World Baseball Classic features several top international prospects
By Jesse Sanchez
The World Baseball Classic has become famous for providing a stage where international scouts can watch some of the top players in the world in one tournament. Call it international baseball's one-stop shop.
Players like Jose Abreu, Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes, Daisuke Matsuzaka and countless others all made an impression during their World Baseball Classic appearances before eventually finding their way to the big leagues. Could more new stars be on the way?
Here's a list of international players to watch in this year's World Baseball Classic, which begins on Monday at 4:30 a.m. ET, when Korea -- which has a few MLB prospects -- takes on Israel. All games can be seen on MLB Network and on MLB.TV.
Victor Victor Mesa, OF
Arguably the top young prospect in Cuba, Mesa is an outstanding defender with a strong arm. He's also a plus runner. The son of legendary Cuban national team manager Victor Mesa, Victor Victor, 20, made his debut for Matanzas in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top league, at 16. He has tons of upside and is the reason many scouts are following the Cuban team during the World Baseball Classic.
Yoelkis Cespedes, OF
The younger half-brother of the Mets' outfielder, Yoelkis is a five-tool player with lots of projection. The younger Cespedes is 19 years old and stands just 5-feet-9 and weighs 187 pounds. But back in 2009, Yoenis, now 31, was listed on Cuba's Classic roster at 5-feet-10 and an identical 187 pounds.
Raidel Martinez, RHP
One of Cuba's top young arms, Martinez, 20, went 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 85 innings for Pinar del Rio and Ciego de Avila in Cuba's Serie Nacional. Martinez has a fastball in the low 90s.
Shintaro Fujinami, RHP
The righty will be 23 in April, and he's the perfect age to draw interest from scouts. There could be tons of buzz around Fujinami if he has a successful World Baseball Classic. He went 7-11 with a 3.25 ERA for the Hanshin Tigers last season. With Japanese wunderkind Shohei Ohtani unable to compete due to injury, Fujinami has a chance to be the breakout star of the tournament.
Takahiro Norimoto, RHP
The 26-year-old has been a model of consistency, with back-to-back seasons that ended with a 2.91 ERA. Here's what MLB teams like about Norimoto: He struck out 216 and walked only 50 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last season.
Tomoyuki Sugano, RHP
With Ohtani unable to pitch, Sugano, 27, is stepping to the forefront as Japan's veteran ace in the Classic. This could be his chance to grab the attention of big league scouts. Sugano won nine games last season for the Yomiuri Giants.
Seiya Suzuki, OF
Suzuki has the potential to be a 30-30 player and could be a force in Japan's lineup. He's only 22 and he's already a star with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, boasting a 1.015 OPS with 29 homers and 16 steals in 2016. Expect big league scouts to keep a close eye on Suzuki.
Hirotoshi Masui, RHP
Masui has been remarkably consistent pitching for Nippon Ham, Darvish's former club. He has a career 2.92 ERA and has kept that mark below 2.50 in each of the past three seasons coming out of the bullpen for the Fighters. Masui is 32 years old and doesn't have star potential, but he could be an intriguing relief option for an MLB club.
Hyeon-jong Yang, LHP
Korea's top pitcher in this year's World Baseball Classic is coming off a season in which he sported a 3.68 ERA and struck out 146 batters in the hitter-friendly KBO. The 29-year-old has a fastball that can sit in the low 90s.
Ah-seop Son, OF
The left-handed hitter stole a career-high 40 bases last season and will get plenty of attention from scouts. The Lotte Giants posted him after the 2015 season, but no MLB teams bid on him. Son will turn 29 during the tournament and is free agent after the '17 season.
The World Baseball Classic runs from Monday through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.
Jon Paul Morosi contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.