Prospects in Action at the World Baseball Classic
The World Baseball Classic starts in less than a week, and baseball fans across the globe are getting ready to see the best athletes from their country in action. It is an incredibly interesting event, as there are household names and seemingly unknown players involved in the same tournament. Some of the squads that lack MLB depth have turned to the pipeline and picked up some of baseball’s elite prospects. Here’s a quick primer on some familiar names that you’ll want to pay attention to once the WBC gets underway
Sal Frelick, OF, Milwaukee Brewers - Italy
Most likely the best prospect on this list, Frelick figures to be an essential part of Italy’s 2023 WBC campaign, led by Coach Mike Piazza. After being drafted in July of 2021, Frelick ascended rapidly through the Brewers’ system and finished the 2022 campaign in AAA. He has a contact first profile but hits the ball relatively hard. Although his outfield defense is fairly mediocre, Frelick can fly. I expect him to be one of the quickest guys in the entire tournament, and he should be a solid leadoff option for Italy. Expect Frelick to have incredible plate discipline, as that’s a skill he’s managed to carry with him throughout all levels. While he won’t blow anyone away with his power, Frelick’s ability to get on base and wreak havoc on the base paths makes him an asset in any lineup.
Roki Sasaki, RHP, NPB - Japan
This is the most fun name on this list. While not technically an MLB prospect yet, Sasaki is sure to come over to America in the coming years and will quickly assimilate into the league. Some may remember the name, as he went viral for throwing a 19-strikeout perfect game while regularly touching 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. Oh, and he’s only 21 years old. Sasaki has dominated in the NPB and figures to do the same in the MLB with his electric arsenal. According to Statcast data from last year, his fastball had nearly 20 inches of vertical break and 15 inches of horizontal break while averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 99 miles an hour. That would put him among the top pitchers in the MLB in terms of fastball quality. It’ll be interesting to see how Sasaki fares while facing stiff competitors, and I’m sure many fans and MLB scouts will be dialed in for Sasaki’s first appearance.
Bo Naylor, C, Cleveland Guardians - Canada
I’ve mentioned Naylor in a couple of articles before, but every time his name comes up, I seem to be discussing how underrated he is. Naylor flat-out mashes. He has extremely high exit velocity readings and has been able to translate that into decent in-game results. He possesses a really strong hit tool and complements it with power that is well above average. Behind the plate, he’s improved steadily and now grades out as above average in just about every category. After making his MLB debut last season, I expect him to take over regular catching duties for Cleveland very soon. The WBC will serve as an audition of sorts, as the Guardians’ staff can evaluate whether or not the 23-year-old is ready for an everyday role.
Owen Caissie, OF, Chicago Cubs - Canada
Caissie surely isn’t the most exciting guy in the world, but he’s a really solid prospect that will likely crack Canada’s starting 9. After being acquired as the centerpiece of the Cubs' return in the Yu Darvish deal, he got an aggressive assignment last season, being sent to A+ as a 19-year-old. After a 6-week adjustment period, Caissie showed the raw potential that will make him a key part of this Canadian team. Caissie’s raw power is top-tier, but he’ll need to start turning that into game power this year. The WBC will be a great opportunity for him to prove to the Cubs that his power can continue to develop.
Harry Ford, C, Seattle Mariners - Great Britain
Scouting Ford in the 2021 draft class was fun. It became apparent pretty quickly that he is a freak of nature and an athletic specimen. Until recently, I’ve never scouted a catcher with the pure athleticism of Harry Ford. Guys behind the plate typically carry the connotation of being slow, unathletic guys, but Ford disproves every part of that stereotype. He’s a legitimate 60-grade runner, and, coupled with his 60-grade arm, it’s easy to see why the Mariners took him with the 12th overall pick in 2021. Although the bat is still developing, he already has flashed solid power and a decent plate approach. I’d imagine he starts behind the dish for Great Britain, but it’ll be interesting to see how much he plays. Ford will be Great Britain’s best player and will have to be on fire in the WBC to help Britain advance out of their pool.
Zack Gelof, UTL, Oakland Athletics - Israel
Gelof, MLB Pipeline’s 3rd ranked Athletics prospect, is another 2021 draftee that has moved through the farm system relatively quickly. After being drafted as a primary second baseman, he has shown the arm strength to earn innings at third base and the quickness to earn a few starts in center field. His versatility will prove to be pivotal for Israel as they try to make a run in the WBC. Gelof is patient at the plate and will make the pitcher earn his out. The power grades out as just about average right now, but there’s surely room for that to improve. With the Athletics sorely lacking depth, a solid performance for Israel could get Gelof an opportunity with the A’s early in the 2023 season, with his role as a utility player making him much more valuable.
Matt Mervis, 1B, Israel, Chicago Cubs
Matt has been granted the nickname “Mash” by the Cubs’ faithful as they hope he can slot into the Anthony Rizzo role of the next Cubs team. After going undrafted in the 2020 draft, he burst onto the scene in 2022, competing for the minor league home run title while rising through three levels. He’ll be the anchor of Israel’s lineup due to his seemingly effortless power. His defense is perfectly adequate and he could slide into either the 1B or DH spot, depending on the configuration of the rest of Israel’s lineup. The WBC will be important for Mervis to prove that 2022 wasn’t just a fluke. If he can build off the momentum he started last season, he’ll be a mainstay in the MLB very shortly.
For the avid baseball fans out there, this should give you a little more to watch for during the next month. Obviously, all results from the WBC should be taken with a grain of salt given that the players just arrived at Spring Training two weeks ago and are by no means fully season-ready yet. While their bodies might not yet be 100% configured, there will still be plenty of passion and plenty of thrilling baseball. I’m looking forward to seeing who can rise to the occasion of representing their country, and the guys listed above have all of the talent to do it.
"Roki.sasaki marines" via 飯生琉久 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0