MLB FoodFest Delivers Fun, Hip Event

Last weekend, MLB London hosted its second major event of 2019, the MLB Foodfest at Hawker House near Canada Wharf in southeast London. MLB’s EMEA office had the daunting task of creating an event that appealed to diehard baseball fans while also enticing young, hip Londoners. These NGFs—or “New Gen Fans”—are the raison d’etre  for the new MLB London and key, MLB quite rightly believes, to the expansion of the MLB property in Europe. With an audience of two mostly unrelated groups, MLB succeeded with FoodFest, which turned out to be both cool and sporty.

We arrived a little before the launch of the second Saturday session, which began at 6 p.m. There was nothing on the way from the station to suggest that a large MLB event was taking place nearby, but at the intersection closest to Hawker House, a large sign assured fans they were nearly there.

Upon turning a corner into the entrance, there was an uninterrupted view of the entry plaza, which would not have looked out of place at any MLB stadium or events centre. A repurposed storage container served as the ticket booth, with a ‘scoreboard’ above that said “Get in the Game” and listed the Foodfest ‘lineup’ of food from around MLB. The black, white, and teal theme was much more suggestive of events like London Yards and MLB Battlegrounds than the London Series itself.

One entered between two signs that read “The pint of no return” and “Step up to the plate”, with “Let’s be frank, you need a hot dog” nearby. Inside, a central courtyard contained a number of open fires in old oil barrels, with a central fireplace/repurposed factory chimney and plenty of long benches. Around the outside were a number of different bars and seating areas, some imaginatively placed in enormous thatched enclosures with steeply pitched roofs.

The interior was divided into two different areas. On the left were a pair of batting cages, with a pitching tunnel a level above, and a bar and the Mariners’ vegan food stand behind, at which there was a fairly constant queue. When we entered before opening time, it was predictably quite empty, but as the night went on, the queues to enter the two areas were substantial, though they moved quickly thanks to a 10-ball maximum in the cage and six-ish in the tunnel.

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Checking in on Russian Baseball

Russian baseball has just finished a busy year with the annual Russian Series to determine its domestic champion. Along the way, the federation sent squads to compete at the European B-Level Championship and Pool 2 of the Under-18 European Championship Qualifier, finishing a heart-breaking second in both. Russia has a single promising minor leaguer, while it has nationalised a number of former professionals, both from former members of the Soviet Bloc and Cuba. Given all the action, we thought a quick on Russian baseball would be in order.

Any discussion of Russian baseball on the international scene has to start with Anton Kuznetsov. The first true prospect the country has ever produced, the 21-year old left-hander had excelled in the Phillies’ system, turning in a 0.36 and 1.91 ERA in his two seasons with regular work (most of 2018 was lost to injury). Add in 1.7 walks per nine innings and a .219 batting average against in 62.1 innings and one can see why the southpaw is intriguing.

Unlike most European pitchers, particularly those from the eastern half of the continent, Kuznetsov is polished, with strong mechanics and an excellent ‘feel’ for pitching. Scouts and managers have been continually impressed with the ease with which he pitches and the confidence he mixes his change-up with his fastball, which tops out at 90.

Along with a fringy curveball, Kuznetsov might have just enough to climb the system and get a shot as a lefty-focussed reliever. An assignment to Single-A Lakewood in 2020 would provide the challenge of a full season and more experienced batters. MLB.com had a nice feature on the Russian lefty for those that want to know more [link].

It turns out that Kuznetsov, or Антон Кузнецов in Russian, is not just a weapon on the mound, however. In the 2019 Russian Series, which concluded this past weekend, the right-handed hitter played all seven games, spending his time at first base when he was not on the mound. Hitting against the best pitchers in Russia, including a former minor leaguer, Kuznetsov went 10-for-24 with two home runs and a double, plus three walks and eight runs. He even swiped a base, while whiffing four times. His final line at the plate: .417/.481/.708.

The results on the mound for Kuznetsov were a bit more mixed, with five earned runs (3.86 ERA) on seven hits, three walks (one intentional), and a wild pitch in 11.2 innings, with 12 Ks. The result led to him being names “Most Useful Player” (MVP). Box scores for the Series are at baseballrussia.ru (in Russian).

Former Twins minor leaguer and native Moldovan Vadim Balan was stellar for RusStar: 17 innings, 10 hits, five earned runs (2.65 ERA), seven walks, and 25 strikeouts. Balan pitched in 10 games in ’15 & ’17. His younger brother, Petru Balan, is still in the Twins’ system (8.25 ERA in ’19). Vadim gave up three runs on four walks, two wild pitches, a home run, and a single in 3.2 frames at the B-Level Euros, though he did strike out five. Petru faired little better, walking seven in three frames and allowing two runs, though he did send down six on strikes.

The only other former minor leaguer in the Russian Series was Belarus’ Alexey Lukashevich, who put up interesting numbers for the GCL Pirates in 2012. For RusStar, the losers of the series, he gave up five earned on seven hits and nine walks in eight innings, striking out 9.

The Russian Series also included a number of Cubans, seven of which have naturalised. Cubalite, a Cuban news site, reports on the careers of the following players, including several long-time veterans of the National Series and one Cuban national teamer [link].

Five of those players managed to obtain citizenship between June 12, when Asere reported that they “plan to obtain” Russian nationality [link], and the B-Level Championship that began on July 1.

Russia’s Sports Minister, Pavel Kolobkov, had told reporters on May 20 [link], “There is nothing unusual about…assimilation for those who wish to play for the Russian national team, regardless of the sport.” Kolobkov noted that he intended to help the development of the still “exotic” sport.

Five of those players made the roster, with four holding down spots in the starting lineup and two others starting games for Russia. As one would expect of former Cuban professionals, most had excellent performances, including David Castillo’s tournament-leading .583 average and six home runs (in 24 at bats!).

Other players had similar accomplishments: Frank Bulté hit .556 and did not strike out in 21 plate appearances. [Editor’s note: Bulté did not play in the National Series and was not one of the players mentioned above.] Geidys Soler slashed .364/.462/.727 with three stolen bases in five games and Luis Valiente slugged a pair of dingers. Rody Castello and Adrian Rodriguez were not quite as sharp on the mound, but almost delivered Russia a promotion to Europe’s top division of national teams. ADN Cuba even went so far as to describe the team as a “‘Cubanised’ Russia” [link].

Eventual winners Israel barely escaped Russia in pool play, needing 10 innings to topple the team, 13-12. In that game, the National Series veterans were 8-for-21 with a home run, two walks, and no strikeouts. The promotion final was another thrilling game, with Israel rallying for three runs in the bottom of the eighth and holding on for a 5-3 victory. The recently naturalised Russians were only 4-for-15 with a home run, two walks, and a strikeout, potentially proving the difference.

It is worth noting that a loss to Russia in either game could have ended Israel’s Road to Tokyo at the B-Level Championships, but after gathering reinforcements (including big league veteran Danny Valencia), it survived the European (‘A-Level’) Championship. Israel then won the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier, from which we reported live, but a “Cubanised” Russia almost re-wrote the story.

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Venezuela Unveils Premier 12 Roster

Venezuela announced its roster for the Premier 12 on Saturday, and it includes four players with significant MLB experience. As with most teams from the Americas, Venezuela is severely hampered by MLB’s decision not to allow 40-man roster players to attend the tournament, removing all current big leaguers (except free agents) and top prospects.

The big names on the squad are Henderson Álvarez III, Williams Pérez, Félix Doubront, and Miguel Socolovich, all of whom spent significant time in the big leagues. Among those ineligible are José Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Ronald Acuña Jr. Gleyber Torres, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Robinson Chirinos, Willson Contreras, Eduardo Escobar, Eugenio Suárez, and Eduardo Rodríguez.

Free agents are not part of 40-man rosters, meaning once the World Series is over, it is possible that Felix Hernández, Pablo Sandoval, Martín Prado, Gerardo Parra, Jhoulys Chacín (pictured right, pitching in 2017 WBC), and Martín Perez could join the list, along with Gorkys Hernández, Gregor Blanco, Alcides Escobar, Sandy León. It is unclear why players like Carlos González, Yangervis Solarté, and Jeanmar Gómez, all of whom are already free agents, did not make the cut. It is unclear when the roster submission deadline is or whether these players have been included on a long list.

As things stand, the top offensive threats are 10-year major league Andrés Blanco,                former Red Sox prospect Carlos Rivero, and long-time minor leaguer Ali Castillo. Blanco has languished at Triple-A the last two seasons, with solid numbers, after last appearance in the bigs for the Phillies. Rivero had a big season in the Mexican League (.336/.404/.567) and Castillo is a career .289 hitter in 12 professional seasons.

Jecksson Flores and Manuel Meléndez (left, playing for Asheville in 2017) are the more interesting young players already on the roster, though there are no surefire prospects tabbed for inclusion. José Godoy made it to Triple-A as a 24-year old catcher with solid numbers.

The federation’s press release [link] notes five players who will join the team in México so they can try out for the squad: Dédgar Jiménez, Ramón Flores, Balbino Fuenmayor, Francisco Arcia, and Alfred Gutiérrez. Fuenmayor is a lock to make it after hitting .334 with 31 HR in the Mexican League (career .299 and 197 HR across all leagues), while Flores and Arcia both bring MLB experience. Jiménez and Gutiérrez would be the most intriguing prospects on the roster.

The squad travels to Puebla, México, to take on the Mexican National Team on Oct. 26-27 before flying to Taiwan for the Premier 12. Venezuela will take on Japan at 11 a.m. BST/6 p.m. local time on Nov. 5. Venezuela will take on Taiwan on Nov. 6 one-half hour later before contesting Puerto Rico on the 7th at 5 a.m./noon.

Roster
Pitchers: Felix Doubront, Hénderson Álvarez, Williams Pérez, Miguel Socolovich, Jhonleider Salinas, Andrés Sotillet, Yezo Campos, Anthony Vizcaya, Liarvis Breto, Carlos Navas, Elvis Escobar, Argenis Angúlo, and Cristian Álvarado.

Catchers: Juan Apodaca and Jose Godoy.

Infielders: Andrés Blanco, Carlos Rivero, Henry Rodríguez, Dixon Machado, Ali Castillo, Luis Castillo, Jecksson Flores, and Juniel Querecuto.

Outfielders: Manuel Meléndez, Diego Rincones, Herlis Rodríguez, and Alexander Palma.

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Mexico Announces Premier 12 Roster

The next nation to announce its Premier12 roster is México [list], which will feature some recognisable names in Christián Villanueva (above), Fernando Salas, and Horacio Ramírez, along with five other former major leaguers. As with the other COPABE (Americas) nations, the lack of forty-man roster players stings, though México’s strong national league provides a number of veteran players. Several minor leaguers and a CPBL star make up the rest of the roster, which was announced as the squad for the ‘Giants of Latin America’ exhibition series with Venezuela and, therefore, may change significantly before the Premier 12.

México will aim to improve on a fourth-place finish in 2015, in which it defeated Venezuela before losing to Japan, the USA, and South Korea, bouncing back against the Dominican Republic to squeak into the quarterfinals, where it defeated Canada 4-3 and then lost to USA again in the semis. Japan blasted the nation 11-1 in the third-place game. Astonishingly, only Juan Pérez and Brennan Berardino return from that squad, which had much less star power than this year’s edition.

The group is led by Villanueva (left), who burst onto the scene with an exciting 12-game callup by the Padres in 2017, during which he hit .344 with four home runs. A 20-homer season followed in only 110 games, with a .236 average and excellent defence at the hot corner. This season, the former top Cubs prospect played for Yomiuri in Japan, slashing .218/.322/.378.

Salas will likely serve as the team’s relieve ace after a 10-year, 496-game career that included three contests in 2019. In that time, the right-hander has a 3.91 ERA, .244 batting average against, and a 474/149 K/BB ration in 489.2 innings. Ramírez nade 169 games, including 105 starts, in MLB, but has only nine major league innings in the last decade. After bouncing around indy ball, the KBO, and winter leagues, the former Team USA southpaw has settled in the Mexican League where he has a 3.81 ERA in five seasons, with an otherworldly 1.7 BB/9 and 4.0 (!) K/9.

Another long-time veteran is Efrén Navarro, a 1B who got action in 157 games over six seasons, mostly with the Angels. Navarro has appeared in Japan, México, and the minor leagues in recent years and has a .283/.356/.395 line in 1,813 professional games.

Four players with cups of coffee are Matt Clark, Phillip Evans, Alí Solís, and Ryan Verdugo. Clark slugged three dingers in 27 at bats for Milwaukee in 2014 and has 253 career home runs in 1,309 professional games. The 1B added 27 for León in 2019. Meanwhile, Evans had 61 at bats over the 2017-18 seasons for the Mets before moving to the Cubs’ organisation for 2019. The utility infielder hit .283/.371/.470 for Iowa this season.

The final two big leaguers saw much less time. Solis was 0-for-10 in 2011 and 2014, but has 14 seasons of pro ball under his belt and drilled 18 home runs in LMB play this year. Ryan Verdugo returns to México, where he played in 2016-17, after two seasons in the CPBL and seven years past a single start in the bigs.

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Controversy and Excitement for the Euro Baseball Cup

BREAKING: A new event has been added to the international calendar this autumn, but not without some controversy. The Professional Dream Baseball Cup, also known as the European Baseball Cup, is set to take place in Andalusía from Oct. 30-Nov. 17 and feature a variety of national teams, some of whom would be make historic appearances if they are, in fact, representatives squads.

Controversies and Issues
The website [link] was first circulated in August, while the Twitter account was formed in February (@EBCupOficial). Many of the links of the main website do not work, though there are several press releases available. The Cup has an active social media presenceand has opened accreditation to the press.

Two football stadia are listed as host sites, the Stadium Iberoamericano, and eight-thousand seater near Cádiz, and the Stadio Chapín in Jerez, which can seat more than 20 thousand. An early draft of the logo from Feb. 20 [link] indicates the event was meant to take place in Sevilla, with no word as to why it was changed. The link for tickets directs to a new website, https://bigticket.es, which does not list any other events and, therefore, may be part of the same company. Several attempts to view the ticket-buying process were unsuccessful.

Further adding to the intrigue of the event is that the tournament intends to field a team playing as “Spain”, but the Spanish federation (RFEBS) went as far as to write a letter [link] officially condemning the tournament and its claim of a Spanish team. The letter noted that RFEBS “reserves the right to take all legal and/or disciplinary actions it may deem appropriate.” There seems to be some question of the legality of hosting a baseball tournament in Spain without the federation or WBSC’s consent. Previous attempts to contact the WBSC for an explanation as to how an event becomes sanctioned have been unanswered.

The retort to RFEBS’ letter by the organisation hosting, International 4Big Sports, expressed “surprise” at their response, noting, “We will carry [the event] out, whatever the cost” [link]. It also suggests that it had contacted RFEBS in advance. One might assume, however, that “Spain” will not be comprised of the official Spanish national team.

Adding a further twist to the ongoing saga of the cup is that Spain’s manager, Luis Sojo, indicates “we will go there” in an Instagram post [link] (Hat tip to @ikerbilbao on Reddit). Interestingly, he mentioned this tournament before even the European Championship or the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier.

WBSC Sanctions [This section not in the original article.]
After an interesting point from the European Softball Federation’s Kristian Pälviä, who observed that the WBSC’s rules may prohibit events like this from happening, we investigated the WBSC’ statutes further. Several sections of the “Sanction Procedure and International Game Rules” [link], in particular, are noteworthy.

Any International Baseball…Game or International Baseball…Tournament between teams and/or clubs that come under the jurisdiction and/or auspices of one or more Member Federations and/or comprising of one or more players that come under the jurisdiction and/or auspices of one or more Member Federations, shall come under the jurisdiction of the WBSC.

According to the above statement, either this tournament is NOT under WBSC jurisdiction because no nations or players from those nations are playing, or it falls under its jurisdiction. The problem of listing national teams, however, becomes even more difficult in Chapter 1.2: “WBSC Full Members are the only authorities in each country to select their National Team and have the exclusive right to represent the Country Name, Flag and Colours.”

This more-or-less precludes any unsanctioned tournament from advertising that it represents national teams. Chapter 1, Article 5 goes into further detail:

Where a team is not the National Team acting under the authority of the National Federation and/or respective National Olympic Committee – and/or where a competition has not been duly sanctioned by the WBSC – the uniform colours and style of such team competing in an international tournament must not be the same as or similar to any National Team uniforms of the WBSC Member. The National Flag of the country of that National Federation must not appear on the uniform and such team should not be promoted/positioned as a team representing a country or nation on any media outlets (broadcasting, website, social media, print publications, etc.).

Any tournament or club in breach of the above articles would then fall under Chapter 1.4: “Failure to obtain this sanction would constitute a breach of the present Statutes and would be sanctionable in accordance with the By-Laws”.

Those articles appear to prevent tournaments such as these or, indeed, any tournaments featuring countries beyond pickup games, from proceeding legally.

National Federations Listed as Participants
The list of nations and regions represented is impressive and at least two appear to be legitimate: Andalusia (a regional subsidiary of RFEBS), Argentina, Dominican Republic, “Euroamerica”, India, Japan’s Baseball Challenge League, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, “USA All-Stars”, and Venezuela. It is unclear whether most are representative sides or ex-pat teams.

Pakistan Federation Baseball appears, in fact, to be sending its national team, with Syed Fakhar quoted in an article on the website [link]. The same goes for India, with President Harish Kumar offering his thoughts [link]. It is seems unexpected that two teams would travel so far to an event that seems at least somewhat likely to be cancelled, given the complicated nature of tournament hosting even without additional difficulties.

Queries to both have gone unreturned, while a source tells us that the team listed as Portugal is a selection from its national league, which includes players that are not Portuguese citizens.

Preparations for the Tournament
International 4Big Sports CEO Jorge Sánchez Diaz seems quote confident in the event’s success. In a reply to a comment about the overlap with the Premier 12, Diaz said, “We have not made an event in the same time, it has been the other way around” [link]. Worth noting as well is that 4BigSports is headquartered in Barquisimeto, Venezuela [link].

The European Baseball Cup has, noteworthily, attracted two huge names to attend the tournament, with the first being long-time big league star Miguel Tejada, who shot a video in support.

The other big name attached to the event is Orlando Hernández (who looks to still be in playing shape!).

Potential Historic Moments
Should this tournament indeed happen, it would mark multiple historic firsts:
1) First appearance by a full India national team outside of Asia (with a few players at the World Comes to Palm Beaches 2018).
2) First appearance in Europe for Pakistan, Panamá, and the Philippines.
3) The first tournament for Portugal since 2008 (1998 and 2008 Euros B-Pool only event ever).
4) First appearance for Argentina outside of South America (though they are not listed in a pool and seem likely to no longer be involved).

Although RFEBS has condemned the event, any opportunity to see international baseball in Europe is an intriguing one and we hope that the two organisations will come to an accord that allows the tournament to flourish. Stay tuned for more on the European Baseball Cup as reports continue to come in.

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Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier Preview

Parma, Italy – The gauntlet for five European places at the Europe-Africa Olympic qualifier  has been run and the end result netted no real surprises: European champions the Netherlands, plus Italy, Israel, Spain, and the Czech Republic. That quintet will be joined by South Africa which, for once, actually had to qualify rather than represent Africa as its de facto champion. Each of the teams features several prominent names and, below, we break them down.

Czech Republic
Headlining the roster for the Czech Republic [link] is the NorfolkTides’ Martin Červenka. Červenka had a breakout year in 2018, when hit .258 with 15 home runs and excellent defence. This year, he earned a promotion to the minors’ top level despite a mixed season at the plate, though his arm was better than ever (48% caught stealing). Červenka hit .290/.353/.419 at the Euros.

The Czechs in recent years have sent more and more players to U.S. universities, and Wake Tech’s Martin Mužík [link to news] was arguably the best European hitter at a U.S institution in recent years. After two monster seasons, which he capped off with our 2018 JuCo Player of the Year and a second-team All-American, he returned to play in his home league in 2019.  Mužík slashed .310/.394/.414 last week and is joined by former Eagles’ teammate  and 2018 Universities All-Star Martin Červinka [link to news].

Also on the list are top prospects Lukáš Hlouch, Daniel Padyšak, and Ondřej Furko from the Elite Tournament at Farnham Park. The team’s leading hitter at the Euros was Petr Čech at .321/.375/.571.

Israel
Israel’s roster [link] certainly has the most name recognition, with big leaguers Danny Valencia, Ty Kelly, & Ryan Lavarnway on the squad. The latter pair were on the WBC, while Valencia has been a huge first-time member. Another interesting player tabbed is Jon Moscot, who is coming back from post-Tommy John retirement to help Israel try to qualify for Tokyo.

Shlomo lipetz returns for yet another tour of duty as the only native Israeli. Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece subtitled ‘Now starring actual Israelis’, which glosses over the fact that one becomes an ‘actual Israeli’ by…applying for citizenship.

By far the team’s hottest hitter in Bonn was Blake Gailen, who hit three dingers and three doubles while slashing .355/.412/742. Valencia homered in the last three games of the tournament. The team’s top pitcher was Joey Wagman, who tossed 10.2 innings without an earned run, striking out eight. The team’s bullpen had a 2.93 ERA in the tournament.

A big miss from the roster is Dean Kremer, born in Israel, who we tabbed as a player to watch after the Brooklyn qualifier and has since broken out with two huge seasons.

Italy
Unlike most of the other nations, Italy [link] added several big names after the European championship: four-time squad member Pat Venditte and former top prospect Gavin Cecchini. Alex Liddi is still not with the team as he is a key bat in Yucatán’s drive for a Mexican league title.

Returning for the first time since the 2017 WBC is John Andreoli, who has since made the majors with seattle in 2018. Andreoli was a lightning rod at the top of the order in Guadalajara, with a penchant for momentum-setting home runs and great defence in centre. In last week’s tournament, he hit .304/.414/.652.

The biggest name on Italy’s squad, however, is likely former major leaguer Chris Colabello, now a veteran for the team. Colabello mashed five home runs in the Euros and hit .364. Alex Maestri had a rough European championship (6.30 ERA) but has been a stalwart for le Azzurri for years. A big name and minor league veteran (despite starting this season at 24) is Alberto Mineo, who continues to advance up the Blue Jays’ system after coming over from the cubs after the 2017 season. The backstop slashed .304/.448/.783.

Italy also features former University of Texas and current Eugene Emeralds pitcher Matteo Bocchi, who we scouted in 2018. Bocchi tossed three scoreless innings and is joined in the bullpen by Alex Bassani (5.2 scoreless, 12 Ks) and Michael Johnson (6.2 IP, 0R, 9Ks).

Netherlands
The Netherlands [link] dipped into its prospect pool for the Euros while bringing its standard veteran core. A loaded roster delivered a continental title despite an early slip against Czech Republic and several young players shone, none more so than Ademar Rifaela. Rifaela is on the borderline of post-prospect status after hitting triple-a at 24-years old, but destroyed European pitching en route to a .407 average with a whopping six home runs (1.111 slugging).

Entrusted with a championship game start was Minnesota’s Donny Breek at only 19 years old. The RHP had a 0.74 ERA & 1.10 WHIP in 36.1 for the GCL Twins, striking out 38, with similar numbers in ’18. Breek delivered 10.2 innings of one-run ball scoreless with 14 whiffs and only six baserunners in his two starts.

Two other solid Dutch prospects include Cincinnati’s Hendrik Clementina the tigers’ Tom de Blok plus one of the top Dutch prospects. Clementina has a chance to be the first Netherlands superstar prospect since Xander Bogaerts and has put up excellent numbers in the low minors. He delivered a .412/.476/.895 line with flawless defence.

Meanwhile, de Blok battled injuries this year, but finished with an ERA under four in the second half. The 24-year old had a 2.89 ERA and held opponents to a .171 average in Germany.

Otherwise, it’s a typical Dutch roster that includes Yurendell de Caster, Roger Bernadina, Curt Smith, Kalian Sams, Rob Cordemans, Diegomar Markwell, Tom Stuifbergen, Dwayne Kemp, and Dashenko Ricardo. Sharlon Schoop, Calten Daal, and Kemp all hit over .400, while Bernadina, Sams, Smith, and Daal all hit two home runs.

Orlando Yntema was the top pitcher, allowing one earned run in 11 innings on only six hits and two walks. Lars Huijer had similarly impressive numbers, with one run in 6.2 and 11 strikeouts.

South Africa
It is a fairly typical roster for Africa’s representative in Olympic Qualification. The team breezed through two rounds of continental tournaments and was not tested at all despite missing all of its current professional and collegiate players. The squad is filled with veterans, including seven with minor league experience, led by headliner Dylan Unsworth, who returns to the team for the first time since 2016.

Unsworth had a 5.75 ERA in Triple-A this year (4.17 career in 773.1 frames). The other top player is long-time pro Anthony Phillips, who has played in 12 minor league and independent league season. Rowan Ebersohn destroyed Under-23 World Cup and French pitching in the latter months of 2018 and Brandon Bouillon and Brett Willemburg will join the above and captain Jonathan Phillips in anchoring the lineup.

Top options on the bump after Unsworth will be Robert Lewis-Walker, who was solid against France, and Garth Cahill, who wrapped up a NCAA Division I-career this spring. South Africa is, unfortunately, missing Tayler Scott and Kieran Lovegrove, the latter of whom struggled with injuries this year. Also missing are Pirates’ minor leaguer Victor Ngoepe and older brother Gift Ngoepe, whose wife will give birth any day now.

Spain
It’s a veteran roster for Spain [link], with former major leaguers (Jesús) Fernando Martínez, Rhiner Cruz, and Éngel Beltre returning once more, with the only prospect a good one, 17-year old Omar Hernández, who recently signed with the Royals. Beltre slashed .296/.321/.444 and Martínez hit .333/.429/.583. The team’s top offensive weapon was vetern Jesús Ustariz, who dropped three bombs and hit .333. The team had multiple big games at the plate and finished with a .305/.380/.463 mark.

Other than Hernández (3-for-7), the other interesting young player was the Cubs’ Jhonny Bethencourt , who suited up for Spain for the first time. The 22-year old is a career .267 hitter with a .701 OPS in five minor league seasons and hit .348 with rangy defence at short. The roster also includes a variety of other long-time players like Óscar Angulo, Ricardo Hernandez, Leslie Nácar, and Blake Ochoa.

Jorge Balboa was impressive in two starts, surrendering one earned run in 10 innings, with nine hits, no walks, and 14 punchouts. Lowuin Sacramento (3.07 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), Antonio Noguera (3 IP, no baserunners, 5 K), and Cruz (4.2 IP, 0 ER, 8 K) showed well.

 

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XXXII Under-12 Pan-American Championship

The Under-12 Pan-American Championship took place with absolutely no fanfare from (or, indeed, announcement) from September 7- 14, 2019. Games were played at the Luis Alberto Villegas Stadium in Medellín, Colómbia, in the shadow of the professional stadium where one of the pools for the Under-23 World Cup took place last November. The tournament was contested by six teams, with one from the Caribbean (Dominican Republic), one from Central America (Honduras), and four from South America (Argentina, Brazil, Colómbia, and Ecuador).

The format for the championship was a double round robin with no subsequent playoffs games. Contests were scheduled for seven innings, with about half reaching that length. As with all youth events put on by COPABE, no information was released about team selection, applications for inclusion or, indeed, much of anything. Colómbia emerged as the clear winner, waltzing through the tournament without a loss, while the Dominicans were the only other team above .500.

Sept. 6
Honduras 14 – Brazil 5
Ecuador 0 –Dominican Republic 10
Argentina 2 – Colómbia 17

Sept. 7
Honduras 14 – Argentina 5
Brazil 10 – Ecuador 0
Colómbia 6 – Dominican Republic 3

Sept. 8
Dominican Republic 21 – Honduras 8
Colómbia 13 – Ecuador 3 (6 inns.)
Brazil 16 – Argentina 0

Sept. 9
Ecuador 11 – Honduras 9
Dominican Republic 22 – Argentina 0 (3 inns.) [Combined no-hitter for the D.R.]
Colómbia 13 – Brazil 5

Sept. 10
Argentina 9 – Ecuador 10
Brazil 4 – Dominican Republic 20 (4 inns.)
Honduras 0 – Colómbia 13 (5 inns.)

First Round Standings
Colómbia 5-0
Dominican Republic 4-1
Brazil 2-3
Ecuador 2-3
Honduras 2-3
Argentina 0-5

Sept. 11
Brazil 17 – Ecuador 3 (5 inns.)
Argentina 2 – Honduras 17 (3 inns.)
Colómbia 11 – Dominican Republic 4

Sept. 12
Honduras 3 – Dominican Republic 13 (5 inns.)
Argentina 0 – Brazil 16 (3 inns.)
Ecuador 1 – Colómbia 8
Colómbia 18 – Honduras 1 (5 inns.)

Sept. 13
Brazil 13 – Honduras 1
Dominican Republic 16 – Ecuador 1 (4 inns.)
Colómbia 22 – Argentina 0 (3 inns.) [ perfect game]
Ecuador 17 – Argentina 7 (5 inns.)

Sept. 14
Argentina 0 – Dominican Republic 18
Honduras 9 – Ecuador 10
Dominican Republic 21 – Brazil 3
Brazil 3 – Colómbia 18

Final Standings W-L RF RA
Colómbia           10-0 139 22
Dominican Republic 8-2 148 36
Brazil                   5-5  92 90
Ecuador              4-6  56 108
Honduras           3-7  72 129
Argentina          0-10 25 179

Details, awards, box scores can be found at the link.

TEAM OF HONOR
Best C: Angel Beltrán (COL)
Best 1B: Gabriel Moya (BRA)
Best 2B: Carlos Galindo (COL)
Best 3B: Matias Goyes (ECU)
Best SS: Cristan Garcés (ECU
Best LF: Bruno Carranza (ECU)
Best CF: Josua Moreno (HON)
Best RF: Fernando Saona (ECU)
MVP: Jean Paul Tamayo (COL)
Best Batter: Santiago Vargas (COL)
Most RBI: Junior Sánchez (DOM)
Most Bases Robadas: Cristian Gracés (ECU)
Most HR: Santiago Sánchez (COL)
Most Wins and Games Played: Jean Paul Tamayo (COL)
Best ERA: Jean Paul Tamayo (COL)

Photos by Freddy Jinete Daza.

Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, South America, Tournaments, U12 Pan-American | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019 European Championship Roster Preview

The 2019 European Championship starts today in Bonn and Solingen, Germany, with even more at stake that continental bragging rights. The top five teams will join South Africa in Bologna and Parma a few days after this tournament ends to battle for a single place in Tokyo. We preview each team’s rosters, highlighting major and minor leaguers, players who have attended American universities in the last few seasons, and young prospects for each nation.

Austria
Austria [link] features 5 of the youngest players in the tourney, including top prospects Tobias Kiefer and Konstantin Teufel, both of who were selected for the Elite Tournament, later dominating U18 qualifiers. Austria’s squad does feature Sammy Hackl, who just wrapped up a successful two-year stint at Arizona Western, where he slashed .282/.410/.463 and threw out 24.5% of runners [link to news]. Could he open the pipeline of Austrians to US universities?

Croatia
Croatia’s roster [link] is made up mostly of veteran domestic players, with three competing in Germany, plus Oakland College’s Ron Krsolovič, son of Harford Community College’s Ken Krsolovič.

Czech Republic
The roster for the Czech Republic [link] includes the NorfolkTides’ Martin Červenka, plus Wake Tech’s Martin Mužík [link to news], our 2018 JuCo Player of the Year, and 2018 Universities All-Star Martin Červinka [link to news], plus Lukáš Hlouch, Daniel Padyšak, and Ondřej Furko from the Elite Tournament at #FarnhamPark.

France
The roster for France [link] features plenty of familiar names, including Frédéric Hanvi, Andy Paz, and Leonel Céspedes, plus Thiel College’s Daniel Patrice [link to news] and McGill University’s Jonathan DuForest.

Germany
The final German roster [link] does, in fact, include Donald Lutz, as we guessed, making a return to his home country and host for the tourney. Tulsa’s Markus Solbach, Niklas Rimmel, and Rancho Cucamonga’s Sven Schueller also make the cut. Pascal Amon was one of our top Under-23 prospects in 2017 before washing out of the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Great Britain
Great Britain’s roster [link] contains a couple big names, headlined by big leaguer Barry Enright, who has been a candidate for GB in the past. Coming out of retirement to join the GB squad is Michael Roth, who had a memorable start at the Brooklyn WBC Qualifier in 2016, with honest comments that made for a refreshing post-game interview.

Also in the impressive British rotation is Hoofdoorp’s Paul Kirkpatrick [link to news], who was dominant against the Netherlands in the #U23Euros, plus Greg Hendrix and, potentially, Emory’s Rich Brereton [link to news], by far the deepest staff that has ever worn the Union Flag. Another key pitcher is Spencer Kreisberg, who came close to outdueling long-time big-leaguer Jason Marquis in Brooklyn and may well also earn a start for GB at the #BaseballEuros.

The catching staff will be led by newcomer Jamie Ritchie (not to be confused with the Edinburgh Rugby star), a 26-year old with incredible plate discipline (career .402 OBP) and stellar fielding marks in the high minors. Meanwhile Gary-South Shore’s Alex Crosby and Will Savage also suit up for GB. University players include Brereton and Ohio Wesleyan’s Conner Brown and former Mercer player Conrad Cornell [link to news].

Israel
Israel’s roster [link] might take the cake since it has no less than big leaguers Danny Valencia, Ty Kelly, & Ryan Lavarnway, with the latter two returning from the WBC. Also on that list is Jon Moscot, who is coming back from post-Tommy John retirement to help Israel try to qualify for the Olympics.

Italy
Italy’s roster [link] features two surprises: No Alex Liddi and the addition of John Andreoli, who was not on the preliminary roster and has only worn the Azzurri at the WBC. Andreoli was a sparkplug then and received a big league promotion in 2018.

The biggest name on Italy’s squad is former big leaguer Chris Colabello, now a veteran for the team. Alex Maestri, Nick Pugliese, and Giuseppe Mazzanti are other well-known names. Italy features former University of Texas and current EugeneEmeralds pitcher Matteo Bocchi, who we scouted in 2018. Also on the roster is the New Hampshire’s Alberto Mineo, who has played for Italy several times and has eight minor league seasons under his belt, but turned 25 only a couple months ago.

Netherlands
The Netherlands [link] brings a loaded roster to Germany that includes Lakeland’s Tom de Blok plus one of the top Dutch prospects, Dayton’s Hendrik Clementina. Two further interesting young names are the Twins’ Donny Breek and the Norfolk Tides’ Ademar Rifaela. Breek is only 19 and had a 0.74 ERA & 1.10 WHIP in 36.1 for the GCL Twins, striking out 38, with similar numbers in ’18. Rifaela slashed .249/.312/.423 as a 24-year old.

Otherwise, it’s a typical Dutch roster that includes Yurendell de Caster, Roger Bernadina, Curt Smith, Kalian Sams, Rob Cordemans, Diegomar Markwell, Tom Stuifbergen, Dwayne Kemp, and Dashenko Ricardo.

Spain
It’s a veteran roster for Spain [link], with former major leaguers (Jesús) Fernando Martínez, Rhiner Cruz, and Éngel Béltre returning once more, with the only prospect a good one, 17-year old Omar Hernández, who recently signed with the Royals.

It is also worth mentioning that Myrtle Beach’s Jhonny Bethencourt will also suit up for Spain for the first time. The 22-year old is a career .267 hitter with a .701 OPS in five minor league seasons. The roster also includes a variety of other long-time players like Óscar Angulo, Jesús Istariz, Ricardo Hernández, Leslie Nácar, and Blake Ochoa.

Sweden
Sweden has two Stevens Tech players, the Empire 8 Conference’s 2018 Rookie of the Year Thomas Paulich and ’20 commit Leo Bristow [link]. Paulich is a .264 hitter as a two-year starter, while Bristow graduated and then led Sweden in hitting (.538/.625/.692) at the U18 Euros Qualifier. Stevens, of course, is coached by Latvia’s head coach Kristaps Aldins, giving the team a real Baltic Sea connexion.

The rest of Sweden’s roster plays mostly in the domestic league, plus a few players in Germany and the Czech Republic. It had three players at the Elite Tournament, with Leo Bäckström the only player to make the senior team.

Posted in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Europe, European Championships, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Tournaments | Leave a comment

First Baseball5 Competition in Britain Hosted by BaseballSoftballUK, Kent Sport

This article was written for, and first appeared on, baseballsoftballuk.com.

By Gabriel Fidler, with additional reporting from Kent Sport and Liz Knight

On June 28, 2019, the British sporting world was treated to a feast of events, with matches in the Women’s Football World Cup and Cricket World Cup, Wimbledon upcoming and, of course, Workout Day at the London Series. Only the keenest observer would have noticed that in Gillingham, Kent, a historic sporting first was achieved. That afternoon, Medway Park played host to the Kent and Medway Business Games (KMBG), where baseball5 was contested for the first time in the UK.

Baseball5 was officially introduced to the world in November 2017 in Cuba, with its official launch the following March. The game was designed by the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) as a simplified version of baseball that could be played anywhere, using only a ball. There are five players on each team and the ball is hit with the hand instead of a bat. The official rules are available here.

Rapid Growth for Baseball5
The sport has taken off since its creation, with more than 120 events held in 52 different countries and regions. Baseball5 first appeared in the UK on May 20, making Britain the 49th nation to feature the sport. On that day, BaseballSoftballUK’s Liz Knight taught a clinic in preparation for the KMBG, with plenty of action alongside the instruction. In attendance were Kent Sport staff, representatives of local schools and workplace physical activity champions.

“We spent just under two hours in a sports hall running through background of the game, some rules, skills and then played,” noted Knight. “The group was great, very keen to learn and easy to work with.”

Vikki Bell, Sports Partnership Manager for Greenacre Sports Partnership is keen to introduce the sport to some of the secondary schools with whom they work. “Schools and workplaces are going to love this!”

Historic First Competition
At the Business Games, two teams played a slightly adapted version of the game, with a time limit ensuring that all participants saw plenty of action. Kent Sport ran the event after attending the May clinic and were thrilled with baseball5’s inclusive and simple format.

“It was fantastic to see how quickly people who have no previous knowledge or experience of the sport were able to pick up baseball5,” remarked Tim Corby from Kent Sport. “We had a wide range of abilities amongst the teams, but the simplicity of having no equipment meant that all the participants were able to achieve successful results. The small playing area and fast pace of the game kept everyone engaged throughout and feedback was really positive.”

Organised by Kent Sport, in partnership with Medway Sport, the Business Games offer an afternoon of fun activities, team building, networking and healthy competition. The event is an opportunity for colleagues to come together, represent their workplace, try new sports, get active and have some fun outside the office. For more on this year’s Games, click here.

“Baseball5 was a great addition to our 5th annual Business Games,” noted Lucy Tomlinson, Event Organiser, Kent Sport. “With 20 Workplace Teams and over 150 participants taking part on the day, we’re always looking for fun, inclusive team sports which are easy to pick up and play. Baseball5 certainly met these criteria and everyone seemed to really enjoy having a go. Many thanks to BaseballSoftballUK for supporting the event and for introducing us all to Baseball5.”



Future Plans for Baseball5

The WBSC is the international governing body for baseball, softball, and baseball5. The organisation plans to introduce continental championships and a world cup for its newest discipline, according to a tweet from President Riccardo Fraccari on Jan. 30, 2019. A total of 14 European nations have hosted baseball5 events, while international tournaments have been hosted by Bulgaria, Colombia, Cuba, Italy, and Spain.

BaseballSoftballUK’s Development Managers Patrick Knock and Knight have played an instrumental role in bringing baseball5 to Britain with plans for further events under consideration. In particular, the goal is to introduce baseball5 as an urban format of the sport, particularly in areas or communities where space and resources are limited.

Please get in touch at playball@bsuk.com if your school, team, or workplace is interested in hosting a baseball5 clinic, seminar, or competition.

Photos courtesy of Kent Sport.

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LYBL Wins First-Ever MLB Cup London

This article was written for, and first appeared on, baseballsoftballuk.com.

The countdown to the London Series officially began in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Sunday as the London Youth Baseball League (LYBL) took home the inaugural MLB Cup London trophy. The all-day event began with a fastpitch competition and concluded with six Little League baseball games, all on a specially created field immediately next to London Stadium. The penultimate game of the day, which decided the title, was a rematch of the 2019 UK Little League Championship.

The day started with a bang in the softball game, as a walk-off hit secured the victory for Team White over Team Blue, with each squad featuring a mixture of the best girls’ softball players from the London area and southeast England. Casey Johnston was awarded Most Valuable Pitcher, while Matilde Crapanzano was named Most Valuable Player after a series of excellent plays as the Blue’s shortstop. Crapanzano appeared at an earlier London Series legacy event, the MLB Cadet Camp at Farnham Park, along with several other softball players at the Cup.

Opening Ceremonies followed, with the two softball teams and four baseball teams introduced and welcomed by Jim Small, MLB’s Senior Vice President of International Business, and John Boyd, CEO of BaseballSoftballUK. Liz Knight, BaseballSoftballUK Development Manager for London, handed out the two MVP awards and medals for the winners, while Small threw out one of three official first pitches.

“The participants here today are…making history by being the first-ever participants in the MLB Cup here in Great Britain,” Small told the assembled players, parents, and fans. “One of the best players on the best team in MLB right now, the Minnesota Twins, is from Germany [Max Kepler]. We don’t yet have a player from the UK, [but] we would love to have some hard work and someday [have you] be able to play Major League Baseball. The best thing about baseball, though, is that it’s fun, and that’s why I hope you guys have here today!”

The four Little League teams certainly took Small at his word, with a series of spirited games following in which two things became clear. First, that LYBL deserved its UK Little League crown and second, that few people have more fun playing baseball and softball than 11-to-13 year-olds. The games even featured 13-year old Alex Paterson, a member of the Great Britain Under-15 national team, as base umpire assisting Blake Taylor.

Baseball play opened with a London Sports triumph over London Mets, 8-0, with Louie Ikeda hitting the first-ever MLB Cup London round-tripper. Ikeda ripped a ball to deep right centre and then raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run to the excitement of his teammates and a standing ovation from fans and players of both teams. Isaac Rosenthal nearly followed with his own, but was thrown out at the plate on a great play by the Mets’ rightfielder.

“All of these 11 and 12-year-olds have been playing for London Sports since they were five years old,” explained London Sports’ Erik Gustafson later. Gustafson’s son, also named Erik, hurled two scoreless innings in the game. “Although none of these children may grasp the moment, they have been playing baseball all of their lives at London Sports to be able to represent their club at this moment in Great Britain baseball history.”

LYBL took Game Two 4-0 over an All-Star Team that represented a variety of southeast baseball clubs and included two players in their ‘Great Britain’ national team jerseys. London Sports then vanquished the All-Stars 5-2 before LYBL claimed a 6-0 decision over the Mets in Game Four.

With both teams entering with a 2-0 record, Game Five saw a rematch of the UK Little League Qualifier Championship Game between LYBL and London Sports. Travis Harfield’s first inning double got London Youth off to a good start as it took a 2-0 lead in the first and Naotoro Konno worked out of jams in the first and third to preserve a 6-0 shutout. Konno was named Most Valuable Pitcher and Harfield took home MVP honours, with both joining the softball selections in receiving tickets to a game of the London Series, a Red Sox or Yankees hat, and a handsome backpack.

“[It was a] great day at a great venue with great intent to grow the baseball community in the UK and throughout Europe,” commented LYBL’s Jason Fitzgerald. “We impressed upon the kids a few times what it meant to represent the sport, LYBL, their parents and the UK in general in a such a great event. To win was quite an honor and we reminded the boys that they will always be the first to do it!

“Did you guys have fun?” asked Small after the games concluded to the assembled Little Leaguers, who promptly cheered. “I was amazed at the quality of baseball I saw out here and so many of you have so much talent. The main thing is how much fun everyone had and the passion that I saw here for the game of baseball. When I see that I am heartened to know that baseball has a great future here and it’s because of you guys.”

The MLB Cup has been running for nearly a decade, with games in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and Mexico. Sunday’s event, however, was the first time it was held in Europe. The MLB Cup London Workshops also took place at the London Stadium Marathon Community Track, where British softball and baseball coaches received high-level instruction from Bill Holmberg, MLB Pitching Coordinator for Europe and Africa, Martin Brunner, Coordinator of Baseball Development Europe, Chad Gravenorst of MLB South Africa, and Liam Carroll, Head Coach for the Great Britain Baseball Senior National Team.

“This was a team effort between MLB, Little League, and BaseballSoftballUK to bring a fun, high-standard youth softball and baseball competition to the London Series,” concluded John Boyd. “We are especially grateful to the volunteers for ensuring the first MLB Cup in Europe was a great experience for all.

“The event was all about the journey from being a Little Leaguer to being a Major Leaguer, played on a bespoke youth field of dreams in the shadows of the London Stadium and the Orbit. This will have helped the inspire the next generation of baseballers and softballers.”

For those who missed the live broadcast, the first, fifth, and sixth games were broadcast on BaseballSoftballUK’s YouTube account and are available for viewing here. For those in the area, Europe’s best amateur baseball prospects will descend upon Farnham Park Tuesday through Thursday for the Elite Development Tournament, and everyone is welcome. More details can be found here.

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