Last August, we selected our Top 20 prospects from the first European Under-23 Championship [link]. On Sunday, the 2018 qualifying round in Bratislava concluded with Ukraine and Croatia advancing to the 2019 championships, while a talented Great Britain squad will have to attempt qualification again. With six teams from the 2018 tournament already qualified, prospects from those nations did not play in the qualifiers, but six players appeared at the Under-23 level again, and all confirmed their case as rising stars.
Nine of the 20 players from 2018 hailed from nations playing in the qualifying round, but three did not suit up again. Two hailed from Great Britain in Nolan Bond, who is recovering from a series of injuries this spring, and Hayden Platt, who finished his senior season at Elon University. Poland’s Dominic Golubiewski is no longer eligible for the U23 level. Though we did not rank our prospect list, Bond and Platt were both near the top, though neither improved on their stock this spring. One other highly regarded player was Lithuania’s Marius Balandis, but the nation did not field a team in the qualifying tournament.
The six returning prospects were Richard Brereton, Mikołaj Dąbrowski, Heorhii Hvrytishvili, Vladyslav Kosenko, Ilya Sladzinski, and Christoph Vanas. Interestingly, none of these are close to age 23, and Dąbrowski, Sladzinski, and Vanas are all teenagers, while the others check in at 20, giving them plenty of opportunities to play on U23 squads again.
Brereton impressed last autumn, but would have checked in somewhere just inside the top 10 had we ranked him, but has since had a breakout campaign with Emory University, for whom he slashed .320/.383/.467, stole 13 bases, and transitioned to center field, where he excelled. Brereton was the Eagles’ top pitcher, recording a 3.60 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and .226 batting average against, while striking out 8.49 per nine innings and walking 3.47.
Brereton then put up a slash line of .262/.366/.348 with 13 stolen bases for the Bristol Blues in the tough Futures Collegiate Baseball League, excelling on the bump with a 1.01 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 17 2/3, allowing only batters to hit only .133.
After hitting .391 with excellent plate discipline and a gutsy performance against Spain in 2017, Brereton continued his incredible 2018 with an astonishing effort in the qualifiers. In six games, he was put out only 11 times, collecting 18 hits in 29 at bats and playing four positions. This included three-hit games against Serbia and Poland, four safeties against Russia (including a Great Britain-record three doubles), and an eye-popping 5-for-5 performance with seven RBI, three more two-baggers, and his second home All told, he hit .621/.656/1.103.
As if that was not enough, his two starts also showed significant promise. In the tournament opener, he threw a five-inning no-hitter, Britain’s second in two tournaments after Bond’s no-no in 2017. Needing only 65 pitches, he struck out four and did not walk a batter. Five days later, Brereton took a tough loss, getting several unlucky calls and some poor defence en route to allowing five earned runs in five frames, despite only giving up five hits and striking out a whopping nine.
Even with the pitching defeat, Brereton had one of the top performances in the qualifier, narrowly losing out to Switzerland’s Thierry Burkhardt for top hitter and Croatia’s Antonio Horvatić for best pitcher. Needless to say, the multi-positional five-tool talent has emerged as one of Europe’s top prospects.
Mikołaj Dąbrowski is Poland’s top pitching prospect despite only being a junior in high school. In the 2017 U23 Euros, he struck out seven in 6 1/3 frames with only two walks after compiling a 1.91 ERA for Carnegie Schools-Riverside (Calif.). This spring, he was even better, finishing with a 0.68 ERA in 10 1/3 innings with a 14-to-1 K-to-BB ratio. Dąbrowski even slashed .312/.389/.375 at the dish.
The right-hander drew the start against a good Russian squad and was very solid, striking out five in four innings and working around three hits and three walks. Dąbrowski then closed out a 15-5 over Switzerland with a scoreless frame, whiffing one, dropping his ERA to 3.60 and WHIP to 1.20, once more finishing with more than one K per frame.
Dąbrowski saw several innings apiece at first, second, and third without committing an error. He collected a hit in three at bats, striking out once, and stealing a base. A strong senior year in 2019 ought to see Dąbrowski offered a spot at a university for baseball.
Heorhii Hvrytishvili was one of two top Ukrainian prospects to return from 2017. The qualifier champions lost their first two games before storming back with four consecutive wins. Hvrytishvili, who had a 1.356 OPS in the last tourney, saw plenty of action, starting all six games, with two mound appearances.
This time around, the rightfielder-pitcher had mixed results, slashing .217/.333/.435, struggling on defence (three errors in 11 chances), and imploding on the mound. Hvrytishvili did have two strong offensive performances, with the first versus Switzerland. The 20-year old had two doubles in three at bats, driving in three and scoring twice. The second came against Belarus, against whom he homered and walked.
Earning the start in game one, Hvrytishvili surrendered six earned runs on two free passes and six hits, two of them home runs, though he did whiff six. No doubt the incredibly short fences at Bratislava’s Fighting Flies Field aided the explosion. Given a chance to pitch against hot-hitting Great Britain on the BK Apollo Field, however, Hvrytishvili nailed down the save, striking out one in a scoreless inning, though he allowed a batter to reach on a wild pitch and balked three times.
The Ukrainian stalwart also appeared in late July at the European Championship C-Pool in Kropvnytskyi, Ukraine, where he hit .364/.533/.455. Next summer’s U23 European Championship will allow Hvrytishvili another opportunity to improve his standing as Ukraine takes on Europe’s top baseball nations.
Vladyslav Kosenko will join Hvrytishvili next year, but will build off an excellent performance as he hit .417 with four doubles and a round-tripper, drawing a pair of walks and striking out only twice in 24 at bats. Kosenko’s batting line mirrored his .440/.533/.480 mark with 2017, though with some additional power.
Kosenko did most of his damage against Switzerland (3-for-4, two doubles, HR, walk, three runs, three RBI) and Belarus (2-for-4, double), failing to make a mark against Ukraine’s better opponents. In the final two games against Great Britain and Croatia, the centerfielder was 2-for-8 and 1-for-2 on the basepaths. Kosenko also joined Ukraine for the C-Pool, another tournament victory for the nation. In four games, he was 2-for-8 with two doubles and four walks.
Ilya Sladzinski was the youngest player in the 2017 event and, at only 15, was still a half-decade younger than most of his opponents. Despite this, he appeared at six positions, including three stints on the mound. Last time out, he was 2-for-12 with four walks and five strikeouts, with one excellent and one poor pitching result.
Belarus’ top prospect excelled on the offensive end, starting all six games and hit .333 with excellent plate discipline (six walks to one strikeout), popping his first four-bagger in international play. Sladzinski also stole three bases in as many attempts. His top performance came against Serbia, against whom he ripped a home run, walked twice, and stole a base.
Sladzinski came in for two innings of middle relief against Croatia, who hit him hard in 2017. The results were similar, as the righty gave up four runs in two innings on three hits, a walk, a balk, and a hit batter, failing to strike out a hitter. Two days later, Sladzinski drew the start against Austria, who plated six runs on seven hits, five walks, and three hit batters, though he did strike out five in four innings.
Sladzinski was tabbed for his second start in Belarus’ final game, striking out five in three innings and improving his control as he did not hit anyone and walked two, surrendering two runs on two hits. All told, his ERA was 12.00 with a 2.22 WHIP and a 10-to-8 K-to-BB ratio in nine frames, third on the staff.
At only 15, the fact that Sladzinski is such a key cog for Belarus and such a flexible player bodes well for his future, as does his superb batting eye (.512 career on-base percentage in 86 international plate appearances).
Another of the tournament’s youngest players, Christoph Vanas was tabbed to our list not only because of his youth (age 16), but for his impressive mound work against Spain and Belarus. Alas, the Austrian right-hander was shellacked in his only appearance as Croatia ripped him for eight earned runs on 10 hits in four frames. Vanas struck out a pair and did not walk a batter, but hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.
Austrian fans should have a chance to cheer on Vanas against more age-appropriate competition in next summer’s European Under-18 Championship qualifying round.
It is also worth mentioning Vanas’ teammate Sammy Hackl, who we have tracked as he plays baseball for Arizona Western Community College. Hackl slashed .269/.418/.449 for the Matadors, throwing out 30 percent of runners as AWCC’s backup catcher.
Hackl improved on those numbers for Austria last week, compiling a .318/.444/.737 mark including dingers against Switzerland and Ukraine. Hackl also suited up at the hot corner, also donning the tools of ignorance. Hackl ought to have made our list as, although he hit .208 without any particularly impressive numbers in August, only a few weeks prior he had drilled four home runs for the Austrian NT in their European Championship B-Pool win.
Other players on our list of European Baseball Players in American Education [link] include a pair of players for Great Britain: Conrad Cornell and Paul Kirkpatrick.
Cornell hit .228 with three stolen bases for Mercer University this spring, wrapping up a four-year run in which he hit .254 and pitched for one season. Cornell played in four games and excelled, going 6-for-11 with eight runs, seven RBI, and four walks, drilling a homer in the week’s final game. Cornell had been 3-for-27 in August.
Cornell had his best appearance on the mound for GB against Slovakia, earning the win after striking out eight in seven innings, permitting three earned runs on eight hits and a walk.
Kirkpatrick was one of Western Kentucky University’s top starters this year, making 13 starts and throwing a shutout against DI power Rice University. Although he finished with a 5.68 ERA, he had an excellent 63-to-15 K-to-BB mark in 63 1/3 frames, but struggled with the longball.
The big right-hander, born in London, pitched twice in the 2016 World Baseball Classic Brooklyn Qualifier, throwing a scoreless inning against Pakistan and getting two outs (both former major leaguers) and giving up a two-run double against Israel.
The experience surely aided Kirkpatrick, who had an excellent start against Poland, sending down 12 on strikes in five frames. Kirkpatrick recorded the win by limiting Poland to two earned runs on five hits and a base-on-balls. With Great Britain in a do-or-die situation against Ukraine three days later, Kirkpatrick relieved Brereton with four strong one-run innings, whiffing two, but GB could not complete the comeback.
The final European tournament of the year is the brand new Super 6 Tournament in Hoofdoorp featuring Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Spain. Many of these players will appear in next year’s calendar of competitions, which includes the European Championship, the B-Pool Championship and Playoff, and the Under-23 Championship.
In the meantime, we will have plenty of news on international baseball, so subscribe below and make sure you follow along on Twitter @ExtraInningsUK.
All photos courtesy of Baseball Europe.