John Andreoli might not be the first name Cubs fans think of when listing off the team's next big prospects. At age 26, Andreoli isn't on MLBPipeline.com's Top 30 list for the organization, and he hasn't topped 12 homers in a season at any level of pro baseball.
Andreoli has drawn attention now, however, after a stellar first-round performance for Team Italy at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The outfielder was Italy's biggest offensive force as it fell just short of the second round, batting .316 and pacing the Italians with three home runs and seven RBIs -- the second most in the tournament through first-round play behind the Netherlands' Didi Gregorius and Japan's Sho Nakata.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
More than that, Andreoli came up with the big hit for Italy seemingly every time it needed one. He drove in the winning run to cap off Italy's incredible 5-run, ninth-inning rally against Mexico in the opening game -- eight innings after tying the contest with a solo homer for Italy's first run of the tournament.
Two days later, Andreoli tied Italy's first game against Venezuela with an RBI single in the eighth, and he came up big again against the Venezuelans in the Pool D tiebreaker on Monday, giving his club a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the seventh before Venezuela rallied back to win, 4-2.
"That kid to me is just incredible," Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said of Andreoli. "He's so prepared, so much detail. He hustles all the time. Just a leader."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who himself is of Polish-Italian heritage, kept an eye on Andreoli throughout the first round and said he was impressed with what he saw.
"He works so hard, he cares so much," Maddon told MLB.com last week. "A few days ago, I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in this thing, this tournament."
Andreoli was born in Worcester, Mass., but he has three grandparents who hailed from Italy and said he was thrilled when Mazzieri and his staff invited him to join the Italian national club in January. Though he doesn't speak Italian fluently, Andreoli's bat said plenty as he anchored Italy's lineup throughout Pool D at Estadios Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.
"For our sport, this is the Olympics, sort of," Andreoli said of playing for Italy. "When you get the opportunity, as long as your body is cooperating and you can work with your affiliate club [to get permission], it's a no-brainer."
The departure of William Fowler to the Cardinals in free agency could create a big league opportunity for Andreoli sometime in 2017. Jonathan Jay and Albert Almora Jr. are expected to be the primary options in center field for the Cubs, but Andreoli, who's compiled a .771 OPS at Triple-A Iowa over the past two seasons, will be waiting in the wings should a spot open up.
"We have kids who are up and they're kids," Maddon told MLB.com last week. "We have a nice group of kids who are still coming and they're being held back a little bit. So for [Andreoli] this year, it's more like Triple-A, knocking on the big league door."
After a sensational WBC 2017, Andreoli is knocking even harder now.
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome and 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.