The World Baseball Classic begins on Monday with first-round games in South Korea. It's the premiere showcase for international play -- offering fans an opportunity to take in baseball talent from all over the globe.The 16-team tournament, which runs through March 22, not only features elite MLB players -- 63
The World Baseball Classic begins on Monday with first-round games in South Korea. It's the premiere showcase for international play -- offering fans an opportunity to take in baseball talent from all over the globe.
The 16-team tournament, which runs through March 22, not only features elite MLB players -- 63 former All-Stars are competing, including 25 from 2016 -- but also offers a glimpse into the future of the sport. Many exciting, young players are taking a hiatus from Spring Training to compete for national pride. It's an opportunity for baseball's up-and-coming stars to shine on the global stage.
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Four players who made MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list are on World Baseball Classic rosters, in addition to several others who rated among their organizations' most promising Minor Leaguers. A fifth Top 100 prospect, and the highest-rated one, Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes, was on the Dominican Republic roster but will miss the tournament, and entire 2017 season, due to Tommy John surgery.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Below is a closer look at some of the highest-rated prospects competing in the tournament:
Puerto Rico has the largest contingent of prospects ranking among the Top 30 within their organizations on its Classic squad, including Rays right-hander Jose De Leon. The 24-year-old, who's rated as the No. 3 prospect in the organization and at No. 33 overall, broke into the Majors with the Dodgers in September before making his way to Tampa Bay in exchange for John Forsythe in January.
Also on the Puerto Rican roster are Joe Jimenez (Tigers' No. 5 prospect), Jorge Lopez (Brewers' No. 13 prospect) and T.J. Rivera (Mets' No. 30 prospect). Rivera should be familiar to Mets fans, as he enjoyed a successful debut with the club near the end of last season, batting .333 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 33 games.
The Canadian team also features a wealth of young talent on its roster, with the Mariners' No. 2 prospect Tyler O'Neill (No. 36 overall) leading the way. Playing for Double-A Jackson, the 21-year-old outfielder was named the Southern League's Most Valuable Player in 2016 and helped propel his team to a championship.
O'Neill joins fellow Minor Leaguers Nick Pivetta (Phillies' No. 12 prospect), Josh Naylor (Padres' No. 15 prospect) and Daniel Pinero (Tigers' No. 28 prospect) among the up-and-coming talent populating Team Canada's squad.
With Cameron Rupp on the big league roster, the Phillies can take their time developing catcher Jorge Alfaro. But fans will get a closer look at baseball's No. 3 catching prospect (No. 72 overall) on a major stage throughout the Classic. Alfaro, who appeared in four games with the Phillies in September, will suit up for his homeland.
Other prospects set to play for Colombia are Meibrys Viloria (Royals' No. 15 prospect), Luis Escobar (Pirates' No. 15 prospect) and Tayron Guerrero (Marlins' No. 20 prospect).
The Mets are among the most represented organizations in WBC '17, with 13 affiliated players participating -- including three prospects who landed in the franchise's Top 30 this year. Two of those players -- No. 7 Gavin Cecchini and No. 8 Brandon Nimmo -- will be in action for the Italian team. They've excelled as teammates at Triple-A Las Vegas, and could soon be regular contributors at the big league level after debuting in 2016.
While they play in competing American League organizations, identical twins Lachlan and Alex Wells will be reunited playing for their native Australia this spring. The brothers -- both left-handed pitchers -- are ranked among their clubs' top prospects: Alex is No. 17 for the Orioles, while Lachlan ranks No. 26 with the Twins.
The Dodgers' No. 3 prospect (No. 61 overall) Alex Verdugo was among the players who helped Mexico re-qualify for the World Baseball Classic, when it won a four-team tournament in Mexicali last March. The center fielder is back on the roster -- alongside fellow Dodger Adrian Gonzalez. While he's not likely to reach the Majors in 2017, Verdugo will get an opportunity to flash his potential before an international audience.
The Indians' No. 18 prospect, second baseman Tyler Krieger, will see time for Team Israel in the tournament. Krieger, 23, was a fourth-round Draft pick by the Indians in 2015. He hit .299 with five homers, 58 RBIs and 21 stolen bases for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Class A Lake County in '16, his first professional season.
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Reyes, No. 14 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list, was set to represent the Dominican Republic as the highest-rated prospect participating in the Classic, but the 22-year-old will miss the tournament after undergoing Tommy John surgery last month. Reyes was in line to compete for an Opening Day rotation spot with St. Louis.
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. The tournament will be 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 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.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.