year. He also walked 53 men against 57 strikeouts in 79 innings in those 15 starts and turned 29 last July. In a rotation with Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez, he was a distant third on the Dominican depth chart, but he was their most effective pitcher in the Classic, allowing just one run in 13 innings over three starts while striking out 17 against just five walks and earning the victories in the Dominican's defeat of the U.S. in Round 2 and of Puerto Rico in the tournament finale. Deduno isn't an undiscovered star, but there is nowreason to believe he might prove to be a viable major league starter after all.

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Deduno's progress in the minor leagues was slowed by visa problems and elbow injuries, including Tommy John surgery; the recovery wiped out his entire age-24 season. His success since then has been limited by control problems, which stem from the fact that every pitch he throws has a ton of movement. Watching him in the WBC final, he threw a big breaking curve at about 80 miles per hour, a changeup that dropped like a curve at about 85, and his fastball, which sat between 89 and 91, had the kind of movement that justified comparisons to a knuckleball or whiffle ball. It's no wonder he has trouble throwing strikes, but Dominican catcher Carlos Santana made the movement work by having Deduno aim most of his pitches over the middle of the plate, knowing none of them would end up there. If Joe Mauer and the Twins have success with a similar approach over the remainder of spring training, Deduno, who is in camp as a non-roster player, could force his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Hiram Burgos, RHP, Puerto Rico
The 25-year-old Burgos was the Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year last year, going 10-4 with a 1.95 ERA and a 3.12 K/BB ratio in 27 starts (and one relief appearance) across the top three levels. In the WBC, he served as runner-up Puerto Rico's long reliever and posted a line shockingly similar to Deduno's:


G

IP

H

R

BB

SO

WHIP

ERA

Deduno

3 (GS)

13

11

1 R

5

17

1.23

0.69

H. Burgos

3

13

12

1 R

4

12

1.23

0.69

A soft-tosser with a deep arsenal, Burgos was optioned to Triple-A in absentia last weekend, but there should be plenty of opportunity for him to crack the Brewers' pitching staff during the season, particularly now that he's shown an ability to work out of the bullpen.

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Netherlands
Okay, so Simmons isn't all that anonymous. He was a top-100 prospect prior to last season and made the jump from Double-A to become the Braves' starting shortstop last June at the age of 22. However, a broken hand put him on the shelf for nearly two months barely more than one month into his major league career, and with the Braves' early playoff exit, he played just 17 games after his return. Given all of that, it was fun to get an early reminder of just how special Simmons might be. He's always been highly regarded for his defense, and his range and awareness in the field was on ample display in the Classic, but the thing that really got hearts beating was his .333/.382/.633 performance at the plate and the crucial, two-out, game-tying home run he hit against Cuba with his team four outs away from elimination in Round 2, his second round-tripper of the tournament. Simmons isn't going to slug .600 in the major leagues, but he hit .291/.354/.418 in 385 plate appearances between Double-A and the majors last year and has four home runs in 41 plate appearances this spring between exhibition play and the WBC. The book on Simmons was always that his glove could make him a star if he could hit enough to stay in the lineup, and the questions about his bat are starting to fade away.

Kenta Maeda, RHP, Japan
The 2006 and 2009 Japanese World Classic teams featured a total of 11 players who would later leave Japan to come to the major leagues. Included in that group are Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Norichika Aoki, Koji Uehara, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kosuke Fukudome, Akinori Iwamura, and the Cubs closer-in-waiting Kyuji Fujikawa. It seems a given then that at least a few members of this year's Team Japan will make the leap in the coming years. The top candidate to do so is Maeda, a small right-hander who will turn 25 in April. Maeda served as Japan's ace in the WBC, allowing just one run in 15 innings across three WBC starts while striking out 18 against three walks and six hits (0.60 WHIP). He posted a 1.53 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 206 1/3 innings For the Hiroshima Carp last year while walking less than two men per nine innings. In 2010, he won Japan's pitching triple crown and the Sawamura Award (their Cy Young). Perhaps most significantly, when asked if he was interested in coming to the major leagues in the future, his response was "no comment."

Yasmany Tomas, RF, Jose Abreu, 1B, and Alfredo Despaigne, LF, Cuba
There is a world of difference between coming to the major leagues from Cuba compared to coming from Japan. Both present players with considerable uncertainty about their ability to succeed which is then compounded by the language barrier and other cultural incongruities, but while Japanese players will find fewer teammates with whom they can converse in their native tongue, only Cuban players can never return to their homelands and have to risk the possibility of never seeing their families again. Still, four players from Cuba's 2009 WBC team (Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, Leonys Martin, and Yunesky Maya) subsequently defected in pursuit of major league stardom, and White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez defected after playing in the 2006 Classic.

Based solely on their relative youth and the quality of their performances in this year's WBC, Tomas (22, .376/.412/.813), Abreu (26, .360/.385/.760 with three home runs and an out-sized reputation as "Cuba's Barry Bonds"), and Despaigne (27 in June, .389/.522/.944 with three homers) seem like the top candidates to join Cespedes and company in the major leagues before the next Classic in 2017.

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