Classic set to showcase future stars
A look at 12 top prospects listed on provisional rosters
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
No matter how it's translated, though, prospects are the future of the game. For several teams participating in the World Baseball Classic, they are also the present. Many of the provisional rosters announced recently are dotted with top Minor Leaguers. For them, this is a chance to shine on a big-time stage as they work toward the Major Leagues. For organizations, it's an opportunity to see how these prospects will handle the increased spotlight. It can be a win-win for both sides.
Just who are the top prospects who might be playing in March's Classic? Here's a dirty dozen to consider:
Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Canada (Mariners): Seattle's first-round pick in 2007, taken No. 11 overall, the 6-foot-7 right-hander was ranked No. 33 on MLB.com's recent Top 50 list. A sore elbow slowed him down and kept him to just 55 2/3 innings in his first full season. He was named to both the Midwest League All-Star team and the Futures Game, but was unable to pitch in either. The Mariners were being extra cautious, and he could take off in '09.
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Venezuela (Phillies): No. 28 on the Top 50, Carrasco is the top pitching prospect in the Phillies' organization. A two-time Futures Gamer, he's got great pure stuff, though he is still learning to harness it. He'll turn just 22 in March after reaching the Triple-A level for the first time, and he should be a part of the Phillies' rotation in the not-too-distant future. He pitched for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason and went 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 starts.
Ivan De Jesus, SS, Puerto Rico (Dodgers): The son of the longtime big league shortstop of the same name, the younger De Jesus has shown more proclivity with the bat, hitting .324 in 2008 (fifth in the Double-A Southern League). He led the league with his .419 on-base percentage and finished the year with a 23-game hitting streak while also stealing 16 bases. He's had a busy "offseason," playing first in the Arizona Fall League (.254 average in 67 at-bats) and then for Carolinas in Puerto Rico, where his . 309 average placed him 10th in the league.
Greg Halman, OF, Netherlands (Mariners): Perhaps the best prospect in Seattle's system, Halman was the closest Minor Leaguer to having a 30-30 season in 2008 (29 HR, 31 SB between Class A Advanced and Double-A ball). He was the youngest regular position player in the Southern League last year and finished the season with a .528 slugging percentage. He'll play nearly all of the '09 season at age 21 and will work on his plate discipline (132 K's, 29 BB). Once he gets that ironed out, he could be a very exciting big leaguer to watch.
Luke Hughes, 3B, Australia (Twins): There's a lot to like about Hughes' bat, one that allowed him to hit .309 with a .369 OBP and .524 SLG. The 2008 Futures Gamer and Eastern League All-Star doesn't necessarily have a full-time defensive home, and he saw time at third, second and all three outfield positions in '08. Playing for Aragua in Venezuela this winter, he played a lot of left field, which could be his future home once the bat is ready. He hit .298 in 104 at-bats for the Tigres.
Brett Lawrie, C, Canada (Brewers): As the No. 16 overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Lawrie became the highest-drafted Canadian position player ever. He has yet to make his official Brewers debut because he signed late and then went and participated in the Olympic Games, picking up 10 at-bats and two RBIs as one of the younger players in the Games. His bat is clearly his best tool, and he should hit for power and average as time goes on. He's also bought into the work needed to be done to become an everyday catcher, and should work on that at a full-season level in April.
Che-Hsuan Lin, OF, Chinese Taipei (Red Sox): Those who didn't know Lin before last July learned about him at the Futures Game, where he hit a two-run homer in Yankee Stadium to help the World Team win and earn him MVP honors. He didn't show that much power in 2008 during his full-season debut, but he did steal 33 bases in 91 games before going to the Olympics and hitting .269 (7-for-26) with a homer and four RBIs. All this happened before he turned 20, so clearly there's some upside to this outstanding all-around outfielder.
Alessandro Maestri, RHP, Italy (Cubs): The first Italian pitcher ever signed by a big league team, Maestri has some intriguing skills on the mound. He's been a league All-Star in each of the past two seasons. He was lights-out as a reliever in 2007, and while his stuff is good enough for him to start, it seemed like he suffered (and had a tender shoulder) with a move to the rotation in '08, so the bullpen might be the better place for him. The 23-year-old was on Team Italy in the '06 World Baseball Classic, appearing in two games and allowing a run in two-thirds of an inning.
Shairon Martis, RHP, Netherlands (Nationals): Martis jumped on the map in the last World Baseball Classic, when he pitched a seven-inning no-hitter (allowing just one walk) against Panama. His international-experience resume goes far beyond that now, with a scoreless inning for the World Team in last year's Futures Game as well as two starts for the Netherlands in the Beijing Olympics. He also made his big league debut with the Nats last year, and the Curacao native could land in their rotation at the start of this year right as he turns 22.
Max Ramirez, C, Venezuela (Rangers): Want to see a guy who can just plain hit in the Classic? Then root for Ramirez to make the Venezuelan squad. The 24-year-old has good plate discipline and just started to reach his power potential (21 total homers) in 2008. He had a ridiculous winter ball season, leading the Venezuelan League with 15 homers and finishing second with 53 RBIs. He was also second in SLG (.618) and extra-base hits (30) for La Guaira. For his efforts, he was named the Venezuelan Winter League's Rookie of the Year. He may not be a full-time catcher longterm, but his bat should get him to the big leagues full-time somewhere soon.
Gerardo Parra, OF, Venezuela (Diamondbacks): The 21-year-old left-handed hitter made it to Double-A in 2008 and was a Futures Gamer to boot (he went 1-for-2). For the year, he hit .286 and stole 28 bases across two levels. He's now got a .306 career average in the D-Backs' system to go along with a .364 OBP. He's also swiped more than 20 bases every season he's been a pro. Playing for Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League, he finished ninth with a .329 average and second with 15 steals. He's continued raking in the playoffs, hitting .397 (second among playoff participants) with a .989 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 15 games.
Nick Weglarz, OF, Canada (Indians): No stranger to international competition, the left-handed-hitting outfielder was on the Canadian Olympic Team and performed well. Weglarz, just 21, hit .400 (10-for-25) in Beijing with a pair of homers and five RBIs. He's got very good discipline and has outstanding power potential. Once the Classic is over, he'll give Double-A a try for the first time.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.