BROOKLYN, New York – Watching the World Baseball Classic as a fan adds a whole new dimension to following baseball, as countries form their own dream teams where David Wright, Giancarlo Stanton, and Ryan Braun face off against Carlos Beltrán, Yadier Molina, and José Berrios. At the qualifying levels, though, squads are often made up of a few seasoned veterans, players from the country’s local league, and younger players at the start of their career.
For the rookies, this is often the largest stage of their player careers, and serve to propel them into the spotlight for the first time. Who could forget Brazil’s unheralded side that upset three Latin American countries with much more established baseball programmes? Same too with the Holdzkom brothers of New Zealand and their gutsy pitching performances in their country’s first-ever international tournament or South Africa’s Dylan Unsworth dominating Israel a few days before his twentieth birthday?
At the recently concluded Brooklyn WBC Qualifier, several young players impressed in their first national team performances, particularly Great Britain’s Champ Stuart and the team’s Bahamian cohort, along with Brazil’s Bo Takahashi and Israel’s Brad Goldberg. Israel and Pakistan featured mostly older players, be they the established minor leaguers of Israel or the Pakistani vets of the Asian Baseball Cup and Championship. What follows is a discussion of the players who excelled in Brooklyn and are young enough to qualify for top prospect lists, divided by positional grouping. Most of these players are between 19 and 22, though a trio of 26-year olds are included, along with 17-year old Gabriel Maciel. Only one is currently on a top prospect list, but most are names to watch as they climb the minor league system. Quite a few do not have scouting reports available publicly, and it is hoped that the following notes will help fans get to know these prospects.
There were a number of interesting young infielders at the tournament, with Great Britain’s left side leading the way. Several players did not make the list, like Brazil’s Bo Bichette, younger brother of Dante Bichette, Jr., who was named the Gulf Coast League’s No. 4 prospect after a stellar debut. Against more veteran pitching, though, Bichette looked overmatched, and did not stand out in the field. Catcher was a position dominated by veterans, even among the backups, with Luís Paz the only exception.
1B – Dante Bichette (Brazil). The older of the Bichette brothers has had high expectations on him since being drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2011 draft. After a strong debut that year, Bichette, son of the long-time major leaguer with whom he shares his name, has floundered, though the 2016 campaign was by far his best since his first. While he remains a work in progress at either corner position, both of which he played in Brooklyn, he hit .400/.538/.700 at the tourney and, though he chased a few pitches, hit the ball hard. Bichette turned 24 the day after the qualifier and his chances may be waning, but we’ll have to wait until next season to see if he can springboard off his WBC success.
2B – Kyle Simmons (GB). Simmons teamed with the much more heralded Chisholm for a dynamic left side of the Great Britain infield. The 19-year old had a rough season for the Pirates’ Dominican League team, but was impressive in all facets of play in Brooklyn. Simmons, who played second base this year, took his reps at third in the qualifier and was a natural, showing incredible range, particularly on a long diving run on a foul pop near the batter’s box in the championship game and on several impressive stabs on balls drilled to the hot corner. The native of the Bahamas hit only .160 in rookie ball this year, but hit .333 in the WBCQ and showed the plate discipline which allowed him to record a .402 on-base percentage in the regular season, notching a .500 mark in the tournament and striking out only three times. He added a double and a stolen base.
SS – Jasrado Chisholm (GB). The Diamondbacks’ No. 28 Prospect according to MLB.com (and a bullish No. 10 for Inside the ‘Zona) did not disappoint in his first appearance for Great Britain. One of nine Bahamian players, Chisholm was electric at shortstop, showing incredible range and a rifle of an arm. The 18-year old got the job done at the plate, going 3-for-5 against Pakistan and flashing plus speed on a double into the right field corner and a pair of stolen bases. He hit .250/.294/.313 over the qualifier. Chisholm is one to keep an eye on as Arizona challenged him this year with an assignment to the Missoula Osprey and he responded with a .281 average and a .779 OPS, which earned him the No. 9 spot on the Pioneer League prospect list.
3B – Leonardo Reginatto (Brazil). Reginatto is easily the more senior position player on this list, and first burst on the scene after an amazing 2012 WBC Qualifier in which he hit .583, following that performance with a .364 mark in the main WBC. At 26, his chances of a breakthrough campaign appear to be dwindling, but Brazil manager Barry Larkin is among many believers, noting, “He has a good approach to hitting, a very calm approach. He keeps the bat head in the zone for a long time.” Larkin added that he told his team’s leader that he expected him to be a major leaguer and said Reginatto replied “I don’t want to smile because I’m not there yet.” Reginatto hit only .265 with a .645 OPS in a season split between Double-A and Triple-A this year, but raked in Brooklyn to the tune of.417/.462/.417, adding three stolen bases. His career Classic line is .457/.500/.543, the highest average among players with more than 25 at bats in the tournaments. Reginatto will need a strong 2017 for him to be more than a WBC star.
C – Luís Paz (Brazil). Catcher was a position full of veterans, with Paz the only starter under 28. Paz, only 20 years old, started one game behind the plate and came in as a defensive replacement in another, starting as designated hitter in a third game. While he did not impress with the bat, going 0-8 with a walk, he was excellent behind the plate in Brazil’s crucial semifinal game against Great Britain. Though Brazil lost, Paz and starting pitcher Andre Rienzo were a great combo, as Rieno struck out eight and walked none in five strong innings. Paz hit .269 with an .847 OPS for the Dodgers’ Pioneer League affiliate, though he played mostly first base.
Gabriel Maciel (Brazil). At 17, Maciel was the youngest starter on either team, though Brazil carried 15-year old Eric Pardinho, who set a WBC record for youngest player. Maciel had an impressive debut for the Diamondbacks this year, who aggressively placed him in two rookie leagues, where he was three years younger than the average player. The centerfielder hit a combined .281 with 22 stolen bases in 60 games, showing advanced plate discipline for his age. Maciel showed similar skills as Brazil’s leadoff hitter, hitting .250, but with a .357 on-base percentage with a 2/3 BB/K ratio, though most of the damage was against Pakistan. He swiped a pair of bags with two hits against the WBC newcomers, adding another stolen base and reaching base twice against GB. Maciel could move quickly with his command of the strike zone and speed.
Champ Stuart (Great Britain). Indubitably the biggest breakout of the qualifier, Stuart had an interesting 2016 season for the Mets’ Florida State League and Eastern League teams. The centerfielder stole 40 bases and collected seven triples and eight home runs, but batted only .240 overall, including .201 in his first stint at Double-A. It would seem, however, that Stuart is putting his substantial tools together, as he was the Great Britain sparkplug with a .467/.500/.733 line in Brooklyn. Stuart flashed his abilities in Britain’s first game against a much more experienced Israel team, almost singlehandedly delivering a win. Stuart doubled off major-league veteran Jason Marquis, and added a single, another two-bagger, and a stolen base off fellow big leaguer Josh Zeid, the only hits the flamethrower allowed. Stuart scored both of GB’s runs. Since the qualifier, the athletic Bahamian has used his time with Team GB to springboard his career as the relatively unknown prospect took the Arizona Fall League by storm, stealing headlines from fellow Mets’ prospects Tim Tebow and Gavin Cecchini. Stuart hit .300/.329/.400 and tied for the AFL lead with 11 stolen bases (with a league-best 92 percent success rate). Stuart’s age-24 season could be his big breakout, and he will likely have a chance to prove himself on another go-round at Binghamton.
Chavez Young (Great Britain). Another one of Team GB’s seven starting players from the Bahamas, Young is one of the youngest, playing the qualifier six weeks after his 19th birthday. The athletic outfielder was Britain’s designated hitter for the tournament and responded to the challenge with a .357 average. Young had a good effort in Britain’s upset of Brazil, starting off its three-run third with a single, adding a walk in the seventh. While he is still raw, Young showed athleticism on the basepaths, beating out an infield single against Israel. Though he struck out twice against Marquis, easily the most experienced player in the qualifier, he whiffed just once the rest of the tournament. Young should get a taste of Single-A next year after a promising .274/.346/.438 stint for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.
Most pitchers in qualifiers only see a single start or, perhaps, two short relief appearances. The most impressive in Brooklyn were the experienced Jason Marquis and Josh Zeid for Israel, but each of the other teams had at least one standout player. As with the rest of this prospect team, Britain’s young and athletic squad dominated, but Brazil also has some promising arms on the way.
SP – Michael Roth (Great Britain). At 26, Roth would not appear on this list were it not for a strong season in Triple-A and an outstanding start against Israel in the qualifier. Roth is on his third major league organization in the Rangers, but may have turned a corner in the last calendar year. Starting with a strong stint with Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League (7 starts, 3.38 ERA and 5.75 K/BB ratio), Roth continued his turnaround from a 4.85 ERA at AAA in 2015 to 2.97 in 2016. The peripherals supported it as the southpaw had a 1.23 WHIP with drastically improved command. When Roth was in the Angels’ system, he had the best changeup among their minor leaguers, and that was evident against the mostly veteran Team Israel lineup. Roth, who was annoyed after the game about the WBC’s pitch count, exited with a stellar six sinning, one earned run performance, scattering six hits and striking out four. Roth signed on November 18 with the Giants. Like San Francisco, Sacramento already has a full rotation, but Roth should have earned one more shot to see what he can do as a starter. Unlike most of the other players on this list, his floor is quite high, but he may not have that much of a ceiling. Roth was profiled earlier this week by GB Baseball.
SP – Bo Takahashi (Brazil). Takahashi, who does not turn 20 until January, was the most impressive young pitcher, looking poised on the mound for his age. Takahashi is small for a pitcher at 5-11, 180 pounds, but was listed as the Diamondbacks’ ‘sleeper’ prospect for 2016 and won a Pioneer League Pitcher of the Week this year. Arizona has challenged the righty with three aggressive assignments, starting him in the Arizona League at 17, while two years’ later, he had advanced all the way to High-A ball. 2016 was his best season statistically, with a 2.81 ERA in 83 1/3 innings, 1.18 WHIP, and a 2.31 K/BB ratio. Those successes against players 2-3 years older than him on average likely influenced Brazil manager Barry Larkin to start him against a veteran Israel club. Takahashi responded well to the challenge, flashing a slider that varied in movement but was almost unhittable at times. He also exhibited strong command in a four inning stint, allowing only one run on two hits and a walk, striking out five. One of the hits was ruled a double after the leftfielder failed to come up with a line drive. Takahashi is right up there with Chisholm and Stuart among the top young players on show at Brooklyn.
SP – Blake Taylor (Great Britain). Taylor is another promising arm for Great Britain along with Roth and Jake Esch, who missed the qualifiers after being called up by the Marlins. Despite being drafted in 2013, Taylor has only 82 1/3 innings under his belt after 2015 Tommy John surgery, but the Classic served as an exclamation point on his recovery. He pitched only 8 2/3 frames this year and struggled with command as many recovering from TJ, but struck out 12 with a 4.15 ERA. The southpaw drew the start against Brazil, and looked very strong at times, though struggled in two of his four-plus innings. The result in the end was quite good, as Taylor allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks, striking out three. Only 21 just before the qualifier and with a pitcher’s build at 6-3, 220, Taylor could be poised for a breakout if he can harness an inconsistent delivery and sharpen his curveball and fastball command.
SP – Muhammad Zohaib (Pakistan) – Pakistan carried a fair number of young players, but almost none saw action in the team’s pair of contests. One who did was Zohaib, a diminutive lefty who drew the start against Great Britain. Zohaib flashed a nice breaking ball and dialed his fastball into the high 80s, though he clearly wore down over his start. “I was playing my first international match in any country,” said Zohaib, as his manager interpreted. “I learned a lot and will be more confident next time.” Considering the 24-year old had only played in games in Pakistan, his performance was much more impressive. In the end, he went 3 2/3 innings and gave up four runs and eight baserunners, but struck out three. Two of his whiffs were on called strike three. It is unlikely at his age that Zohaib will ever see professional ball in the U.S. or elsewhere, but his performance deserved mention.
RP – Edilson Batista (Brazil). Batista, one of four teenage pitchers that Brazil carried, only saw an inning of work in Brooklyn, holding Pakistan hitless in the scoreless final frame of game one. No doubt jittery as a 19-year old on the mound for his country, he walked a pair and did not strike out anyone. A lefthander with projectable frame (6-3, 210), Batista is raw, but was challenged by the Red Sox after they signed him at 16, debuting in the Dominican Summer League in 2015 with a 4.50 ERA, but only 18 strikeouts and 50 hits in 36 innings. Batista was better in his second attempt in the league, starting 13 games with a 2.39 ERA and much improved 6.3 K/9 and 6.8 hits/9 ratios. The hurler could make the jump to the stateside Gulf Coast League in 2017.
RP – Nolan Bond (Great Britain). One of only four university players to make the roster of a Brooklyn competitor and along with teammate Paul Kirkpatrick the only to actually play, Bond was called on by Great Britain manager Liam Carroll in two high pressure situations. In the first game for Team GB, Israel had taken a 3-2 lead in the seventh after a standout performance from Roth had been squandered by the bullpen. The hulking righthander looked poised despite entering with two runners on and only one out, but walked the leadoff batter, former major leaguer Nate Freiman, on a full count. Bond was faced with an even bigger challenge on the next batter as Ike Davis, a seven-year major league with 81 career homers, stepped up to pinch hit. The 19-year old looked overwhelmed at first, falling behind 3-1, but brought the count full before Davis fouled off the next three pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at bat, Davis, who held the platoon advantage, bounced a ball up the middle that plated a runner. Slugger Cody Decker would score another inherited runner on a sacrifice fly caught on a leaping grab at the fence. The final out was a weak grounder. Carroll noted after the game how impressed he was with the effort. Bond’s second appearance was once more against Israel, and the veteran lineup roughed him up in two frames, ripping a double, triple, and home run. Still, the overall impression of the first-year university pitcher was favourable, as he lit up the radar game and has a pitcher’s frame at 6-6, 190.
RP – Brad Goldberg (Israel). One of the hardest throwers in Brooklyn, Goldberg served as Israel’s closer despite the presence of veteran major leaguer Craig Breslow in Israel’s ‘pen. The righthander was up to the challenge, notching saves against Great Britain and Brazil, with the latter coming in 1-0 game. He struck out three over the two innings, going 1-2-3 in his second save. Goldberg turned in a strong season as a 26-year old in the high minors, recording a 2.70 ERA, 10 saves, and 8.1 K/9 in 47 games, mostly at AAA. Though old for a prospect, Goldberg was a Triple-A All-Star this year and listed on Glendale Desert Dogs roster in the Arizona Fall League, though he did not appear. The White Sox will certainly take notice of his Classic performance, where he consistently hit the mid-90s, along with his 2016 effort. Goldberg, like Roth, is as close to big league ready as he can be.
RP – Dean Kremer (Israel). Kremer is easily the best prospect Israel has ever produced, and one of only two Israelis on the team’s roster. The 20-year old righthander, who lives part of each year in Israel, was the first Israeli drafted when he was picked by the Padres in the 38th round of the 2015 draft, though he waited a year and was taken by Dodgers in the 14th round in 2016 from San Joaquin Delta College (Calif.). Kremer has pitched in three tournaments for Israel, winning most Valuable Pitcher at the 2014 C-Level European Championship after striking out 20 in 13 innings and allowing only seven baserunners. The righty followed that performance up with another stellar effort at the 2015 B-Level Euros, whiffing 16 in 13 1/3 with a 2.03 ERA against much stronger competition. Kremer only toed the rubber for a single frame in Brooklyn, but struck out one in a scoreless ninth in the championship. The Dodgers’ farmhand is a legitimate prospect and got his professional career off to a great start with a 2.27 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 31 2/3 innings in 2016, striking out 35 and advancing all the way to Single-A. At 6-3, 180, he has room to grow, but already features a fastball that was comfortably in the 90s against Great Britain, showing a promising breaking ball as well. At only 20, Kremer may see a full-season league in 2017 in an organization that is unafraid to promote its pitching prospects.
RP – Thyago Vieira (Brazil). After two injury-plagued years, Vieira, a 23-year old righthander, may have finally started reaching his potential in 2016. Signed in 2011 by the Mariners, who also have Brazilian fireballer Luíz Gohara in their system, Vieira was added to Seattle’s 40-man roster after a season where he struck out 10.8 per nine with a 2.84 ERA. More importantly, he cut his walks to 3.7 from almost six the year before. Vieira, who can touch 100 mph, showed a live arm in his single inning of work in Brooklyn, a scoreless eighth against Great Britain. It was his third tournament for Brazil, with three innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and qualifying round. After appearing in Brooklyn, he added 5 1/3 frames in the Arizona Fall League, whiffing seven with a 0.94 WHIP and 3.38 ERA. Vieira could join Gohara as a fast-rising arm after reaching High-A in 2016, and should be challenged with a Double-AA assignment for 2017.
There’s a mixture of players here, from lower-ceiling players that could appear in the majors in 2017, like Roth and Reginatto, to teenagers with a lot of promise but with raw skillsets like Chisholm and Vieira. Others, like Chisholm and Kremer, are already regarded as prospects, while Paz, Stuart, Takahashi, and Taylor, could make their way onto a team’s Top 20 Prospects list. Stay tuned to Extra Innings for more on prospects who take the stage at an international level.
All pictures copyright Gabriel Fidler.