DETROIT -- The World Baseball Classic doesn't take center stage in baseball until next spring, but for Warwick Saupold, his time on the international stage starts now. The Tigers' Minor League right-hander will be part of Team Australia's pitching staff next week, when it takes on three other Pacific countries in a qualifier tournament for a spot in next spring's main event.
It's a massive honor for the 26-year-old hurler, an under-the-radar international signing by Far East scouts Glenn Williams and Kevin Hooker four years ago. It's also a chance for him to showcase what he can do in bigger competitions.
• World Baseball Classic bracket
After two seasons at Double-A Erie, Saupold spent most of the 2015 campaign back with the Seawolves before a late-season promotion to Triple-A Toledo. He posted a 6-8 record and 4.08 ERA between the two levels, allowing 116 hits over 123 2/3 innings with 42 walks and 94 strikeouts. His 11 wild pitches over 103 1/3 innings at Erie -- and 27 wild pitches over two seasons -- were an abrupt uptick from past seasons, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio consistently improved, up to 2.24 last season.
Saupold hasn't cracked MLB.com's Tigers top 30 prospects list, which is scheduled to be updated later this month. With a prospect-heavy rotation lined up for Toledo this spring, Saupold appears likely to return to Erie unless he's shifted to the bullpen. Still, his relatively young age and ability to deliver consistent innings give him room to mature in the upper levels of Detroit's farm system.
Saupold is one of a handful of pitchers on Australia's staff affiliated with a Major League club. Of that group, only Peter Moylan has big league experience, having pitched parts of nine seasons in the Braves' and Dodgers' bullpens. He signed a Minor League deal with the Royals last week.
Australia has home-field advantage for its qualifier, which takes place in Sydney. The hosts will open play against the Philippines next Thursday, Feb. 11, before taking on South Africa or New Zealand the next day. The two survivors of the double-elimination tournament will meet on Sunday, Feb. 14, for the right to advance to next spring's World Baseball Classic.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.