Unlike in the United States, major league scouts do not regularly show up to watch youth baseball in Europe and, aside from a burgeoning league in the UK, baseball at universities is rare. For most young European baseballers, a national team selection for a continental or world championship is the most likely way of being discovered by a scout. A very select number of Europeans also have the opportunity to attend MLB’s European Elite Camp, which offers high-level competition and coaching from experienced American coaches.
These MLB Elite players join the other top players in their age brackets at various European Championships, including the Under-15, Under-18, and Under-23 (U23) tournaments. It is there that many have their first interaction with scouts, and a breakout performance, particularly when much younger than most competitors, can be enough to attract the interest of a MLB team. This tournament did not feature any premium, sure-fire prospects, but a number have the potential to turn into MLB draftees or international signings.
While the tournament is limited to players who turned 23 this year and most of the top nations aimed for an experienced squad, 34 players were 17 or younger and this is where a significant portion of potential talents lie. However, the general rule is that the least experienced teams have more roster spots available to younger players. Only Spain (2001), Belgium (2000), and Czech Republic (2000) featured players 17 or younger and played in a medal game.
Only three played for a team that finished in the top four out of 16 squads, with Belarus including 4-of-5 players born in 2002. Slovakia also had a very young squad, with three born in 2001 and four in 2000, while Georgia showcased the other 15-year old along with a player born in 2001 and two in 2002.
At the most recent U23 Euros, 20 players stood out as prospects, with many featuring from the list of youngest players. The youngest player, Belarus’ Ilya Sladzinski, only turned 15 a few days before the tournament started. The list also includes three players aged 22, all of whom play for an American university, while a number have been tabbed to the MLB Elite or World Select team. The Czech Republic and Great Britain each have three players listed, with several nations featuring a pair of selections. The list includes 11-of-16 teams that have at least one player.
With only the tournament in which to scout the players, we will review these prospects position-by-position rather than offering a Top 20 ranking. Players are listed below with their age as of the approximate start of the 2018 baseball season (April 1), along with their usual clubs and any additional notes.
One pitcher jumps to the fore in a discussion of the Euros’ best hurlers, and that is Nolan Bond. In his second appearance with Great Britain since pitching in two key spots against Israel in last September’s World Baseball Classic Qualifier, Bond showed off some impressive growth.
After his second season at the University of Houston, the righthander looked cool and collected as he calmly set down the first 15 Austrians he faced in Britain’s first game. Pulled after the sixth inning with an 8-0 lead, Bond had not yet surrendered a hit. That streak continued another 3 2/3 frames against an excellent German side, though its relentless approach did finally break Bond’s scoreless streak.
In total, Bond, only 20, struck out 15 (12.3 K/9), second-most in the tournament, surrendering only a .108 batting average, fourth among hurlers. The righty earned his second straight NCAA Academic All-American and finished with a 3.60 ERA and eye-popping 15-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings as a sophomore. Bond’s ability to command his pitches was evident in the way he confidently mixed his fastball with a nice 12-6 curveball and a changeup in all counts.
“We knew Nolan was a special talent following his GB debut at the WBCQ, and today we got to see what that sort of talent looks like competing with his own age group,” noted Great Britain’s Head Coach, Liam Carroll. “He set great tempo for our [championship] effort today with his presence and command of three pitches, and most excitingly, given the great hands he’s in at the University of Houston, we’re just scratching the surface of what this young man is capable of achieving.”
Bond’s coach at Houston, Todd Whitting, told us that the 6-6, 205-hurler will transition to the rotation next year, and continued rapid growth will see him ascend the MLB Draft Charts next June. We interviewed Bond, Carroll, and Whitting after the hurler’s combined no-hitter (link).
At 19 years and three weeks, Marius Balandis was one of the youngest players to start a game, but the Lithuanian has already attended MLB’s Elite Camp and made waves as a high schooler. Balandis transferred to Chicago-area high school St. Laurence Academy from Lithuania before his senior year. The righthander was 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA in his first four starts for a high school ranked No. 27 in the U.S. Balandis struck out 34 and allowing only six hits in 19 1/3, though he has walked 18.
The projectable righthander hit 94 in the spring and featured a four-pitch mix in European competition, with better movement than control. Drawing the start against bronze medallist Belgium, Balandis struck out six in seven frames, surrendering a mere three hits and one earned run, though he did walk five. Should the Iowa Western Community College commit harness his stuff, Dovydas Neverauskas might have another Lithuanian speaker in the big leagues.
The youngest player to start a game in the Euros was 16-year old Christoph Vanas. It was not Vanas’ first appearance on the international stage, however, as he participated in 2015 in the PONY League World Series. A righthander, Vanas drew Austria’s toughest opponent, Spain, which finished fourth at the Euros.
Vanas answered the call well, needing only 79 pitches to toss six innings. Those frames included only two strikeouts, but also only one unearned run on four hits and three walks against an experienced lineup. Vanas’ second outing was even better as he recorded four strikeouts in five easy innings, needing only 62 pitches against Belarus, scattering five hits and a run. No Austrian has ever inked a pro contract, but it is possible Vanas may get a shot.
“Christoph has been with the Austrian Baseball Academy since September 2014, which has been an MLB supported academy for over five years now,” explained Manfred Heisler of Academy. “Our program is designed to prepare players to compete at an international level. Christoph has always been a stand-out youth player for his club, Vienna Wanderers, too. This year was his first year as a starting pitcher for the club’s senior team, where he did really well, especially considering his young age.”
Ondřej Furko (Czech Republic) was the other starter that might attract the eyes of pro scouts. Furko struck out five in 5 2/3 innings over two starts, allowing only two hits (.095 batting average). The righthander has appeared in the U23 World Cup and for the MLB World Select club, as well as the Junior League World Series (the next level above Little League).
Mikołaj Dąbrowski was another young pitcher that impressed. Though he was not tabbed for a start for Poland, the high school sophomore struck out seven in 6 1/3, allowing two runs on eight hits and two walks. This year, the righthander struck out 27 of the 43 batters he faced for Carnegie Schools-Riverside, who were 20-3-1 in the tough Southern California baseball scene. Dąbrowski was 2-0 with a 1.91 ERA, allowing only 10 singles in 11 innings, without a single walk.
Other relief pitchers of note include Jerremyh Angela, Daniel Harrington, and Frank Hernández. The Orange’s Angela, a native of Amsterdam, had a 2.70 ERA in 26 2/3 innings as a sophomore for LSU-Shreveport as a junior. The southpaw struck out three in 2 1/3 innings for the Netherlands at the World Port Tournament, though Angela allowed two runs in the same number of frames at the Euros.
Harrington was born in Kaiserslautern (Ger.), but grew up in California before committing to Columbia University. The righthander was hit hard in 12 innings his freshman year (20 hits, 13 earned runs), but showed flashes of brilliance for Germany at the Euros. Harrington struck out 7 of the 19 batters he faced over three appearances, though he surrendered three hits and five walks, leading to an unearned run.
Hernández, on the other hand, was much younger than Angela or Harrington, clocking in at two months shy of his sweet sixteen. The Spanish hurler flashed an excellent fastball and changeup, with batters hitting only 1-for-10 against him, but he did walk five in 3 2/3. Hernández muscular build at only 15 is one to dream on, though.
A pair of catchers were two of the most dominant offensive performers at the U23s. Czech Republic’s Martin Mužík was named the Best Hitter after a weeklong demolition of opposing pitchers. Mužík, who finished his freshman year at Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina in the spring, hit .579/.704/1.263. He had three home runs and 13 RBI in only 27 plate appearances.
Mužík had a season for the ages for the NJCAA Division II Eagles, hitting .406/.482/.744, with 33 extra base hits and 14 stolen bases in 48 games. His triple slash line stats ranked second, eleventh, and fifth in the conference, while Mužík’s slugging percentage was good for an eye-popping No. 24 in the nation. Mužík threw out the only runner that attempted to steal at the Euros, but in NJCAA play, thieves were 8-for-8, placing additional importance on his bat.
“I do believe Martin will play at the next level. Martin has an advanced approach at the plate. He can make adjustments at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch,” remarked Wake Tech Head Coach Eric Sibrizzi. “I think he definitely can stick behind the plate, but I think he would be a great pick up for anyone due to his versatility. His teammates love him and they know he is the hardest working guy in the program. I have enjoyed watching him grow and get better since he has been here and as a coach he gets you even more excited to come to the ballpark.”
Great Britain’s Hayden Platt, discovered serendipitously by British Baseball League Commissioner Kevin Macadam (link), was an instant spark to the squad, hitting .375/.630/.688 and excellent defence behind the plate. His OBP was second at the Euros and only one runner attempted to steal against him, by far the fewest of any regular catchers. Platt was a Third-Team All-Conference selection at Elon University after a .311/.430/.557 line with solid defence at the dish.
Meanwhile, France’s Nolan Soliveres split time between catcher and left field during the Euros after spending his spring at Hillsborough Community College (Fla.) as a catcher. The 5-10, 175 Toulouse native hit .192/.241/.274, but threw out 27 percent of runners with strong marks for fielding (.984, only two passed balls and three errors). Soliveres is a graduate of MLB European Elite Camp and was a MLB European All-Star and was solid at the U23s, slashing .250/.423/.450 with three stolen bases and four walks in six games. He also threw out both runners that attempted to steal against him.
Dominic Golubiewski fits Mužík’s profile of an offensive-minded infielder and the Polish star is a veteran of the international scene. We profiled the first baseman-pitcher in our review of hitters at the Euros after he hit .393/.452/.607 with strong work as the first sacker. Golubiewski has spent all of his time at American universities on the mound, however, struggling badly with command after transferring to Dayton University in 2016. In two years at Madison College (Wisc.), though, he had a 3.65 ERA.
Platt’s teammate Richard Brereton is another British player on which to keep an eye. Brereton was Emory University Athletics’ Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 after a stellar campaign for a player of his age. The righthanded infielder and pitcher had a 2.48 ERA with good peripheral numbers in 32 2/3 frames, starting two of his 14 games and going 4-1 with a save. At the dish, he showed excellent plate discipline on the way to a .382 OBP, hitting .244 with five stolen bases.
Brereton carried on where he left off, leading Great Britain in average (.391), walking five times to only one strikeout and stealing a base. In addition to solid defensive work at short and third, Brereton gave a sturdy effort against a tough Spanish team on the mound. While he gave up four runs on nine hits in six innings, he did not walk a batter and struck out three.
A pair of shortstops are worth noting: France’s Daniel Patrice and the Netherlands’ Max Draijer. Patrice hit .400/.464/.480 with excellent bat-to-ball skills and has been carving out a nice collegiate career at Thiel University (Pa.). The shortstop, entering his third year for the Tomcats, has already been listed twice as Honourable Mention All-Conference. Patrice was superb this spring, slashing .381/.430/.500 with superb plate discipline. His average was tied for sixth in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
“Daniel has been a key member of our team for the two years he has been enrolled at Thiel College,” observed Tomcat Head Coach Joe Schaly. “We expect Daniel to continue to get better, and I know that his experience over the summer will benefit him a great deal. Daniel is a great young man, and he is a pleasure to coach. He has become a leader in our program, and I know that his best baseball is yet to come.”
Draijer is a graduate of the MLB European Elite Academy and a veteran on Orange national teams. It has been a busy year for the 19-year old, who plays for Cochise College in Arizona. This year, Draijer hit .303/.442/.450 with a superb batting eye and excellent defence. Draijer was third in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in walks (39 in 54 games) and was second in assists (164), with a .953 fielding percentage at short as Cochise finished in the top 20 in the NJCAA in wins.
In July, the shortstop hit .400 at the World Port Tournament and handled 21 chances flawlessly. Draijer followed this up with a very good .263/.500/.526 mark at the Euros, taking eight walks in six games and recording a .957 fielding percentage.
The final player discussed among infielders would more truly be described as a pure utility player, impressive considering Ilya Sladzkinski was the youngest player in the entire tournament. The Belarussian served as shortstop and leadoff hitter against the title winners, the Netherlands, played third base, centre, and pitcher a day later, entered as a rightfielder on Day 3, threw five dominant innings of relief against Georgia, and finished at shortstop in the last game of the tourney.
Sladzinski’s age was more impressive than the results, but he held his own against competition almost a decade older than him. At the dish, Sladzinski was only 2-for-12 with five strikeouts, but walked four times en route to a .412 OBP. On the bump, the righty was shelled by Croatia, who finished eighth, but recovered to come out of the ‘pen against a youthful Georgian squad. Though Georgia was easily the worst team at the Euros, Sladzinski was still remarkable, pitching five innings of no-hit ball and striking out seven with only 57 pitches. He walked three and threw a pair of wild pitches, but induced six grounders against just one flyout.
The cream of the outfield crop is Pascal Amon, the only current professional player to play at the Euros. We profiled Amon in our discussion of current and former minor leaguers (link). The outfielder and first baseman left the Arizona Rookie League Dodgers temporarily to play for Germany and a U23 medal.
Amon signed with Los Angeles in the summer of 2015 after playing in MLB’s European Elite Camp, a programme whose alumni include Max Kepler and Dovydas Neverauskas. He showed excellent plate discipline at 18 in the Dominican and earned a promotion to the AZL for 2017. Amon has responded well, bumping his season line from .199/.333/.283 to .236/.306/.382, which includes a 5-for-28 slump since returning to Arizona.
Amon, however, did not disappoint as one of the younger players at the U23 tourney. Leading off and playing centre, the left-handed hitter batted .318, but reached base 48.3 percent of the time. Amon struck out only twice in 29 plate appearances. Germany’s latest minor league prospect is on a slow ascent, but his batting eye gives him a chance to follow Donald Lutz, Max Kepler, and Aaron Altherr to MLB.
A pair of 18-year old Ukrainian teammates patrolled the corners for a surprising Ukraine side. Heorhii (or ‘George’ in English) Hvrytishvili was one of the tournaments leading hitters while playing right field and pitching. He finished first in triples (3), second in slugging (.875), and third in OPS (1.356), while hitting .417. Like his outfield mate, Vladyslav Kosenko appeared in the 2012 Under-15 World Cup for Ukraine, which went 3-4 and finished 13th out of 15. Kosenko also faired well, totalling a .440/.533/.480 line. Neither had many opportunities in the field.
Czech centerfielder Marek Chlup rounds out the list. Another 18-year old, Chlup participated in MLB’s European Elite Camp from 2014-16 and its World Select team the latter of the three years. Despite being a year away from high school graduation, the right-handed hitter has seven years of international experience and has participated in the International Power Showcase, a Home Run Derby in Miami with alumni that include Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo.
Chlup’s home run power was on display as he finished second to teammate Martin Mužík in home runs. Chlup, who also plays right field and the infield corners, was the only batter other than Mužík to hit more than a single homer, launching four-baggers against Ukraine and France. Chlup hit .391/.464/.696 as the Czech cleanup hitter.
In an exciting tournament that went to extra innings to decide the champion, only Martin Mužík put on an otherworldly display and no player showed himself as a future superstar. There were, however, a number of exciting young talents, with some much closer to a professional career than others. Mužík leads a list of college prospects that have a chance at a start in the minors, with Bond, Platt, Brereton, and Draijer names to watch. On the other hand, high schoolers like Dąbrowski, Vanas, and Sladzinski all have a chance at making history and becoming the first international baseball signee in their nation’s sporting record.
Some of these players will take the field for their teams at next year’s European Under-18 Championship or U23 Qualifier (in fact, half of the Top 20 play for teams in that tournament), while others will look to the 2018 university and high school seasons as a chance to be drafted. And one, Amon, will hope to move up the Dodgers’ minor league ladder as he gets a head-start on chasing a major league debut. With this, we conclude our series of eight U23 European Championship reviews.
NB: Other players considered for the Top 20 prospects include the Netherlands Colin van Laar and Nick Keur, plus Belarus’ Yauhei Kurhun (Evgen Kurgun), the Czech Republic’s Jiří Vavruša, Germany’s Mark Harrison, and Slovakia’s Michal Puškar.
Other editions of the U23 Euros review include:
Upsets and Standings (link)
The Best Games of the Tournament (link)
Outstanding Hitting Performances (link)
The Top Pitching Performances (link)
Flashing Leather and Swiping Bags (link)
A Glance at Team Statistics (link)
Re-Starting a Career: Pros at U23 Euros (link)