Top Prospects to Watch in the 2023 World Baseball Classic
Several Top 100 prospects will play roles for their respective countries, while Japan and Korea bring some of the best young talent yet to be posted.
Much has been made about the loaded rosters of big leaguers participating in the World Baseball Classic, but what about the prospects? Across the 20 teams competing in the WBC, there’s a number of prospects of note who should be fun to watch compete against older and more advanced competition than many of them may be accustomed to.
Below is every relevant prospect, both in affiliated baseball and overseas, who you should keep an eye on during the World Baseball Classic!
Pool A (Taichung, Taiwan)
Dominic Fletcher – OF – Arizona Diamondbacks
A former competitive balance pick (75th overall) by the Diamondbacks in 2019, Fletcher put up impressive numbers in his first pro season before taking a bit of a step back in 2021. The 25-year-old outfielder put that behind him and had a monster 2022 season, slashing .312/.378/.486 with a career-low 19% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A.
Fletcher is a bit further down the outfield totem pole in Arizona because of the litany of talented young outfielders the organization possesses, but he has a chance to put his impressive contact skills and sneaky power on display this month.
Sal Frelick – OF – Milwaukee Brewers
A consensus top 100 prospect, Frelick has not disappointed since being drafted 15th overall in the 2021 Draft. Plus speed, a plus hit tool, and just enough pop to avoid the “throwback player” designation, Frelick put up monster numbers last season across three levels and is knocking on the door of a big league debut.
After ripping through Double-A pitching last season, Frelick kicked things up to another level in Triple-A, hitting .365/.435/.508 with more walks than strikeouts in 46 games. Though Team Italy‘s roster features some big leaguers, Frelick could easily be one of the squad’s most impactful players.
Jose Ramos – OF – Los Angeles Dodgers
Monster power at the price of swing and miss, Ramos is a big, powerful dude who can launch crowd-silencing homers. His 31% strikeout rate between Low-A and High-A calls into question how well he can handle some of the more challenging arms in this tournament, but the Dodgers farmhand should be fun to watch nonetheless. The outfielder launched 25 homers last season including a pair of 110 MPH tape measure shots.
Pool B (Tokyo, Japan)
Munetaka Murakami – 3B – Yakult Swallows (NPB)
The single season home run king of the NPB at just 22 years old, Murakami broke Sadaharu Oh’s long standing benchmark of 56 home runs with a 57th blast in the final game of the season last year. Murakami signed a three-year extension with the Swallows with a clause that he must be posted to MLB after the 2025 season. When that time comes, Murakami will be up there with the most coveted international free agents ever.
Roki Sasaki – RHP – Chiba Lotte Marines (NPB)
If Murakami is not the most sought after NPB player once posted, it will be because of the flame throwing Roki Sasaki. Nicknamed “the Monster of the Reiwa Era,” Sasaki was the first overall pick in the 2019 NPB draft and at just 21 years old has already recorded a perfect game, tied the league’s record for strikeouts in a game, and set the record for consecutive strikeouts.
Sasaki can run his fastball up to 102 MPH along with a devastating splitter at 90 MPH. Since going pro, Sasaki has pitched to a 1.95 ERA with a WHIP of 0.86.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto – RHP – Orix Buffaloes (NPB)
Another talented right-hander out of the NPB, Yamamoto could be pitching for a paycheck, as there is belief that the 24-year-old could be posted at the end of the 2023 season, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. A four-time All-Star, Yamamoto has also already won the Pacific League MVP Award and NPB’s Cy Young equivalent, the Sawamura Award.
Yamamoto’s fastball sits in the mid 90s and his splitter is as good as anyone’s in the NPB. What separates him from a lot of other starters in the league is the quality of his curveball as well.
Jung-Hoo Lee – OF – Kiwoom Heroes (KBO)
Another player who is expected to be posted following the 2023 season, Lee has become a KBO superstar. Nicknamed “Grandson of the Wind” as a nod to his father who was called “Son of the Wind,” the 24-year-old Lee has a .902 career OPS and took home the league’s MVP award last season. You’ll be hearing his name much more following the 2023 season.
Baek-Ho Kang – 1B – KT Wiz (KBO)
A three-time KBO All-Star, Kang battled injuries last season after posting a career-year in 2021. Kang turned heads from the moment he stepped into the KBO, smacking 29 home runs while hitting .290 as an 18-year-old rookie. After a shortened 2022 season, Kang could be looking to build momentum back up for a bounce back year in the KBO.
“We will all have pressure on our shoulders,” Kang said in an interview last month. “I want to showcase my talent and prove my worth. At the WBC, results will be more important than the process. I will try to help the team get great results.”
Pool C (Phoenix, Arizona)
Javier Assad – RHP – Chicago Cubs
One of the more underrated arms in the Cubs system, Assad impressed by pitching to a 2.66 ERA in 108 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His steady performance earned him a promotion to the big leagues where he was solid in his 37 2/3 innings, recording a 3.11 ERA. Nothing jumps out stuff wise, but Assad has six pitches he can mix in at any point including: a four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, slider, curve, and change.
Jordan Diaz – INF – Oakland Athletics
Diaz has hit at every stop in the minors, but he kicked his offensive output up to another level in 2022. The 22-year-old was arguably the best hitter in the A’s system last season statistically, slashing .326/.366/.515 with 19 homers and just a 14% strikeout rate.
Mitch Bratt – RHP – Texas Rangers
A 5th round pick by the Rangers in 2021, Bratt impressed at Low-A last season, punching out 99 hitters in 80 2/3 innings along with a 2.45 ERA. His fastball only sits in the low 90s, but has good life and shape.
Owen Caissie – OF – Chicago Cubs
The No. 3 prospect in the Cubs system, Caissie held his own as a 19-year-old in High-A last season, with a .751 OPS. The 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter has plus raw power in the tank, already registering exit velocities as high as 114 MPH.
Denzel Clarke – OF – Oakland Athletics
One of the toolsiest prospects you’ll see, Clarke is built like a linebacker and absolutely motors. His game is raw–as made evident by his 36% strikeout rate in High-A–but he is as entertaining as anyone to watch on the diamond when things are going right. In just 93 games last season, Clarke stole 30 bases and hit 15 homers.
Edouard Julien – INF – Minnesota Twins
One of the best hitters at the Minor League level last season, Julien is a walk machine who can really put a charge into the baseball. His .300 batting average and 19% walk rate helped him to a ridiculous .441 OBP in Double-A. With 17 homers and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 MPH, he was squaring up baseballs when he wasn’t taking his free passes.
Otto Lopez – MIF – Toronto Blue Jays
Though he has only seen limited action in the big leagues, Lopez has consistently put up above average numbers in Triple-A while playing all over the diamond. Last season alone, Lopez made starts at: shortstop, second base, center field, and left field. He doesn’t offer much power, but he is a plus runner who is tough to punch out.
Bo Naylor – C – Cleveland Guardians
If there was an MiLB Most Improved Player award, Naylor would have made a strong case last year. After hitting just .188 in Double-A during the 2021 season, Naylor hit .263 with an .889 OPS while hitting 20 homers and stealing 20 bases. He cut his strikeouts, improved his defense, and has the looks of a guy who could take over the catching position in Cleveland very soon.
Harry Ford – C – Seattle Mariners
If Bo Naylor isn’t the most athletic catching prospect in baseball, it’s Harry Ford. The former first-rounder is a plus runner who could legitimately fall back on centerfield if the catching thing doesn’t work out. An extremely patient hitter, Ford walked at an 18% clip and put up a 132 wRC+ in his first full pro season at Low-A. The WBC should be a fantastic test for one of the Mariners’ best young prospects (he just turned 20 years old).
Tahnaj Thomas – RHP – Pittsburgh Pirates
Thomas made the switch from the infield to the mound early in his pro career and finally started to put things together last season as a reliever. The big, athletic right-hander can run his fastball up to 98 MPH with a nasty slider.
Pool D (Miami, Florida)
Dominic Hamel – RHP – New York Mets
One of the Mets’ top pitching prospects, Hamel pitched to a 3.25 ERA in 119 innings last season while punching out 145 between Low-A and High-A. The command is spotty, but his slider and changeup can make hitters look silly.
Anthony Maldonado – RHP – Miami Marlins
A hard-throwing reliever with one of the best sliders in the Marlins’ system, Maldonado struck out 33% of Double-A and Triple-A hitters while holding them to just a .140 batting average against the slider. He should make appearances in the Marlins bullpen at some point this year.
Zack Gelof – INF – Oakland Athletics
One of Oakland’s best prospects, Gelof has quickly climbed through the Minor League ranks since being selected in the second round of the 2021 draft. The 23-year-old finished last season in Triple-A and is knocking on the door of a big league debut. While none of his tools jump off of the page, it’s hard to poke a hole in his game and he is a polished hitter.
Colton Gordon – LHP – Houston Astros
An 8th rounder in 2021, Gordon returned from Tommy John surgery last season to strike out 35% of the batters he faced in 53 2/3 innings. The southpaw works in the low 90s with a pair of nasty breaking balls that he can consistently land for strikes. One of the breakout names to watch in the Astros system this year, Gordon may catch a lot of people’s attention during the WBC.
Spencer Horwitz – 1B/LF – Toronto Blue Jays
Another guy who has simply just hit at several level, Horwitz earned himself a spot on the Jays 40-Man roster by hitting .275/.391/.452 in the upper levels while walking nearly as much as he punched out. Horwitz has a smooth swing from the left side and will grind out at bats. A natural first baseman, he has seen some action in left field as the Jays look for ways to potentially get him at-bats at the highest level.
Matt Mervis – 1B – Chicago Cubs
The legend of Matt Mervis continues with a World Baseball Classic cameo. The 2020 UDFA elevated his game as he elevated levels to the point that by the time he reached Triple-A (he started the season in High-A), he was striking out just 14.6% of the time while registering a 152 wRC+. Across all levels, Mervis mashed 36 homers, 78 extra base hits and hit for a .309 average.
Expected by many to take over the Cubs’ first base job soon, Mervis could already be one of Team Israel’s most feared hitters.
Milkar Perez – INF – Seattle Mariners
After a great start to his pro career, Perez really struggled last season at Low-A, hitting just .145 in 54 games. The switch-hitter is talented, but may face some challenges against this level of competition. Nonetheless, it should be interesting to see if he has made any adjustments.
Carlos Rodriguez – RHP – Milwaukee Brewers
A sixth round pick in 2021, Rodriguez has intriguing stuff that helped him strike out 30% of batters last season while pitching to a 3.01 ERA in 107 2/3 innings. Both his slider and changeup held hitters to a batting average around .150 with the changeup easily having the looks of a plus pitch. Rodriguez has a chance to be one of Nicaragua’s best arms.