By Gabriel Fidler
MARYVILLE, Tenn. –Unlike the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensburg, there were no early upsets in the Jupiter, Fla. qualifying tournament, as Spain and Israel both won their first games over lower-ranked teams, setting up a much-anticipated matchup on day three. Israel would triumph in this contest, before Spain advanced to the final after defeating a South African side hours after they finished a marathon 5-2, 11-inning win over France.
Israel featured Nate Freiman, a prospect in the San Diego Padres’ system, who opened eyes with a brace of two-homer games, upstaging teammate and former major leaguer Shawn Green’s impressive cameo. Freiman drove in all four runs in Israel’s defeat of Spain in the first encounter of the two teams, but Spain avoided giving him anything to hit and won a true classic of international baseball in the final, outlasting Israel 9-7 in 10 innings. Freiman easily claimed the MVP with his three-game performance.
The four teams competing in Florida relied mostly on solid pitching and clutch hitting, rather than offensive outbursts as in Germany. The one exception to this was Spain, which collected more hits (53) than the other three teams combined, though it took two tries for them to defeat Israel. Meanwhile, each country had several noteworthy hurlers, as 12 pitchers threw at least two innings without giving up a run. The unofficial All-Tournament reflects this divide, as Spain dominates the hitting side, while each country is represented by at least one pitcher.
MVP: Nate Freiman (Israel). Freiman is the easy choice for the qualifier’s most valuable player. Israel’s first baseman almost singlehandedly propelled the team past Spain and into main draw of the WBC. He blasted a pair of solo home runs against South Africa in game one before smashing two more four-baggers in Israel’s first matchup with Spain. In the final, he was 1-for-3, drove in a run, and reached base four times as Spanish hurlers pitched around him. All totalled, he hit .417 and drove in seven runs, scoring five times. (Honourable mention: Yunesky Sánchez)
Best Pitcher: A number of other pitchers had impressive performances at Jupiter, but none were gutsier than Morlan. In his only appearance in the tournament, Spain’s closer entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with Israel up 6-4 and the bases loaded. Morlan induced a line out to Golindano to end the inning, and then pitched scoreless ball through the seventh, allowing Spain to tie the game up. He struck out the side in the fifth, including the final out looking with a runner on second. (Honourable mention: Hein Robb)
Best Fielder: Josh Satin (Israel). Satin and Israel’s shortstop Jake Lemmerman teamed up for an almost airtight left side of the infield in Israel’s three games. They combined to post a .976 fielding percentage, with Satin leading the team with 17 assists. While Lemmerman is known as a strong defender, Satin usually plays on the right side of the infield, with only 77 of his 524 professional appearances coming as a third baseman, including just nine in 2012. He was particularly impressive in fielding sacrifice hits, throwing out four bunters in the title game versus Spain alone. (Honourable mention: Paco Figueroa)
Best Runner: Éngel Béltre (Spain). Béltre tied for the lead in the qualifier with Israel’s Joc Pederson with three stolen bases, flashing off his speed in each game. Spain’s centerfielder also legged out an infield hit and a triple in three games. (Honourable mention: Joc Pederson)
C – Adrián Nieto (Spain): Nieto was selected not so much for his defensive skills at catcher as the numbers he put up at the plate. He hit .313 in 16 at bats, with three singles, two doubles, and three walks, for an OPS of .859. Nieto did pick off a runner at second in Spain’s shutout win over France.
1B – Nate Freiman (Israel): Freiman’s credentials are detailed above, but it is worth noting that he tied or led the qualifier in six offensive categories, including slugging percentage (1.417) and OPS (1.950). He also played above-average defence, and in the title game had an incredible 17 putouts, with an additional assist on a 3-2 double play that ended a bases-loaded, one out threat by Spain in the fifth.
2B – Paco Figueroa (Spain): Figueroa’s fielding abilities were lauded throughout the tournament for good reason, but Spain’s second sacker was 7-for-16 and scored five runs. He also had a double, a walk, and did not strike out in four games.
SS – Yunesky Sánchez (Spain): Spain’s shortstop came on strong in the final, collecting four hits and driving in three, including the game-winning runs in the tenth inning. Sánchez hit .368 in four games without a strikeout, scoring five runs and driving in five more. He was also errorless in the field.
3B – Jesús Golindano (Spain): The hot corner featured four impressive athletes in the Regensburg qualifier, and Golindano did not disappoint the fans in Jupiter. He was 5-for-14 with a double, triple, and five RBI, including three in the final contest. Golindano, one of the team’s few players from Spain’s División de Honor, also walked twice and stole a base.
LF – Gabriel Suárez (Spain): Suárez, normally a second baseman, did not let the move to left field affect his approach, as he led the Jupiter bracket in hitting. He collected six hits in 12 at bats, including two doubles. He also walked three times and crossed the plate on five occasions.
CF – Éngel Béltre (Spain): The five-tool Texas Rangers’ prospect shone in Jupiter, reaching base 11 times in four games, including six hits and four walks. He stole three bases and ripped a triple, driving in three and scoring four from his spot atop Spain’s lineup.
RF – Joc Pederson (Israel): Overshadowed by Freiman, Green, and Satin in Israel’s lineup, Pederson was a steady producer, stroking four hits and scoring three runs. He swiped three bags and walked twice, flashing terrific range in right field.
C – Charlie Cutler (Israel): .300/.364/.400 1R, 3RBI
IF – Carlos Hereaud (France): .333/.333/.333 1RBI, 0K, 1SB
IF – René Leveret (France): .375/.444./.500
IF – Gift Ngoepe (South Africa): .111/.467/.222 1R, 1SB; Led qualifier in walks and played superbly in defence
OF – Rafael Álvarez (Spain): .375/.474/.375 1RBI
OF – Yasser Gómez (Spain): .357/.400/.357 0K, three sacrifice bunts and an outfield assist
Right-Handed Pitcher – Nick Schumacher (Spain). The Jupiter bracket featured several right-handed pitchers who had excellent starts. South Africa’s Dylan Unsworth, pitching four days before his 20th birthday, was the tournament’s breakout star, allowing only a solo home run to Freiman in a dominant performance against Israel, but took the loss. Schumacher, however, propelled Spain to a shutout win against France in its first outing. Despite only becoming a starter in 2011, he tossed 6.1 innings, striking out four and allowing only four hits in picking up the win.
Left-Handed Pitcher – Hein Robb (South Africa): Robb worked twice as a reliever in South Africa’s three games. In his first appearance, he came on in the seventh to snuff out a rally by Israel, recording a quick out to keep his team down only by two. He again showed nerves of steel in South Africa’s gruelling showdown with France, needing only 60 pitches to hurl five shutout frames. He whiffed four and allowed only four baserunners.
Relief Pitcher – Eduardo Morlan (Spain): Jupiter was the site of several noteworthy relief pitching performances. France’s Leonel Céspedes and Spain’s Juan Cruz each struck out six in four scoreless innings, but none was better in the clutch than Morlan. Morlan battled through three and one-third innings in the title game. He pitched out of jams in the fourth and sixth innings, holding Freiman hitless with a runner in scoring position and then inducing a double play in the latter frame. Morlan struck out three and walked two.
Leonel Céspedes (France): 0-0, 0.00 (4 IP, 6 K, 1.00 WHIP)
José Cruz (Spain): 0-0, 0.00 (4 IP, 0H, 6 K, 0.50 WHIP)
Ricardo Hernández (Spain): 1-0, 0.00 (5 IP, 4 K, 0.80 WHIP)
David Kopp (Israel): 0-0, 1.93 (4.2 IP, 2 K, 0.64 WHIP)
Justin Schumer (Israel): 1-0, 0.00 (5.2 IP, 1 K, 1.24 WHIP)
Dylan Unsworth (South Africa): 0-1, 1.50 (6 IP, 0 BB, 6 K, 0.83 WHIP