MLB's top prospects came to play in the World Baseball Classic

March 17th, 2023

We love the World Baseball Classic because of the big-name stars: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto and Randy Arozarena are among those who have stood out, as expected.

It’s arguable, however, that one of the top storylines of the WBC so far has been the play of the multitude of prospects who were included on their country’s roster. From players on the Top 100 to others on their organization’s Top 30 and even unranked gems, the sport’s future has been on full display.

With all of the ranked prospects now eliminated from the tournament, here's a look back at some of the standouts.

Harry Ford becomes royalty
Great Britain’s home run celebration -- involving the presentation of a crown and robe -- holds no official weight in the United Kingdom, but Harry Ford may be on his way to actually becoming knighted in the future.

One of three Top 100 prospects participating in the tournament, Ford (No. 49) led his squad with two home runs and a 1.246 OPS in four games. That came on the heels of his WBC Qualifiers performance last September, where he hit three long balls in as many games.

Ford’s play made him a fan favorite across the pond, setting him up to be one to watch in the 2026 edition of the Classic -- which Great Britain qualified for when the United States beat Colombia on the final day of Pool D play and ensured the Brits would not finish last in the group. At that point, the Mariners' top prospect should have substantial Major League time under his belt.

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Canada’s young hitters step up
No team entered the WBC rostering more prospects than Canada, which boasted seven players ranked on a team Top 30 list. Leading the pack was Bo Naylor, the Guardians backstop who ranks No. 64 on the Top 100.

The Canadians’ six home runs were the most in pool play among the eight teams based in the United States. Surprising? Yes. Even more shocking -- none came off the bats of powerful Major Leaguers Freddie Freeman and Tyler O’Neill. Instead, five of the six were hit by ranked prospects: two by Edouard Julien (Twins No. 4) and one each by Naylor, Owen Caissie (Cubs No. 13) and Otto Lopez (Blue Jays No. 14).

Julien went deep on the first pitch of his first plate appearance in the tournament, a sign of things to come. Each component of his triple slash -- .538/.667/1.154 -- led all prospects in pool play, and his 1.821 OPS was tops in the entire tournament at the point of Canada's elimination.

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Other notable offensive performances
The highest ranked of the three Top 100 prospects in the WBC, Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick (No. 30), hit an impressive .329/.421/.556 with three doubles in four group games to lead Italy out of Pool A and into the quarterfinals, where the team fell to Japan.

Jose Ramos (Dodgers No. 23) was one of Panama’s strongest performers in pool play, hitting .313 with one of the team’s two home runs. The 22-year-old drilled 25 homers in the Los Angeles system last season.

Tsung-Che Cheng (Pirates No. 30) did a little bit of everything for Chinese Taipei from clutch hitting and speed on the bases, legging out a triple, to even laying down a bunt for a hit and showing off strong defense up the middle.

Zuñiga introduces himself to the world
Eyebrows may have been raised when the Cardinals signed right-hander Guillermo Zuñiga to a Major League contract in December. After all, this was a pitcher who posted a 4.77 ERA in 2022 at Double-A -- a level he was repeating.

It took about two pitches into Zuñiga’s first outing for Colombia for the signing to make sense. The 24-year-old hit 100 mph 10 times, topping out at 102 during that game against Mexico in which he locked down the save. Between his two appearances Zuñiga struck out six of the 11 batters he faced, including Trout and Paul Goldschmidt in Colombia's final game in Pool C.

His upward trajectory earned him a spot on St. Louis’ Top 30 when space opened up during the tournament.

Strong statlines on the mound
Luis Ortiz (Pirates No. 8), Dominican Republic: 1 G, 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 K

Carlos Rodriguez (Brewers No. 13), Nicaragua: 1 GS, 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 K

Jaydenn Estanista (Phillies No. 27), Netherlands: 1 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 K

Luis De Avila (Braves No. 30), Colombia: 1 GS, 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 K

Heartwarming moments
Some of the best moments from the opening round of the tournament didn’t come from ranked prospects. In fact, one of them wasn’t even a Minor League player until after his WBC debut.

Duque Hebbert entered the WBC as a 21-year-old reliever for Nicaragua without any experience in affiliated baseball. After striking out three of the Dominican Republic’s most-feared hitters -- Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez and Rafael Devers -- Hebbert left the stadium that night as the newest member of the Detroit Tigers organization. Following the outing, a scout tracked him down and offered him a contract on the spot.

On the other side of the world, in Pool A in Taiwan, Joe LaSorsa knew a thing or two about having something to prove. An 18th-round pick of the Rays in 2019, the left-hander had only reached Double-A for the first time last season. But pitching for Italy, in the game against the Netherlands with the bases loaded in the sixth, LaSorsa matched the moment as well as anyone could.

After fanning former Major Leaguer Roger Bernadina to strand three runners, LaSorsa let out a display of emotion that may not be matched for the rest of the tournament.

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