World Baseball Classic: 10 players you know, 10 players you don’t who are poised to dominate 2023

The World Baseball Classic, a global tournament last held in 2017, kicks off this week with group play. In total, teams appear in 20 countries in which faces are both familiar and less familiar. While much of the hype leading up to this week’s action revolved around which MLB stars will or won’t leave their teams to play for their countries, the focus is now shifting to the field.

MLB stars are far from the only significant players to grace your screens. As this gift of baseball in early March (real, competitive baseball!) kicks off, let’s take a look at 10 names you probably already know and 10 names you might recognize now to fully enjoy the glory of the WBC.

Did you know: Juan Soto (Dominican Republic) – Soto plays on a fun enough team with the San Diego Padres, but now he’s going to be one of the biggest bats in a perfectly built Dominican roster. The 24-year-old was the biggest jackpot last season and remains baseball’s most patient hitter with a career .424 on-base percentage in MLB. With players like Manny Machado, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez behind him, you can look at the leader of the tournament right here – or it could be someone like Julio Rodriguez or Vander Franco punching in front of him.

Don’t know: Chung Hoo Lee (South Korea) – A dominant outfielder for the Korean Kiwoom Heroes, Lee will be sent to join the MLB organization after the 2023 season. After hitting .349 with 23 homers in 2022, he earned the KBO MVP award. He also has a serious baseball background – and a terrific nickname as a result. His father, Jung Beom Lee, is a KBO icon who has been nicknamed “Son of the Wind”. Yes, that means your favorite team may be hiring a new star in 2024 known as the “Grandson of the Wind”. Supposedly, Lee will have to face the famous Devin Williams “Airbender” Brewers shift to see who really controls the flow of the atmosphere.

Know: Shohei Otani (Japan) – Tall, expressive face, step And hits? Runs very fast? Usually plays for the Los Angeles Angels, but can he become a free agent after 2023? Have you heard of him? Yes, Otani is the face of an incredibly talented Japanese team and probably the most famous player of the tournament, period.

I don’t know: Rocky Sasaki (Japan) – Sasaki, who is only 21 years old, is the most intriguing player on the WBC scene who has yet to face the American public. Japan’s NPB starting pitcher, Sasaki took the baseball world by storm at the start of last season with a perfect 19 strikeout game and then eliminated all 24 batters he faced in the next game. Overall, he ended his career with 52 straight hitters – the best in MLB – with a dominant fastball-split combination and declared himself the world’s most teasing future ace. It’s not yet clear when he’ll attempt a move to MLB, but the WBC may give a first look at his arsenal against major league competition.

Rocky Sasaki, a likely future MLB star, will get the opportunity to introduce himself to the American baseball public during the WBC.  (Photo by Kent Harad/Getty Images)
Rocky Sasaki, a likely future MLB star, will get the opportunity to introduce himself to the American baseball public during the WBC. (Photo by Kent Harad/Getty Images)

Know: Louis Robert (Cuba) – One of the biggest shake-ups in this year’s edition of the World Baseball Classic is that many MLB fans will be familiar with several players from Cuba’s other competitive team. (Rules in the past have barred Cuban defectors from competing for their country in international games.) Robert may be the biggest of those names right now, but so will his Chicago White Sox teammate Yoan Moncada and former All-Star Yoenis Cespedes. Robert, 25, is finishing the season at .284/.319/.426 with 12 homers and 11 steals.

Don’t know: Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Japan) — Perhaps Otani is now the face of MLB and Sasaki has made international headlines. But none of them have ever had an NPB season on the hill as well as Yamamoto did last year. At age 23, he finished 2022 with a 1.68 ERA, .927 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 193 innings in 26 starts, winning the Pacific League MVP and the Triple Crown. Those numbers were a slight drop from his previous season, in which he also won the MVP and the Triple Crown with a 1.39 ERA. With Yamamoto, Otani, Sasaki and, oh yes, Yu Darvish, there can’t be a team in the WBC that can touch Japan’s rotation. There are also reports that Yamamoto could be sent to MLB by the end of this year.

Did you know: Mike Trout (USA) – The best baseball player in the last 10 years is playing in his first World Baseball Classic, and he’s not doing it by accident. The 31-year-old three-time MVP will captain the defending champions, who are among the favorites to win the 2023 tournament. Trout has struggled with injuries lately, playing in just 155 games over the past two seasons, but he remains nearly untouchable when on the field. And yes, it will be fun to see the Angels star play baseball with meaning for once.

Don’t know: Sal Frelik (Italy) – A fast fielding prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers, Frelik will take the field for Italy – thanks to his Italian heritage through both of his parents – and get some interesting spice ahead of a likely MLB debut in 2023. One of Milwaukee’s top prospects, Frelik can really put on a batting ball, batting .365 and hitting less than 8% of the time in his first 46 Triple-A games. If he stays on the track, he could play an important role in the NL Central race by the summer.

Did you know: Sandy Alcantara (Dominican Republic) – Reigning NL winner Cy Young Alcantara is arguably the most experienced pitcher in this tournament. It’s probably not surprising that he’s the one to counter this trend, but it’s worth noting the disparity between pitcher and hitter talent in the MLB ranks. Many top hands, including Clayton Kershaw, have expressed interest in playing in the WBC, but have opted out for reasons that mostly boil down to the belief that the WBC’s requirements for pitchers create a higher risk of injury. From my side, Alcantara said he’s been from day oneand after 228 2/3 innings of massive work in 2022, the Miami Marlins clearly had little reason to mind.

Don’t know: Munetaka Murakami (Japan) — Japan’s new home run king is likely to be in MLB by 2026. Third baseman and consecutive Central League MVP exits his national version of Aaron Judge’s homer chase. He did not beat the overall record of 60 home runs set by Vladimir Balentien in 2013, but Murakami surpassed Sadahara Oh’s longtime mark of 55 home runs among Japanese players (56). He now enters the WBC after signing a three-year extension with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows that requires the team to send him to MLB after the 2025 season.

Did you know: Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands) – The Netherlands, a team that usually includes players from the countries that make up the kingdom, Curaçao and Aruba, will be led by a man with $280 million. Bogarts is playing in his third WBC. He remains one of baseball’s top clean hitters after a season at age 29 in which he hit .307/.366/.456. The shortstop is again a strength for the Dutch, with Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons also on the list, as well as names such as Jonathan Skul and Vladimir Balentien, a previous WBC star.

Did you know: Nelson Cruz (Dominican Republic) – Designated hitter? Yes. The voice of a veteran and a mentor? Certainly. General Manager? Yes! Dear Cruz has transcended the whole concept of a player-manager and entered the WBC on a loaded DR roster, which he is responsible for creating. But even at 42, he is not the oldest statesman of the tournament.

Don’t know: Chris Oxspring (Australia) – A 45-year-old right-handed pitcher who made it to the Majors with 12 pitches for the San Diego Padres in 2005 (!), Oxspring is a well-traveled veteran and one of only three players on the Australian national team with MLB experience. . All.

Did you know: Ronald Acuna Jr. (Venezuela) – The Braves’ dynamic outfielder will look to place Venezuela’s hopes on his very capable shoulders. A threat in the box or on base, Acuña was initially unsure if he could and would let him play as he continues to build strength from a knee injury in 2021, but he’s doing just fine.

Don’t know: Lebanon Moinelo (Cuba) – Cuba has bigger names than usual in this WBC thanks to defector rule changes, but its most feared pitcher will only be familiar to those who follow the Japanese leagues. Moinelo has simply dominated the NPB over the past few years, most recently posting a 1.03 ERA and .797 WHIP, hitting 43% of batters that faced 52 2/3 innings last season for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He will be one of the smallest players you see on the hill, standing at 5ft 7in and weighing 139lbs, but he dominates with an arsenal based on a 90s low-speed fastball and a huge, loopy spin ball.

Know: Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) – The unstoppable close-range Mets will be a serious weapon for the Puerto Rican team, which otherwise lacks hitting depth on the serve front. But beyond the strategic implications, it will be fun for Diaz, who works alongside fixer Alexis Diaz, his brother and rising pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

Don’t know: Chung Choi (Korea) – Winning the WBC may not be the biggest moment for Choi this year, as the Korean slugger will enter the KBO season 38 short of the league’s all-time home record of 467 set by Lee Seung Yup. Choi currently has 429 home runs and already holds the HBP KBO record with 313. With his third WBC title, the 36-year-old Choi will lead a talented team that has been eliminated from the first round of the past. two WBC after reaching the semi-finals in 2006 and the final in 2009.

Did you know: Julio Urias (Mexico) – The Dodgers left-hander is the ace of a strong Mexican roster that also includes Jose Urquidi, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Sandoval. Urias is…


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